The vast majority of punditry in Canada exists outside of the laws of physics and chemistry, utterly devoid of discussion of the most pressing issue of our time, climate change.
Given Canada’s media concentration and the political leanings of the companies in control, I’m not optimistic that this situation will be fixed anytime soon. But, perhaps we can take a baby step by creating an award for the nationally-oriented Canadian newspaper columnist writing in English who has done the most to raise awareness about climate change. Ideally it would be annual, but until that time, just based on recent history, who would it be?
Canada doesn’t have its version of the Guardian’s George Monbiot, perhaps the preeminent English language columnist who truly gets climate change and writes about it with any regularity and passion.
But who do we have? Well, who we have mostly falls into four general categories:
Not surprisingly, Canada’s most ideology-driven media outlets still employ columnists who regurgitate the reality-challenged talking points of U.S. think tanks funded by fossil fuel interests to cast doubt on the very fact of climate change – that it is happening, and that it is caused by human activity.
How to recognize them quickly? They have been trained to use the labels “warmists” or “alarmists” to describe anyone who agrees with the vast majority of scientists around the globe or who can now see with their own eyes the impacts.
These guys – and they are mainly men now that Magaret Wente seems to now be wavering on hanging out with them too overtly – can be found at the Sun chain or the National Post. They include Lorrie Goldstein, Terence Corcoran, Lorne Gunter, Peter Foster, and Rex Murphy.
There is another category of columnists who can’t quite bring themselves to deny human-caused climate change and not feel embarrassed at parties, but who instead resort to other arguments to dismiss the issue, and especially to argue against new policies to reduce emissions.
It’s too expensive, too elite, too lefty, too complicated, too early, too late, too little, too much, too whatever. Best to just ignore the whole thing and let the oil industry make its billions. In this category are Barbara Yaffe, Margaret Wente, Michael den Tandt, and many Alberta columnists like CAPP PR maven Deborah Yedlin. (Graham Thomson, though, proves it’s not necessarily an Alberta thing).
3) Horse Racers
We have a whole category of columnists in Canada who seem to pride themselves on not taking positions on the issues, but only dissect what it means for the horse race in Ottawa or the provincial capitals. Ooh, look how it cost Dion. Or, see how Harper can’t bring himself to care?
In other words, the intrigue on the captain’s bridge is more important than the course of the Titanic, and talking about the latter may undermine my ability to be taken seriously talking about the intrigue, since I’d be, you know, committing to the issues.
If a prize winner is to be chosen, you’d think he or she would come from the category of progressives – writers who generally fall on the left side of the political spectrum. Yet, you can’t help but feel that for some in this category, climate change ends up by default on the shopping list of things progressive columnists are supposed to write about from time to time, instead of truly grappling with it at a level matching its seriousness. This category includes Thomas Walkom, Susan Riley, and Tim Harper.
So, who is left? One good columnist who tries hard not to be categorized is Dan Gardner. Sometimes he tangles with deniers and sometimes he advocates for change, if for no other reason than we must get off oil anyway, not that he doesn’t also see climate change as a problem. Other times, though, he tips over the other way, tearing down David Suzuki and other environmentalists for what he sees as hyperbole. Overall, he battles himself into a bit of a “meh.”
Who, then, should win? Drum roll please.
In my opinion, Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson deserves the award, if there was one. He not only wrote a book on climate change with Mark Jaccard and Nic Rivers, but has consistently used his column to inject climate considerations into Canada’s energy debate, unlike nearly all of his counterparts who fail to see that carbon fuels equal carbon pollution.
Simpson’s small-c conservative credentials also helps debunk the perception that climate change is a left-right debate, when it’s more about those laws of chemistry and physics and whether we are going to take them seriously.
So congratulations Jeffrey Simpson! Sorry there’s no statue for your mantelpiece, but know you are doing good work and that we need much more of it from you and from others if we’re going to make progress.