By David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

I'm no economist, but I read the papers. After the federal government recently unleashed the dog that is the Clean Air Act, I have to ask — does the prime minister?

I'm starting to wonder. Prime Minister Harper's Clean Air Act — yes, the very one he touted and championed for so long, the one he deep-sixed Kyoto for, the one he flew himself and a half-dozen other ministers across the country to tell confused journalists in a closed-door media event would be announced the following week — that one — landed with a resounding thud. It was immediately obvious to the media, the opposition, environmentalists and pundits alike that the Act lacked teeth. And it didn't take them long to chew it to bits.

The funny thing is, it was such a bush-league political blunder. Did Mr. Harper think he could so easily pull the wool over Canadians' eyes? Or did he just totally misread public sentiment on this issue? Memo to Mr. Harper: Canadians are very concerned about the environment, their health, Canada's international reputation and the connections between all three. You might want to at least look like you're paying attention.

Over the past year or two, Canadian polls have consistently shown increasing concern about environmental issues, especially global warming. Hardly a day goes by where there isn't another disturbing story in the news about glaciers melting, permafrost buckling, species extinction and more. Naturally, Canadians expected something halfway decent from a new act — especially after Mr. Harper's caucus presented this made-in-Canada alternative to Kyoto as the second coming.

Then the penny dropped. Headlines were almost universally condemning. Heck, a Vancouver Sun editorial, not exactly known for having green leanings, took Mr. Harper to task for failing to live up to expectations. Influential Globe and Mail columnist Jeffery Simpson called the Clean Air Act a "damp squib" and posed some especially relevant questions in a recent column: "Why do we offer tax incentives for high-carbon-producing sectors of the economy, but not for low-producing ones? Once we start understanding that carbon emissions are a problem, and that most of them are bad for the planet's health, should they not be priced accordingly? Use more, pay more? Use less, pay less?"

Well, yes. In fact, you'd think that the prime minister, a supposed champion of the free market, would be all over this kind of polluter-pay principle. After all, it seems completely fair. Why should the rest of society pay for one industry's pollution? And why are taxpayers still subsidizing dirty industries anyway? Canadians get hit coming and going on this one. We pay for dirty industries to make huge sums of money and pay again to clean up the environmental messes they leave behind. Ouch.

Leading investment bank Morgan Stanley seems to think there's money to be made through the polluter-pay principle. It recently made headlines by announcing plans to invest $3 billion (U.S.) on carbon emission credits. You remember those things created through the Kyoto Protocol? Global trading in this new "carbon market" which allows Kyoto signatories to buy and sell pollution credits doubled this year to $22 billion (U.S.).

Meanwhile, a former World Bank chief economist has warned that failing to curb global warming could trigger a world depression. Sir Nicholas Stern was asked by British Prime Minister Tony Blair to look into the economic ramifications of fighting global warming versus merely trying to adapt to it. His findings? The costs of cutting emissions are manageable, but the cost of doing nothing could lead to economic disaster. Again, his report was hardly a secret. It was all over the news.

Kyoto or no Kyoto, much of the world is moving on and starting to do something about global warming. Not by 2050, now. Please, someone get the prime minister a newspaper subscription, because he doesn't seem to have noticed.

November 3, 2006