07/29/2015 12:59 EDT | Updated 07/29/2016 05:59 EDT

Politicians - Stop Treating Us Like Idiots When it Comes to Climate Change

Shutterstock / Calin Tatu

Obscured by complicated international negotiations, convoluted domestic policy and years of fossil fuel-funded contrarians confusing the conversation, climate change can be confusing. Recently, thanks in large part to some pretty basic math, there is finally some much needed clarity coming to the conversation. It goes like this; there is only so much space in the atmosphere for more emissions, so if we want to have a shot at keeping this planet liveable we need to not release a lot of potential emissions. This means leaving most fossil fuels underground.

Here in Canada that means leaving most of tar sands reserves underground. It's a simple truth that scientists, First Nations, academics and thousand of people understand, but one that politicians in this country refuse to acknowledge. Instead, it seems like politicians either think Canada isn't paying attention or that we're all really dumb.

Stephen Harper and the federal Conservatives have been ignoring climate change and backing the fossil fuel industries plan to cook the planet for close to a decade now. Harper has been antagonistic to global climate progress, put polluters ahead people, and has still failed to deliver any regulations on oil and gas emissions in Canada. This is nothing new. We know where Harper and his colleagues stand on climate change, but what's frustrating today is the absence of an understanding that climate action equals leaving fossil fuels in the ground from his federal opponents and from provincial leaders.

Take Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall for example. For most of this summer, Saskatchewan has been on fire. The fires have forced 13,000 people to evacuate from 50 communities and are projected to cost Saskatchewan upwards of $100 million by summer's end. In the midst of this, Wall chose this moment to chastise Canada's premiers for not being vocal enough in support of Energy East -- a proposed tar sands pipeline that would have the same climate impact as adding 7 million cars to Canada's roads.

He went so far as to pick a fight with newly elected Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, claiming that she was handing Quebec a veto over the controversial pipeline. Of course, we can't say that one wildfire is the direct result of climate change, but the link between increased wildfire rates and climate change is clear. Even Stephen Harper admitted that he thinks it's "possible" that this summer's wildfires are linked to rising temperatures.

Wall isn't the only premier in Canada choosing the fiddle over the firehose. In B.C., often celebrated for it's climate leadership, Premier Christy Clark held a special government sitting to pass legislation supporting Liquified Natural Gas extraction in the province. Amidst a massive drought across B.C. and a wildfire crisis to rival Saskatchewan's, Clark decided to push for B.C. to produce more fossil fuels despite significant opposition and reports finding that B.C.'s LNG strategy will do little to decrease emissions.

In Quebec and Ontario, Premiers Phillipe Couillard and Kathleen Wynne have spent the first half of 2015 shoring up their climate reputations in the lead up to Paris. Couillard hosted a Premiers' Climate Summit in April and Wynne followed it up with the global Climate Summit of the Americas in early July. Unfortunately, both leaders have also been stepping backwards when comes to Energy East. Initially strong positions have faded to support for a project that alone would undo all of the emissions kept in the ground by Ontario's coal phase out.

Federally, things aren't much better and Energy East is the culprit again in exposing the confusing, spineless climate policies Stephen Harper's primary challengers, Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair. Both leaders have bumbled the pipeline file by offering support in one province then rescinding it in another. While they have both critiqued the National Energy Board review process for refusing to consider the climate impacts of projects it reviews, neither have offered a clear plan to change that process. They both have convoluted platforms that include carbon pricing mechanisms that will be inevitably ineffective and seem to be hoping that we don't realize that neither of them have a plan to deal with the fact that the climate math means the tar sands can't get any bigger.

Whether it's deck chairs on the Titanic, Nero fiddling while Rome burns or the boiling of frogs, there is no shortage of played out tropes to describe political inaction on climate change, but in Canada things are getting ridiculous. At this point it feels like the whole of Canada's political class has picked up instruments and is conducting an orchestral performance on a sinking ocean liner while the most egregious among them block women and children from boarding life boats and explaining that there is no proven link between iceberg strikes and sinking ships. Something needs to change.

We can't shut off the fossil fuel economy overnight, but the science clearly says that we need a real plan to leave fossil fuels like tar sands underground. Politicians need to stop treating this country like idiots and recognize that most people want an economy that's not dependent on the boom and bust of the oil cycle. Once we accept that, a new universe of solutions is available to us, but it all starts with ending this political fiasco.


The Oil Sands and Canada's Environment