TCS Daily

Canadian Hot Spots

By Lorne Gunter - September 27, 2002 12:00 AM

Canada's Inuit have joined forces with their circumpolar brothers and sisters - the Inuit of Greenland, Alaska and Siberia - to lobby their national governments for ratification of the Kyoto accord. At a Pan-Arctic conference last month, representatives of these, the world's 150,000 northern-most inhabitants, expressed deep concern that the Earth will heat up first and foremost at the poles. Permafrost will thaw and sea ice melt. If that happens, the Inuit insist it will keep them from their traditional ranges and hunting grounds, which will prevent them from herding reindeer and hunting seals and caribou, thus destroying their traditional way of life.

Never mind that the Inuit's traditional way of life was destroyed decades ago. Since the 1960s, what has kept Canada's Inuit from their herds and hunting grounds has been a life of dependency - dependency on government welfare checks - that has fed chronic unemployment (as high as 80% in most Inuit settlements) and facilitated pervasive addiction to alcohol, solvents and drugs. Long gone are the days when the Inuit were known as Eskimos, lived in igloos, drove teams of sled dogs and survived on whale blubber and seal meat. Most now live in permanent communities of boxy government housing, drive snowmobiles and quads, eat microwaved dinners and spend much of their time watching HBO and ESPN on satellite TV. What there is of their traditional lifestyle is now mostly hobby or recreation.

It seems counterintuitive that people who struggle to survive where winter nights are four months long and the temperature routinely plunges to -40degrees C would fear a few degrees of moderation. But they do - intensely. Last month, at the annual gathering of Canada's 13 provincial and territorial premiers (the equivalent of a state governors' conference), Paul Okalik, the Inuit premier of the northern territory of Nunavut, shouted down his 12 colleagues, demanding they take drastic action - including hobbling their own economies and killing their own citizens' jobs, if need be - to stop global warming. He insisted melting glaciers, shrinking ice packs and flooding are making it impossible for him to cross the rivers and fish the streams he enjoyed as a child. That's proof enough for him of the devastating impact of GW.

Premier Okalik is just 36 and no climatologist. As such, one might reasonably harbor some doubts about the relevance of his anecdotal evidence. Unless, of course, you are in Canada. Four years ago, our Supreme Court ruled that the oral histories of our native peoples - the Inuit among them - are to have equal standing with academic histories and scientific inquiry.

Of course, even if the Arctic is warming, it's done so before. Between 1814 and 1817, it warmed so much for so long that English explorers and merchants dared hope a prosperous new era was commencing. The Royal Society deduced "a considerable change of climate...must have taken place in the Circumpolar Regions, by which the severity of the cold that has for centuries past enclosed the seas in the high northern latitudes in an impenetrable barrier of ice has...greatly abated." It added, "discoveries may now be made in them not only interesting to the advancement of science bust also to commerce distant nations."

But up here we don't let history get in the way of a little hysteria. Earlier this year overheated stories about melt water discovered at the North Pole were plastered across Canada's front pages. This despite research by Greg Holloway of the Institute for Ocean Science on Canada's West Coast, showing that the Arctic ice cap is not melting. His work rated barely a mention. Prof. Holloway determined there is the same volume of ice at the pole as there was 60 years ago, it's just that strong polar winds shift it around a lot, piling it up here some decades, and over there the next, making it appear to those standing in one place - such as, say, Premier Okalik - that the ice is disappearing.

In the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's last official report, released in 2001, even the infamously alarmist body of UN scientists had to admit that if manmade global warming were to occur it would do precious little harm to Canada. It might even be a good thing, they said. The IPCC conceded a longer growing season, warmer average temperatures and an increased ability to graze Western Canada's vast cattle herds (rather than feed them on hay for four or five icy months each year) would be a boon to the country's agricultural sector.

A rational person might expect a nation where the summers often feel like Minnesota in January would be the most sceptical in the world on the global warming theory. Not so. Canadians, as a political class, are as left-liberal as most Europeans; GW feeds our inherent suspicions of profits and the internal combustion engine. Therefore the theory requires no proof. Hell, even Canada's CEOs buy into the GW hogs' wallow. In July, 57% of Canadian chief executives told pollsters they favoured ratification of the Kyoto accord and believed it could be implemented without harm to the economy.

We have heaters attached to the engine blocks of our cars as standard equipment, and plug our cars in on long winter nights so the fluids inside them don't freeze while we sleep and prevent the cars from starting in the morning. We Canadians should welcome a little global warming. Instead, our Parliament is pledged to ratifying the deal by Christmas, before the government's own public consultation process has concluded, before a planned conference of national leaders has been held on Kyoto, before an implementation strategy has been devised, and quite possibly in violation of Canada's constitution.

Oh, well. In the m-m-m-mean time, p-p-p-pass m-m-me another blanket, p-p-p-please.

Lorne Gunter is a columnist with the Edmonton Journal and a member of the editorial board at Canada's National Post.

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