Posts Tagged ‘conservatives’

The Ethics of Food vs. Fuel: Just Politics as Usual?

May 30, 2008

A couple days ago, the federal government decided to require all gasoline to contain 5% ethanol.  This more or less parallels existing policies in the U.S. and in European countries.  But is following in their footsteps the right, or even best, thing to do?  Is it the ‘Made in Canada’ environmental policy Stephen Harper promised, for that matter?

The announcement went largely unnoticed because the media and opposition were more interested in reporting and following up on the fallout of the Bernier affair (double entendre entendree).  It was given only a passing mention on the news with no examination of the logistics or implications.  This is despite the fact that the same media had been reporting on the growing global food crisis for the previous few weeks.  Those reports revealed that one of the causes of the crisis was the shift of much agricultural production away from food to fuel.  Food, particularly corn, that was being produced for food is now being used to produce ethanol.  This has resulted not only in a huge spike in food commodity prices, but also in food being taken off the ground in front of the hungriest people in the world (let’s face it – they don’t have a table to take it off of).

To add insult to injury, the economics and environmental benefits of ethanol production for fuel don’t even make sense.  It actually requires more than a barrel of oil to produce a barrel of ethanol.  So, instead of burning 5% more gasoline in your car and adding that much more carbon emissions to the atmosphere, an ethanol refinery will spew out even more emissions to produce the cleaner burning replacement fuel.

So, who benefits from this policy?  Well, farmers do, to begin with.  They benefit from high commodity prices that make farming more profitable than usual.  These are good times for Canadian farmers, relatively speaking.  Our unsubsidized farmers are not only able to make a decent living, they are also investing in new productivity enhancing equipment and machinery that will allow them to continue to survive and compete on an unlevel playing field against subsidized farmers elsewhere.

The government also benefits.  The optics of doing something tangible about global warming boosts their credentials in the eyes of voters.  All those happy, prospering farmers are voters, too.  Let’s not forget that this is a minority government that could, in theory, fall at any time.  In practice, of course, that hasn’t happened and isn’t likely to any time soon.  Whether you voted for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives last time or not, you have to give him credit for keeping a minority government alive for three years when, statistically, they last only eighteen months.  In fact, this one will probably see out a full term, unless opposition leader Stephen Dion does something out of character.  The accomplishment is even more impressive when you recall how self-defeating and fractious the newly re-merged Conservative party was a few years ago.  When the day comes that he is no longer Prime Minister, a struggling company might do worse than to hire Harper as their CEO.

Regardless of when the next election comes, a lot of farmers and ‘armchair environmentalists’ will probably remember this decision.  That increases the government’s chances of winning a majority.  The decision to require ethanol content in gasoline may prove to be not so much about a sustainable environment, as a sustainable government.

Beijing-Style Censorship in Canada

March 1, 2008

Yesterday, there was a story in the news about changes to the Income Tax Act that will allow the government to deny tax credits to Canadian films it decides it doesn’t like, after the fact.  The bill, C-10, is now in the Senate, having been passed by the Commons unnoticed.  Now that it’s become public knowledge, some opposition MPs who voted it through the minority government first house are suddenly protesting.  It makes you wonder if they even read the legislation they vote on.  It also makes you wonder why the media didn’t pick up the story before it was passed.

This bill is a form of censorship.  There aren’t any criteria to determine which films will be rejected.  It will be entirely at the discretion of a panel set up by the government.  David Cronenberg says it’s the kind of thing you’d expect from Beijing.  This is clearly open to abuse to further political or social agendas.  For evidence you don’t have to look any further than who takes credit for making it happen.

Charles McVety is a clergyman and the president of the Canada Family Action Coalition, a fundamentalist evangelical group that seeks to restore “Judeo-Christian moral principles” in Canada.  He seems to be as interested in American social politics as Canadian, if not more, because on his Word.ca website you will find an ad for his new book, rather grandly entitled ‘Earthism’, which appears to claim that the disgrace of fellow clergyman turned gay crackhead Ted Haggard fits nicely into the ‘great falling away’ prophesied in the bible.  It doesn’t seem to matter how hypocritical and wrong these people are shown to be, they’ll still find a way to claim it proves they’re right.

His group lobbied for years to get these changes.  His contacts included people in the PM’s office, fellow fundamentalist Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, and like minded backbench MPs.  Although he didn’t meet with Stephen Harper or Heritage Minister Josee Verner personally, the government finally agreed with the group.  Verner replied to his written materials by saying said she didn’t want to fund movies like ‘Young People Fucking’, for instance.

Conservative MP Dave Batters also cites ‘Young People Fucking’ as an example, despite not having seen it.  In a committee meeting with Michel Roy of Telefilm Canada, he said the purpose of Telefilm is to “facilitate the making of films for mainstream Canadian society, films that Canadians can sit down and watch with their families…”  He doesn’t seem to understand what a mainstream movie is.  A commercially successful movie is mainstream, because it appeals to a wide audience.  A film can be mainstream and be unsuitable for a seven year old.  Many mainstream movies have ‘mature’ content.  Although I agree the decision makers at Telefilm annoyingly seem to have their own preferences, and I’ve heard the evidence myself at trade forum seminars, this kind of censorship is not the answer.

I haven’t seen ‘Young People Fucking’ yet, but I will.  What I have read about it indicates that the title is probably the most shocking part.  It might just be shocking enough to get it noticed and help it break through to the mainstream – an achievement for a little Canadian movie in a Hollywood dominated marketplace.  Good marketing.  The easily offended moralists may unintentionally help that cause.

If McVety and the government want to talk about ending offensive tax credits or breaks, let’s talk about ending the free ride for religious organizations.  Churches and their affiliates don’t pay taxes even though they profit from investments.  Not all the money they receive is used for charity, and their idea of charity is often actually tied to recruiting new members and spreading the word.  They have also been havens for paedophiles.  Talk about offensive.

The long feared appearance of the moral right wing of the Conservative government may have come.

Absolutely Relative

January 21, 2008

We assume parents are always right.  Society is geared towards the idea of parental infallibility.  “Don’t do anything your mother wouldn’t do/would be ashamed of”, we’re told.  “Honour thy mother and thy father”, one of the Christian commandments reads.  It reinforces the ideas of authority and continuity.  The family is a module, a building block of society.

But what if your parents are wrong?  What if they are racist, for instance?  You love someone of another race, but your racist parents tell you it’s wrong or that they’re ashamed of you.  You’re mother would never get involved with someone of another race.  Do you follow the rule of honouring your parents and their example, or your conscience and heart?

Let’s subject the assumption to extreme scrutiny.  Hitler had children.  What if they had seen what a monster he was, and killed him?  Would they have been heroes for doing the world a favour, or patricidal maniacs?  If they’d had the opportunity to grow up, should they have honoured their father and followed in his footsteps?  We’re supposed to follow our parents’ examples, but not every parent sets a good example.

Moral absolutes simply don’t work.  As soon as you make a universal statement, it has to stand up in every instance – including the most extreme ones.  But there are always exceptions.  There are always special situations, extenuating circumstances to take into account.  Every case is unique.  The ethical landscape changes relative to these unique circumstances.

Surprisingly, people who claim to be moral absolutists are often some of the most strident supporters of moral relativism, when it suits them, without realizing it.  The god fearing bible thumpers who swear by the ten commandments are often the same people who defend their right to own a gun and use it to kill someone in self-defense.  The relevant commandment does not contain a clause regarding extenuating circumstances.  It is just assumed by those who think it should apply, relative to the situation.

Conservative thinkers don’t like to… think about such things.  That might encourage change, after all.