When government policies make you bang your head, you’re not likely to follow them. Photo licensed by Brian Zinchuk via Storyblocks

Editor’s Note: Pipeline Online would like to introduce new columnist Jim Warren, University of Regina adjunct professor in the department of Sociology and Social Studies, Faculty of Arts. Let’s just say his views are a little different than those we often hear for U of R faculty. His areas of research include the political economy of water and drought management on the Canadian Prairies, impacts and adaptation related to climate change for rural communities, and sustainable water and land management for western Canadian agriculture. You can read a previous guest column of his here.

By Jim Warren

There are some valuable lessons Canada’s climate change policy makers might take from the economic disruption and public dissent generated by the imposition of excessively onerous pandemic restrictions. Government claims that policy was simply following the science over the past two years did not automatically make the policy popular or effective. As we discovered during the pandemic, there comes a point when people’s concerns over livelihoods and a return to some semblance of normalcy in social life will exceed concern over what to many people were the less urgent risks identified by scientists and hand wringing policy makers.

Epidemiologists, seeking the optimal means to defeat a pandemic, are capable of designing measures that could indeed beat the virus – provided no people are involved. The problems with COVID-19 mandates and lockdowns arose because many regular folks failed to agree that the risks of catching the virus and dying from it were more troubling than other incredibly powerful socioeconomic and psychological needs.

People’s concerns about the survival of their businesses, their ability to make a living and pay the mortgage and fear about the long-term effects of school closures on their children’s futures often loomed larger than the risks associated with infection. This was increasingly the case as living with the restrictions became a multi-year proposition.

People can be expected to make sacrifices for the greater good, but they can’t be expected to do too much for too long.

There is ample research and historical experience to confirm this. An extreme example is seen in the work done by American military researchers during World War II. It was discovered that skilled soldiers dedicated to the war effort and their role in it could be expected to endure danger and hardship – up to a point. After more than 30 days under enemy fire and bombardment, the typical solider ceased to perform at an optimal level. Indeed, after prolonged periods of intense stress a sizable proportion became ineffective and some were so damaged psychologically they had to be permanently removed from combat. The solution was to ensure that units were frequently rotated from the front lines to recovery stations in the rear. This is in no way to say COVID-19 restrictions were similar to front line military conditions (except for health care workers), only that there are limits on what even the strongest of us can be expected to happily endure.

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We can reasonably anticipate similar levels of dissent and economic disruption experienced due to COVID-19 policies to accompany overly zealous and impractical policy measures designed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For many people, wrecking the national economy to prevent the economic disruptions predicted under some of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s more pessimistic scenarios will seem akin to having a lobotomy to prevent Alzheimer’s.

Unfortunately, Hegel’s dictum – “We learn from history that we do not learn from history,” is particularly apt when it comes to policy making at the federal level. Perhaps there is something about the rarefied air of the Laurentians that convinces our policy making elite that their mantle of virtue and belief in our impending doom places them beyond the mortal bounds of common sense and the realities of social and economic life for most of us. Claims about following the science that are assumed to add a cachet of rationality and “truth” to their positions won’t be sufficient to avoid dissent and conflict.

The mismatch between the policy wish lists of scientists along with climate activists in government and the propensity of people to willing comply with them is in part due to expecting the biophysical sciences to do more than they are capable of doing. Yes, the natural and physical sciences, despite their imperfections, were and are our best hope for understanding the biophysical world. But, when it comes to understanding people and their social and economic lives – not so much.

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  • 0026 Buffalo Potash Quinton Salt
  • 0023 LC Trucking tractor picker hiring mix
  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
  • 0019 Jerry Mainil Ltd hiring dugout
  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
  • 0014 Buffalo Potash What if PO
  • 0013 Panther Drilling PO ad 03 top drive rigs
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The foregoing will come as no surprise to people active in Western Canada’s energy industries. They rely on geologists and the applied science of engineering to make predictions about where oil and gas might be found and how to extract and process them. But, decisions about whether or not this can be done profitably fall to a range of non-science specialists. Economists, bean counters, market analysts, lawyers, skilled technicians and investors tend to have a say in the process. Geologists aren’t typically the go to people when an energy firm is looking for ways to reduce its tax burden.

The lesson from history, should federal policy makers choose to learn it, is that overly zealous, economically destructive GHG mitigation measures are likely to generate high levels of dissent and political conflict. Claiming to be following the science won’t be enough. If they hope to reduce emissions levels without serious economic disruption and civil unrest, a balanced approach that recognizes the need to sustain economic activity and some modicum of prosperity is required. Climate activists in government will need to admit that GHG mitigation measures that are socially acceptable will result in higher GHG concentrations and more warming by mid-century than they hoped to see. In the absence of that admission we’ll need to buckle up – the road ahead could be hazardous to social cohesion and political stability.

 

Jim Warren is an adjunct professor and lecturer in environmental sociology at the University of Regina.

 

  • 0037 TED_DEEP_30_
  • 0036 Prairie Lithium - Chad Glemser 30 Sec
  • 0035 TED - Whitecap
  • 0034 TED_NA Helium 2021
  • 0033 Buffalo Potash Jared Small Footprint
  • 0032 IWS Summer hiring rock trailer music
  • 0029 Latus Viro updated Latus phone
  • 0027 TED_NA Helium 2021_30
  • 0025 Kendalls
  • 0026 Buffalo Potash Quinton Salt
  • 0023 LC Trucking tractor picker hiring mix
  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
  • 0019 Jerry Mainil Ltd hiring dugout
  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
  • 0014 Buffalo Potash What if PO
  • 0013 Panther Drilling PO ad 03 top drive rigs
  • 0011
  • 0006 JK Junior
  • 0004 Royal Helium PO Ad 02
  • 9001
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