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Harper's 5 Stages of Grief Over Climate Change

10/11/2013 09:28 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

The IPCC published an intensely detailed report on climate change last week. Even the 36 page executive summary is packed with detail, graphs and data all of which drives any reasonable person to the conclusion that climate change is real and largely driven by human activity. Consider its first conclusion: "Global mean surface air temperatures over land and oceans have increased over the last 100 years."

There is no denying it, "we" have a problem. Admitting that you have a problem is probably the most difficult first step for a Prime Minister addicted to "bull horn diplomacy," intolerance of dissent, and dumbed down public policy. Yet, even for PM Harper it is difficult to deny a 95 per cent certainty.

You have to have some sympathy for the Minister of the Environment who is obliged to maintain the Harper fiction regardless of the evidence and how foolish that it may make her look. To do so would be to acknowledge anthropogenic climate change and the fact that her government has done little to deal with that reality. That would be counterproductive to the PM's efforts to secure approval for the Keystone XL pipeline. So, poor Minister Aglukkaq is left to dangle in the winds of non-sequiturs and contradictions.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote a book about the five stages of grief. Denial of inconvenient facts is the first stage. It is followed by anger. Clearly the Conservatives have a deep well from which to draw. Shortly after the IPCC Report was issued the Minister lashed out at the Liberals blaming them for our miserable state of affairs. The Liberals may be to blame for a lot of things but blaming a Party that has been out of power for seven years seems particularly lame.

Lashing out at Liberals is neither unique nor unfamiliar. Canadian scientists also got it in the neck with a standing gag order; no Government of Canada scientist was allowed to comment on the report so Canadians are obliged to rely upon international scientists to interpret the data and its relevance for Canada, even though we the taxpayers pay their salaries. When Minister Aglukkaq was asked about ice melting in the Arctic she said, "there is always a debate around science and what is changing." The Minister may be a very fine person, but we are unaware of her qualifications to arbitrate among scientists. A modest suggestion might be to let the scientists speak for themselves and to lighten up on the Liberals. We are the third party, after all.

Bargaining is the third stage after denial and anger. The problem however is that Mother Nature is indifferent to Prime Ministers, Presidents and other potentates. Mother Nature doesn't do Bargaining. Therefore, faux bargaining occurs among the impotent. "Just give me this one more pipeline and I will be serious about climate change."

The PM has bet the farm on the carbon economy. Telling the President of the United States that he would not take "no for an answer" no doubt caused the President many sleepless nights. A strategy of desperation is a lousy bargaining position. Had the PM secured an enforceable GHG framework which tied emissions to production, he wouldn't be in the mess he is in today.

While Mother Nature may be indifferent to the PM's lamentations, you can be sure that the President has taken note of the PM's enthusiasm for the Tea Party's position on Keystone XL. American billionaire Tom Steyer wrote a note to the PM suggesting that the PMO "is working hand-in-hand with TransCanada to try to exploit the current situation in Washington, D.C., at the expense of the American people."

Bargaining is not in the PM's DNA. Compromise, respect, progress are just Liberal weasel words to him. Our guy is a purist, unsullied by the realities of evidence, however even he is starting to show the first signs of depression. It must be depressing to have the "chattering classes" virtually of one voice. Finding a climate change denier is becoming more and more difficult. At least he can shut down those "nattering nabobs of negativism" in Parliament. Prorogation is such a useful tool when faced with a depressing reality.

The fifth stage of grief is acceptance. One wonders what will be the tipping point of climate change that turns on the lights for the PM and the Minister of the Environment. Calving of glacier ice in the high Arctic may be a bit remote for most Canadians but one would think that a Minister of the Environment who represents an Arctic riding should "get it." "Once in a 100 year" floods in downtown Calgary should get the attention of a PM that represents a Calgary riding, one would think. How many more devastating climate events have to happen to citizens and the economy before acceptance settles in?

The final stage of acceptance is that it is too late and nothing can be done about it anyway. The climate change skeptics who have gone through the 5 stages are already there. That may be acceptable for crank skeptics, but it is not for a PM of a nation that used to pride itself on its Leadership.

John McKay is the Liberal MP for Scarborough-Guildwood and his Party's Environment Critic

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