Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.

Fantasy Wish List Masquerades as Climate Poll

Green lobby group invites public to endorse green fantasies.

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Last week, a raft of newspaper headlines declared “Canadians still support climate action: poll.” We are intended to believe that “COVID-19’s economic and health challenges haven’t diminished” ordinary people’s enthusiasm for green policies. But this poll has oodles of problems.

First, it was sponsored by Clean Energy Canada. Embedded within the term clean energy is the philosophical argument/political statement/moral judgment that our current, dominant forms of fossil fuel-based energy are dirty.

A ‘clean energy’ outfit isn’t neutral. Its entire purpose is to promote some ideas and to disparage others. What actually happened here is an organization with an agenda drew up a fantastical wish list, and then invited Canadians to agree that the items on that wish list are awesome.

Big surprise that lots of people think upgrading broadband Internet service and public transit are a good idea – especially when the pollster, Abacus Data, declares them “part of an effort to attract companies to invest and grow businesses in Canada.”

Big surprise that lots of people like the idea of “Creating more spaces in towns and cities where people can walk and cycle without fear of vehicles.” But the realistic questions, surely, are:

– how much do such projects cost?

– what other ways might we need/choose to spend the same money?

Big surprise that, in the words of Clean Energy Canada’s press release,

91% are interested in the idea of Canada as the world leader in electric buses.

As if that were a likely scenario. Canada contains half of 1% of the world’s total population. We are a geographically huge country, with an exceptionally low population density. This is just delusional.

Big surprise that many people are in of favour “Making public transit free to help get more cars off the road and reduce emissions and congestion.” But nothing is free. The germane questions are:

– who should cover some portion of public transit costs – those actually using it, or everyone via their tax contributions to various levels of government?

– is a devastating economic crisis the right time to increase government expenditures and responsibility?

This poll would have been truly useful had it asked people whether the coronavirus pandemic has changed their attitudes toward using public transit. Are they now more likely to pack themselves into crowded commuter trains, city buses, and subways than a year ago? Less likely? Or the same?

I relied on public transit during the three decades I lived in downtown Toronto. Prior to this pandemic, I would never have described myself as a germophobe. But I now reside in a small town – and the world has changed.

The next time I visit Toronto, I’m unlikely to repeat my previous routine – parking the car an hour away, boarding a commuter train, relying on subways, buses, and streetcars within the city, then boarding another commuter train.

I now see public transit as risky. For me and for others. The idea of taking any form of public transit during rush hour fills me with dread.

I can’t be the only one.

Public transit has always struggled. Ridership was already in decline is many jurisdictions, before the pandemic struck (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Services such as Uber had already altered the landscape. During these widespread lockdowns, more people have discovered that working from home is possible and desirable. Add in infection concerns, and public transit may never recover.

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