Jeffry Simpson, Columnist, Globe and Mail

EVENT DATE: November 13, 2008
TOPIC: Hot Air

Mr. Simpson joined The Globe and Mail in 1974.  He became its Ottawa bureau chief in 1978; served in London UK as its European correspondent, 1981-1983; and began writing his national affairs column in 1984.  He has published eight books.  His latest, published in 2007, with Mark Jaccard and Nic Rivers, is titled Hot Air: Meeting Canada’s Climate Change Challenge.  He has written numerous magazine articles and is a regular contributor to television programs in both English and French.

Jeffrey Simpson has won all three of Canada’s leading literary prizes – the Governor-General’s award for non-fiction book writing, the National Magazine Award for political writing, and the National Newspaper Award for column-writing (twice).  In 2000, he became an Officer of the Order of Canada.

He studied at the University of Toronto, Queen’s University and the London School of Economics.  He has received honorary doctorates of laws from Queen’s and other universities.  He has been a member of Queen’s board of trustees and the editorial board of The Queen’s Quarterly.  He has taught at Queen’s Institute of Policy Studies and The University of Ottawa Law School. He is a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.  He lives in Ottawa with his wife Wendy, and they have three children.

Globe columnist lambastes ‘national incoherence’ on carbon emissions – Posted By Lynn Rees Lambert on Kingston This Week Website 27 November 2008

Now that we won’t have the Bush administration to bash, get ready to see Canadians hitch their wagons to the newly-elected Obama administration’s policy on handling carbon emissions.

Jeffrey Simpson, the national affairs columnist for “The Globe and Mail” and winner of all three of Canada’s major literary prizes, provided a journalist’s insight into the issue as the guest speaker at the Canadian Club of Kingston meeting Nov. 13.

While climate change has grabbed headlines over the last decade, Simpson, whose latest book “Hot Air, Meeting Canada’s Climate Change Challenge,” co-authored with Mark Jaccard and Nic Rivers, pointed out that the last six months have put a completely different spin on the topic.

In essence, it’s been put on the back burner as the “economic downdraft” packs a global wallop.

“Fourteen months ago, when we wrote this book, we anticipated that oil would rise in a measured steady fashion,” he explained. At the time, policy makers were toying with a form of carbon tax and a range of options to combat climate change.

Not now.

Two things have completely changed the landscape: the rapid rise in the price of oil, which started in the summer, and the economic meltdown that began in the United States and has washed over the globe.

When gas prices skyrocketed, “people were overwhelmed with talk about a carbon tax,” said Simpson. “SUV sales went down, factories closed and the sale of fuel-efficient cars went up.”

“People will change their behaviour when faced with a new economic reality but people can’t adjust that quickly,” he noted.

And, while the public appears to be united in wanting to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, he said, how and at what cost is another story altogether. It’s a case of NIMBY — not in my back yard, he said.

“We go for energy-efficient light bulbs, energy-efficient appliances, but paying higher prices for energy or gas is an unpalatable option.”

Plus, the general public is distrustful of all politicians when they say a carbon tax will go to reducing taxes.

“They fear it will be wasted, sent overseas or they’ll lose it.”

Simpson lambasted the “national incoherence” on the political scene, noting that the world is watching.

“We’re naked as newts,” he said of our scandalous, but rarely talked about, emissions record, pointing out that we have the worst record on Kyoto emission levels. Our emissions have gone up faster than during the Bush administration’s, he said.

But being “morally superior Canadians,” we have a plan: a 20-per cent reduction in emissions by 2020, a target that is “arithmetically impossible,” as long as we continue to develop the oil sands.

What’ll we do?

“We’ll join the Americans, since we can’t come up with a national solution.”

Through this confusion, Simpson believes we are headed in a new direction.

“We are living in the early stages of a revolution, or re-organization, towards a new kind of energy mix,” Simpson stated. “We’re beginning to develop alternatives but we’re not sure when or its application. A lot will be trial and error.”

But, again, with the “economic downdraft” front and centre, these issues will get short shrift.

The auto industry, “a catastrophe,” is one area that needs analysis.

“Four years ago the government gave a subsidy to GM to build Camero muscle cars,” he pointed out. And, while he is sympathetic to the workers and families who will be affected by the massive layoffs that are predicted for the Big 3 companies, should the government decide to offer bailouts, “every penny has to be invested into green technology.”

Simpson also pushed for a national transportation grid, acceleration on the infrastructure that is useful, as in a fast train from Toronto to Quebec, and an accelerated public transit project.

“We also need to figure out a way of pricing carbon.”

The right time to start such a campaign is now, he said, while gas is low.

Because it won’t stay this low for long.

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