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Climate Crisis 

Nova Scotia has made progress on some environmental fronts, but drops the ball on the biggest challenge of all.

If plans were prosperity, Nova Scotians would all be driving Benzes and smoking hundred-dollar bills. We're adrift in a sea of plans, but if some of them don't turn into action soon this seaside province may sink into the bay.

The provincial government's first annual report on its Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, made law last April, is spilling over with references to goals, targets, strategies and action plans. The act, according to premier Rodney MacDonald, "integrates the health of the environment, the economy and the people of Nova Scotia."

This sounds like the kind of forward-thinking, human-centred environmentalism that eco-heavyweights like Paul Hawken and David Suzuki have been advocating. Theact lays out legally binding targets for protected areas, drinking and wastewater standards, renewable energy production, emissions reductions and new investments in green technology research and development.

And yet, those nagging greens still aren't satisfied. Brendan Haley, energy coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre, says that all forward progress could be negated if we don't get serious about climate change. "The goal to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels is not in keeping with what science says is the critical threshold of two degrees celcius," he says.

If global temperatures rise more than two degrees, scientists predict dire consequences, including rising coastal waters, a massive increase in extreme weather events and drinking-water shortages for millions of people. The 70 percent of Nova Scotians living in coastal areas will have new reasons to worry.

To give credit where it's due, the government has done an exceptional job of working with businesses and environmental groups to acquire and protect tens of thousands of hectares of ecologically important lands. We can now boast the highest rate of Crown-protected land in Canada.

Unfortunately, if we continue on ourcurrent path, those new parks will soon be for certified scuba divers only. The rest ofus will be busy scrounging for clean drinking water in the remnants of hurricane-ravaged landscapes.

That's if we're successful in meeting the province's goal, but as Haley points out, "While government likes to announce and celebrate targets and climate action plans, these things don't have a history of causing emissions reductions."

What can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, he says, is a combination of legislation and investment. Nova Scotia has managed to significantly cut emissions of air pollutants like nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide through quantitative restrictions on Nova Scotia Power.

Government has also been kind enough to invest in windmill mapping (another planning exercise) and require that NS Power use 10 percent renewable energy sources. Haley is unsatisfied.

"It's good progress," he concedes, but adds that 10 percent is far too low. "Itwould be cost effective to invest much more in renewables."

To be the environmental world leader it wants to be known as---the kind of policy innovator the eco-gurus are looking for---the government of Nova Scotia needs to move beyond goals and plans and invest in the kind of economy that really is sustainable. If you take a peek at our province's recent spending decisions, you'll see us moving in the other direction.

While MacDonald told gas-price bitchers to take the bus, he only budgeted about $3 million for public-transit investment. In all, the province spends about 21 cents per person on public transit. British Columbia spends about 330- times that much. No, that's not a typo.

According to a recent Ecology Action Centre report, BC is kicking our sinking butts in pretty much every aspect of staving off climate change. Their targets are about the same, but they have a carbon tax, they have a cap-and-trade system and they have vehicle emission standards as strict as those in California.

We have plans. Big plans.

We also have about $300 million in planned spending on a cross-province twinned highway. "With rising fuel costs, the intelligence of spreading oil across the province should be questioned," Haley says. "Who can afford to use them?"

Despite the brilliant language of the Sustainable Prosperity Act---the attempt toshow that the economy is the environment and vice versa---the highway twinning betrays government's true mindset. "It's a decades-old form of politics," Haley says. "Not suitable for the high-energy cost, low-carbon future."

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