02/23/2012 04:51 EST | Updated 04/23/2012 05:12 EDT

Tar Sands Will Be Quick Sand for the Next Generation


According to Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, our federal government is concerned about passing on the costs of today's inaction to the next generation of Canadians:

"Everything is sustainable if we selfishly choose not to think beyond our generation...And it's the next generations of Canadians who will have to shoulder the burden. The next generations who will have their own families to raise, their own mortgages to pay, their own student and household debt to manage."

Or, at least it would seem so when it comes to the issue of reforming Canada's Old Age Security. It's encouraging to hear that our government is thinking about how its actions will impact kids growing up today, and their kids and grandkids.

For fun, let's apply that same logical concern for the well being of Canada's youth, as well as all those babes waiting to be born, beyond the OAS debate and to government decision-making more generally.

If we are truly concerned about what we're passing along to our kids and grandkids, let's talk about climate change. The International Energy Agency -- an organization which hardly fits the federal government's mould of radical environmental interests that pose a terrorist threat to the country -- has sounded the alarm, warning that within the next five years the world risks locking into enough fossil fuel infrastructure to make it impossible to hold global warming at safe levels.

The IEA's chief economist, Fatih Birol, has said that "if we do not have an international agreement, whose effect is put in place by 2017, then the door to [holding temperatures to 2C of warming] will be closed forever".

Failure to act now to prevent catastrophic climate change means shifting a massive debt onto the next generations of Canadians. The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy estimates that the costs of climate change on our economy will be $5 billion per year in 2020 and between $21 and $43 billion per year in 2050.

We're also talking about worldwide droughts and food shortages, tens of millions of climate refugees, water shortages, and increased infectious diseases. Hardly the type of things most people think about leaving behind for their children.

Given this, a federal government concerned about what's being passed along to the next generation would be a leader in global negotiations for a strong, binding agreement to cut carbon pollution, put in place domestic rules to make polluters pay, and focus on building clean energy infrastructure instead of doubling down on tar sands.

Instead, it's doing just the opposite. The federal government turned its back on international climate talks by becoming the only country to walk away from its commitments in the Kyoto Protocol. It has made new tar sands pipelines its cause célèbre, as part of a plan to radically expand the tar sands, and is aggressively lobbying against new clean fuel standards in California and the EU . It has also failed to put in place a single regulation to require Canadian industries to clean up their act.

Sadly, it seems that concern about the burdens being passed along by this generation don't apply when it comes to protecting the interests of big multinational oil companies, and their desire to keep pumping more and more tar sands oil into gas tanks around the world.

This selective concern about the future for our kids won't wash in the long run. The decisions made today about coal, oil, and gas development will determine whether we pass on a dangerous and unstable planet or a stable and healthy one.