Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Is Peter Kent Trying to Move Harper on Climate Change?

This starts with a tangent:  I've been trying to understand why the World Bank's climate report is big news.  It's just a rehash of long available science.  The World Bank is not my idea of some kind of recalcitrant climate denial shop, but obviously they have some reason to be concerned since the prospect of a global economic dark age is probably not part of their neoliberal dream.  Near as I can figure, the report is "news" because it might indicate the global elite are starting to take Climate Change seriously.  Up until now, I could only figure that the non-denialist global elites (say, like Bill Gates) were just ignoring climate change because they figured it was inevitable and they would likely be able to profit from it anyway, so they weren't much concerned with a couple hundred million people dying. 

But maybe they're realizing that climate change will be even worse than that.  Even they might actually suffer harmful effects.  So naturally I wondered if the World Bank report had anything to do with the timing of these surprisingly realistic remarks by Peter Kent, Canada's federal environment minister:
Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent thinks recent extreme weather events are forcing politicians in both Canada and the U.S. to focus on the issue of climate change, and that includes members of his Conservative government's cabinet.
"You don't have to convince me that climate change is a very real and present danger and we need to address it."
Ok, I'm not going to applaud simple admission of reality to the discourse, but it turns out Peter Kent may have been acting as something of a voice of sanity at Harper's cabinet and caucus tables:
A series of letters signed by Kent have revealed he has faced many questions from colleagues in recent months about whether Canada needs to take action to reduce consumption of fossil fuels such as coal and gasoline that produce heat-trapping pollution and other toxic emissions in the atmosphere.
But in each of the letters, released through access to information legislation, Kent defended scientific evidence, while dismissing myths such as a suggestion from one Conservative that volcanoes were a major contributor to global warming.
“Even major volcanic eruptions emit only a very small fraction of carbon dioxide compared to annual human emissions,” Kent wrote in a Sept. 6, 2011 letter to one colleague that noted volcanic ash can cause short-term cooling in the atmosphere, lasting up to three years.
Obviously I'm reading tea leaves here, and this is the Environment minister who pulled Canada out of Kyoto, but this is better than having the MP who asked the volcano question as Environment minister.  That piece also quotes Green Party leader and sole MP Elizabeth May who raises a pertinent issue:
 “The biggest worry I have is (regarding) the member of his caucus who doesn’t understand climate science [...] is [...] the prime minister. That’s the biggest worry I have, because I cannot find any evidence that the prime minister of Canada has ever had a briefing on climate science from any of the prominent climate scientists in Canada, in or outside of government.
Is Kent trying to move the system from within?  I doubt it will work, but who knows.  Conservatives seem to place primary value on the source of any information as a means of verifying whether it is true.  Having the Conservative Federal environment minister tell his colleagues that "no, volcanoes aren't causing it..." and so forth probably has better odds of at least persuading them.  They won't listen to the likes of egghead grant sucking climatologists, but they might listen to one of their own.

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