Canada's Tories have shown they have as much ability as Liberals when it comes to making complicated busywork out of doing nothing practical for the environment.
Indeed, they've adapted to the challenges of being in government by mastering the art of the notion of motion. This allows them to implement zero change while giving the appearance of effort and concern, thereby avoiding accusations that their zero results came from lack of care or trying.
Consider the Clean Air bill, which has only been seen at this point in draft form. Greens are already complaining that the feds intend to move greenhouse gases into a new category of "air pollutants' - a provincial responsibility, thereby raising constitutional issues that will happily tie progress up in legal knots while leaving the Tories free to blame others.
Plus, they get an artful dodger bonus point for deflecting attention to sectoral and jurisdictional conflicts (the fights over whether to punish the oil or auto companies being a case in point) that just "prove" how hard it is to make any advances at all on this file.
All this confusionism may cause us to lose sight of the great truth that making environmental improvements is as easy as changing light bulbs. "Light bulb" is actually a misnomer, says Jim Harris, former leader of Canada's Greens, who insists on calling it a "heat bulb," because the dim bulb who invented it set it up to waste 90 per cent of its energy on producing heat rather than light.
To show what I mean about substituting simple solutions for no-result complexities, consider the message from the federal government's department of natural resources that if every Canadian household put in one extra energy-efficient light bulb, it would have the same impact as taking 66,000 cars off the road for a year.
After light bulbs, changes in food procurement are next in line as an example of quick, easy and positive action. Unlike transportation changes, which require governments to spend a lot of new money on expensive and long-term public transit construction, altering the way we get food can be done right away for minimal additional cost.
Strange how neither governments nor many enviro groups include food on their global warming policy wish lists.
From farm to methane-filled fart, agriculture is responsible for about one-third of global warming emissions. Fossil fuel fertilizers generate nitrous oxides, about 200 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as global warmers.
Add to this the gas-powered tractors, refrigerated trucks and open freezers at supermarkets, the 4,000 kilometres the average food portion travels, the methane (about 20 times more powerful than CO2) from foodscraps rotting in landfills, and you see how the food-chain toll quickly adds up.
The neglect of food issues leads to the total dismissal of one of the easiest, most direct, cost-effective, beneficial, hopeful and powerful actions governments can take: to spend taxpayers' money already spent on existing programs to buy food farmed and processed close to home.
Researcher James Kuhns and I did some counting, and I've come up with a guesstimate of the impact of a buy-local food policy by major direct government departments and agencies across Canada. Municipal governments spend about $2 billion a year on provisions (just food, not preparation) that feed their staff and clients, who often include residents of shelters and those in senior homes.
Local boards of education control over $4 billion, and provincial and federal governments spend about $1 billion on food bought for employee cafeterias.
The food in three squares a day for prisoners, hospital patients, armed forces and other unfortunates likely costs over $2 bil a year.
That is, taxpayers already pay over $10 billion for all this, and the odds are very high that few if any of these edibles come from within a 200-mile radius of where they're eaten.
A simple requirement that 80 per cent of spending on food provisions go to local producers would move global warming mountains.
The buy-local move would strengthen rural areas near cities and thereby reduce sprawl. Food has a long tail, so benefits in one area carry over and are even magnified along the line.
Even if food bills for government agencies went up by 10 per cent to accommodate local suppliers, taxpayers would save from from allied and indirect benefits of the move to local. Just think of the savings from highly funded programs that stave off farm bankruptcy. In all likelihood, the real new cost of a powerful global warming initiative would be less than zero.
The fiction that we need years of controversy, study and preparatory legislation before we do anything to begin regulating global warming comes from the era of deregulation during the 1990s, when governments willingly gave up rowing the economy for steering, as the theme of one of Paul Martin's (and Al Gore's) fave books, Reinventing Government (by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler), had it.
Alas, steering quickly gave way to winking and nudging. A simple directive on local food purchases is one example of what could happen if governments actually governed and did things that are in their power to do.
The problem with that, of course, is not that it's too easy to be believable, but too good to be true.