Skewed perspectives could make for bad policy in 2017

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute wants us to follow its lead, but its business-as-usual, everything's-fine conclusions will lead to disaster

Macdonald-Laurier Institute policyRED DEER, Alta. Dec. 30, 2016/ Troy Media/ – The Macdonald-Laurier Institute says it exists “to make poor public policy unacceptable in Ottawa.” People along the entire political spectrum in Canada would likely suggest the institute has had a rather poor success rate at that over the years – but that at least does bolster its second claim of being non-partisan.

A recent essay by Managing director Brian Lee Crowley debunked what he called popular myths that could lead to poor public policy for 2017.

But if policy-makers in Ottawa accepted his arguments, there would be an outpouring of poor public policy in the coming year. That’s because his so-called myths come from the perspective of someone who can’t see the forest for the trees.

First, Crowley seeks to dispel the thought “endlessly repeated that we must get off fossil fuels or we are all doomed.”

From his perspective, fossil fuels are so cheap, storable and transportable, and so energy-dense that chasing after alternatives is foolish. Fossil fuels are actually an irreplaceable protection against the climate’s ravages, he writes.

To lend a whiff of scientific credence to this, Crowley claims that the rate of climate-related deaths has fallen recently. Unfortunately, there’s less connection between that and the incidence of extreme weather events than he believes. Maybe, with all our practise, we’re just getting better at saving people during storms.

What he doesn’t mention is that Arctic temperatures have been measured at more than 20 degrees Celsius above long-term averages, and that the ice sheets that control weather patterns in our hemisphere (also almost two degrees warmer than normal) are smaller and thinner than they’ve ever been.

Likewise, he doesn’t mention that technology is making fossil fuels less irreplaceable for many purposes. This year, in many countries, unsubsidized renewable energy reached a production cost to match or beat carbon-based alternatives.

When Bloomberg analysts suggest oil prices could drop as low as $10 a barrel in coming decades (a supply/demand prediction), when energy giants are turning off fossil fuel plays and investing in wind and solar, when Saudi princes want to sell off parts of family-owned Aramco, I’d say the writing is on the wall.

We’ll be drilling and mining fossil fuels for a good while yet, but we’ll be doing less and less of it. And that has a public policy impact when considering multibillion-dollar investments in things like pipelines.

Another myth Crowley seeks to debunk is the assumed control over global government policy held by giant corporations. In this, I agree with him – to a point.

History shows us over and over how large empires, political and economic, are not eternal. They always create niches for disruptive ideas and technologies that bring them down and create new ones.

For instance, public acceptance of the dangers of climate change will lead to policies to account for widespread changes in the way we lead our lives.

In the same way, public policy must eventually address the dangers inherent in the growing income gap between the vastly wealthy and everyone else, nationally and internationally.

On this topic, Crowley suggests that poor people and poor nations merely haven’t learned the lessons about the forces that cause economic growth. In other words, they’re poor because they’re stupid.

That’s about as blatant a basis for poor public policy as you’ll ever find.

Finally, Crowley invokes Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, the great lamenter who in ancient days predicted doom if God’s Chosen People didn’t return to pious right-living.

These days, you’ll find a Jeremiah in every crackpot blog or fringe political party, he says.

The trouble was, in his time, Jeremiah was right. Israel was doomed to be conquered and its people enslaved, but they would later return to their homeland.

Crowley might also have referenced Greek legend Cassandra. But he’d have been wrong on that as well. Her prophecies were also spot-on but her fate was that nobody would pay attention to her.

Not paying attention to the narrow perspective of groups like the Macdonald-Laurier Institute would be a good first step in creating better public policy.

The institute’s business-as-usual, everything’s-fine conclusions will not see us into a better future.

Greg Neiman is a freelance editor, columnist and blogger living in Red Deer, Alta. Greg is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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