The Labour Party in Australia was widely touted as the sure-fire winner in the recent Australian election. One of its key policy position was a renewed commitment to fighting “climate change”. To the Australian media, polling and establishments complete astonishment, Labour lost.
There are multiple explanations for the loss but running with “doing something about climate change” as the central theme of a campaign figures prominantly. Australia is a resource rich, sparsely populated country and energy and mining issues are real pocketbook issues for many Australians. Labour’s climate change policies were seen as very hard on extractive industries and as, potentially, raising energy prices a lot.
The climate change issue in Australia was not fought on a skeptics vs. believers basis so far as I can make out. The Coalition – at least most of it – seemed to accept that the science was settled (big mistake in my view) and that climate change was real and that it needed to be addressed. But the Coalition was clear that it would not cripple the Australian economy or Australian consumers with measures which were very unlikely to make any difference at all to temperature now or in the future. Labour, on the other hand, stressed the urgency of “doing something” about climate change.
I suspect this divide between people who think “doing something” about climate change (no matter how futile) and people who do not accept the urgency of dealing with something they really don’t believe in will inform politics in the West for the next few years. Most particularly, it will inform the next Canadian federal election.
The Liberal Party of Canada has been going all in on its “tax on carbon pollution” (a fine bit of wordsmithing managing to attach “carbon” to “pollution”). Led by the remarkably scolding Catherine McKenna, the Libs seem to think that purporting to “do something” about climate change is a vote winner. So McKenna tours the country speaking to uncritical school children and assorted environmentalists about how important having a “carbon tax” is. The Liberals tax will save the planet, ensure sea level rise stops (easy because sea level is not actually rising), save the Arctic ice cap (already saving itself, thank you), keep polar bears from extinction (also easy because virtually all polar bear populations are growing) and reduce or eliminate climate change “caused” weather events. Plus, Canada will honour its Paris Accord commitments (we won’t) and serve as a beacon to lesser nations like China and India in their efforts to combat climate change (as if).
The Liberals think that the fact that a carbon dioxide tax in Canada will have a rounding error effect on worldwide emissions and no detectable effect on world temperature does not matter politically. What matters politically is that the Liberals believe that there is a large constituency out there which urgently wants to “do something”.
The NDP is fully on board and, of course, the Greens have been banging the climate change drum forever. Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives seem to be on the fence. Like the Coalition in Australia, the Conservatives endorse the “climate change is a problem” line and very few are willing to challenge the underlying science or economics for fear of being branded uncool “climate change deniers”. But the Conservatives seem to be, prudently in my view, dragging their feet on “doing something” about CO2.
Political virtue signalling on the climate file is the easy part. All that is really required is the abandonment of any sort of scientific judgement (easy when you are told that all the scientists agree that climate change is real and primarily human caused) and policy skepticism (we don’t need a cost benefit analysis, this is an emergency!). The hard part occurs when you try to “do something”. Because doing something means that people are going to see their expenses rise without actually seeing (in any tangible way) any actual benefit. In fact, as Ontario’s wonderfully disastrous adventure in wind energy demonstrated, tax dollars can be wasted and consumer prices increased all without making any difference at all to the climate.
Scheer could have the climate change issue nailed if he was willing to set a basic standard for any program designed to address climate change. The standard would be that such projects need to be fully costed and their benefits fully enumerated. Scheer can take climate change “seriously” by demanding that any attempt to address climate change have a provable effect on climate change. How much will a given program reduce CO2 emissions and how will such a reduction in emissions in Canada effect world average temperature. That standard would appeal to those of us who are skeptical about the science. But it should also appeal to people who completely buy the science and really believe there is a climate emergency.
The Liberals, NDP and Greens will be running on the “do something” ticket. The Conservatives have the option of running on the “do something effective” platform. Setting a minimum price for carbon dioxide emissions, in theory, should reduce those emissions in Canada. But will that reduction, in Canada and only in Canada, be enough to do anything at all about climate change? That’s a real question and one the Liberals have, so far, refused to answer.