In punditry, as in politics, timing is everything. And when it comes to Joe Oliver’s recent column on the “green pain” that’s apparently being inflicted by the Trudeau government, the timing is about as bad as it gets. After all, just as the former Harper-era natural resources and finance minister was waxing poetic about “costly virtue-signalling and moral gestures,” the Lower Mainland of British Columbia was getting shellacked by a storm that will almost certainly end up being the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history.
As University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe noted on Twitter, approximately $2 billion to $2.5 billion is traded between B.C. and the rest of Canada per week by road or rail, and that doesn’t include the direct damages associated with all of the bridges and roads that have been washed out by torrential rains and the flooding that ensued. “This is massive,” he said.
These aren’t theoretical damages to future generations or people living in other parts of the world. They’re real costs that will be borne right here today, including by businesses and industry. And make no mistake: they’re a direct and irrefutable consequence of climate change.
“These are exactly the kinds of greater challenges a warmer climate that is sometimes drier, sometimes wetter, will bring,” Glenn McGillivray, managing director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction and adjunct professor of disaster and emergency management at York University, wrote in a piece for the Globe and Mail. “Just about 130 days after obliterating heat records by close to 5 C (almost unheard of, as new records usually outpace old by just tenths of a degree), large portions of the same areas are now underwater.”
The sixth assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in August, even identified so-called “atmospheric rivers” like the one that hit the B.C. coast as a growing threat in a warming world. “The average and maximum rain rates associated with tropical and extratropical cyclones, atmospheric rivers and severe convective storms will therefore also increase with future warming,” it said.
Conservatives like Oliver will surely say it’s not the time to politicize a tragedy or seek to assign blame, and that we need to focus far more on how we adapt and rebuild. Adaptation is important. But so, too, is a full reckoning with the attitudes that have forced us to take these steps, and the enormous financial costs they’ll impose on current and future generations.
It’s no wonder the people who have spent the last decade either denying the reality of climate change or insisting Canada can’t do anything about it are shying away from an accounting of their behaviour here.
One wonders, for example, what the people whose farmland is now underwater think of Oliver’s 2019 column in which he predicted that climate change would actually be good for Canada — especially its agriculture industry. “With improvements in farm technology, drought-resistant crops and new harvesting methods, Canada would have a wonderful opportunity to help feed a hungry world... Paradoxically, Canada is imposing burdensome costs and regulations to try to prevent what for us would be beneficial warming.”
Oliver closed that column with an entirely unironic suggestion that “Canada badly needs competent leadership rather than dead-end ideological obsessions,” which is about as good a prescription for his own party’s future as any that’s been offered up to date.
Opinion: If we’re going to ask future generations to carry this weight on our behalf, they deserve to know who put it on their shoulders in the first place, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #CPC #cdnpoli #BCStorms
Dan Albas, the Conservative Party of Canada’s shadow minister of environment and climate change, isn’t quite as aggressively backwards on this issue as Oliver. During an appearance on Power & Politics, he acknowledged that “climate change is real,” a statement that should be about as newsworthy in 2021 as recognizing that gravity does, in fact, exist.
But his own party voted against acknowledging the reality of climate change earlier this year, and Albas voted against a similar motion put forward by then-environment minister Catherine McKenna in 2019. As the official (and only) CPC delegate at COP26, meanwhile, he seemed to be far more interested in speaking out on behalf of the oil and gas industry’s ability to continue producing ever-larger volumes of fossil fuels than protecting the climate their products are helping to change.
Albas, then, is somewhere in the third stage of climate change grief: bargaining. That’s an improvement on fossils like Oliver, who are proudly stuck in the denial and anger stages, but it’s still a long way from where the rest of the population is today. Most Canadians are rooted firmly in the depression stage, while some have already progressed to acceptance — of our inability to reach our climate targets, yes, but also the cost that will be imposed on future generations.
For a political party that talks incessantly about the intergenerational injustice associated with deficit spending and government debt, Conservatives are oddly quiet when it comes to the environmental debts we’re racking up on behalf of their children and grandchildren.
That hypocrisy needs to be called out, now more than ever. No, it won’t repair the damage in British Columbia or prevent the other climate change-driven disasters that are sure to come. But if we’re going to ask future generations to carry this weight on our behalf, they deserve to know who put it on their shoulders in the first place.