It's the one-tonne Kyoto fraud

Yoo-hoo, Mr. Prime Minister, your emissions-reduction plan is dead as a doornail

Saturday, January 15, 2005 - Page A21

I'm sorry to report that, despite the urgings of Rick Mercer, my street has not embraced the "one-tonne challenge." No doubt you've seen the ads, brought to you by our federal government. The government wants us to do our bit to halt climate change. "C'mon Canada," says Rick. "Lose a tonne. Feel great."

The people on my street are conscientious and socially aware. They are proud to be Canadian and care a lot about the environment. Many of them even voted NDP. But I am sad to tell you that, on my street, they don't seem to give a hoot about the one-tonne challenge. There's an SUV in almost every driveway. Nobody has given up her car to bike or walk to work (although one virtuous soul has traded in her SUV for a Toyota Prius). Sure, we all recycle, because we care, and the city will reject our garbage if we don't. But give up our SUVs? Are you kidding?

On Kyoto, we're all hypocrites. We think sacrifice is fine for everyone but us. But we are also rational. Does anybody with an IQ higher than a turnip really think that upgrading our insulation and turning off our computers at night -- two other hot tips from the government's one-tonne-challenge website -- will help save the planet, even if everyone in the entire country does it?

But we are not the biggest hypocrites. The biggest hypocrite is our Prime Minister, who made a foolish promise so we would vote for him for being green. Last June, nobody cared about the planet more than he did. And now he can't deliver. Either he is as thick as a turnip, or he always knew he couldn't deliver but thought he could fake his way out of it later.

That will be hard. The Kyoto deal comes into force on Feb. 16, and Canada will be nowhere near to meeting its commitment to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. This has created something of a panic in the ranks of the bureaucracy, which has invested lavishly in marketing brochures, websites, TV commercials, community events and make-work programs to pretend that we're doing something meaningful. In New Brunswick, we have a "climate change bus." In Alberta, there is carbon-neutral event hosting. I'm not sure what this is, but I expect you're supposed to ride your bike to it. In B.C., our government has sponsored a gripping reality-TV show that follows three couples as they retrofit their houses. And to show that he doesn't just talk the talk, John Efford, our Minister of Natural Resources, has described in detail how he turns down his hot-water heater when he's out of town.

The money we have spent pretending to do something about the environment makes all the money wasted on the sponsorship scandal look like loose change. And all the energy we've saved so far has probably been cancelled out by Paul Martin's travels on his Challenger jet.

Unfortunately, the spending has only just begun. The government has set aside $3.7-billion to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Alarmed that voluntary measures have been a total flop, the bureaucrats are cooking up far more ambitious schemes. Soon they will be bribing us to buy hybrid cars and solar panels. Perhaps they'll also start buying carbon credits from Russia. This means that nobody actually has to cut emissions, but we send Russia a big bag of money.

The truth is, Mr. Martin is in a fix. Voluntarism doesn't work. Carrots have a lousy record, too. (One recent scheme, to encourage people to buy eco-friendly energy systems, wound up spending $3.3-million on rebates and $20-million on salaries, marketing and overhead.) Coercion is not much of an option, either. The best way to get people to cut car emissions is to double gas prices, but that is also the best way to commit political suicide.

Kyoto was a folly from the beginning, and Mr. Martin surely knew it. Canada signed on to deeper cuts than any other nation, and making them would be economically ruinous. Besides, even if you do believe that cutting greenhouse gases will affect climate change (a highly iffy proposition), Canada's actions won't make the slightest difference to the fate of the planet. We're an itty-bitty nation in a great big world. Sure, we squander energy. But even if we sacrificed our hearts out, the new cars on the road in Beijing next year alone would cancel out all our good deeds and then some.

By the way, although I expect Mr. Martin won't bring this up either, the Kyoto Protocol is dead as a doornail. Officially, it will limp along until 2012, although other nations won't meet their commitments, either. They know Kyoto doesn't matter, because not only the United States but the entire developing world, including India and China, have refused to sign on. Australia, being more sensible than we are, didn't sign on. And many of the European Union nations won't renew in 2012. (Italy has already said it won't.) That's because Kyoto is unworkable, and everybody knows it except our bureaucrats, who are gamely pressing on in the teeth of all the evidence.

In other words, we are spending billions on a scheme that amounts to nothing but feel-good PR and hot air, and has been rejected by almost everyone else. It's enough to make a girl crank up her water heater, turn on all the lights, and get in her SUV for a long drive to nowhere.