The day hell froze over

Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 ...

LAST WORD: The day hell froze over

Lexpert, April 2007

by Marzena Czarnecka

I was so busy staring at the Calgary Herald headline in the newspaper box on the corner I just about rear-ended the giant SUV I had been tailgating. “HARPER VOWS ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE” it screamed. I slammed on my breaks. Took a deep breath. Looked out the window. Well, it was February in Alberta, so hell could have frozen over. But there were no pigs flitting about in the sky.

Or were there? I got out of the car, and squinted up into the relatively-smog free Calgary sky (little known fact: a gas flare a day keeps the smog away.) A shadow, I saw a shadow… (by the way, I was kidding about that gas flare thing). No, not a pig.

I almost bought the paper. But I was short a nickel, so I high-tailed it to a hotspot instead. And lo and behold, instead of attacking the IPCC report as “essentially a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations” (wait, that was the Kyoto Protocol), Harper was… not, he wasn’t. Impossible. The gas flares were obviously getting me stoned.

(Kidding again. While you can smell manure in my neighbourhood when the wind blows a certain way—not quite sure if it’s from City Hall in the town or the Legislature up north—I’ve never smelled gas.)

Cards on the table: I recycle. I pay attention to overpackaging when I shop. I buy ridiculously expensive organic produce from a non-corporate local grocer. The chickens I eat have led happy, fulfilled, animal-feed-and-antibiotic-free lives. I live in a housing co-op that strives to reduce its environmental footprint. Crikey, I’m so green I actually vote Green—for real, not just to amuse Iain Scott.

So as it filtered down into my consciousness that the environment had somehow become the political issue, the issue over which the next election would be fought, I wanted to leap into the air and throw a big party for Stephan Dion.

And then… despair set it.

D’you remember what the big social and economic issue in the last federal election was? Not the sponsorship scandal—the one that really matter. That’s right. Health care. And the election before it? Was it… health care? And the one before that? Would that have been… health care?

Net progress on addressing the issues with our health care system since then?

Yeah. That would be a big fat zero. Actually, the gross progress would be a big fat zero too, I think, which is just… eponymous. And why? Because it is difficult, if not impossible, to change anything effectively when it is under the unforgiving spotlight of political pressure and populist demand. (When did we finally get “gay marriage”? When both sides of the populace got bored of the debate and stopped paying attention.)

When an issue becomes politically hot, politicians love to talk about it. They love to make it look like they are taking action. Call a task force, strike a committee, commission a report—they’re all over that. Actually doing something? That’s harder.

And I wonder… could Harper be this devious? Fond of the man I aren’t, but I’ve been developing a healthy respect for his grey matter. He’s learned to play the politician to boot, so if the environment is pushed on the agenda, he will grit his teeth and “vow action.” And as everyone’s eyes are on what isn’t being done to address climate change, sustainability, and environmental stewardship, he’s going to quietly slink off and start poking at health care.

Are you afraid? Then pay attention to what isn’t being said about health care.

And what Harper doesn’t do on the environment? I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Because whether he likes it or not, an economy rooted in entrepreneurial environmentalism is coming. Actually, in the West, it’s already here. In Ontario and Quebec, environmentalists may wait for the government to tell the masses (and business) to be greener. In Alberta and British Columbia, entrepreneurs say, “Joe, if we grow organic carrots, we can charge four times as much! And have you seen what yuppies pay for organic strawberries these days?”

The Western Canadian oil companies? They think much the same way, and they’re going to get greener.* Not because climate change is going to cause hell to freeze over, but because being green is going to make the money.

Now that’s something that little Stevie can get behind quite credibly, don’t you think? Especially if it means doing nothing.

Marzena Czarnecka lives, recycles and pollutes in Calgary, ever-conscious to which industry she owes much of her livelihood.

* American oil companies? I dunno. There’s the added complication of Ford and GM and all those conspiracy theories.

• Thomson Reuters article record