Alberta's environment minister says there is a steadfast, "non-factual, vicious form" of climate denial among those on the right of the political spectrum.
But she insists that most Albertans are "progressive folks" who share the government's view that climate change is real and action is warranted.
Shannon Phillips made the comments at a summit near Ottawa last week on women climate leaders, after National Observer asked the minister how her government plans to deal with recent surveys showing some public skepticism over the threat of climate change and the benefits of putting a price on carbon pollution.
“There is no question that (in) the Canadian right..there remains a steadfast belief that climate change is not real. We do not share that view, and in fact the majority of Albertans don’t share that view," says @SPhillipsAB #abpoli
A spokesperson for Alberta’s opposition United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney reacted to her statement by pointing to his earlier dismissal of criticism by federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna. "Yes, I'm a carbon tax denier but I'm not a climate change denier," he had said.
An online survey for Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission by Abacus Data, published in April, found less than two thirds of Canadians believe the overwhelming global scientific consensus that climate change is occurring now. Alberta residents are the least likely to believe the planet is warming, according to the survey.
Such online surveys are not necessarily representative of the general public, according to polling industry standards. Online surveys are not random and have no margin of error.
The scientific consensus, assessed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is that all the warming since 1950 has been caused by humans, primarily through burning fossil fuels that release climate-warming greenhouse gases.
As well, a CBC Road Ahead Survey by Trend Research published on May 4 found two-thirds of Albertans surveyed want to get rid of the Alberta NDP’s carbon tax.
Most economists say carbon pricing is needed to correct a market failure where fossil fuels were not priced according to the costs they impose on people. Insurance claims over the past decade have tripled compared to decades past, as climate change exacerbates the severity of natural disasters like floods and wildfires. By 2050, climate change is expected to cost as much as $43 billion a year.
“There is no question that the Canadian right — and there is no question, in some of its more non-factual, vicious forms that it takes, in Alberta in particular — there is no question that there remains a steadfast belief that climate change is not real,” said Phillips.
“We do not share that view, and in fact the majority of Albertans don’t share that view. The majority of Albertans are progressive folks who want to see our province move forward, and you cannot govern by looking in the rear-view mirror,” she added.
“Climate change is real, and the question then becomes, what are you going to do about it? Because if the answer is nothing, then you actually don’t accept that climate change is real.”
Questioning humanity's climate contribution
British Columbia’s carbon tax, in place for a decade, led to a drop in emissions of between five and 15 per cent even while provincial economic growth outpaced national numbers, according to the Ecofiscal paper.
But Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has faced relentless personal attacks in part over her government's decision to implement an economy-wide carbon tax in her province. At an anti-carbon tax rally hosted by right-wing Rebel Media group in 2016, the crowd chanted "lock her up" in reference to Notley.
Last fall, Canada’s independent competition watchdog abruptly dropped an inquiry into climate deniers. This probe was triggered in response to a complaint about a billboard in Calgary, Alta. in 2014 that questioned humanity's contribution to climate change.
Kenney has questioned “exactly to what degree” humans are responsible for climate change. On May 7, he defended that statement in front of a federal Parliamentary committee, saying he agreed the human influence was “very significant” but repeated there was “a debate of the precise degree.”
Kenney has also rejected the Trudeau government’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act and has said he will join a Saskatchewan court reference challenging such a federal tax. He has also vowed to scrap the Alberta NDP’s carbon pricing regime.
Responding to criticism by McKenna, Kenney told CTV: "That's classic of (McKenna) and the Trudeau government, the arrogance, the dismissiveness.
"Anybody who doesn't agree, in her case with a punitive carbon tax, gets called a name, and with this highly charged politicized language... yes, I'm a carbon tax denier but I'm not a climate change denier."
The Alberta government is spending $600,000 to provide scientific climate information to schools and community groups, a move Phillips has likened to sending kids home with anti-smoking material.
Phillips said Albertans embraced the tax after considering their international reputation. The province has the third biggest proven reserve of oil after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, but oilsands extraction is costly and energy-intensive.
She said it was developed in consultation with the energy industry and has been championed by industry players. The province has paired it with a small business tax cut and low-income rebates.
“As a result, we’re now into year two of an economy-wide price on carbon, Alberta continues to lead the country in economic growth, both in the traditional energy sector and now we’re seeing tremendous growth in clean tech, energy efficiency and renewables,” said Phillips.
“We, of course, had the lowest priced renewable procurement in Canadian history recently, and we have more to come on that file," she added, referring to the results of the province's first round of its Renewable Electricity Program in December, a 20-year average price of 3.7 cents per kilowatt-hour.
'The goal is not to make money'
McKenna hosted the climate summit where Phillips spoke. Asked her view of the public surveys on climate change and carbon pricing, McKenna emphasized how pricing creates an incentive to save money by becoming more energy efficient.
"It also creates incentives for new technologies — and I”ve seen these technologies across the country. Net-zero homes, electric vehicles, or small solutions like insulating your home. These all save money and it creates the incentive to do that," said McKenna.
Four-fifths of Canadians live in a province where there is already a price on pollution, she noted. B.C. and Alberta have carbon taxes, while Ontario and Quebec have a cap and trade systems. The proposed federal system would provide a minimum standard and allow for provincial plans that meet or exceed this standard, such as those four provinces.
The Trudeau government has said for those provinces where a federal minimum standard will be imposed, all revenues will be returned to that province, and potentially directly to individuals.
"The goal is not to make money, the goal of putting a price on pollution is to take action to reduce emissions, to create innovation, to create good jobs," said McKenna.