Sunday, January 16, 2022

Can Canada Really Become Carbon Neutral?

Remember the 1988 World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere, which took place in Toronto? At that ground-breaking confab, more than 300 scientists and policymakers representing 46 countries announced that the world also needed to lower carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2005.

Since those heady days, Canada’s emissions have risen from about 600 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent in 1990 to 730 megs recently. Indeed, per capita CO2 emissions in Canada are by far the highest among the G7 countries. Emissions per Canuck are about 19%. Other industrial countries with high per capita emission levels include the US and Australia – both at 14%.

We Canadians are such energy hogs because our country is rich, big and cold, and because we share borders with the United States.

Rich: This concerns us all. Indeed, three quarters of Canadians worry that they will be personally affected by a gasoline shortage in the next five years, but their actions do not seem to match their anguish. Last year, for example, 43 per cent of Canadians reported increasing their consumption of gasoline during the previous three years, compared to 21 per cent who reported lowering it.

Yet during that three-year period, prices nearly doubled. This partly reflects the economic good times of recent years. Many Canadians have seen their personal wealth (think house prices) grow greatly. For many, this has made gasoline price increases – a small part of most household budgets – seem less significant than they would in a recession, say. The relative insignificance of fuel pricing today is one of the main reasons we are less likely to change our driving habits than we did during the last great run-up in gasoline prices - between 1975 and 1980. We have become addicted to gasoline, and that addiction is growing. And the Canada Energy Regulator sees no decline in our oil consumption in the foreseeable future.

If asked who should pay the climate change bill, I suspect that most Canadians would say “someone else.” While surveys many Canadians express concern about global warming, there is a large gap between thought and action. After all, the highest-selling vehicles in Canada are pickup trucks and SUVs, and Canada’s snowbirds have a long tradition of flying south for winter holidays. That and the realities that we also mine, use and export coal for energy, help explain why we’ve had 25 years of unachieved carbon emission goals.

Another is Canada’s Arctic Archipelago, which represents half of our land mass. Among these, the Hudson Bay Lowlands of northern Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec comprise one of the largest such continuous regions. These numbers are relevant to global climate-change scenarios and Canada’s role in them because organic matter trapped in permafrost represents half of the global carbon pool below ground. As the permafrost inn these regions thaw, releasing greenhouse gases, they create feedback loops that are turbocharging this country’s climate change experience.

Big and cold: Canadians use a lot of energy because we live in a country much bigger than Europe, with a much colder climate. We need a lot of natural gas and petroleum products to heat homes and commercial buildings, and to power our economy and to drive long distances. Also, of course, most of us would rather drive than stand at the bus stop in a blizzard, so in winter we often avoid the bitter cold by using our vehicles rather than public transit.

Our driving habits, regulations and conditions are fuel-inefficient in many ways. Many of us drive SUVs and campers to visit parks and wilderness areas. Indeed, for years now consumers on both sides of the border have been buying more trucks than cars. And we drive fast. Speed limits in most provinces range up to 110 km per hour. To put that in context, only five EU countries permit drivers to reach 100 km per hour, compared to 70 to 90 kms per hour in the other 25 countries.

Our vehicles are more fuel-efficient than in the past, but suburban sprawl has created greater distances between home and the places where we work, shop and play. Walking and cycling to work are less likely to be serious options than in the past. Suburbs often don’t have easy access to public transit, and the situation is even worse in rural areas. So, we drive. Nation-wide, only one Canadian in four walks, cycles or takes public transit to work or school. Those of driveable age drive.

America’s neighbour: Most Canadians believe we have created a more civil society than Americans have. Illogically, from that starting point we believe we also do better in the matter of energy consumption and management. Unfortunately, that isn’t so.

Among the advanced industrial nations of the world, Canada has the greatest per capita appetite for petroleum-based energy – the forms most responsible for global warming.

The countries of North America are two stories with a common theme. We want economic growth; energy consumption be damned. Like the Americans, we have a wizening aversion to high energy taxes. Today, on average, Canadians spend US$1.21 for a litre of gasoline, compared to the average price in America of US$0.98.

Successive North American governments have refused to impose high taxes on fuel in the way most other OECD countries did. Compare the growth rate for hydrocarbon consumption in Canada to that in America. Population growth was slightly higher in Canada than in the US.

Neither did Canada, arguing that increasing energy costs would put the country's industries (many of them energy-intensive, resource-extraction operations) at a disadvantage compared to those in the US. The result? The volumes of non-renewable energy we consume haven’t flattened. They continue to grow despite the development of energy-efficient technologies, processes, and procedures.

And that takes us back to our southern neighbour again. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions in America, the Biden administration has proposed nearly US$50 billion in tax breaks, incentives for government agencies to buy electric vehicles, loans for retooling factories and aid to automotive plant communities. Further billions – for example, a 30 per cent tax credit for commercial electric vehicles and up to US$12,500 in tax credits to consumers who buy an electric vehicle assembled in the United States by union workers so far appears to lack the votes to pass the closely divided U.S. Senate.

Thus, through politics, the drift between the two countries accelerates.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Letter to The Alberta Government


A Letter to Whitney Issik, MLA

The United Conservative Party of Alberta

Dear Ms. Issik:

My wife and I are among your constituents. We live in Calgary's Kelvin Grove area.

From our reading of articles in the Calgary Herald, the Globe and Mail, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation website, it seems clear that the UCP Government’s Bill 81 allows for the bulk buying of political party memberships by a particular person for their spouse or minor children. I’m sure you are familiar with this argument, but here are a couple of quotes.

A month ago, the Herald’s Don Braid noted that Under Bill 81, which passed third reading, any party member can buy party memberships for other people without telling those people, or getting their approval. He added that there was fierce resistance from three UCP MLAs, as well as two independents who had been ejected from the UCP caucus – among whom was Drew Barnes, the Independent Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA, who told the house the bill is profoundly undemocratic.

“The whole heart of this is that we’re going from a situation where you cannot buy a membership for someone else to being able to buy hundreds of memberships for someone else,” he said.“ I believe that’s the heart of what the RCMP investigation from three years ago into this premier (Jason Kenney) and his leadership.”

Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer, a frequent Kenney critic, pleaded with her own government not to pass the bill with the membership provision. She said that counting her husband and relatives, and taking donation limits into account, “I can buy 1,600 memberships within my own family….For a person to have a membership bought for them without their knowledge, without their consent, goes against the fundamental principles of who we are.” In a more recent article by the Globe’s Carry Tait, she describes the problem this way:

“Before Bill 81, if someone paid $50 or less for membership in an Alberta political party, that payment didn’t count toward the person’s annual limit for provincial political donations. In Alberta, that limit is $4,000, indexed to inflation. If the membership cost more than $50, the donor still got a pass on the $50, but the excess amount counted against the limit.

“Bill 81 says that if a party supporter purchases memberships for other people, the price of those other memberships also count toward the buyer’s annual contribution limit.

“Some critics say the bill tacitly authorizes people or organizations to buy party memberships for other people in bulk, with or without their consent.

“A trio of dissident UCP members pushed unsuccessfully for Bill 81 to be altered so someone could not buy another person a party membership without the second person’s written consent. This would still have allowed for bulk membership purchases.

“The UCP government believes it was already legal to purchase bulk memberships. The party argues that the bill does not alter the rules of membership buying, and that the only thing it has done is clarify the way membership fees are classified for donation-limit purposes.”


To return to commentary by the Herald’s Don Braid, he observed that after the vote Government House Leader Jason Nixon declared Bill 81 “a triumph of democracy.” Yet critics have called the bill undemocratic, he wrote, because “it tacitly approves of political parties selling memberships in bulk and stifling free speech.” Bill 81 also contains many other changes that will affect provincial politics.

I have many other reasons to be deeply concerned about the Alberta Government’s actions in recent years. How many people died after Mr. Kenney declared that we should have the “best summer ever” during the COVID epidemic. I can any other time in my life that provincial government policy could directly lead to the deaths of many citizens. His pussy-footing around with anti-vaxxers is an outrage, and an assault on science.

To conclude, I note that the RCMP continue to investigate whether Mr. Kenney’s team cheated in the UCP’s inaugural leadership race in 2017. The Premier’s critics allege his supporters stuffed the electronic ballot box by voting with e-mail addresses they controlled but had linked to other people’s names. I wonder how proud you are to be a member of the UCP.

Personally, I'm ashamed that you are the people who have formed this province's government.

A note to readers:

To my surprise, Ms. Issik has not yet replied to my note. Go figure!