Obama, climate change and Canada
- November 9, 2012 11:41 AM |
- By Quirks
By Bob McDonald, Quirks & Quarks
The changing climate of the Earth has become so politicized, both presidential candidates avoided it during the U.S. election campaign. But during his acceptance speech, U.S. President Obama did say, "We want our children to live in an America ... that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet."
Will he follow through, and will Canada follow his lead?
Now that he no longer needs to worry about earning a second term, President Obama can afford to be bold and push for regulations that would reduce carbon emissions across the U.S. Since our country is so closely tied to the U.S., Prime Minister Harper has shown that whatever policies are changed in the States are usually changed here as well. This could become an opportunity - an opportunity for Obama to not just change the emissions of a country, but change them for a continent.
Fortunately, many regulations set during his first term will remain in place, such as the demand for the increased fuel efficiency of American cars to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, and stricter rules on emissions from newly constructed coal-fired generating stations.
But there is other unfinished business Obama could push for, such as tighter regulations on existing coal-fired plants, pollution standards for the new wave of natural gas fracking operations, continuing subsidies for alternative energy and revitalizing the authority of the Clean Air Act, which was weakened by the Bush administration, to deal with emissions from existing power plants, refineries and other industries. He also has an opportunity to impose a carbon cap-and-trade system or a flat- out carbon tax on polluters.
But pushing those new regulations through a Republican-dominated House of Representatives will be difficult. Of course, Obama has other large issues to deal with, such as a broken U.S. economy.
But perhaps he and the Republicans will be motivated by the sight of New York City and New Jersey under water - a sign of things to come if action is not taken, a foretaste of more powerful storms and rising sea levels in the future that have been predicted by climate models.
In Canada, our environmental regulations have been weakened, funding to Environment Canada has been cut back, federal scientists have been muzzled about speaking of their own work and environmental research facilities across the country have been closed. Emissions from oil sands operations continue to rise and the explosive growth of natural gas fracking in Alberta and Saskatchewan is proceeding without tight regulations on the millions of litres of water that are contaminated in the process.
We've had our own natural disaster on the west coast, a series of large earthquakes that continue to shake the ground around Kitimat, which is the intended outflow point of the Enbridge oil pipeline. Currently, there are no hard regulations in place to ensure that pipelines will be earthquake-proof, or if a spill does happen in a remote wilderness area, that systems will be in place to clean it up immediately.
If Obama manages to implement even some of his environmental regulations, our government will be under pressure to change them here as well. This would give North America, as a whole, more influence on the world stage to put pressure on large emitters, such as China, to adopt the same policies.
Climate change is a global issue. It will take large segments of the globe, working together, to deal with it.
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