So why are the next federal elections in Canada and the United States must wins for the Liberals and Democrats? At the risk of sounding alarmist, I really believe the future of the planet is at stake here.
1. Global Warming. Now I know, every time anyone posts something on Global Warming, the nut jobs start coming out of the woodwork spouting the pseudo-science spoon fed them by right wing think tanks and propaganda machines. But anyone who seriously doubts the reality of global warming is simply not paying attention to what is happening around them every day.
In BC, there is an area of dead forests the size of New Brunswick - caused by a natural pest, the mountain pine beetle. This bug is native to the northwest forests, but has historically been controlled by severe winter colds, which drastically reduce the beetle's populations. BC hasn't had the severe cold snaps (sub -40C for 2 weeks or more) for years. The total number of annual frost free days has increased by anywhere from 12 to 45 days per year since the 1950's. The annual average temperature in the interior of the province (where most of the pine forests are) has increase by 1.1C in the last 100 years.
Other BC indicators of warming include:
- The Helm Glacier in Garabaldi Park and the Illecillewaet Glacier in Glacier National Park have each retreated by over a kilometer in the last century. The Wedgemont Glacier in Garabaldi Park has retreated 200+ metres in the last 20 years alone.
- 100 year trend in later autumn freezing and earlier spring thaw in the north. This has a profound affect on Carribou migratory patterns as well as the spring/fall mixing cycle (and therefore nutrient content) of lakes which stratify in the summer and/or winter.
- Changes in river flow patterns. The Fraser, Thompson and Columbia river systems which drain over half of the province's land area have all experienced a steady trend in earlier and larger peak spring flows and lower summer and autumn flows. This equates to drier summers and increased spring flooding. Increased scouring from higher spring flows can also increase mortality of salmon smelt.
- Increased river temperatures. The average summer time temperature of the Fraser River (measured at Hell's Gate) has increased by 1.1C over the last 50 years. Higher water temperatures increase stress, exhaustion, infection and mortality in spawning salmon. This, combined with lower water levels has been devastating on wild salmon and steelhead populations with enroute mortalities of over 50% in several years in the last decade. The Columbia River, as a result of hydro electric projects has not been a significant salmon spawning river in BC and Washinton State since the 1950's.
Now no doubt someone is going to find something wrong with the above statements which I have summarized from publications such as Indicators of Climate Change for British Columbia 2002. If I have miss represented or overstaded something, in this case, the devil is not in the details but in the big picture. All of the trends indicate that we are running headlong into a cataclysmic natural disaster in our life times. While it is certainly true that the Liberals under Cretien and Martin lacked the courage to address climate change in a meaningful way, the Conservative's approach of criticizing the lack of progress by the Liberals, while boldly declaring that they intend to do even less is beyond irresponsible.
2. Sustainable Energy Policy. While this is somewhat related to global warming, it would still be a concern independent of global warming. We are simply consuming too much energy and sourcing too much of what we consume from non-renewable sources. People tell me that changing personal consumption behaviors is a hopeless cause. I'm not convinced of this. I get my motivation to change my consumption by looking at my young children and envisioning the world they are going to become adults in. Our planet was blessed with a one time endownment of a very special resource that took hundreds of thousands of years to develop and we have burned most of it up in less than 100 years. Leadership means looking past the next election cycle and doing what is right for the next generation - not just of Canadians and Americans, but of human beings.
There are very practical things that can be done right now. The first step should be to implement fuel economy and emission controls equivalent or better to those of California. The real alarmists are the auto industry apologists who claim that the technology to make more fuel efficient cars either doesn't exist or would bankrupt the auto makers. Japanese, Chinese, Korean and European auto makers seem to be doing okay, and all of these countries have higher emissions standards than Canada or the Unites States. The Conservative Party has committed to enforce Canadian fleet fuel efficiency and emissions standards and to harmonize these with those of the US. However it is likely that if and when this happens they will choose the US federal standards rather than the more stringent California standards adopted by California, Washington, Oregon and 6 north eastern states.
The Republican dominated US Congress has done nothing signficant to the CAFE standards for the last 12 years, and the Bush Whitehouse has has supported an industry legal challenge seeking to prevent California from implmenting stiffer air quality standards and fuel economy requirements on auto makers. Under the Bush Whitehouse, the EPA has punted on enforment of existing regulations - allowing power producers to upgrade and increase output without complying with modern emissions standards. Rather than a hard push on renewables, the current focus from both the Republicans and Conservatives is to extract more of our dwindling fossil fuels.
Leadership means doing the right thing. The public has a broad, but unfocused support for renewable energy. A visionary leader would harness that support and make sustainable and renewable energy sufficiency a national goal the way President Kennedy make landing on the moon a nation priority in the 1960s. In 1962, the path to the moon held far more challenges that the path to clean, sustainable energy does today. Virtually all of the technology exists, we simply lack the will to employ it. Economically, the $300+ billion spent to secure access to Iraqi oil would have been better spent on securing a stable state in Afghanistan and developing renewable energy in the United States.
3. Human Rights. This is more of an issue in the US than in Canada where the USA Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act have dramatically stripped away rights to due process, privacy and even the most fundamental right, habeus corpus - protection from arbitrary or unlawful imprisonment and legalized many forms of torture. These are acts which future generations will look back on with the same lense we now view the illegal internment of Japanese Americans and Canadians during WWII, head taxes on Chinese and other gross exertions of the power of the state over the rights of individuals. Many states passed ballot initiatives to preserve property rights from state powers of emminent domain. These same states should consider the impact of syping, incarcerating without charges and the torture of Americans and foreign nationals under the guise of homeland security.
4. Healthcare. Canada is challenged to ensure the sustainability of our healthcare systems while the US is challenged to extend health insurance to the 20% of the population whom are either uninsured or under insured. Leadership in healthcare means looking past the medical, pharmaceutical, insurance, and union lobbies who seek to secure an ever increasing share of the world's largest industry. Leadership means ensuring that the system works for those it serves.
5. Peace, Security and Terrorism. Leaders in both countries need to re-evaluate when and how military and diplomatic coersion is applied to avert or intervene in humanitarian crisis and bring rogue nations into compliance with world human rights and arms control regimes and to support the rebuilding of failed states. At any given time, there are dozens of states that are flagrantly violating human rights on massive scales, proliferating banned weapons, sponsoring terrorism, engaged in civil war or genocide of whole populations or destablizing their neighbours through invasion or insurgency. Western powers can not militarily intervene in all situations. Sometimes we must make a "Sophie's Choice" between children in Africa, Asia or the Middle East. Many of the PNAC cabal have pointed to Iraq as an example of the impotance of the UN to act in a time of crisis. Retrospect however shows that the UN's caution with Iraq was well founded. The deployment of US and coalition military resources to Iraq - where no crisis existed - prevented an effective intervention in Darfur, where a current and on going humanitarian crisis has killed thousands of civilians.
There is pressure from some quarters in Canada to get out of Afghanistan (which I oppose), as there is pressure across the board in the US to get out of Iraq (which I sort of support). So the task remains for the leadership of the Liberal Party and Democratic Party to explain why the presence of NATO forces in Afghanistan is needed to prevent the struggling state from decending into civil war, while the continued presence of American and British troops in Iraq may just ignite a civil war there. Much of the differnce comes down to the justification for being there in the first place, the level of international participation in the action, the support of the UN Security Council and the scale of the deployment needed to prevent the failure of these two states.