THE OTHER DAY, a fellow journalist told me that Happiness equals Expectations divided by Reality (H=E/R). In other words, if you expect Prince or Princess Charming, but reality dishes out a frog, you might not end up being that happy.

From an environmental point of view, if you expect Canadians to voluntarily turn green, you might not be very happy when per capita waste statistics don’t fall, SUV sales don’t decline and corporations don’t change their polluting ways. In reality, we won’t get a handle on climate change unless our governments implement the policies, regulations and tax regimes that force action. It’s not that I believe governments have all the solutions to our environmental woes, but they need to complement and encourage the actions of willing Canadians.

Regardless of which party forms the government in Ottawa, environmental activists, academics and citizens concerned about the state of our planet expect our leaders to put forward policies intended to save our kids and our kids’ kids. Although the environment has been among the issues of most concern to Canadians in the past, this situation has never before coincided with such a green slate of politicians. The reality, however, is that unless we can garner the public support necessary to sway politicians, this wave of green will dissipate with the first whiff that it might require us to actually do something or, horrors, pay for our polluting ways.

There is a growing consensus around the world amongst political leaders, economists and environmentalists that a carbon tax, especially a global carbon tax, is the best way to deal with climate change – the best way for expectations and reality to merge. Though not perfect – but what is? – a carbon tax seems the most favoured solution.

So I’m adding my lowly voice to the growing chorus that includes Nicholas Stern, the World Bank’s former chief economist; Duke Energy CEO Paul Anderson; Bill Nordhaus, Yale University’s esteemed climate change economist; my colleague Toby Heaps at Corporate Knights; author Mark Jaccard and many more.

So far in Ottawa, only Liberal leader Stéphane Dion and the Green Party’s Elizabeth May are warm to a carbon tax. If Canadians expect carbon to be taxed and support those wanting to tax it, a carbon tax can become reality. Should the architects of this economic instrument design an effective tool, one that is fair to all Canadians – Albertans and Quebeckers alike – happiness will surely follow.

This double issue of Alternatives combines a look into our past (Building Heritage) with a glimpse toward the future (Measuring Progress). There is much that our natural and cultural heritage can teach us if we take the time to analyze our successes and failures, and apply lessons learned to the road ahead.

Lewis Carol once wrote, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Let me suggest, “If you know where you are going, surely there is a road to get you there.”


Nicola Ross is the former Editor of Alternatives Journal, and is a member of the editorial board.

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