The Questions We Should Be Asking
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, December 28, 2006

It was to weep. If the estimable Steve Paikin can’t get the questions right, what hope for finding the right answers on global warming?

Save for the well informed and intellectually competitive editors at the Financial Post, mainstream Canadian media have - to the best of my knowledge - never asked the hard questions about the extent, the nature, and the history of climate variations as they pertain to the earth’s climate today. Certainly they haven’t debated the issue with knowledgeable spokespersons from both sides.

So given the opportunitiy to fill the gap, how did the mid-December airing of TVO’s nightly current affairs program “The Agenda” tackle the issue?

By debating whether or not there should be a debate!

Does this program not know that there has been no debate? Or did it just cave in to the ‘consensus’ view that CO2 emissions are driving climate change? And just what does the eastern media think it accomplishes when issues that pit the economic engine of Canada, Alberta’s tar sands development, against global climate change receive no fair hearing?

That climate change proponents are in danger of becoming what Rex Murphy calls the new climate police goes without saying. But that the media should be complicit in this exercise is beyond unconscionable. Decisions by individuals and governments alike must be fact based not consensus based and we are afraid to discuss the facts?

But then that’s the kind of year it’s been. From climate police to the election of political leaders in parties where process trumped everything, from the lazy morality of a decriminalization movement (now setting its sights on prostitution) to the murky entrails of various scandals whose ethical deficiencies can never be addressed by accountability mechanisms, the dumbing down of Canada’s political orders would seem a done deal.

More charitably, it has been a year of transition. For the Liberal party it was one in which the baggage of the Chretien-Martin era was sidelined. But whether candidates who use leadership races as positioning exercises are best qualified to choose the next leader and whether this serves anything other than technocratic efficiencies remains a very big question.

Not that the reverse approach, the free-for-all one-member one-vote process used in the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership race, is any more reassuring. In stark confirmation of Canada’s (now) silver medal mentality, it too delivered everyone’s second choice - not because he was necessarily the best pick but because a systems’ manager mentality decreed the third place candidate should be on the second ballot.

For the federal government, the year has been a study in contrasts. Displaying both courage and determination on Afghanistan, the economy (including income trusts), the softwood lumber file and Quebecois nationhood (agree or not with either), the prime minister deserved Time Magazine’s recognition as Canadian Newsmaker of the Year. That said, through stubborn adherence to poorly conceived campaign promises and over reliance on tactics rather than the substantive merits of his position, his credibility on climate change, senate reform, and the wheat board (the government can change but is not above the Canadian Wheat Board Act ) took a deserved beating.

But failure to ask the questions and make the case, as noted above, is the problem at many levels of civic engagement. Is there any hope?

According to Timesonline, emeritus professor and IQ specialist James Flynn of the University of Otago in New Zealand recently informed the Cambridge Psychometrics Center that IQ scores everywhere – except, intriguingly, America - are peaking. The gains we have made will matter little, however, unless we “take the next step” and develop our capacity to debate moral and social questions intelligently. This will require an expansion - perhaps through reading great literature - of our “vocabulary, critical acumen and emotional maturity”.

Now, you media types, governments can tie themselves in knots and citizens can brush up their Shakespeare and keep informed, but you are in the front lines. So repeat after me. Question #1. Is the climate changing? #2. If so, is this different from previous changes? In what way? #3. What and how many possible causes of these changes have been identified? What are the costs of doing a) something b) nothing? …

In 2007, our flatlining IQs, Canada’s economic engine and yes, quite possibly the earth’s climate, are depending on you to get the questions right.

MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.

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