Saturday, February 17, 2007

Frivolous posturing on Kyoto

The London Free Press,
by Rory Leishman

In forcing a bill through Parliament that gives the Harper government 60 days to come up with a detailed plan for fulfilling Canada’s commitments under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the three opposition parties are simply playing Canadians for fools. The leaders of these parties know full well that no government –- not even one led by them -- could possibly meet this absurd deadline.

Under terms of the Kyoto Protocol, Canada is supposed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to six per cent below the levels set in 1990 by 2012. The previous Liberal government signed this Kyoto Protocol on behalf of Canada, but failed to devise a plan for fulfilling the commitment.

Indeed, during 13 years of Liberal rule in Ottawa, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions rose more than 30 per cent above the 1990 level. Liberal leader Stephane Dion cannot escape responsibility for this record inasmuch as he served as the environment minister of Canada between 2004 and 2006.

Having failed for two years to devise a plan for complying with Kyoto, how can Dion expect the Harper government to pull off this feat within 60 days? Dion knows full well that this deadline is preposterous. In a candid moment during last year’s election campaign, he admitted that he did not think that a Liberal government led by him would be able to slash Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions as required by the Kyoto Protocol within the next five years.

Dion had good reason for scepticism. It’s practically impossible for any government to have Canada comply with the Liberals’ rash Kyoto commitment According to the latest data from Environment Canada, Canada contributed about 758 megatonnes of green house gases to the atmosphere in 2004. That was 195 megatonnes above the Kyoto target.

Eliminating 195 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions is a monumental undertaking. Even a total ban on the operation of automobiles would cut Canada’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by fewer than 50 megatonnes.

Earlier this week, Mark Holland, the federal Liberal energy critic, pointed out that the Alberta oilsands are by far the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. Without going into specifics, he suggested that Canada could not possibly meet its Kyoto target, unless the rate of growth in this industry is significantly curtailed.

Perhaps so. Yet even the complete closure of the oilsands industry would not bring Canada into compliance with the Kyoto Protocol. As Holland should know, total oilsands production in Alberta produces fewer than 35 megatonnes of annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Besides, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach wants nothing to do with Holland’s proposal to curtail expansion in the oilsands industry. In a statement on Monday, he warned that “a moratorium on oilsands development will bring about dire economic consequences right across the country.”

That’s not exaggeration. The oilsands already account for more than 40 per cent and will soon rise to well over half of Canada’s total annual crude oil production .

It also happens that the Alberta oilsands are owned by the province and subject to provincial regulation. How could any federal government induce Stelmach to overcome his reluctance to impose production curbs on this vital Alberta industry in the interests of complying with Kyoto? Holland and his fellow Liberals have yet to offer any explanation.

In Ontario, one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases is the provincially owned Nanticoke Generating Station. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty promised during the last provincial election to close this coal-burning polluter by 2009, but he recently backed away from this commitment, because Ontario simply cannot afford to get along without the electricity generated by the gigantic Nanticoke plant.

McGuinty’s brother, David, is the federal Liberal environment critic. Both McGuintys clamour for the Harper government to come up with a plan for complying with Kyoto. Yet neither brother is willing to contemplate any early closure of Ontario’s biggest polluter at Nanticoke.

On the Kyoto issue, it’s evident that the Liberals are hypocritical. And the same goes for leaders of the New Democratic Party, Green Party and the Bloc Quebecois. They all must know that Canada cannot possibly comply with the reckless Kyoto commitment made by the Liberals without plunging the entire country into a dire economic crisis.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Never any justification for torture

The Interim
By Rory Leishman

Alex Berenson, a reporter for the New York Times, has written a chilling and informative novel, The Faithful Spy, which raises some serious questions about whether it is sometimes right to do evil so that good might result.
In the course of the novel, John Wells, a CIA agent who has infiltrated Al Qaeda, uncovers evidence that a cell in the United States might be about to follow up the 9-11 attack with a far more lethal strike using a biological or nuclear weapon. Before he can get the information he needs to prevent the attack, he is asked to prove his loyalty to Al Qaeda, by assassinating a retired general who formerly headed counter-terror operations for the U.S. army.
Wells refuses to carry out the order. He tries instead to save the life of the general without blowing his cover as a CIA agent. Berenson writes: “There were some lines he could not cross. He couldn’t play God and sacrifice one of his countrymen in the hopes of saving others.”
Not all CIA agents in the novel are so scrupulous. Farouk Khan, a rogue Pakistani nuclear physicist who has been captured in Baghdad while in possession of a canister of bomb-making radioactive materials, is whisked away to a secret, overseas CIA interrogation centre. There, with the authority of a top-secret executive order of the United States president, CIA interrogation experts subject him to various forms of torture including a series of extremely painful shots of electricity from a Taser electrical gun.
Here the novel takes leave of reality. Under terms of United States law, it is a serious criminal offence for the President or anyone else to authorize or commit “an act specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering upon another person within his custody or physical control for the purpose of obtaining information.”
In conformity with this law, CIA interrogators can, and do, subject Al Qaeda operatives to rough treatment, including prolonged interrogations, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement. But under no circumstances can any agent of the United States deliberately torture or kill a prisoner.
This law is intensely controversial. Senator Hillary Clinton has argued for an amendment that would authorize the torture of a captured terror suspect who knows about “an imminent threat to millions of Americans.”
Andrew C. McCarthy, a prominent conservative columnist and former state prosecutor, takes the same view. In an article published last summer in Commentary Magazine, he pointed out that the great majority of people who oppose abortion “favour its availability in cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is at risk.”
Likewise, he contended that almost all of the sensible people who oppose the slaughter of innocents would support a just war that is necessary to defeat a profound evil at the cost of death for some innocent civilians.
“Torture is not meaningfully different,” McCarthy argued. Most people deplore torture, but would favour its use if necessary to get information out of a terrorist who is “aware that a radiological bomb will be detonated momentarily in the heart of a major metropolis.”
President George W. Bush disagrees. He rejects all utilitarian arguments for committing torture and deliberately killing the innocent. As a Christian, he takes the view expressed by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans that: “There are those who say: “And why not do evil that good may come?” Their condemnation is just.”
In a statement on torture at the White House on September 6, Bush reiterated: “I want to be absolutely clear with our people, and the world: The United States does not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it -- and I will not authorize it.”
Bush is right. In a just war, innocent civilians might inadvertently be killed. And in some exceedingly rare circumstances, abortion might be necessary to save the life of the baby’s mother. Nonetheless, it remains true that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral and can never be justified.
And the same goes for torture. Bush should stand by his conviction that there can never be any justification for authorizing or committing torture or murder.