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The Canary's Song Remains Unheard in Copenhagen

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According to President Obama, the agreement reached at the Copenhagen Summit was an "unprecedented and meaningful breakthrough." Desperately seeking a political victory to restore faith in his presidency, his words were "full of sound and fury signifying nothing." The agreement was a sham in which developing countries were pressured into approving a set of terms which set a 2% target while many scientists are calling for a 1.5% target. The cutbacks have no legal force, and, in fact, will lead to at least to a 3% increase in greenhouse emissions.

Climate change is one of three major global exigencies desperately exhorting leaders in North America and around the globe to agree to an efficacious viable solution. The other two are the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia; and the economic crisis which threatens to destabilize and cripple the global economy.

A number of common threads run through the core of these crises. Most obvious is the egregious, nefarious power of major corporations that dominate policy decision-making almost to the point of securing a monopoly. There is no question that the coal and petroleum industries both in Canada and the United States have exerted a tremendous amount of energy to restrict government decisions to policies which avert any actions that might reduce their profits.

The triumph of fossil fuel industries over future generations is evident in the continued search for coal and oil. In the United States, coal companies are blowing the tops off mountains in the Appalachian range to mine for coal in order to expand the use of coal for generating power despite the fact that coal releases twice the greenhouse emissions as other fossil fuels. In addition, U.S. military interventions recently served the purpose of gaining control over oil and natural gas reserves to secure their availability for many years to come.

Canada could win the prize for the nation least concerned about the use of fossil fuels by opening up the tar sands for the extraction of oil. Not only is this source of oil dirty and expensive, but as well, the tar sands should confer the dubious honor on Canada as number one in the world in oil reserves opening the way for the use of fossil fuels for generations. Canada's plethora of oil and natural gas is only exceeded by its generosity in sharing its riches with other countries, including the United States, of course, for a price.

Enlightenment about climate change could have informed American and Canadian leaders of the imperative to leave fossil fuels where they belong, in the ground. Replacement of fossil fuels with alternate forms of energy should be the singular priority of both countries. Canada and the U.S. might have spent the blood money wasted on war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq to support wind power, solar power, retrofitting and incentives for conservation of energy etc. The U.S. in particular, with its nearly three trillion dollar investment in oil and natural gas in Afghanistan and Iraq, might have shown real leadership in replacing fossil fuels with alternatives.

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As well, leaders from the U.S. and Canada understand these issues from a narrow ideological framework that limits their scope in the search for solutions and limits the context in which they understand the real problems. Both countries are locked into so-called free-market privatized solutions to all social and economic problems. The concept of cap and trade is just one example of the misplaced reliance on free markets to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Short term thinking is the bane of progress in countries where electoral success and short-term profits are the priority. Presidents' and prime ministers' visions are limited to the next election. When Harper and Obama gaze at the horizon, it's never more that a few years away, as every decision is not only influenced by ideology and corporate pressures, but also by the overriding primacy of winning the next election or leaving a positive legacy.

On the other hand, corporate management is exclusively focused on the next shareholders meeting and their reports of profit or losses. After all, they were hired to maximize profits, not to concern themselves with irrelevant matters such as the environment or social justice.

Unfortunately, the song of the canary singing in the coal mine has been falling on deaf ears. Money, power ideology and electoral success have drowned out its doleful dirge.

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I have been a professor of political science at Seneca College in Toronto. I have published five books the last of which "Selling Out: Consuming Ourselves to Death" was released in May/08. As well, I have been featured in CounterPunch, Z (more...)

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