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When politicians sing
Apr 25, 2008

Once a year, Earth Day rolls around and again a flurry of announcements come from every conceivable source. “Going green” is the new phrase of the 2000s, and nearly everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. 

Of course, there are ideological exceptions, including American President George W. Bush, while Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a somewhat reluctant convert to the environmental protection cause. But, both politicians worry about the impact protecting the environment will have on the fortunes of the oil industry. Bush has gone a step further by citing bad science to support the position that climate change is still a matter of conjecture.

Don’t mess with NAFTA, Harper has hinted to Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, implying Canada has the power to cut off the taps allowing the flow of oil so desperately needed in the U.S.

Yet, even the most reluctant politician to the green cause knows a good photo-op when it is presented, so Earth Day brings out skeptics and proponents alike.

In an April 22 joint statement following the North American Leaders’ Summit, Bush, Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderón announced their intention to “strengthen energy security and protect the environment ... Building on the gains in technology over the last five years, we are exchanging information and exploring opportunities for joint collaboration to further reduce barriers to expanding clean energy technologies, especially carbon dioxide capture and storage to  mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. We are working to better North America’s air quality and working together to improve the safety of chemicals in the marketplace ..,

“We reiterate our support for the Bali Action Plan and stress the urgency of reaching agreement to ensure the full, effective and sustained implementation of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change now, and up to 2012 (the year the Kyoto Protocol expires — the protocols were signed by Canada, but the U.S. failed to introduce Kyoto targets for Congressional approval) ... We affirm our shared conviction that  increased trade in environmental goods, services and technologies can have a positive impact on global climate change efforts and encourage the removal of barriers to such trade.”

The joint statement is couched in terms that environmental protection is linked to their respective nations’ economic well-being rather than for the good of the planet. 

The problem with the Bali Action Plan is that as a result of U.S. intransigence, it contains  none of the binding commitments that had been sought by European nations.

In fact, it was claimed that American negotiators were obstructionists during the two-week convention and only agreed to contribute to develop a plan two years in the future to make “deep cuts in global emissions” after being booed and  hissed by other delegates. Since Bush is a lame-duck president, it will be up to his successor to honour the commitment.

The Bush administration has betrayed the leadership shown by Americans to bring the environmental causes to the world. In 1962, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was published. She was at the vanguard of the environmental movement, bringing to public attention the potential of chemical pollution to silence the melodic singing of birds. At the time, she was virtually one lone voice in the wilderness bent upon saving the environment.

In the 1960s, little thought had been given to the unrestrained use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides such as DDT, but Carson saw the results — polluted water, contaminated soil and a sick environment that killed the birds that brought fresh notes on a spring morning.

Bush should have also considered that it was an American who created Earth Day in 1970, a day of celebrating the environment that has since spread throughout the world. 

Bush should know that it was Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson who created Earth Day, and when it was celebrated for the first time on April 22, 1970, 20 Americans registered their concern for the environment. 

He should also know that it was Nelson who said, “The economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around.”

It is a sentiment expressed today by Bush’s fellow Republican, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who as the governor of California has made the environment one of his primary concerns.

Of course, that sentiment runs contrary to the thought processes of Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Schwarzenegger, who has been chummy with Manitoba Premier Gary Doer on environmental issues — especially renewable hydro-electricity — in the past, told Fortune magazine: “We now know that what we've done in the past 100 years has caused such unbelievable damage to the world. We didn’t know better, but now we do, and now it’s not okay. There are certain things we know will happen in the next 30 to 40 years if we don't roll it back. So we have to start doing it now. Every marathon starts with a first step.

“I know the American mentality when it comes to finances is to look at the quarterly returns. But there are decisions you will make today, right now, that will take you in a different direction if you think ahead. I have to think, how is California, with its population growth, going to get its energy supply in 50 years?”

“Gary the NDPer” has met “Conan the Republican” on several occasions to discuss environmental issues — Doer knows it’s good optics to be seen in the company of a mega-celebrity.

In keeping with the politics of Earth Day, the Manitoba government released Beyond Kyoto, the NDP government's detailed plan to reach its legislated Kyoto targets by 2012.

“The plan covers all sectors and focuses on expanding renewable energy, improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions from our transportation and agricultural sectors,” said Science, technology, Energy and Mines Minister Jim Rondeau.

“This plan will help set the course for Manitoba’s green economic future,” added University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy, a former long-serving federal Liberal government minister, who chaired the provincial government’s Climate Change task Force, which reported in September 2001.

On Earth Day this year,  the singing came from birds sporting political feathers.