The panellists, Lynn MacDonald and Peter Russell, spoke to this well-attended meeting co-sponsored by For Our Grandchildren. The third panellist, Glen Murray, (Ontario Minister for Research & Innovation) was unable to attend because of illness, but promised to participate in a public forum on the topic at a subsequent date.
In her opening remarks, Lynn MacDonald noted that the current Global Warming resulted from the great increase in emissions of Greenhouse Gases since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
Governments have the power to legislate solutions to this problem, but our Federal Government has no serious plan to reduce Canadian GHG emissions, and the Provinces appear constrained by this lack of leadership.
Can concerned citizens assert “rights” to end this inaction? Many times claims based upon the infringement of individual rights have led to revolutionary changes in a democratic legal system, changes such as the end of racial segregation, the emancipation of women, and the establishment of programs that secure individual health.
According to MacDonald, one difficulty of principle to the assertion of “rights” is that our notion of justice defines right and wrong in the “here and now”, allowing rights to be pursued in part at the expense of future generations.
MacDonald was hopeful that education for political change would lead to recognition of a need for legislation to reduce GHG emissions. She pointed out that many European countries are further down the road to change than Canada. She attributed this situation to the adoption of proportional representation in these countries. Under proportional representation, citizens concerned about the environment have a voice in many European legislative assemblies.
Peter Russell followed with a description of what action might be possible in Canada. He thought that attempting to enshrine a constitutional obligation to preserve the environment for future generations would require a huge effort. Considering the time that would be taken and the probability that the attempt would not succeed, he could not recommend this course of action, regardless of the seriousness of the risk from GHG.
Still the Federal Government has the power to act if it chooses to exercise the power. The task for citizens concerned about GHG is to get behind one model that could be the basis of remedial legislation. Whatever the respective merits of “Cap and Trade” versus a Green tax to discourage consumption of fossil fuels, the opponents of change (particularly the fossil fuel lobby) will exploit the confusion that will result from an extended debate of the advantages and disadvantages of these different models of legislation.
One question from the audience related to remarks by James Hansen at the University of Toronto last September. Hansen indicated that in the United States there was hope that lawsuits could force the US Government to Act. Lynn MacDonald referred to the confidence in the US that judges would fashion a judicial solution to fight against climate change (as they did in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, which started the US towards de-segregation). Peter Russell was less optimistic: he suggested that class action lawsuits were unlikely to produce a legal rabbit from the hat.
The Moderator, David Neelands, thanked the panellists for their clear presentation. Given the public interest, the sponsoring organizations have agreed to host a second panel on the subject. Please check the For Our Grandchildren Website for further information.