So, about a year ago I wrote briefly about Marc Jaccard, a Canadian economist whose book, Sustainable Fossil Fuels, has been exceedingly popular in Canadian policy-making circles. No surprise there — any book that says we can have our cheesecake and eat it too is going to find a wide audience among politicians averse to making any tough decision, ever.
I was, you could say, less than charitable to Jaccard’s ideas. But the latest news from Canada’s Conservative do-nothing-about-global-warming government makes me almost feel sorry for him.
Jaccard seems to have briefly been a golden boy for the Conservative government — his advocacy for continued use of fossil fuels, into the next century even, made him very useful for a government whose electoral base is still centered in the oil-and-coal powered province of Alberta.
The problem is that Jaccard sincerely seems to think we must address climate change, but that we can do so while using fossil fuels. Meanwhile, his research is useful only to people who don’t want to do anything about climate change at all. It does nothing for environmentalists, and just gives economic and technical cover for the carbon lobby.
Jaccard, to his credit, has not been bought by Canada’s government; when the Conservatives released their laughable plan to ignore global warming while pretending to care about it, Jaccard authored a report (PDF) showing that the Harper government’s policies simply will not achieve anything close to their stated aims.
Suddenly, Jaccard’s appointment to testify before a House of Commons committee was canceled, and by all appearances he’s now persona non grata to the government that once called him "one of Canada’s best economists."
Jaccard made the same mistake that too many people — especially academics — make when they advocate for public policy. Jaccard was gulled into believing that the government appreciated his ideas for their substance, not for the rhetorical cover they provided for preexisting objectives. There’s no evidence to date that Canada’s Conservatives take the climate crisis seriously, and plenty of evidence that the Harper government’s main objective on climate change is to convince people it isn’t really a problem.(My personal favorite tic is that Harper only stopped referring to "so-called climate change" and "so-called greenhouse gases" in 2005.) Jaccard’s ideas were useful to the government only so long as he was advocating for increased fossil fuel use, and not at all when he advocated for serious work on climate change.
I can’t help but think of the war in Iraq: an idea that’s at least worth exploring (humanitarian intervention/heavy use of carbon sequestration) used as a fig leaf to gull otherwise-intelligent people ("liberal hawks"/Jaccard) into supporting something that predictably leads to disaster.
I suppose the only thing left is for Jaccard to start griping about how unpredictable it all was that the Canadian government would totally botch the job, and how his perfect idea shouldn’t be blamed at all for the failure of pesky reality.