Last year, the $6 billion flooding disaster in southern Alberta, the costliest in Canadian history, put climate issues in the forefront of many people’s minds. Hopefully, the number of climate change deniers is shrinking at least at a rate the polar ice caps are retreating, so we can stop butting heads about whether this is actually happening or not and start really looking for answers. With the release of the U.N. mega-study on the effects of climate change, eyes and fingers will once again turn towards tarsands development in northern Alberta.
While we will absolutely reap the economic benefits of oil and gas development, to the tune of $1.2 trillion over the next 35 years by some estimates, it is vital we also pay attention to the costs that development will bring with it.
Indignation is a typical response when celebrities and other countries wag their fingers at Alberta and tell us how dirty our tarsands development is, even though there are very few people in Alberta (especially those who have actually seen the development in action) who would disagree.
Unfortunately, having folks who ain’t from around here telling us our business is akin to having strangers tell you to watch your kids when they are getting out of hand. That feeling is equal parts embarrassment at being called out, and knowledge that the world would be a better place if some folks tended to their own business and left everyone else alone. It generally has the opposite of the intended effect.
Canada, and Alberta in particular, is being very stubborn when it comes to dealing with our emissions issues, and our addiction to oil.
According to the federal government’s action plan for reducing emissions, between 2005 and 2011 greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) were reduced by 4.8 per cent nationally and the economy grew by 8.4 per cent. Sounds like progress, but it’s more akin to your kid coming home with a “D” instead of a “B”. It’s not great, by any stretch, but the argument can be made it’s better than complete and total failure.
Our country is lagging behind on the numbers needed to fill the obligations we agreed to during the signing of the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, the successor to the Kyoto Accord, which would see our levels reduced by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. That means we either really have to get going on this, or we will have to admit that the non-binding agreement has been a failure.
While Canada remains one of the worst GHG emitters per capita on the planet, those numbers are being unfairly dragged down on the whole of the country by Saskatchewan and Alberta. In Saskatchewan, electricity generation is a dirty business, and, of course, in Alberta, we have tarsands to deal with.
Canada’s Emissions Trends 2012 clearly shows these two provinces at more than three times the national average for emissions.
Admittedly, these numbers are kind of funny, because oil in the west is mainly an export item, meaning we are responsible for emissions, while in the east, oil is generally an import item, meaning they can place those emissions on the shoulders of someone else – often the United States. But the fact remains while other sectors are looking at decreases in emissions in the future, oil and gas is looking at staggering increases.
And now, for a bit of a wrinkle.
While Canadians per capita are some of the worst emitters on the planet of GHG, globally we’re less than two per cent of the problem. China is more than 16 per cent. The United States is more than 15 per cent. The European Union is more than 12 per cent.
Simply put, if there were more of us around, we’d be way higher on that list. But traditionally, we Canadians like to feel like we’re fighting above our weight class when it comes to global issues. We’re that plucky little country that leads by example, preferring not to finger wag and nag but to show the world how it’s done right and turning our successes into teachable moments.
So why can’t we show the world how to fix their emission issues? Why continue to put our eggs in a dirty basket which we know is full of holes?
Stubbornness can be a good thing, when you feel you need to stick to your guns and persevere. But, in this case at least, sticking our heads in the sand is only going to poison us.