When it comes to fighting global warming, there has often been a certain sense of diffusion of responsibility. We stop and listen to whatever statistics or reports have to say about the matter. We glance at our neighbours, then at ourselves, then back to our neighbours. And then we shrug; we wonder what a single entity could possibly do to reduce emissions or take protective measures for the environment. We move on with the rest of our lives like nothing had been said.

It’s so easy, but so wrong.

On Monday, the government of Canada proved to be a prime example of the above situation on a global level. Hours after returning from the U.N. summit in South Africa, environmental minister Peter Kent announced Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. We are the first country to do so.

The international, UN-sanctioned treaty was first adopted in 1997 and has since been ratified by 191 (subtract one) countries. Countries are split into the Annex I and Annex II categories, with the former group consisting of those recognized as industrialized nations. These countries are responsible for significantly cutting their greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, which were alarming enough to be considered values of “global warming potential.” Canada was an Annex I country.

In his statements, Kent remarked that withdrawing from Kyoto would save the federal government $14 billion annually in penalty fees from being unable to meet our emission targets. He also stated that because it does not include the world’s two largest emitters – China and the United States – the Kyoto could not work, as global emissions were likely to continue increasing. He then called for a new environmental treaty to be drafted in 2015, to come into effect in 2020.

It’s true that $14 billion annually is a lot of money, but what is it compared to the ramifications of a permanently devastated world? Furthermore, had our country collectively been able to near our emission targets, that fee would have been negligible or even nonexistent. Instead of reducing greenhouse gas production, however, Canadians have since managed to collectively increase energy consumption by 28 per cent and emissions by 26 per cent from the initial 1990 levels.

To place the burden on China and United States brings us back to the example of looking towards our neighbours and wondering what we alone can do. Instead of following in the prolific dissident countries’ footsteps – which are clearly contrary to the collective goals of the global community – Canada could have played a part in pressuring the nations to join Kyoto. As the seventh country on the list of carbon dioxide emitters and a larger greenhouse gas emitter per capita than both China and the States, we could have remained in the protocol at the very least. By withdrawing, we have become the neighbour that deters other countries from participation in environmental efforts.

Finally, the question begs to be asked: what are the priorities of Canadians? Climate change prevention should be a top one, considering the fact that we are a country that is highly dependent on exploiting our natural resources, accounting for 11 per cent of our GDP. Good health and high quality of life are certainly others, but both are gradually and silently deteriorating as rapid climate change occurs. Providing for the future is yet another, but how can we continue to ensure future prosperity when the basic tenets of prosperity are compromised by something preventable?

It’s so easy to take away nothing from reports such as this one, to denounce our government and move on with our lives. But in doing so, we succumb to the same diffusion of responsibility: that our government had wronged by withdrawing, and that we were innocent. This is not the case. By first recognizing that the prevention of climate change begins with each citizen of the global community, we can move on – individually and collectively – to reach our goals.