Squaring the circle

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Psychologists define cognitive dissonance as the ability to suspend disbelief in two or more fundamentally contradictory positions – sort of like a juggler who never drops the ball and, so, never faces the gravity of common sense.

I, for example, may be an ardent environmentalist even though I drive a gas-guzzler that gets lousy mileage because it’s easy on the old bank account. I happily park my tank and fill it too.

In the absence of any proof of sentience among this planet’s non-human residents, we naked apes are nature’s primo practitioners of cognitive dissonance – none better among us, perhaps, than politicians.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with provincial premiers to discuss the federal government’s plans to hasten the Canada’s transition to a low-carbon, clean-technology economy. Prior to the conference, regional leaders evinced broad consensus on the priorities: It looks good on paper; let’s see how we can make this work. In less time than it takes to change the oil in an SUV, however, the typical fault lines emerged.

Reported the CBC on the eve of the first ministers’ gabfest in Vancouver on Wednesday: “There are more than a few bruised thumbs and discordant notes already. Indigenous groups have complained the invitation list was not wide enough, while Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has levelled a series of broadsides at the federal Liberals’ promised carbon pricing.

“When asked about potential tensions Wednesday, Trudeau responded. . . ‘I expect that premiers and indeed all representatives are going to do the job they were elected to do, which is to stand up for their communities, stand up for their regions and ensure that we are working together in ways that grow the economy right across the country while protecting the environment. There is little substitute for sitting down and actually rolling up our sleeves and working together.’”

Yeah, how’s that working out for you?

Half way through the conference, the Prime Minister intimated, rather darkly for a putatively ‘sunny ways’ leader, that however the premiers decide, the feds will impose its own pricing structure on carbon.

Meanwhile, as if oblivious to the climate-change winds that are beginning to blow around the world, the New Brunswick government is agitating for its own offshore energy accord with Ottawa. In fact, according to one news report in Brunswick News, “Energy Minister Don Arseneault said during budget estimates for his department that about $300,000 is being dedicated this year to hire consultants and research the geological data required to lay the groundwork for securing an offshore accord.”

Here’s how the good fellow justified the decision in an interview with reporter Chris Morris: “Everyone around us has an accord. Quebec is on the verge of signing one. We have to watch that very closely, because we have to protect our territory as well. It doesn’t mean that tomorrow we would have offshore drilling and whatnot, but we want to protect our territory.”

And, you know, whatnot.

Still, I wonder whether such provincial lobbying (and the $300,000 price tag assigned to it) would not be more productively deployed by hitching New Brunswick’s economic fortunes to the federal government’s most recent, eminent cause, which has almost nothing to do with developing traditional oil and gas resources, and almost everything to do with making the most of what we already possess to create a clean-energy, clean-technology society on the East Coast.

As Ottawa moves to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint, provincial premiers nod compliantly even as their feet remain stuck in the muck of fossil fuels. Dissonance, it seems, remains cognitively, stubbornly us.

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