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Peter Foster: Obama Vs Harper

Peter Foster, National Post

Climate change isn’t about policy as much as religion

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman’s approval on Tuesday of the revised Keystone XL pipeline route provided some counterbalance to President Obama’s recommitment to the climate agenda in Monday’s inaugural speech, but the pipeline is still far from a shoo-in. Meanwhile, the renewed emphasis on climate change signals more comprehensive uncertainty for Canada/U.S. relations. The problem, as ever, is that climate change isn’t so much about policy as religion.

The ever-perceptive Adam Smith noted how political factions often recruit God to their cause. “Even to the great Judge of the universe,” wrote Smith, “they impute all their own prejudices, and often view that Divine Being as animated by all their own vindictive and implacable passions.” Mr. Obama left us in no doubt on Monday that God demanded action on climate. “That,” said Mr. Obama, “is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.”

The speech confirms that Mr. Obama’s re-election — contrary to what an overwhelming majority of Canadians apparently think — is bad news for Canada, first in terms of what Mr. Obama’s rigid statism and fiscal fecklessness may do to the U.S. economy, and then in terms of policies that specifically affect Canada, primarily on energy and climate.

A common take on the inaugural speech was that it signalled a No More Mr. Post-Partisan Nice Guy. In fact, there never was such a guy. Mr. Obama’s attitude to opponents has always been dismissive. His self-righteous approach was summed up in the assertion that “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”

You see? Only liberals have principles to which they must stick; Republicans are just bone-headed “absolutists.” Name-calling too is only off-limits for the other team. When it came to climate, Mr. Obama had no compunction in invoking one of the most pernicious pieces of name-calling in recent history: “denier.”

He said that “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science,” but where is he getting his information? Has no briefing document reached the Oval Office informing him that global temperatures have stalled for the past 15 years, and that even NASA’s climate wildman, James Hansen, has now acknowledged the halt?

No sensible person “denies climate change.” The point is that science simply don’t know enough to justify draconian policies, whose impact would in any case be much more on wealth and freedom than weather (which some believe is the real agenda).

Regurgitating a previous State of the Union commitment not to let China or Germany monopolize all the suicidal green-energy policies, Mr. Obama declared on Monday that “We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries. We must claim its promise.” But such policies promise only job destruction, and certainly no impact on the climate.

Canada has much to fear when it comes to Mr. Obama’s renewed embrace of climatism. Despite all the diplomatic boiler plate about their “good working relationship,” Mr. Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper are ideological opposites. Mr. Harper’s promotion of Canada as a fossil fuel “energy superpower” always put him on a collision course with a president who — like King Canute but without the irony — claimed that he would halt the rise of the oceans with windmills and solar panels. In fact, Canute was back on the podium on Monday, claiming that taking on the climate challenge would be the way to maintain “our national treasure, our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks.”

Keystone XL, designed to take some 830,000 barrels of diluted bitumen a day from the oil sands to the refineries of the U.S. Gulf Coast, has become the prime target — and fundraiser — for radical environmental NGOs, who are unlikely to allow Governor Heineman’s approval to deter them from their jihad against “dirty” oil. Turning Keystone down again would severely damage Canadian-U.S. relations, but does Mr. Obama really give a fig? Far from being a problem for him, the oil bottleneck in the U.S. Midwest, which is due to oil sands expansion and the tight-oil boom in North Dakota, is a bonus, since hefty oil price discounts are effectively subsidizing U.S. industry. It is also arguably in the U.S. short-term — and short-sighted — interest to have new export routes for Alberta oil to the West Coast held up.

Some believe that if Mr. Obama approves Keystone XL, he will have to link it with a measure such as a carbon tax, a surefire job destroyer. This would be more bad news for Canada, which would be forced to introduce similar measures. Although the Harper government ditched the impossible emissions commitments made under Kyoto by Jean Chrétien, it was forced to sign onto new unreachable targets that paralleled those of the U.S. out of fear of green trade sanctions.

The U.S. is certainly not on track to meet a commitment to a 17% reduction from 2005 emissions by 2020 either, but if President Obama decided to go for it, the Harper government’s so-far clever use of what might be called Fabian conservatism to avoid damaging commitments will come under intolerable pressure. As it is, Ottawa’s forthcoming announcement on petroleum industry emissions regulations already promises to stretch policy smoke and mirrors beyond their limits.

When it comes to the “great Judge of the universe,” meanwhile, the Harper government may well be praying that President Obama’s climate commitment represents more posturing than policy. They’ll certainly be thanking God that the Republicans still control the House of Representatives.

National Post, 23 January 2013