Torndao damage in west end Ottawa. Photo credit: John Wilson/Facebook

On Friday September 21, the most violent and destructive weather event in recent memory hit the Ottawa-Gatineau region. It consisted of not one, not two, not three, but six tornadoes, accompanied by vicious thunderstorms, rainfall that turned quiet streets into torrential rivers and winds that reached 260 kilometres per hour. It was an unprecedented weather catastrophe by any measure.

On that same day, National Post columnist Rex Murphy unloaded a full bore attack on one of his favourite targets: anybody who evinces the slightest concern for the environment. Murphy was notionally praising his new hero, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who had just cancelled Ontario’s Green Energy Act. In reality, Murphy was attacking the very fundament of current scientific thinking, to wit, that human activity can (and frequently does) have a devastating impact on the environment, including the climate, of planet Earth.

“It’s quite queasy being a green,” Murphy wrote, just as multiple tornadoes were closing in on Ottawa’s western suburbs.

“The story of the McGuinty/Wynne crusade to impose, at any cost, full green moralism on Ontarians should serve as a drastic caution to politicians everywhere that ‘going green’ isn’t innocent, costless Boy-Scoutism … It is never quite enough to keep telling your citizens in the condescending tones of the Sunday morning TV evangelists to ‘take your medicine,’ it’s for your own good.”

In Murphy’s view, the governments we elect should not raise their heads above the parapets and concern themselves with the health and well-being of this planet we all share. They should narrowly stick to their knitting, leaving the fate of the Earth, one presumes, in the hands of higher and unseen powers.

“It is an amazing thing,” Murphy fulminated, “how often politicians elected to serve a particular jurisdiction … set themselves these grand, glorious and green global agendas. If you can’t run the city, leave the planet saving for another day.”

The National Post’s resident climate-change-denier then noted that the Ontario Liberals paid a steep electoral price for daring to be green.  The Liberals, who had ruled for nearly a decade and a half, were reduced to a rump in the recent election.

Rex did not add that the equally green NDP won a near record number of seats; that the very incarnation of environmental elitism, the Green Party, won its first seat ever; and that, combined, the three green-hued parties won about 60 per cent of the vote to Mr. Ford’s 40.

Murphy ended his panegyric to Ontario’s new Duce with a warning to any politician who still dares to even express concern for the environment, let alone act on that concern. In particular, he cited Justin Trudeau’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna for having the gall to suggest that the environment and the economy go “hand in hand.”

“If any politician wants to see how greenism works out in the real world,” the columnist oozed, “note well … that a Mr. Doug Ford — ‘I am become Destroyer of Carbon Taxes’ — is Ontario Premier.”

Flawed Liberal green program not an excuse to do nothing

It is true that the Ontario Liberal government’s green energy program was neither well conceived nor equitably executed. It was, in essence, an effort to shock the province’s electric power system; to quickly transform the system from a major emitter of greenhouse gasses to a carbon-neutral utility. That goal, even with the shock strategy, was laudable. However, the program was too tied in with a select group of private sector actors, and, worse, was insufficiently concerned with its impact on small-scale consumers of electricity, especially in rural areas.

Having said that, it would be a vast overreach to conclude that the flaws in the Ontario Liberal green program prove there is nothing any government can or should do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Those who urge a course of blithe non-action on the climate often point out that Canada contributes less than two per cent of global carbon emissions. They fail to add that, per capita, Canada’s emissions are among the highest in the world.

Canada emits 15.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person, about the same as the United States and Australia, and a bit less than the leading per capita emitter, Saudi Arabia. Canada’s total (not per person) emissions for 37 million people are one-fifth greater than Indonesia’s for 260 million people. On a per capita basis, Canada’s emissions are nearly 10 times those of Indonesia.

If Canada were to succeed in significantly reducing emissions it would have a measurable and significant impact on the rate of global warming. More important, serious action by Canada would provide a measure of global leadership. It would show that at least some among the world’s richest countries were willing to step up and do their part. In addition, last week’s unprecedented tornadoes underscore the fact that here on the home front we are also experiencing the deadly impact of climate change.

Scientists must be cautious but political leaders must be bold

Those who take science seriously describe the relationship between global warming and tornadoes with nuance, as did Brent Patterson in last Saturday. The bottom line is that scientists say they do not have sufficient historic information on tornadoes, going back far enough in time, to allow them to draw definitive conclusions. What is certain is that global warming contributes to increased moisture in the atmosphere, which, in turn, engenders more, and more violent, thunderstorms. Tornadoes very often develop as a sort of side effect of thunderstorms. Such was the case with the six Ottawa-Gatineau-area tornadoes.

Unlike Rex Murphy, and other climate-change-denying polemicists, scientists have to be scrupulous about facts and evidence. And so, they must patiently accumulate more data before making definite pronouncements on a causal connection between global warming and tornadoes.

The rest of us, and especially political leaders and policy makers, do not have the luxury of waiting years for more data. Doing nothing is not a reasonable option. It is not responsible to simply dismiss unprecedented and violent climate events as mysterious and inexplicable acts of God.

At the very least, this would seem to be the worst time for any government to not only sit on its hands but to aggressively roll back the clock on any and all policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the devastating impact of global warming.  That, however, is exactly what Donald Trump is doing south of the border, what Doug Ford is doing in Ontario, and what Andrew Scheer (and/or Maxime Bernier) promise to do if elected to power federally.

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for over 25 years. He is rabble’s politics reporter.

Photo credit: John Wilson/Facebook

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Karl Nerenberg

Karl Nerenberg joined rabble in 2011 to cover news for the rest of us from Parliament Hill. Karl has been a journalist and filmmaker for over 25 years, including eight years as the producer of the CBC...