The Saskatchewan Government’s “White Paper on Climate Change”
The Government of Saskatchewan released its White Paper on Climate Change a couple of days ago as a response to the Trudeau Government’s imposition of a federal “carbon tax”. I’ve spent the last couple of days since going over the document and now want to comment on what is wrong with Premier Brad Wall’s policy, for it demonstrates the kind of “zombie logic” that we’ve discussed earlier. The White Paper is an example of how NOT to address the problem of climate change and the tough issue of transitional economics.
This morning, columnist Murray Mandryk of the Regina Leader-Post published a critique of the paper, pointing out that the policy does no better in addressing the problem of climate change than does the federal carbon tax (“Wall’s climate plan no better than Trudeau’s carbon tax“).
There are multiple problems with Wall’s White Paper, but the most glaring one is the presumption that the climate crisis is a technical problem moreso than an ethical issue: technics trumps ethics throughout. More than a technical issue that can be resolved through another techno-fix, the issue is the ethos which has resulted in the crisis in the first place. And by “ethos” we mean here the “consciousness structure”. This is essentially the point of Heraclitus’s famous remark that “ethos is fate”. Usually “ethos” is translated as “character”, but it actually implies what we mean by a “consciousness structure”.
The Wall government’s policy emphasis is on “adaptation, resilience, and innovation”. This triad, basically, assumes that the fundamental problem is one of technics. And while these issues of adaptation, resilience, and innovation cannot be ignored, neither can the ethos. It avoids the essential question which got us into this mess in the first place, and in those terms, though it appears like a “transitional” strategy, it’s merely an adaptive one designed to insulate the ideology and economic orthodoxy of market fundamentalism from any serious scrutiny or any real transition at all. And not only that, but recasts climate change crisis as both a “technical” and a “marketing opportunity”, recalling Naomi Klein’s critique in The Shock Doctrine of “disaster capitalism”.
In effect, then, Premier Wall and his government are engaged in a slight-of-hand. The White Paper effectively decouples the issue of climate change from the issue of neo-liberal ideology and the prevailing economic orthodoxy. Economic thinking and climate crisis are treated as two separate issues, befitting an obsolete “either/or” logic, rather than conjoined issues in which, in effect, the environment/climate is forced to take a back seat to ideology – the political and economic orthodoxy of neo-liberalism or “market fundamentalism”.
This is an example of “zombie logic”, and, in fact, the document is riddled with absurdities, such as the claim that Saskatchewan deserves “carbon credits” for exporting its uranium around the world, as this takes 375 million tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere annually that would otherwise be produced by coal generation. Since Saskatchewan generates 75 million tonnes of carbon annually, with this kind of “offset” or carbon credit, Saskatchewan would be classified as a negative emitter, having 300 million tonnes of carbon credit in its account. So we wouldn’t really have to do anything serious about mitigation or transition.
Fortunately, the paper doesn’t push that claim to strenuously. But while the Saskatchewan government insists it will assume responsibility for mitigating its share of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it engages just as much in rationalising why it shouldn’t and focusses more on building a firewall around the economy — “adaptation, resilience and innovation” are just a three-prong plan for erecting a firewall around the economy rather than giving any serious consideration to economic transformation or even what we call “soul-searching”, ie, questioning the technocratic ethos.
Certainly, we can acknowledge the predicament and dilemma that many governments now find themselves in. But that doesn’t excuse them from the necessity of examining why we’ve ended up in these predicaments and dilemmas in the first place, and why the “techno-fix” (and, God forbid, even geo-engineering) is not an appropriate response to the predicament and dilemma. It’s the ethos that must be scrutinised.
Another problem with the White Paper is that it involves a potential “moral hazard”, as it is called in economics — in this context, the temptation to appear to be doing something significant without actually doing it at all.