Photo: All together now

(Credit: David Wise)

By Jeffery Young, Biologist, and Tyler Bryant, Energy Policy Analyst

On Earth Day (April 22), a quarter of a million Canadians gathered in Montreal in the largest public display of support for the environment in our history. Shortly after this event, Albertans elected Alison Redford and her Progressive Conservative party, with support for the science of climate change as a key factor in her victory. Not long ago, British Columbians adopted a carbon tax and Ontarians got behind continued expansion of renewable energy. These are just a few times when Canadians from different parts of the country stood together for the environment while showing that supporting the environment does not mean ignoring the economy or other important values.

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Let's take a quick look at the example of climate change. The International Energy Agency recently said the world will need to mobilize $5 trillion in investment by 2020 and that we have five years, at current rates of fossil fuel use and investment patterns, before we lock in irreversible climate change. This is challenging but demonstrates that moving quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is not a choice between environment and economy. Our environment, economy and well-being will all depend on how we confront this challenge. Like all challenges, it also presents an opportunity.

To seize this opportunity, diverse sectors of society will have to step forward and work together. Identifying the problems — social, economic and environmental — is just the start. It will then take many people with a range of skills and entrepreneurial energy to develop solutions, and lots of them. This kind of innovation is based on objective information, access to this information and decisions made along the way, as well as shared ownership and participation in the process. Evidence, transparency and inclusivity are the key ingredients to success.

There are many within industry, government, First Nations, academia and communities across the country willing to work together. As an organization, our most effective work is when we empower others and co-create solutions that stand and grow beyond anything we could have accomplished on our own. Recent examples include an agreement with the West Coast bottom trawl fishery that provides protection for threatened corals and sponges using an innovative market-based management system, and a shared statement of principles for clean energy development with leaders in Canada's electricity generation industry. Our own victories are good, those made with many partners are better, and those claimed by others and carried through without us are the best.

One of the most important leaders in building a strong future for Canada is the federal government. It has the potential to support and convene diverse interests, as well as gather and provide critical information — conditions that support a common space for developing solutions and spurring real innovation. When it comes to the environment and natural resources, the government is an important regulator, establishing clear rules that create a level playing field while ensuring that the air, water, food and climate we depend on is protected. Essentially, it can empower all stakeholders to achieve public policy outcomes beneficial to Canadians.

But instead of taking this approach, Canada's government is weakening scrutiny, debate and stakeholder-driven processes in favour of an opaque and narrow definition of the "national interest." Instead of leading, the government is avoiding tough deliberation and debate on some of the most important public policy issues of our time. This approach cuts out input from aboriginals, scientists, non-government organizations and many businesses. In doing so, it risks arriving at decisions that Canadians consider illegitimate. Further, there will be less information available overall, providing far less fuel for innovators, while reducing the government's accountability for meeting the shared challenges we face. These decisions do not reflect the values that Canadians demonstrated during the Earth Day gathering in Montreal, those in Alberta who voted for real action on climate change, or those who support renewable energy in Ontario and carbon pricing in B.C.

In response to the changes, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said, "Some claim that it is an either/or proposition, the economy or the environment. We disagree." The recent actions of his government do not reflect this understanding. Fortunately, the recent actions of Canadians across the country do.

May 7, 2012
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/panther-lounge/2012/05/all-together-now/

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