For the second time in eight years, both Canada and the US are headed for elections at roughly the same time. Climate change should have been a central issue back in 2000: there was climate change expert Al Gore running against a largely unaware George Bush in the US, and Jean Chretien and the Kyoto-trumpeting Liberals angling for re-election in Canada. But it barely cracked the agenda.
This time around, climate change is much more front and central. But not in the way we, or the planet, needs.
1. On August 29th - four DAYS ago - the following question was posed to Sarah Palin, John McCain's running mate: "What is your take on global warming and how is it affecting our country?". The answer?
A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I'm not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.
Either McCain's team truly did fail to talk to Palin in depth before offering her the job, or her selection is about religious politics, and nothing else. The news organizations and blog are attacking Palin's qualifications for Vice-President, musing about foreign policy experience, governing experience, etc. In 2008, after four IPCC reports and countless summaries of the science by the National Academies of different nations have definitively concluded that human activity is changing the climate, and after leaders of countless nations have stated that climate change is one of, if not the, greatest threat of the 21st century, not "believing" climate change is manmade should alone be a disqualification. And in 2008, this belief, in general, also raise concerns about trusting and evaluating expert judgment, one of the most important jobs of a political leader.
[don't even get me started on teaching creationism in school]
2. Barack Obama is not innocent either. In his acceptance speech, Obama threw a bone to the coal industry by citin "clean coal" as a solution to oil and climate crises. Clean coal, a term promoted by the coal companies, refers to coal-burning plants which emit lower concentrations of air pollutants like sulfur. It has nothing whatsoever to do with greenhouse gas emissions. Experts or regular readers on climate and energy know this. Does the average voter?
3. The Canadian election promises to be equally petty. The Harper Government has attacked revenue-neutral Dion's Green Shift plan as a tax hike and grab. Revenue-neutral. That is not a tax hike. The Liberals, fearing these attacks, are already weakening the plan by providing subsidies for fishers, farmers and truckers. Changes like this are not unreasonable. But they show that the public discourse will be dominated by juvenile and distracting "tax grab"-like arguments rather than the very necessary discussion of how Canada can implement a price on carbon.
How do we change this? We've got only around six weeks in Canada, and only eight weeks in the US, to elevate the discussion.