Beware of desperate politicians seeking ‘environmental legacies’ – by Kevin Libin (Financial Post – December 22, 2016)

Here’s to wishing all Canada’s provincial and federal leaders much success, prosperity and terrific polling numbers for 2017. Let us hope they all sail comfortably through the new year on high approval numbers from their voters. Because as Canadians — and now Americans — are learning, there is little more dangerous than a political leader with nothing to lose.

On Tuesday, after eight years of stifling U.S. economic growth, Barack Obama announced yet another round of rules to restrict oil and gas, this time ordering vast expanses of the Arctic and Atlantic seaboard “indefinitely off limits” to new offshore oil and gas exploration.

The reasoning was supposedly “the important, irreplaceable values of … Arctic waters for Indigenous, Alaska Native and local communities’ subsistence and cultures, wildlife and wildlife habitat, and scientific research (and) the vulnerability of these ecosystems to an oil spill,” according to a White House statement.

Those dangers somehow never seemed quite as grave in the first 95 months of Obama’s presidency as they did in the last four weeks — and natives and polar bears have nothing to do with the 4 million acres of Atlantic ocean Obama walled off, from Virginia to Canada. Perhaps The New York Times captured the more urgent priority, when it reported afterward that Obama was racing to “nail down an environmental legacy that cannot quickly be reversed by Donald J. Trump.”

“Environmental legacies” are like those Arctic polar bears Obama wants to hinge his late-presidency reputation on. They look cuddly enough, but if you see one coming, be terrified. Winning a war, lifting millions from poverty, or championing civil rights, produce legacies perceptible to the average voter — recognizable at least in hindsight.

But while an environmental legacy built on clearing air pollution or decontaminating waterways might be something regular folks appreciate, banning future fossil fuel production is the sort of ex ante “environmental legacy” that can never really be measured; nobody will ever know if it actually did any good, but its validity gets vouched for strictly by anti-oil climate warriors.

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