Crisis is the time when you hope your elected leaders buck up and do the right thing, bravely and without complaint. It’s when you look for a little inspiration, a little “we can do it” attitude. That is, I have read, the type of leadership that Winston Churchill supplied in Britain’s struggle against Germany. He didn’t sigh and kick the chair. He didn’t fuss that voters might complain about the nuisance. Nope. Winnie grabbed a stiff drink and a cigar, and spoke plainly to the people of Britain about the job that was before them. Here’s what he said to his countrymen in 1940:
“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
And the British followed through.
By embarrassing contrast, Stephen Harper came home from Bali and snivelled to us about the sacrifices that will be required to save the planet. Here is a quote from his year-end interview with CanWest:
“I know that whatever we do, the radical edge of the environmental movement that gets most of the press will not think it’s enough. And I also know that as soon as we impose costs on the economy — and there is no way of making progress without some short-term costs — that others, industry and others, will complain we’re going too far. So I think the talk will start to turn to where we’re maybe doing too much, but it has to be done, and that’s the path we’re on.”
How inspiring. I feel so honourable, so passionate in my convictions, so unified with my fellow Canadians in sacrificing my unbelievably elevated and entirely unearned standard of living for the sake of the planet and the creatures upon it.
I mean, really, is this what he thinks of us? You and me? That all we care about is gobbling up as much comfort and capital as we can while we can, screw everything and everybody else? He’s wrong. I’m ready to do better than that. And I think you are, too. Our lives won’t be quite the same but we’ll probably get a bit more exercise, lose some weight, save up for things instead of purchasing on impulse. It won’t be so bad. At least nobody will be dropping bombs on us. At least we won’t have to kiss our 18-year old children goodbye and send them to die across the Atlantic in the mud.
Yeah, I think we can handle that, Mr. Harper. No matter what you think of us, we are not actually a bunch of crybabies. There’s an iron will under this flab.
To be fair, Stephen Harper is dead right that India and China should also be held to restrictions on emissions. It isn’t fair that they are not going to get their shot at carbon-based industrialization, and that sucks for them, but fairness is not the point. Survival is. And we’re walking an environmental tightrope. For species like polar bears, and smaller plants and animals whose suffering and demise is not so dramatic, it is too late. Maybe it’s too late for us, too, and we just don’t know it.
And he is also dead right that no government has tackled global warming before. As he said, “The reason no government has done this before — federal, provincial, or municipal — is there is no way to do this without imposing costs on our economy in the short term. That’s why all previous governments have talked a great game and shied away from it.”
That is exactly right. But we can’t get away with it any longer, so it’s time for the back to straighten, the chin to go up, and the snivelling to stop.