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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.

Here’s an interesting article from Gizmag about the subsidies governments around the world give to various forms of energy. Not surprisingly, fossil fuels like coal and oil get far more money than renewable like solar, wind or biofuels. It makes sense. We’ve known for decades that energy companies practically own our governments. And it’s a lot easier to believe than some “global warming conspiracy” that governments are using to intentionally cripple our economy.

Years ago my high school economics teacher put the whole subsidy issue in a brilliant context. Ontario, at that time, was spending about $20 million on each anti-smoking programs and tobacco farming/industry subsidies. It isn’t about whether they accomplish anything in the real world – only if they make some friends for the people who grant them.

The fox is guarding the hen house, and we’re the hens. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Relying on governments and corporations to bring us a just and sustainable world is a failing proposition. These people have spent the last century doing everything possible to make global warming worse, and they still are. If we want to stop global warming, we need to stop them.

(Apologies for not being able to post the original paper. It’s a pay-per-view study on the Bloomburg network. One more example of how “intellectual property” keeps necessary knowledge from the public.)

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