> Is Canada Guilty of Climate Negligence?
> William E. Rees, PhD, FRSC
> UBC School of Community and Regional Planning
> 6333 Memorial Road, Vancouver, Canada V6T 1Z2
> In the lead-up to Copenhagen, the Canadian government’s (non)policy on global warming borders on the criminally negligent. This may seem an outrageous assertion, particularly to those lost in the thickening fog of deception churned out by climate change deniers, but please bear with me for a moment.
> First, climate change, particularly global warming, is an undisputed fact. The mean global temperature has increased by .8 C° over the last century.
> Second, while it is true that Earth’s climate is primarily determined by various non-human factors, including solar output and shifting ocean currents, there have been no changes in these sufficient to explain ongoing temperature increases.
> Third, by contrast, human activities have significantly increased atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Carbon dioxide is up 38% from a preindustrial 280 parts per million to 388 ppm today. Other GHGs have climbed proportionately even more—but the CO2 increases alone are more than sufficient to account for the observed warming.
> Fourth, increasingly severe weather events are already displacing or killing tens of thousands of people annually and this trend is likely to worsen. In 2007, ‘The Age of Consequences’ report by Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies argued that: “In the case of severe climate change, corresponding to an average increase in global temperature of 2.6 C° by 2040… nations around the world will be overwhelmed by the scale of change…” Contributing author Prof Leon Fuerth noted that rich countries could “go through a 30-year process of kicking people away from the lifeboat” as the world’s poorest face the worst environmental consequences. This with only 2.6° warming— estimates today suggest a truly catastrophic 4° to 6° increase is likely without dramatic preventative action.
> In this light, climate change deniers defend a position that will kill millions of people, destroy critical ecosystems and undermine prospects for global civilization. Common sense and social justice demand that the world’s nations move forcefully to prevent the anticipated wave of eco-violence. Failing to act renders foot-dragging governments guilty of moral negligence. Indeed, if this is really a global village, shouldn’t the world community be working to establish legal grounds for negligence actions?
> Canadian common law provides useful guidance. Environmental negligence suits focus on compensation for loss caused by unreasonable conduct that damages legally protected interests. Unreasonable conduct means doing something that a prudent or reasonable person would not do, or failing to do something that a reasonable person would do. The plaintiff must establish certain key elements of the tort— cause in fact and proximate cause, damages, legal duty, and breach of the standard of care. Note that fault may be found even in the case of unintended harm if it stems from unreasonable conduct.
> The Criminal Code (Section 219) is even clearer that lack of intent to harm is no defence if damage results from conscious acts performed in careless disregard for others: “Everyone is criminally negligent who (a) in doing anything, or (b) in omitting to do anything that it is his duty to do, shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons” (where ‘duty’ means a duty imposed by law). Significantly, Section 222(5)(b) states that “a person commits homicide when, directly or indirectly, by any means, he causes the death of a human being, by being negligent (emphasis added).”
> How might such reasoning apply to the international arena? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has established with greater than 90% certainty that GHG emissions from human activities have caused “most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century” and climate change is clearly capable of causing catastrophic damage. The failure or refusal of major CO2 emitters to reduce their emissions therefore arguably breaches a reasonable standard of care. What is missing in international law is acknowledgment of the offense and the capacity to create and enforce a legal duty to act.
> There is no prima facie reason why the behavioural standards imposed by international law should not be as rigorous as those required by domestic law. If human-induced climate change is a cause of death and destruction, then Canada and the United States, countries with among the highest CO2 emissions per capita on the planet, are guilty of “wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons”. Pity that they seem poised once again to undermine the global community’s efforts to reach international agreement on serious GHG emissions reductions.
IS NOT THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT GUILTY OF NEGLIGLENCE?
Here we go again. Bill Rees is putting the goat horns on the Harper government for a criminally negligent non-policy of fighting climate change. Let's run with his assumptions. Let us assume that rising CO2 emssions drive climate change, and that climate change is the worst and most serious calamity ever to befall the human race.
Then the most morally negligent position would be that of Canada's three opposition parties--the Liberals, the NDP and the Greens.Why? Because none of them would actually commit to shutting down the tarsands project. They would only slow it down or freeze it a present production levels. Liberal leader Stephane Dion even stated, absurdly, that he would "green" it.
But the opposition parties would do something else. They would hike the Harper government's stratosphere immigration intake by 25% !!!! At the time of the October 2008 federal election, 3-4 years of business-as-usual immigration would cause GHG emissions equivalent to that of the entire tarsands project. In other words, thanks to our recklessly insane policy of mass immigration, we would be adding the equivalent of another tarsands project every 3-4 years. Put another way, according to John Meyer's calculations (Meyer was head of Zero Population Growth Canada and is a graduate in economics), the immigrants who came to Canada after this policy took off in 1990 have been collectively responsible for 3-4 times as much GHG emission as the tarsands, and have accounted for the transformation of farmland or forests into housing developments of an area the size of 3-4 Torontos. That is, 3-4 times the size of the boreal forest despoiled by the tarsands project. Therefore, the opposition parties by favouring a dramatic increase of immigration as they consistently have, would ACCELERATE the pace of our ruin. A pace even rendered even more quick by the admission of 150,000 more people each year on so-called "Temporary Visas" which always prove to be not so temporary.
Rees himself, after being pressed, will admit that immigration "should be reduced somewhat" from its present level. But incredibly, he would open the floodgates to millions upon millions of climate change refugees, as if they have no ecological footprint. Imagine the logic. We are a country that is "guilty" of high GHG emissions. A country where 40% of the land mass is north of the 60th parallel and the average annual temperature is minus 5.6 degrees. A nation with just 5% of its land arable, and 20% of that arable land classified as "prime class one", the very land that is being paved over due to immigrant-driven population growth the highest of G8 countries. Land that contrary to Rees' fantasies, cannot be defended by smart growth snake oil nostrums. To assert otherwise, as he always does, is a conceit of the planning mentality and intellectually dishonest. Why? Because land-use planning is in the hands of local governments. And what did Professor Robert MacDermid's report on local campaign financing demonstrate---something we all should know---successful local politicians are bought and paid for by developers. And the vast frozen tundras and taiga forests of Canada cannot be home to Rees' environmental refugees. Nor can immigrants be compelled to live in depopulated rural regions that Canadians themselves find unviable for good reason. Out of some "legal" requirement, he would make environmental refugees out of Canadians to accomodate the millions of refugees he forsees. Refugees who would be injected into a country of much higher GHG emissions! Kind of like a hair-of-the-dog cure for a hangover.
The Conservative government, with the worst of intentions, is in fact the "greenest" political party in Canada. That certanly damns it with faint praise. But while Harper is the guy with a lead foot on the gas pedal of our bus hurtling toward the cliff, his opponents would actually floor it if they were behind the wheel. They cannot decouple population and economic growth from environmental damage. We must shrink the economy, not stimulate it. And you can't do that by adding 340,000 foreign-born consumers to it each year, or encouraging higher fertility rates with more generous child benefits packages.
What amazes me is that the counterfeit greens spend so much time being enraged at "deniers"---all of whom should be silenced and jailed it seems. Yet they deny the most obvious fact in the room. Canada's overpopulation. Population growth is not even on their radar. Their mantra is "over-consumption, over-consumption". They would cut our per capita consumption in half but be oblivious if our population doubled in the process. One Sierra Club director told me that the connection between immigration and environmental degradation was "spurious". Green Party leader Elizabeth May says that immigration is a "trivial" component of our environmental problems, and that the immigrants who are doing the real damage are the oil companies involved in the tarsands project. Rees says that there is no reason why "greenfield" acreage cannot be preserved in the face of mass immigration and population growth---an assertion that experience everywhere disputes (Portland Oregon, Los Angeles, and even the greenbelts of the UK). Equally amazing is that people who have built their careers around defending endangered species in Canada or effecting concern about our ecological footprint would suddenly do an about-face at the first sign of a refugee flotilla. Or that they would not breath a word about population growth when the census report revealed how rampant it was , or use the birth of an 18th child to an Abbotsford BC couple as a "teachable moment" to link population growth to GHG emissions. These people are the real skeptics. They are the real deniers and ostriches. And given their acceptance of donations from corporations who have a vested interest in population growth, it is outrageous that environmental NGOs have the chutzpah to accuse climate skeptics of being on the take.
White mea culpas not suffice for solutions. You cannot absolve the poor of all responsibility by focusing exclusively on the greedy excesses of the rich. As Madeline Weld has said, the bottom billion of the world's population have caused as much environmental damage as the top billion. There is surely enough "bad behaviour" to go around. If we are all passengers in a global lifeboat, as open-borders greens maintain, we cannot allow the low footprint guys on one side of it to come over and sit on our laps. There is not much that is morally responsible about drowning everybody. Nature takes no notice of our political, legal or moral sensibilities. The politically correct rhetoric of human rights makes little impression on it. The reality is, the Law of Carrying Capacity trumps Canada's Criminal Code every time.