He skilfully avoided what was wrong
Without saying what was right,
And never let his on the one hand
Know what his on the other hand was doing …
Postpone, postpone, abstain …
Truly he will be remembered
Wherever men honour ingenuity,
Ambiguity, inactivity, and political longevity.
Let us raise up a temple
To the cult of mediocrity,
Do nothing by halves
Which can be done by quarters.
— F. R. Scott from a poem written to mark the death of Prime Minister Mackenzie King
I am a political optimist by nature. I keep wanting to believe our federal government has turned a corner — that it has seen the light on the climate emergency and is ready to shift into high gear.
But reality keeps bursting my bubble.
The poem excerpted above by Canadian poet Frank Scott (who was also a constitutional scholar and co-founder of both the CCF and NDP), gives Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest-serving prime minister, too little credit for his wartime performance. But with that exception, it brilliantly captures the essence of the Liberal Party for decades. And those last two lines not only speak to the spirit of our government’s current approach to the climate crisis, they may prove to hit with uncanny accuracy the mathematical mark with respect to our greenhouse gas reduction targets.
Should such quarter measures be lauded for at least getting us on the right path, for achieving what seems possible in the present? Pundits and government validators who see matters through the “realistic” lens of politics are inclined to do so. The problem with this view is the climate does not give a damn about the art of the politically possible; it is governed by the laws of nature, and there is no bargaining to be had with those laws.
For those of us who follow the climate file closely, the last few weeks have been rough, marked by one step forward two steps back, and by the release of pivotal reports that provide a study in contrasts and contradictions.
The incoherence of Canada’s Emissions Reduction Plan
In late March, the Trudeau government released its 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP), its updated plan to reduce Canada’s GHGs 40 per cent by 2030. After 20 years of Canada’s GHG emissions plateauing at a historic high, this federal plan will likely see our emissions curve finally bend and begin a long-awaited downward trend. That’s the good news. But the slope of that downward trajectory will not align with what the climate science demands of us — at least a 60 per cent reduction by decade’s end. And according to the latest report from the federal environment commissioner, it is unlikely to even attain the inadequate 40 per cent reduction target it purports to hit by 2030.
While the ERP is the most detailed climate plan we’ve seen from the federal government and the language is strong (a signal that the terrain is shifting in a positive direction), it lacks ambition. The plan contains $9 billion in new climate spending, although this is to be spread over seven years. Too many of the target dates in the plan are back-end loaded to the post-2025 period, leaving them politically vulnerable. Tellingly, the ERP was unveiled at Globe in Vancouver, an annual business and environment conference whose sponsors include fossil fuel corporations and financial enablers Shell, Suncor, FortisBC, Enbridge and RBC. Most troubling, the new federal plan also projects that Canadian oil production will continue to increase by 22 per cent — or 910,000 barrels per day — over this decade.
Then, in early April, we saw the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, urging the world to undertake immediate and deep cuts to GHG emissions before the goal of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 C slips out of reach. Speaking in response to the IPCC release, UN secretary-general António Guterres condemned high-emitting governments and corporations for “adding fuel to the flames.” In a speech where he appeared to lose patience, Guterres declared, “Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels.
“Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness,” proclaimed the world’s top diplomat. And using decidedly undiplomatic language, he continued, “Some government and business leaders are saying one thing — but doing another. Simply put, they are lying.”
Canada, he’s looking at us.
Bay du Nord: What emergency?
But Guterres’s message clearly failed to penetrate the federal cabinet. Two days later, when faced with its first major post-ERP test, in a move more dissonant than many could fathom, the Trudeau government gave approval to the Bay du Nord deep-water oil extraction project off Newfoundland. If Equinor, the Norwegian company behind the proposal, chooses to proceed (a final investment decision is expected in the next year), the project could produce a billion barrels of oil over its lifetime, or an annual amount equivalent to adding seven million gas cars to the road.
At this late hour in the climate emergency, with the International Energy Agency and IPCC telling us our global carbon budget cannot abide any new fossil fuel projects, our government’s Bay du Nord decision amounts to an act of arson.
Proponents claim the project is “low-carbon” and will be “net-zero” by 2050. Don’t be fooled. This dubious claim relates only to emissions at the point of extraction. In reality, the majority of GHG emissions (over 80 per cent) are generated at the point when that oil is burned. Those combustion emissions (what’s technically known as “Scope 3” emissions) are what matter to the climate.
Part of what makes the Bay du Nord decision so enraging is that it communicates the opposite of emergency. When governments send contradictory messages by approving new fossil fuel projects, they are effectively telling the public the emergency isn't real. But it is, with the current heat wave in India and Pakistan just the most recent devastating reminder.
As with the federal government’s stubborn commitment to continue with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the greenlighting of Bay du Nord is additionally frustrating because there is no disputing these projects are squarely positioned under federal jurisdiction. Even when they are fully empowered to make the right call, this federal government is choosing to make the wrong one.
Now the climate movement will have to waste precious time and energy fighting a rear-guard action to defeat this obscene project and prevent its future emissions. Frustrating but necessary because this project can and must be stopped.
Follow the money
The final break with our faith came the next day with the release of the 2022 federal budget.
Given the government’s tendency to make big multi-year climate announcements, it can be challenging to calculate how much is being spent in a single given year. Thankfully, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives economists Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood and Marc Lee have helpfully annualized all these budget commitments. Budget 2022 saw about $1 billion in new climate mitigation spending for the current fiscal year (funding the implementation of new measures outlined in the ERP the previous week). According to Mertins-Kirkwood and Lee, when this spending is combined with the ongoing rollout of previously announced spending from earlier budgets, annual federal spending on climate mitigation amounts to about $2.9 billion this year and will rise to just over $4 billion in each of the following two years. If one takes a more expansive view that includes spending on green infrastructure, climate adaptation and industrial subsidies, the amount spent this fiscal year may reach as high as $12 billion.
As Mertins-Kirkwood and Lee note, that may sound like a lot of money, “but it only accounts for 2.8 per cent of total federal spending and just 0.4 per cent of GDP this year. Given the scale and urgency of the climate crisis, it’s not nearly enough. Climate economist Nicholas Stern has proposed governments spend two per cent of GDP on climate-related investments. For Canada, that would be about $56 billion this year.” The Trudeau government isn’t merely spending a little less than it should, it is off by at least a four-fold magnitude.
The most underdeveloped elements of both the ERP and the budget are with respect to “just transition,” a point reinforced by the latest report from the federal environment commissioner who has rebuked the government for its failure to deliver on this promise. The money in the budget designated for this purpose amounts to a rounding error. Yet in the absence of a robust and compelling just transition plan for fossil fuel workers and the communities that rely on those jobs, the government feels trapped into making odious decisions like the Bay du Nord approval.
Most revealing, the largest single “climate” spending measure in Budget 2022, clocking in at $2.6 billion over the next five years and $1.5 billion annually after that, is the new tax credit for carbon capture and storage (CCS), the bulk of which will go to oil and gas companies even as they rake in record profits ($34 billion in 2021). This represents a huge and brand-new fossil fuel subsidy from a government purportedly committed to ending such subsidies.
The CCS tax credit lays bare the government’s strategy. When the Liberals broke new ground in the last election by promising an oil and gas emissions cap, the intention was never to actually curtail fossil fuel production, but rather, to focus solely on dubious efforts to lower extraction and production emissions by means of offsets and CCS — while lavishing public dollars on some of the richest companies on Earth to assist them in extending their production activities.
In this illuminating chart contained in Budget 2022, the finance ministry shared the gap between current and needed annual spending (or “investment”) to attain “net-zero emissions in Canada.” The lighter bars show government spending, while the darker ones show private spending, both current and aspirational. What is clear is that the government does not intend to spend what it takes to confront the climate crisis; rather, it hopes to leverage and entice the private sector to do so. The Liberals seek to incentivize our way to victory. Both the ERP and the budget explicitly make clear that the federal government’s flagship climate policy remains the escalating carbon price, a market signal it hopes will cajole private investment in the right direction. This is an approach that will see us fry. It is no way to prosecute a battle for our lives.
The uncomfortable conclusion is this: Canada’s approach to climate is a hot mess of incoherence and contradictions, and it is fundamentally at odds with what the IPCC demands of us. As Canada’s National Observer columnist Barry Saxifrage has documented, Canada’s record is that of a rogue super-emitter. Our country now has an updated emissions plan that will finally start to see our GHGs decline. But the pace and pitch are all wrong. Canada still needs a real climate emergency plan.
Given that the government does not have the matter in hand, that means those of us who understand the emergency still need to mobilize. If these disappointments have you down, know that hope comes in the doing — action and organizing are the antidotes to despair.
My thanks to professor Marjorie Griffin Cohen for directing me to this poem by F.R. Scott, from which she also drew recent inspiration in her analysis of the health-care provisions in the latest federal budget.
The Liberal Party serves
The Liberal Party serves Corporate Canada, the Big Banks, and Big Oil.
Fossil fuel expansion is the agenda. A plan to fail on climate.
See RBC's recent report: "The New Climate Bargain".
"In late April, Royal Bank of Canada put out a report claiming that oil and gas production in Canada could rise by 500,000 barrels per day without compromising the country’s climate targets. This would be possible, the financial institution explained, by capturing the emissions from oilsands projects and burying them underground.
"The largest and most influential bank in Canada deems this a 'new climate bargain,' and under its terms federal and provincial policy-makers must lay off on environmental regulations that limit the oil and gas industry’s growth.
"RBC warned politicians to 'avoid emissions policy that restricts or cuts near-term production.'"
"What Haunts Canada’s Banks? A Green Pivot from Oilsands" (The Tyee, 4-May-22)
Political disconnect. Canada's climate and energy policy is not decided by cabinet or even by the PMO. Certainly not by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Voters have no say.
Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault is powerless.
Instead of giving political cover to this charade, why does he not do the right thing and resign?
We need to lay siege to the banks. And stop voting for climate disaster.
I was sort of expecting a
I was sort of expecting a Nicolas Hulot move from Guilbeault. Instead we got Bay du Nord.
Klein: "Both the ERP and the
Klein: "Both the ERP and the budget explicitly make clear that the federal government’s flagship climate policy remains the escalating carbon price, a market signal it hopes will cajole private investment in the right direction."
More smoke and mirrors. Canada's carbon pricing system for large industrial emitters is a joke:
"Canada’s biggest emitters are paying the lowest carbon tax rate" (January 17, 2022)
"Biggest industrial emitters don't pay fair share for pollution, critics say" (April 14th 2022)
"Carbon pricing disproportionally hard on Indigenous groups, small biz: audit" (April 27th 2022)
Canada's federal and provincial govts shield large emitters from significant carbon costs so they can remain competitive in global markets. O&G companies pay pennies on the dollar in carbon costs. By design, Canada's carbon pricing system will not impair their profits.
I like your detailed analysis
I like your detailed analysis and documentation of the problem, but you don't offer pragmatic solutions.
So tell me, if we cut oil production by fiat, and the banks take a haircut on their oil investments, and the Canadian stock market takes a nose dive, along with the bank's dividends, and the value of my RRIF decreases in proportion because my alt-energy stocks are going nowhere and inflation is eating my cash, how do I continue to pay off the 20 year investment in the solar panels on my roof that makes my house net-zero?
So, yes, we need incentives, and we need politics and really, gradualism too! If we focus on reducing demand for fossil fuels, while increasing the availability of clean energy, then it is likely the production of CO2 will whither in proportion.
I like Seth Klein's answer:
I like Seth Klein's answer:
"Pundits and government validators who see matters through the 'realistic' lens of politics are inclined to do so. The problem with this view is the climate does not give a damn about the art of the politically possible; it is governed by the laws of nature, and there is no bargaining to be had with those laws."
Atmospheric physics does not negotiate.
Delay is Denialism 2.0.
"Bill McKibben: Winning Slowly Is the Same as Losing" (Rolling Stone, Dec 1, 2017)
Corporate Canada (i.e., the wealthy) has tilted the market in its favor. The authors and beneficiaries of market failure, which makes climate disaster profitable. A massive transfer of wealth from future generations to ours. Inter-generational theft, in short. Stealing from our grandchildren.
If we find our moral compass, blow the whistle, stop this appalling crime, end the market failure, put the oil barons and bank bosses in stocks (the other kind) and pillory, and restore democracy, you fear you might not be able to pay off your solar panels?
Keep sprinting for the climate cliff so we can pay off our solar panels?
0. Seth wrote a recent book offering pragmatic solutions: https://www.sethklein.ca/book
1. The govt is not talking cuts to oil production; it is ramping up oil production and approving new oil extraction projects when it ought to be planning cuts to oil production.
2. Banks have known what is coming for a long time; they have had every opportunity to look elsewhere for investment opportunities. The shareholders of banks, oil companies, coal companies, etc. have also known, for some time, what is coming. Apparently, the federal government has not been sending strong signals that the extraction economy that has been Canada's to-date is in for a major upheaval.
3. Looking even more broadly, car shoppers have also known what is coming and, yet, they continue to buy SUVs and crossovers and then complain about gas prices for ever-longer commutes. They continue to buy ever-larger homes, built to obsolete codes in terms of energy use, and then become concerned when energy becomes more costly to condition the air in the homes. Governments (federal) have had every opportunity to incent (force, if you like) car manufacturers to make their fleets more energy efficient, by continually increasing, year-over-year, fuel efficiency standards. Governments (provincial) have also had every opportunity to change the way our buildings, cities and regions are designed to reduce the energy required to keep them functioning. The amount of research and knowledge that is ready to be implemented is astounding. But it will take govt legislation to make it happen.
4. It's lovely that you have solar panels on your roof but how much of a difference do you believe they make if Canada continues to increase fossil fuel production? You may not be aware just how little of Canada's primary energy supply is made up of renewables as compared to fossil fuels, let alone in absolute terms. You can find a chart here: https://www.iea.org/countries/canada. As of 2020, of a total supply to Canada of ~12,000.000 Terajoules, about 147,000 Tj was from wind and solar (and other incidental renewables); that is about 1.23% of the total energy supply. Certainly you are rightly wanting confidence is your ability to pay off the panels; the country, however, has bigger fish to fry. Which is not to say that both cannot be successfully accomplished.
5. You are advocating the cautious and, perhaps, generally sensible notion of gradualism. If we had started on this program when we first became aware of it, then we could have been already 40 years into a gradual reshaping of the economy. At this point, I believe the time for gradualism -- depending, I suppose, on how one defines the word -- is long past. Which is not to say that we ought to immediately pick up our clubs, throw out our razors, and head for the caves, stopping en route at the Bedrock City Haberdashery to adorn ourselves in the latest sabre-tooth hides and the chiseled-bookstore for "The Everyman's Guide to Power Grunting".
We absolutely need to reduce demand for fossil fuels and that will be accomplished by a combination of a swiftly (to be defined) implemented reduction in fossil fuel consumption, a reduction in energy demand across the economy (building codes and retrofits, urban design, effective public transit, reducing energy waste in all sectors) electrification where possible, and electricity generation from renewable sources.
If it interests you, there is a type of chart that I have found incredibly helpful in understanding, through visualization, the energy flow through an economy. From my informal research on the topic, the best examples of this type of chart are prepared by the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California.
Unfortunately, the chart they have for Canada is many years old (and our own NRC-prepared diagrams are terrible, in comparison) but you get the idea from the 2021 chart for the USA. The basic idea is the same given that you will see some congruence between this chart for the US and the IEA numbers for Canada from the link above.
Two main observations that I take-away from these data sources:
1. The relatively small amount, currently, of the primary energy supply in both the US and Canada that is NOT from fossil fuels; and
2. On the LLNL energy flow diagram, look on the far right, at the top, grey rectangle identified as "rejected energy". Rejected = wasted = energy consumed that does not provide work for the task at hand. That is, two thirds of the primary energy consumed in the US is wasted, most of which, I believe, is heat (burning gas and coal for electricity, burning fuels in a vehicle, industrial processes).
So, the question is, how gradual do you believe is acceptable when we have to remove or transition about 75% of our primary energy supply in relatively short order, away from incredibly useful and energy-dense sources (i.e. fossil fuels), in order to limit the extent of damage that we are reeking on the planet?
I realize I made an error
I realize I made an error above:
" ...the chart they have for Canada is many years old (and our own NRC-prepared diagrams are terrible"
The diagram I saw was from Stats Can and not the NRC.
Now hiring: poof reader! ;)
Now hiring: poof reader! ;)
"...reeking on the planet?"
While it does stink, the correct verb is wreaking.
Excellent commentary, links
Excellent commentary, links and references!
It would be great if the NO offered and edit button in the otherwise unmoderated comments, perhaps with a 30-minute timeout if needed. All the subscription and donation revenue seems to be going into the top end where the increasing number of journalists reside, but also into the occasional egregious error in judgement like sending a short dozen journos to a two-week climate conference by international long distance fight when digital conferencing and even 4K video is perfectly adequate for reportage, perhaps with one or two contracted local journos. Editing and moderating comments would require a small tech staff that could be hired from the savings from avoidance of unnecessary overseas travel for so many people.
Klein: "Our country now has
Klein: "Our country now has an updated emissions plan that will finally start to see our GHGs decline."
Don't be so sure. Canada grossly underreports its O&G emissions (of all types).
"Oilsands CO2 emissions may be far higher than companies report, scientists say"
"Canada’s climate goals are built on flawed forest carbon accounting, enviro groups say" (April 22nd 2022)
Canada's nominal emissions are fiction. Actual emissions are higher. Under-reported and unreported emissions are rising.
It's clear that Canada's
It's clear that Canada's senior governments don't give a flying fig about the laws of thermodynamics while they are concentrating on myopic, short-term electoral politics. What they purposely ignore is that it is their finance ministers who will have to find ways to pay for the damages wrought by severe climate events, and also for the stupidity of not planning for adaptation. Not a feasibility study or RFP in sight.
I'm seeing this more as a national unity issue too. Massive subsidies for oil producing provinces while potential projects in other provinces (or in competition within the same province) with enormous renewable energy potential are ignored. There is the foundational hydroelectric infrastructure (probably the least important source from an emissions standpoint) in at least three provinces. Newfoundland and Alberta both have phenomenal wind power capability. Ditto solar in southern Sask. BC could power up the entire nation with geothermal from the hot rocks in seismic zones. A national smart grid using direct current will permit profit sharing between provinces by creatively using time zones and transmission interties for export to the US. A smart clean electricity corridor can also house industrial-scale battery packs for massive storage capacity available in milliseconds 24 / 7 / 365.
An entirely new industrial order could evolve from renewables, not just from new generation and transmission capacity but from related projects like expanding electric passenger and freight rail infrastructure and developing low and zero emission materials like steel and cement that switch out coal and gas for low emission electricity. Is there something wrong with creating jobs and revenue with climate initiatives?
Many of us in competitive ridings will be in a quandary of who, exactly, to vote for when climate issues and social policy are both considered. It would be very disheartening to vote only for climate by marking an X beside hopefully a genuinely serious Green candidate (you'd be surprised and disappointed ...) or the NDP only to see them defeated and a barbaric Conservative government get elected and proceeds to dismantle every climate AND progressive social justice policy. Strategic voting is alive and well, regardless of the laws of physics.
This is where economics offers a modicum of hope. Elon Musk, the richest dude on Earth, is quietly selling his Tesla shares, which have been horribly overvalued. Some pundits mark this unadvertised event as recognition that a half dozen other car makers are much better at production and are poised to release cheaper EVs, some with more sustainable and affordable non-lithium batteries (e.g. sodium ion) and are working on expanding the charging grid with their own private money. The charging network may not be such an important issue with EV ranges now extending well beyond 500 km per charge, and with charging points at home taking advantage of cheap nighttime electricity rates. While EVs are not a godsend or a full package series for climate, just episodes over one or two seasons, and while the majority of Canadian oil goes into gas tanks on both sides of the border, one could reach the conclusion that subsidies, tax breaks and grants for CCUS in the sands and deep sea oil are not going to reach any kind of long term sustainability while oil prices see saw wildly and the demand for electricity soars.
It's time that consumers / voters taught senior governments that public money spent on renewables are long term investments in societal resilience, while public money thrown at fossil fuels are a dead end.
"The Liberals seek to
"The Liberals seek to incentivize our way to victory.' Which means they seek to rely on the very same profit motive that got us into this mess in the first place.
We still seem to believe we
We still seem to believe we are not confined to a finite Planet Earth. We have no known way to increase it's resources. Our drive as a species is to exponentially grow in all directions. Nature has until we as a species gained dominance neutralized excessive growth potential by predation. We have been too successful in preventing that, and now are well on the way of stripping the Biosphere of it's life support capacity. Unlikely we can "grow" our way out of "overgrowth". Nature's way is to down size to what the Biosphere can sustain. That is my reading of the evidence I have accessed from the Internet. The IPCC is one vehicle at the global level that might be able to direct us as a species away from the present track that leads to total disaster a couple of generation on. A realization of this constraint on growth by the major decision makers might lead them to realize there is no long term future in stealing from each other to grow, as practiced still. Rather to look at the finiteness of this planet. and agree to work to preserve what remains of the Biosphere to avoid early extinction. Charles