Why don’t Canadians demand outcomes? Why do we settle for mere progress when nothing short of full realization of the outcome will do?
There are some evils that will always be with us, like crime and natural catastrophe. We will always have to address earthquakes and tornados, the tomfoolery of knuckleheads, and occasional desperate acts of the insane. But there are certain outcomes that we cannot accept half-measures on. Like, duh, like environmental protection and ecological health.
We are such assholes, really. Everybody in the western world knows perfectly well that developing the tar sands in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan will increase greenhouse gases, decimate the northern forest that might otherwise scrub our dirty air, and transform every little Arctic fox and moose into an ambling toxic waste site. We know this perfectly well and yet we allow it to continue. Why? Because we want to maintain our elite lifestyle. We don’t even want to take the bus. We don’t want to spend $1,500 on a solar panel for the roof. We certainly do not want to reduce consumption.
This is selfishness. If we do not shape up, we consign not only ourselves but all the poor folks on the planet who never had a say in the matter to a miserable future. A lot of Canadians might even be okay, but the folks living in coastal Asia and Africa — many of whom ride a bike to work and don’t have electricity — will watch helpless as their homes submerge and their children starve. And, if we have not changed our lifestyle and our voting habits, this will be our fault.
This is not rocket science. So I wonder what we’re doing. Are we placated by meaningless actions? Are we that stupid? I think so. Regard, for instance, the inexplicable popularity of two women who were generally irrelevant to the tens of thousands of innocent people who perish every day because we refuse to share wealth more equitably: Mother Teresa and Princess Diana. Both were icons of compassion. We adored them. But neither challenged the system that created the suffering of innocents in the first place. Neither affected outcomes.
Both of them would have done better to emulate the Archbishop of Brazil Dom Helder Camara, who famously said: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they have no food they call me a communist.”
I guess Princess Diana preferred popularity. I guess Mother Teresa preferred sainthood. And I guess we prefer to keep our unearned advantage, sliding excessive consumption down our throats with a condiment of do-gooding pudding. We will do a few things: recycle, reduce a bit, buy a hybrid — but we are satisfied with these half measures. We don’t keep our eyes on the outcome we need.
We have got to stop applauding empty gestures; we must make the failure to achieve our outcomes very unpopular. This will require us to participate in our democracy. We have to tell our politicians — elected and those who intend to stand for election — that we demand measurable goals that will achieve the outcomes we care about.
For myself, I am going to tell my municipal council to insist that the electricity company gives me credit for the power I create from solar panels on my roof. Then I am going to insist that the provincial government give me a rebate for buying solar panels. Then I am going to buy the solar panels. I gave up my car last year (it was not that painful) so I ought to be able to afford it. Then I am going to write a letter to my MLA and MP — and the opposition parties — telling them that I am going to vote for whoever manages oil sands development in the following ways:
1) I want baseline toxicology studies on water, air, and lots of different wildlife, and a study every year after that. I want the energy companies to pay for them. If the toxic levels go up, they get shut down. Not fined — shut down. That ought to get their attention.
2) I want weekly aerial photographs of the entire oil sands leases published in paid advertising in local media every week. Just because people ought to see for themselves what is being done.
3) I want the standards for environmental reclamation to be improved. Twenty years after energy activity ceases, neither I nor a bevy of scientists ought to be able to tell anything happened there.
4) For every acre of land developed in Canada, the energy company should purchase another acre somewhere in the world, restore its ecological integrity, and sign it over to a reputable international ecological protection organization for permanent preservation. And the energy company should pay for that, too.
These are my demands and that is what I am going to vote for, even if I have to vote for the guys who shave their heads and levitate. I will not settle for the Mother Teresas and the Princess Dianas. I don’t care how nice they are or how nice they look. I need outcomes.
(A brief aside: would the granola freaks be so much worse than the parade of goofs we have tolerated recently? And here’s the outcome I hope for in this latest scandal: Brian Mulroney, emperor of goofs, behind bars. Of course, I want the criminal justice system to do its thing but — if Brian is guilty — I will be mightily peeved if they guy gets away with no jail time as well as the cool two million he received as a settlement after his name was supposedly besmirched during the 1995 investigation into the sale of Airbus jets to Air Canada.)
Back to the point: if we think we can stop killing the planet without pain, we’re nuts. So the people we need to vote for will:
1) Raise your income taxes to make up for the all the royalties we don’t get so that our social welfare net keeps working,
2) levy a huge tax on gasoline,
3) if your business depends on carbon fuel, put you out of business,
4) throw us into a serious economic depression,
5) totally reorganize our economy, and
6) do a lot more scary stuff that we cannot predict.
So we will have decisions to make. Will we be satisfied with lip service? Will we discredit the politicians who have the guts to tell us the truth? Will we vote for people who promise to reduce our standard of living and thin our wallets?
They say that citizens get the government they deserve. But I guess so will all the people who never got to vote, but who will nevertheless watch the water rise.