There is something you should know about Canadians: underneath the politeness, we would all honestly like to see our country become a superpower. (Mostly, we want this just so that everyone can share in the joy of being Canadian, but part of us wants to be better than the U.S.A.)
So, naturally, when I saw the headline “How Canada will become a superpower” on io9, I silently grinned. (And immediately apologized.)
But that smile was wiped away pretty quickly, because the reason Canada will become a superpower—actually, it probably won’t, but it will become more populous and more influential—is global warming. The fact is, Canada may, on average, stand to benefit from climate change. The opening of the Northwest Passage; the sudden accessibility of oil and other natural resources in the North; the potential expansion of arable, or at least livable, land as the climate warms; all could see Canada’s GDP, as well as population, increase. True, we’ll lose some ice-bound vistas and cute polar bears along the way…but it could all be for the best.
That, I think, is the attitude our current government is taking. For a while they were straight up deniers, but I think they’ve come around. And they’re good at mumbling rhetoric about how we’re going to cut our GHG emissions while growing the economy. So very good at it. Because growing the economy is what this government most wants to do. I can’t say I blame them; non-capitalism and zero-growth-ism are not really mainstream ideals these days. So, politically, the best thing to do is take some minimum amount of action on GHG emissions while capitalizing on new economic opportunities.
But this is a shallow, nationalistic perspective on an issue that utterly ignores political boundaries. What’s good for Canada—and it won’t even be good for all of Canada—won’t be good for the rest of the world. So quietly letting business as usual continue? That might be good for Canada’s GDP, but on the whole, it will be worse for, well, the whole planet.
It will take a certain amount of moral courage to truly commit to making Canada a sustainable country. The political territory is fraught with many other issues, but at its heart, taking decisive, meaningful action against climate change means, for Canada, putting global environmental and social interests ahead of our own national economic interests. I don’t see any mainstream political party willing to do that. I suspect the Liberals would take the same route as the Conservatives, just more dishonestly—the Conservatives probably wouldn’t mind admitting that climate change was good for us.
In reality, some warming is inevitable, and any action we take would be to limit it, not prevent it altogether. So it makes sense to adapt and take advantage of some of the opportunities that will open up. But we have a responsibility to the rest of the world to let it go no further. And, beyond that, a responsibility to use whatever benefits accrue to help those parts of the world that are most heavily damaged by climate change.