Canada and the upside down world: Who are the real radicals today?

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Big Oil wants to 'radically' expand the tar sands. (Photo: NWFblogs / flickr)

Last week, as I was standing on my head, it occurred to me: the world is upside down.

It wasn't my immediate vantage point that suggested this observation, but a reflection on the conduct of radicals and conservatives in Canada. The radicals have been acting conservatively and the conservatives radically.

The climate change issue provides the first bit of evidence.

The radicals, including citizen activists, environmental groups, and other "special interests," counsel political leaders to listen to the advice of scientists.  Scientists, most of whom are rather conservative, are alarmed by the dramatic pace of climate change. By making deep cuts in greenhouse gases there is still hope of avoiding the critical warming that will further imperil crops, coastlines, and the health of communities.

The Conservative federal government (generally considered a conservative group) along with Big Oil are, on the other hand, keen to turn Canada into a fossil fuel superpower. Oil sands expansion is pursued despite big increases in greenhouse gases, the damage to our once proud international reputation, and the squandering of huge amounts of clean water and natural gas in the production process. 

Scientists are ignored, silenced, or eliminated from federal payrolls. 

Massive Chinese and other foreign investment is welcomed while Canadian groups  who question the approach are dismissed as subversives.

True, the conservative strategy to expand the oil sands and increase climate-destroying gases that cause deadly heat waves, drought, and rising sea levels is a sound plan … but only for crazed extremists bent on global chaos.

There's more evidence that the people wearing  conservative suits and being chauffeured to work are actually the radicals.

Consider the proposed pipeline expansions to get Canadian oil to U.S. and Asian markets.

The radicals, including First Nations, social justice organizations, and nature conservationists, oppose new pipelines because of the risk from leaks to streams, rivers, and coastal areas. The radicals say that the traditional Canadian regulatory process must be respected -- and that runaway oil sands development facilitated by pipelines must be checked.

The federal Natural Resources Minister calls the opposition to pipelines part of a "radical ideology." Other conservatives, including oil executives, right wing media commentators, and the Alberta government, continue to push pipelines south, west and east -- including pipelines connecting to ports on sensitive coastlines. Federal environmental laws are being weakened while review processes are being dismantled in order to speed pipeline approvals.

At the same time a U.S. government agency blames the spill of millions of litres of oil from a Canadian pipeline in Michigan on lax company procedures. The chair of the agency says the company's conduct reminded her of the Keystone Kops.

True, a revolutionary zeal for sinking billions of dollars into pipeline infrastructure to facilitate oil sands growth instead of renewables is logical … but only if you're betting on short term profits that will cover drought-induced higher food prices and pay for a sea wall around your mansion.

The transportation sector provides the last bit of evidence supporting my observation. The radicals, who often pedal traditional two-wheeled devices called bicycles, advocate for better road safety, including more bicycle lanes. They say bikes don't emit contaminants, take up only a sliver of the road, and are the cheapest way to get around. Cycling infrastructure is much cheaper than mass transit. Cycling also helps prevent heart disease, diabetes and obesity which costs the health care system billions of dollars.

The conservatives like Toronto's fiscally conservative mayor and right-wing councilors (along with motorists on cell phones complaining to radio talk shows about law-breaking cyclists) want bicycles out of the way of cars. They claim that bike lanes cause congestion -- even though congested highways have zero bikes. They also say that roads are meant to move cars (except when those cars are parked). The mayor is committed to spending $250 000 to remove a downtown bike lane and restore an unusual fifth lane, even though traffic on the road moves well.

True, pouring billions of dollars more down the pit of car-based infrastructure -- after nearly a century of expanding and extending roads that now move cars at the speed of bicycles -- is a rational policy ... but only if you are counting on the Gravy Train to transport the additional cash.

All of this may actually give a boost to the traditional radicals given that most voters are conservative. We saw a glimpse of this recently when the Prime Minister gently backed away from his gung ho pipeline scheme and said science will rule (except that he had already gotten rid of many of the scientists).

Once the conservatives are fully exposed as radicals and the radicals as conservatives, the radicals will ascend to power. They can then implement their conservative (currently portrayed as 'radical') agenda to save the planet.

In the meantime, I will continue to stand on my head. It's the best way to see the world right side up.


Albert Koehl is an environmental lawyer and writer. He stands on his head to improve circulation, posture, and clarity of thinking.

Photo: NWFblogs / flickr

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