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I, like many activists, am fairly critical of the notion that new technologies are about to arrive which will diffuse the ticking time bombs that are peak oil and climate change. But there’s a much bigger mythical solution which needs even more scorn and contempt: government. Too many activists, academics and pundits have become addicted to seeing government policy as a magic wand which can be used to solve any and all problems. It won’t, and it can’t. A much better analogy would be a magic ring, like something Tolkein would write, which has an evil and devious mind of it’s own.
It’s 2010. Bush is gone. The science on climate change is stronger than ever and runaway oil prices already have wrecked the world economy. Everyone from Al Gore to Alan Greenspan is admitting that we have a very serious problem. And yet the “solutions” we are being offered have not changed. Bigger highways, fossil fuels and a strong auto industry. These policies overshadow in every way any “progress” made in North America towards sustainable government policies.
I’ve already written recently several times about Obama’s bailout extravaganza for the auto industry. But the situation is becoming pretty clear at all levels. Deutsche Bank recently snubbed the US over its failure to pass effective climate change legislation and pledged to focus its $6-7 billion climate investing portfolio on Western Europe and China instead. And locally, though he did pledge billions in his most recent tax break for big corportions to build new rail lines, it was not only overshadowed by a much larger increase in highways, but also isn’t going to come close to meeting the growing maintenance backlog for America’s transit system – now $77.7 billion. This case is especially telling, since people are actually flocking to public transit in droves, passenger miles went from 39.8 billion in 1995 to 55.2 billion in 2008. Unfortunately, without extra funding, this success is putting a huge added strain on transit networks.
Locally, politicians continue to drag their feet. In the name of “giving more stalls to local farmers”, the newly redeveloped Hamilton Farmers Market will have 26 less stalls than it did before. The stadium debate still rages around the merits of a highway-side location, and now threatens to tear up the Aberdeen rail yard on the recommendation of city staff. Now that’s planning for a low-oil future.
The $100 million budget for the Pan-Am games would be really handy at dealing with these problems. It’s a damn shame we’ll never be able to direct that money as it should be spent. But what’s even more unfortunate is that this money is only a drop in the bucket of the billions we hand over annually to deal with these issues, for which we get less and less (school, health care etc) back. The very nature of governments prohibits them from solving these problems because it places them in bed with the corporations which cause it. Canadians can understand this – the entire history of our colonization is one where big, resource-hungry corporations like the Hudson Bay Company ran the land.
The first step in taking effective action is to realise that the government is not going to do it for us.