It’s too easy being green

by Rex Murphy, National Post
Earlier this week the National Post published amerciless editorial on Ontario’s energy policies under Premier Dalton McGuinty (McGuinty’s green energy disaster, Dec. 8). The editorial came on the heels of an Auditor-General’sreport described by the editorial board as one of the “most scathing indictments of government mismanagement we have ever witnessed.”
Anyone who has been following the McGuinty government’s reckless embrace of so-called alternative energy sources and its early fervour for windmills, the multibillion-dollar deal it cut with a South Korean manufacturer of windmills and solar panels, will have no trouble accepting the terms of auditor’s report,or the Post’s equally searing editorial.

It is and was a sad tale, a jumble of highly expensive initiatives, pushed without the proper study and foresight by the Premier himself, bypassing all logic either of commerce or of energy supply.How could this have come to pass, how could a reasonably competent government give itself over to such shoddy business practice, and in the process possibly endanger the great industrial future of Ontario itself? How could the province “ignore guidelines,” skip”cost-benefit analysis,” ignore cheaper alternatives and come up with schemes “largely designed by environmentalists and green-industry lobbyists – ‘stakeholders’ in the government’s euphemistic rhetoric?” It’s on this question that I’d like to dwell.

The Ontario government, and Premier McGuinty in particular, gave themselves over to this madness, becoming overzealous crusaders, because the cause was green. And,sadly, there seems to be no other area of public policy in which fitful enthusiasms, pie-in-the-sky thinking, under-researched proposals and the mere hint of possible benefit get so respectful a response and are shielded – almost as if by magic – from the criticisms and analysis that would greet proposals from any other policy area whatsoever. Call it green and every other consideration goes out the window. Start phantom carbon markets, subsidize a Solyndra, put gardens on roofs … green will rationalize every cost and subdue every sane objection.

For example: During the early day’s of McGuinty’s determination to “make Ontario a world leader in green technology,” it was interesting to watch him and his government studiously ignore the articulate criticisms and protests from some Ontario landowners. Now any other project inspiring such protests would naturally instigate the usual relentless series of environmental studies that have become so common in ourtime. But – windmills being “green initiatives” – naturally it was the reverse. The landowners who protested were pilloried as being the worst ofthe NIMBY crowd, just selfish types safeguarding their little nooks against the common green future.

Green is the easiest virtue. All it takes in most cases for politicians is simply to say the word often enough and whatever they propose – for a time – gets a pass. Who would question McGuinty against those “selfish” landowners. Wasn’t Dalton moving towards a greener world? Enough then. No studies required. No review of the windmills (until election time, that is, when suddenly Ontario voters were told, in effect, the science “wasn’t in” on what secondary effectswindmills might have). Question the contracts for solar power? Impossible. Solar power is “clean.”

We don’t have to call in experts to determine how much they will drive up the energy bills of ordinary Ontarians. Rhetorically, Ontario’s citizens were being asked: “Hey – do you want to save the planet, or save a few bucks onyour damn household electricity bill?” With the right cause, you can extort the citizenry to put up with bad policy.

And that’s where this green obsession leads. It promotes a policy on its moral virtues, not on its real-life impact. It replaces the mundane requirements of affordability and reliability of power generation with the vague promise that we’re all participating in someplanet-saving enterprise if our toasters run on our neighbour’shighlysubsidized solar panels.

It also has one other feature that politicians are totally unable to resist: Being totally green, they are able, for once, to posture as forward thinking, daring, innovative – even risktaking – leaders, champions of the Earth, saviours of “the children.” They get to play Superman and Boy Scout at the same time. Well, as Ontario’s record shows, you can play the part for a while, but eventually economics or the electorate will have their say, and you must step down from being the green Messiah and try being just the Premier, instead.

Alas, not before billions are wasted, the future obscured, and countless vanity projects litter the landscape. There are lessons here for that huge green garden party going on in Durban right now, but that’s a longer column.

– Rex Murphy offers commentary weekly on CBC TV’sThe National, and is host of CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup.

10 thoughts on “It’s too easy being green

  1. I am–no surprise–shocked and disgusted with McGuinty’s response to the Auditor General’s Report.
    http://netnewsledger.com/2011/12/08/premier-there-you-go-again-tim-hudak/

    As expected, McGuinty points out that he was very upfront with the fact that he would be placing a premium on green energy, because of the “value” that Ontarians attribute to it. He was elected on this platform, and it’s his mandate to see it through. So for anybody to be surprised that this scheme was outrageously expensive is pretty naive.

    This is among the most remarkable comments from the AG, for which McGuinty should be held to account: “We did not rely on the Ministry [of Energy]’s internal audit service team to reduce the extent of our audit work because it had not recently conducted any audit on renewable energy initiatives.”

    In the private sector, with billions on the table, this is unfathomable. Not to mention the unrecognized liabilities for health damages, environmental damages, and property devaluation attributable to wind turbine operations. I wonder if Mike Crawley has fully disclosed to his shareholders?

    Hudak should stop playing McGuinty’s games; McGuinty is obviously better at it. Hurry up, Hudak, and strike at the heart.

  2. I’m going to post this article on my wall. Personally, I think there should be a public inquiry into the green energy act, it’s birth and the government actions surrounding it. I would be happy to chip in a few extra dollars for that in order to stop the lunacy.

  3. Very well said, Rex, as usual … but the media have played a role in this debacle, too, by generally giving McGuinty & Co a pass, along with Gore, Suzuki et al. Where were (and are) the investigative reporters whose job it is to separate the facts from the fantasy and bring issues to light?

    Even today, you seem to be almost alone amongst your media colleages on this and related issues. Why? Because they drank the Kool-aid too!

    • The media played a huge, if not the main role in suppressing this entire issue.

      We can go back years showing warnings and pleas for them to expose what was happening.
      That said, I am feeling like some invisible entity has quietly turned the wheel of the ship and we’re finally on course to the truth.

      • Love your last line. I have been feeling that the whole thing is going to implode soon.

      • Why would we assume where the media would lead? They are by and large followers. (Followers of the best canapes and martinis, and cut and paste press releases the next morning. But I digress.) We are the ones who have been leading, and it is turning out that the other side is empty suits. Thanks to the election results, the AG’s sober review, and the monumental effort we and others like us throught the world have expended, we have jumped the shark. We no longer have to respect and defer to Green, we can mock Green.

        The McGuinty rhetoric will increase, a vast torrent of Green&#174 press releases will follow, and very soon his exit strategy will unfold: we simply cannot afford to continue his madness. And madness it is, as his dog ate his business case.

  4. Don’t lump all the media together, please. In most of the country papers there has been a steady flow of articles, editorials and letters to the editor saying exactly what Rex is saying. Only, he says it so much better than any of us have managed, and thanks to Rex for that. The real failure has been in two big-city papers, the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. They have been faithful handmaidens to the powers that be, unwilling to see, hear or speak a word about the
    unfolding train-wreck. Shame on them for their ” silent consent “. I wonder how they will feel as they drive to their cottage in a few years , with a few thousand of McGuinty’s ….. ( fill in the blank ) pointing to the sky to remind them of the enormity of their folly.

    • The Star will never admit to being on the wrong side of the IWT issue … just as they can’t reconcile their disagreement issues with Rob Ford.

      • Ironically, the Star was threatening to make a complaint to the integrity commission as Mayor Ford’s office had been leaving them off press releases and excluding them from media events for the past year. The Star complaining about someone else’s integrity, too rich.

    • Andre, you are right about country newspapers. I had the Globe and the Star in mind when I made the initial reference to the media (not my local Owen Sound Sun Times). I was also thinking about CBC and CTV when I said that Rex’s media colleagues had drunk the Kool-Aid.

      My concern about the media extends well beyond Ontario’s disastrous energy policies. More generally with regard to evolving climate science, findings that don’t fit the IPCC story line don’t seem to see the light of day in the “mainstream” media. In this regard, I would highly recommend that you read the recent lecture by Matt Ridley at the Royal Scottish Academy. Very interesting stuff about “confirmation bias” and believing what we want to believe (http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2011/11/1/scientific-heresy.html). It applies to both sides of the AGW discussion, of course, although I doubt that David (The Science Is Settled) Suzuki would admit that it applies to him.

      I do sense the possible turning of the tide as mentioned by Ontariwoe. I’ve even sensed some frustration and desperation in a couple of Suzuki’s recent articles — he seems to be concerned that his bag of theories, assumptions, models and wishful thinking is in the process of being revealed for what it is. One can only hope.

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