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Homesick for a place we never left

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The earth ‘cries out because of the harm we have inflicted on her.’ As a consequence, and by our own hand, once predictable and favorable weather patterns take deadly aim at us. This is a new experience, is it not? What was formerly a pretty benign exchange of work and fruit, has become a kind of wrath delivered at the hands of an ‘upset’ nature. It is as if we have fashioned an earthly gun which we now point at ourselves.

What can be done to confront the alliance of arrogance and greed that have conspired to reshape our common home?

The Church understands that her mission must embrace all of human reality, thus she claims the freedom to express moral judgement on this reality, whenever it may be required to defend the fundamental rights of persons and the salvation of souls. (Catholic Catechism #426).

It is not surprising then that Pope Francis found it necessary to deliver the strong message we find in his Encyclical, Laudato Si. His message speaks to the roles we play as citizens, consumers, producers, and governments, ones which have negatively impacted human life on the planet, especially the poor. 

It is in this light that I find it necessary, in this pre-election time, to allow Laudato Si speak a small word pertaining to the platforms of the major political parties vying for power. I will do this in two parts: First by a commentary by John Dillion, the ecological economy program coordinator for KAIROS. KAIROS is a social justice advocacy organization supported by 11 Christian churches and religious organizations including the Catholic, United, Anglican, Presbyterian, Mennonite and Lutheran churches and the Quakers. And secondly, through a brief encounter I had with candidates present at the pre-election forum held at Knox-Met on Sept. 29/2015.

Commentary by John Dillion… In June, when droughts and forest fires plagued western North America, Pope Francis released his message on care for the Earth, our common home. He deplored the failure of corporations, governments and International summits to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are responsible for dangerous climate change that is impacting the world’s most vulnerable people and species.

The Pope criticized “positions taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good.”

There is evidence that Canada is an example of such a country, putting short-term economic interests above achieving a livable future for all. Our new GHG reduction target of 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 is the weakest of any G7 country. The European Union, in contrast, has pledged to reduce its emissions to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. It is largely oil sands development that prevents Canada from being on track to reach its former weak GHG targets.

In its submission to the UN Climate Secretariat, Canada says it “may use international mechanisms to achieve (its new) target.” However, an analysis by Climate Action Tracker, a consortium of four climate research organizations, concludes that under current policies, “Canada would need to use a large quantity of international credits to meet its target.”

Canada’s decision to purchase credits abroad is counter to one of Pope Francis’ strongest warnings. In some of his most forceful language, he writes: “The strategy of buying and selling ‘carbon credits’ can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide…. Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.”

While Canada specifies that its use of international mechanisms would be “subject to robust systems that deliver real and verified emissions reductions,” the actual experience with carbon trading schemes provides ample evidence that real and verifiable reductions are difficult to achieve.

As Naomi Klein notes in This Changes Everything, over the first seven years of trading under the European Union’s emissions trading system, the largest carbon trading system in the world, between one-third and two-thirds of carbon credits did not represent real emission reductions.

One reason for this failure is that many credits purchased from projects in developing countries under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) were fraudulent. There have been reports that the same credits have been sold to several different buyers, and the use of offset projects can lead to double counting, with both industrial and developing countries claiming reductions through the same project.

There are also numerous examples of projects that result in grave human rights abuses. The most notorious include the evictions of indigenous peoples in Kenya and Uganda from their traditional lands to make way for forestry and tree plantation projects that would earn carbon credits.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A federal carbon fee that rises annually, with money returned to low income households and investments in energy efficiencies, renewable energy and public transit would feed the economy, create millions of jobs and help us reach more adequate GHG targets without offsets.

The Pope reminds us that humans “are capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.” I believe Canadians are up for this challenge.

My very brief face-to-face with candidates at the Knox-Met forum... Erin Weir, NDP candidate for Regina Lewvan, told me that the NDP positon treated climate change very seriously, manifested in their promise to invest in renewals, conservation and transit programs. Laudato Si applaudes such approaches--but not so much the cap and trade that is also a part of the NDP policy (see John Dillion above).

Erin also offered the view that the Conservative’s focus was only on the economy, and that the apparent success of the current Government’s sector by sector regulation approach to green- house gases was only due to the decreased carbon producing activity caused by the economic downturn of 2008.

Louis Brown of the Liberal candidate for Regina Lewvan, pointed to the Liberal Party’s  policies of investing in clean technologies and creating clean jobs and investment; he also stated that a Liberal Government would sit down with the Premiers of the Provinces to arrive at a Canadian solution for reducing green-house gases. In this regard, Laudato Si highlights dialogue as an effective approach in determining lines of action.

Because of their absence, I was unable to have a face-to-face with a Conservative candidate.