Last Saturday, Australia changed governing parties for the first time in eleven years in what one newspaper called a “Labour Ruddslide” as Kevin Rudd’s Australian Labour Party swept away John Howard and his conservative Liberal Party. It is expected that the new government will revamp the labour laws and that it will bring Australia back into the fold of the more civilized nations by withdrawing its combat troops from Iraq and signing on to the Kyoto Accord, two things that staunch George Bush ally John Howard refused to do.
Rudd has said that climate change will be a top priority for his government, an item of growing importance for Australia that is suffering from its worst drought in 100 years. It is so bad that the output of farms in the country is dropping way off and three quarters of them are running in the red. This has implications not only for Australia, but for the world as the country is the second-largest wheat, canola and beef exporter in the world and the largest barley exporter.
Australia is not alone in a growing global problem of drought. Drought conditions exist in 43 per cent of the contiguous United States and around the world including parts of Eastern Europe the Balkans, Africa and the Canary Islands. As the world gets warmer we can expect more such severe weather, and with the decline of water supplies, less ability to produce food. Not a pleasant thought in a world with a growing population where millions are already undernourished.
Climate change was on the table at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held recently in Kampala, and it went nowhere. Canada refused to agree to binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions, and the meeting issued a statement on climate change that was so ambiguous that it was meaningless. The crux of the problem is that developing countries want to have free rein to increase their output to improve their economies while the developed countries do not want to be limited while other economies catch up. In the bigger picture of global survival it is a power struggle over something that ecosystem collapse will make irrelevant.
The problem with greenhouse gas emissions is not the problem with this country or that country, it is a global problem, and given that scientists are saying the globe needs an 80 per cent or more reduction in the output of greenhouse gasses most countries may be faced with reductions. There certainly isn’t any room for increases. Developing countries, of course, will rightly claim that such a policy could condemn them to poverty, a concern that should not be taken lightly. But, the solution is not allowances for more pollution so they can catch up, but non-polluting redistribution of resources from the developed world to the developing one.
That any government driven by the need for economic growth can adequately address the problems of the environment is unlikely. British Columbia is a good example. Recently the New Democratic Party of B.C. passed policy titled “Sustainable B.C.” “The vision is fine and the principles are motherhood,” said columnist Les Leyne in the Times Colonist. But, Leyne goes on to say, the B.C. Liberals are already taking action on the environment, so the new policy won’t get any traction with the voters. Whether that is true or not, or whether the NDP can turn the policy into effective action is debatable, but one thing is not debatable, and that is that the B.C. Liberal policy on the environment is mostly smoke and very little fire.
Greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation are driven by economic growth, and the same government that is passing climate change legislation with sadly inadequate goals, is also talking about expanding trade in Asia and other parts of the world. Expanding trade will necessarily see an increase in energy consumption and the production of greenhouse gasses.
Earlier this month B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, when touting his Gateway project, said that “by 2020, we are aiming for a four-fold increase in container ship traffic.” Yet, in a recently released scientific study it has been pointed out that ship pollution is responsible for 60,000 deaths per year, and climbing. One must ask: do the governing parties see climbing death rates and the possible collapse of society as we know it as just a cost of doing business?