Bob McKeon


November 3, 2014

Environmental concerns have been very much in the news over the past weeks. Last month, on the occasion of the UN Summit Climate, more than 300,000 people marched together in New York to support a call for effective and timely action on climate change.

There is a strong sense of urgency. Unless major changes are made in current governmental policies, practices and commitments, it is almost certain that global warming will exceed two degrees C by 2100, the generally accepted limit by scientific and government authorities around the world.

National leaders came from around the world to speak, with our prime minister being a notable exception.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of state of the Holy See, spoke. He brought an explicit moral voice to the deliberations: "It is well known that climate change raises not only scientific, environmental and socio-economic considerations, but above all ethical and moral ones. . . .

"There is a moral imperative to act, for we all bear the responsibility to protect and to value creation for the good of this and future generations."


Later in his message, Parolin said that as people come together to take action to counter global warming, "we have too often seen the predominance of special interests or so-called 'free riders' over the common good."

While he did not give names, he could well be speaking of Canada today.

Over the past few weeks, two important reports were issued by government watchdogs at the provincial and federal levels, saying our governments are not meeting their responsibilities with respect to climate change and to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In October, the federal commissioner of the environment, Julia Gelfand, reported that Canada was unlikely to meet its commitments made at Copenhagen in 2009 to reduce greenhouse emissions 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. It appears that the best that might be expected is a seven per cent reduction by 2020.

Canada's greenhouse gas emissions are rising fastest in the oil and gas sector, especially in the oilsands where emissions are expected to double between 2010 and 2020.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's promises to introduce greenhouse gas regulations in the oil and gas sector in 2008 have been delayed and delayed up to the present day.

The commissioner notes that if countries fail to cut emissions, we will leave large environmental and economic liabilities for our children and grandchildren, "including more frequent extreme weather, reduced air quality, rising oceans, and the spread of insect-borne diseases."

Two weeks ago, Alberta's auditor general, Merwan Saber, issued an audit report raising similar environmental concerns.


He reported on the annual reports of the joint agency that the federal and Alberta governments put in place three years ago "to monitor cumulative environmental effects of oilsands development and to obtain evidence to determine whether the development is environmentally responsible."

Saber's audit found these agency reports to be inaccurate and missing key information, in addition to the first report being 15 months late. Five nearby First Nations expressed their frustration by withdrawing from a partnership with the monitoring agency.

It is incredibly frustrating that at this stage, the issue with oilsands for concerned citizens in Alberta is still to try to obtain reliable and trustworthy information on environmental issues in a timely and transparent manner.

It will be most challenging for governments and industry to build public trust in this situation.

Parolin's UN speech is the latest of many Catholic leadership voices extending back over 25 years emphasizing that the growing environmental crisis must be seen as a pressing moral issue.


The moral vision of Catholic social teaching has widened and deepened with the articulation of moral principles such as intergenerational justice and solidarity with future generations.

In January 2009, Bishop Luc Bouchard of St. Paul, whose diocese included most of the oilsands developments, concluded that "the present pace and scale of development in the Athabasca oilsands cannot be morally justified."

Since then, there is little public, reliable evidence available that would lead to a change in this challenging moral judgment.

Word is out that Pope Francis is writing an encyclical on ecology. Maybe a papal message will help us to be more confident to raise a public voice of moral concern and to take effective action.

(Bob McKeon: