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Climate change: weak words, strong pictures.


 

Environment Minister Jim Prentice’s remarks today to the effect that it will be years—years!—before the Canadian government implements regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions have to be crushingly discouraging for anyone who regards climate change as an urgent problem.

“The international policies, the North American policies, and Canada’s own policies, have to all fit together in a coherent way,” Prentice explained, “if we’re going to get the environmental outcomes we want and protect the economy as well.”

It’s fair enough to point out that Canada is part of a big, complicated world. But what’s stopping the Canadian government from proposing decisive measures on the international stage, even implementing some bold ones at home, to prove its seriousness? Instead, the tone of the Conservative government is passive to the point of being inert.

In the run-up to next month’s global climate change summit in Copenhagen, Prentice continues to repeat the government’s pledge to cut emissions by 20 per cent from 2006 levels by 2020. But what does that commitment (tepid as it is by world standards) mean if all the details around how to achieve it are left to the leadership of other countries?

One way of looking at this, I suppose, is that Canada could never be expected, as a country that derives so much wealth from fossil fuels, to take the lead on seriously curtailing the burning of them for the sake of combating global warming.

But another way would be to see that we Canadians, of all people, are bound up in the energy economy so tightly—extracting fossil fuels and consuming them like nobody else on the planet—that for us to abdicate on our responsibility to reduce emissions for the sake of future generations would be particularly shameful.

It helps to turn, every now and then, from the unavoidably abstract debates about atmospheric science and energy economics to more concrete reminders of what all this adds up to on the surface of the planet. For that tonic jolt of reality, the landscape photography of Edward Burtynsky—not coincidentally, a Canadian—is just the thing. And a good place to check out the man and some of his pictures is here.


 

Climate change: weak words, strong pictures.

  1. "One way of looking at this, I suppose, is that Canada could never be expected, as a country that derives so much wealth from fossil fuels, to take the lead on seriously curtailing the burning of them for the sake of combating global warming"

    And yet another way of looking at this, i suppose is that it gives every other bugger out there with an axe to grind, the signal that it's ok to keep on grinding. In other words someone in China might well read those words and nod and smile and keep on grinding away.

    • good. in the absence of a clear domestic moral conscience on the issue, international axe-grinding will hopefully become a valuable substitute.

  2. Gut reaction: if we're not going to take climate change policy seriously, then let's start taking space exploration seriously, because soon enough we're going to need a new planet on which to live.

    (Slightly) more lucid: It's becoming ever more clear what our government thinks of the importance of our environment. And, while I agree that we don't want to incur economic collapse in attempting to "save" our environment, nor would we want to ignore that Canada is part of a global community, I also think that this procrastination-on-emissions-reduction-implementation thing will only bite us in the derriere come 2020. Carpe diem, boys.

  3. "But what's stopping the Canadian government from proposing decisive measures on the international stage, even implementing some bold ones at home, to prove its seriousness?"

    What's stopping them is that they are not serious about global warming but are trying to fudge the issue. Cons can read polls as well as anyone else – people either lie to pollsters about their belief in global warming or else they want to fix the problem as long as it does not effect them materially in any way, shape or form. There are very few Canadians who are keen for the type of measures needed to significantly reduce CO2.

    I also think this is going to be Libs next ineffectual meme. Libs have been claiming for long time now about what a feckless embarrassment Harper is while at same time claiming he has enormous influence to get US, China, Russia, India … et al to agree to policies they think will destroy the wealth creation that is occurring now in their countries.

    • A consevative i someone who doesn't believe in govt, but he's willing to run anyway, and fail, in order to prove his point.
      I love those old aphorisms…there's always more than a grain or two of truth to them…don't you think?

      • Ideological conservatives are heirs to Locke and his politics is necessary evil beliefs. I don't believe Cons are trying to prove anything – they don't believe government works and it doesn't. It is not like the trains run on time when Libs are in power but everything goes to hell in handcart when Cons take over. Unless you are Lib partisan, of course.

        • "Ideological conservatives are heirs to Locke and his politics is necessary evil beliefs."

          Heh. Do you actually read what you write?

          • No.

    • Aside from a fairly big error about climate change not existing, this probably isn't too far off.

      • No no no – climate change is a global fraud.

        I know because Jolyon told me so. And he's totally a climate scientist or whatever, so he's equipped to interpret the data all by himself.

    • "claiming he has enormous influence to get US, China, Russia, India … et al to agree to policies that will destroy the wealth creation that is now occurring in their countries"

      Dion did in 2005.

    • jolyon = HUGE dummy.

  4. I suppose it's only fair since climate change doesn't care about us either.

  5. crushingly discouraging for anyone who regards climate change as an urgent problem

    I'm sure they can occupy themselves in the meantime with critical appraisal of just how right they were about the fiercely urgent moral problems of the past, like overpopulation, the coming ice age, the end of oil, acid rain, and the ozone layer.

    • You forgot starving. We were all going to starve to death due to over-population.

      I wonder what the next mass neurosis is going to be.

      • "I wonder what the next mass neurosis is going to be."

        The death of print.

        • Good suggestion. I have been trying to think of something apocalyptic but nothing comes to mind yet.

          I don't believe print will disappear either. Media does not just disappear once it is invented. I do wonder though about paperless books/mags/newspapers – maybe I am old school but holding something other than a proper book while reading is entirely unsatisfying. But I have a couple of friends who swear by their kindles. And I only seem to have issue with paperless books – I read lots of newspapers and mags online.

          • Reading the actual paper is one of civilized lifes great pleasures.

          • I do enjoy actual newspaper, also mags, more but I am content to read them online. Our newspaper reading selection has increased exponentially since the internet came along. I absolutely refuse to give up proper books for a kindle, however.

          • Have you guys tried it? I have a Sony, and I love that I don't have to buy a new bookshelf because my current one is overflowing. I love that it fits in my purse so whenever I find myself waiting in a line or whatever, I have a book to read. I love that I can resize the pages so when I'm tired of wearing my reading glasses I can increase the size of the words and read without them. I love that the books are cheaper than their paper versions. Still, it isn't some kind of investment, it is a toy.

          • That's interesting. I wonder if the love of the book as an object in itself will eventually die? I can't imagine not wanting to own them. Their texture, the weight even the smell of books are somehow evocative. An old bookstore is like entering another universe for me.But i wonder if it's not all in the mind? After all a whole generation or more has grown up without handling vinyl lps. I don't think about them myself anymore at all.

          • I love books in whatever format, and I do know what you mean about the weight and the feel of the pages (especially old books which can have either almost onion-skin-like paper or thick, almost cardboard). But there are any number of wonderful things from the olden days that are almost unheard of today, like homemade bread, candle-lit lanterns, penmanship.

            I've never been interested in reading magazines for some reason, and I didn't read newspapers because of the newsprint hands. Now I happily read the online versions. Sadly, Maclean's can't be downloaded to my Sony.

            Do your bit for climate change–save a tree! Download your reading material. :)

          • I don't think my newspaper reading habit will threaten too many trees – beside i'm so cheap i mosly never buy, just read coffee shop papers. Seriously the computer age was supposed to put a stop to this, and look what happened. Paper use has more than quadrupled. I'm appalled at the waste everywhere. I do agree it's nice to be able to browse through far more sources online.

          • I never mastered the art of maintaining a papers integrity when changing pages so I gave that up for the Associated Press on my Wii and found that reading world news is somewhat less infuriating and somewhat more alarming than local news.

            Jay Leno made an interesting point about the car which I think also applies to many things, including print media. He said that when the car was replacing horses people were afraid that horse breeding would disappear because there would be no need for it. Before the car horses were beasts of burden and were worked to death. When the car came, it liberated the horse from that duty and people could then appreciate the horse more leisurely.

            With electric cars coming into the main stream market, regulations and restrictions on the gasoline car will become more lax allowing enthusiasts to pursue designs that weren't allowable before.

            I'm sure something similar will happen to print media, where it won't be a mere commodity but rather a thing of beauty.

      • Har har! I hope you two are having a good laugh about starvation.

        From Wikipedia:

        "# On the average, a person dies every second as a result of hunger – 4000 every hour – 100 000 each day – 36 million each year – 58 % of all deaths (2001-2004 estimates)."
        # On the average, a child dies every 5 seconds as a result of hunger – 700 every hour – 16 000 each day – 6 million each year – 60% of all child deaths (2002-2008 estimates)"

        Did it take you 15 seconds to read this? 15 people including 3 children have *starved to death* in that time. But it doesn't affect you, so I guess it's all grist for your smirking jackassery.

    • My my, who knew only Hippos and cons are gifted with hindsight.

    • This is the problem when you get your science from the press and not from peer reviewed science.

      If you did the latter, you'd realize that all the things you list were blown out of proportion by the press latching on to one or two scientists who generally went against the consensus view.

      So if you want to argue that going against the consensus view tends to be wrong, you be my guest. I'll be in agreement.

    • avr = dummy

    • "I'm sure they can occupy themselves in the meantime with critical appraisal of just how right they were about the fiercely urgent problems of the past, like overpopulation, the coming ice age, the end of oil, acid rain, and the ozone layer."
      ————————————-

      Actually the international community actually did something about ozone depletion and acid rain (despite the whining at the time from the industries affected) and the threat was very real in both cases. It's a good precedent for doing something about Co2 emissions.

      Overpopulation is arguably the most significant driver behind many of these environmental problems.

      Jury's still out on the end of oil but certainly the easily exploitable sources appear to be drying up.

      I'll agree with you though there was some misplaced hysteria about global cooling in the 1970's. That's why I think advocates of moving away from carbon-intensive energy should focus on other arguments bedsides global warming (notably the fact that it is a non-renewable energy source and it makes us dependent upon countries that it is not in our interests to be dependent on (i.e. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, etc.)

  6. "Prentice continues to repeat the government's pledge to cut emissions by 20 per cent from 2006 levels by 2020. But what does that commitment (tepid as it is by world standards) mean if all the details around how to achieve it are left to the leadership of other countries?"
    2 points/questions about this. Are the Conservatives just being realisitic with what Canada can accomplish? Will other countries who preach about their "goals" actually come anywhere close to acheiving them.
    I suggest the other countries 10-20 years from now will look like fools when they fail at their own targets.

  7. In the late 90's when Canada was negotiating Kyoto targets, within the Calgary media there appeared to be an almost orchestrated stream of announcements from a number of oil companies about future oil sands developments worth billions and billions of dollars. It seemed that this would purposely fuel an "NEP II" backlash if Canada signed on. Individuals like Ezra Levant certainly ran with it.

    So, the timing of this announcement last Friday should come as no surprise to many, including Mr. Prentice:

    Suncor budgets $5.5-billion for spending
    CEO Rick George says ‘this actually officially restarts the growth of oil sands'

    Suncor Energy Inc. (SU.TO-T) plans to grow its oil sands production by 10 to 12 per cent a year over the next decade, …

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/sun

    Hmmm, 2010 + 10 yrs = 2020. Where have I heard that date before?

    • Eight years after world's end?

  8. One major problem is that all this new technology is still very experimental.

    I support R&D in renewable energies, but investing in giant wind farms only to discover that they have a myriad of problems is not a solution. I don't look to countries like Denmark as examples, who are saddled with huge costs of under-performing wind farms.

    One good example: The Tories invested in carbon sequestration (not just the R&D, but actual infrastructure and installations), only to discover potential problems with underground water supplies and seismic activity. If the problems are not adequately solved, it's money down the drain.

  9. It's admirable that John Geddes raises awareness by linking to Edward Burtynsky. We're all grateful for it.

    However, what if Burtynsky took aerial photos of, say, Kuwaiti oil fields? Or Indian ones? Or Chinese ones? (although a handful of pics were indeed taken in third-world countries, granted)

    Not only would he get shot in some of those countries, but the countries that would actually allow it, would result in pictures far, far more horrible than the ones of Canadian, US or Australian oil fields.

    Yes, we have tar sands and oil fields. But let's at least acknowledge that exploiting Canadian tar sands is far cleaner than exploitation in third-world countries and the middle east – not to mention unionised workers, better work conditions, and transparency (such as allowing Edward Burtynsky to take pictures).

    What's the sense of closing Canadian oil fields if the supply would be replaced by much dirtier fields overseas?

      • That's how our country looked 50-80 years ago… mostly.

    • @jwl — China is part of our planet last time I looked. You are breathing that nasty shytte, you know.

      • John the other, did you mistakenly post your comment here? It seems you're replying to jwl, who hasn't commented anywhere on this blog post.

        Unless @jwl is some new jargon that I'm not familiar with? Every time I see one of those abbreviations that I don't understand, it makes me feel so old… and I'm not even 30 years old!!

        • Jolyon used to post under the name 'jwl' before the IntenseDebate comments were implemented.

    • i highly doubt access to all those fields is as bad as you let on[ outside of China] Lots of Canadians, US and europeans work in the middle east and there are unions and people do make good money. What dirtier oil fields are you talking about? Middle east oil is the the cheapest to extract and among some of the cleanest suppliers of oil to the world. The tar sands are by definition ditier than most. Our focus should be on how to make do with less, without of course cutting our own throats, not ramping up production. And you should talk to some guys on the ground in Fort Mac if you think everything's hunkdory there. There are horrible housing, drug addiction and local polution problems there, due mostly to a slavish addiction to rewarding the investors above all else. Even lougheed has spoken out against this.

    • "let's at least acknowledge that exploiting Canadian tar sands is far cleaner than exploitation in third-world countries and the middle east".

      No, let's NOT acknowledge that, because it's simply not true. Most of the oil in the middle east (in Saudi Arabia in particular) is easy to extract with simple wells, of very high quality (i.e. low sulfur content) and requires minimal processing in order to be transformed into a usable product.

      Now contrast that with the tar sands. The oil there is removed by environmentally devastating strip mining techniques. Separating the oil from the sand requires very intense processing, using tremendous amounts of energy and water. This processing also generates huge amounts of contaminated water and soil as by-products.

      I'm not disputing your point on working conditions and transparency, but our oil is most definitely NOT cleaner.

  10. What's the sense of closing Canadian oil fields if the supply would be replaced by much dirtier fields overseas?

    Suncor was profitable, and investing when oil was selling for $15/barrel.

    Do some quick and dirty economics. Current oil sands production ~ 1.3 million barrels/day forecast to rise to 4-5 million barrels sometime out (forecasts vary). Say it would cost a company $5 /barrel to clean up its operations (water, air, CO2 emissions). That's like $6.5 to $25 million/day added industry expense .

    if you were concerned solely with the corporate bottom line, how many lobbyists and p.r flacks do you think that could fund to avoid "costly" regulations?

    • . . . and how many political campaigns could you fund?

      • Provincially, in Alberta? Probably all.

        Federally with spending limits? Future considerations (see McLellan, Anne)

    • Dot, I wasn't arguing economics.

      I was making the point that, while Burtynsky is raising awareness of our dirty oil fields, even if he succeeded at getting every oil field in Canada to close, the world would still be dependent on oil from third world and mideast countries, where rules are extremely lax, no one is unionised, no one is allowed to trespass (let alone take aerial photos), etc etc…

      It was a question of relativity – relative to Indian or mideast oil production, EB's pictures of western refineries are cleaner.

      (As an aside, Suncor was probably investing at 15$ a barrel because it realised that the price couldn't possibly stay that low. And it didn't.)

      • So relative = not our problem. Which is essentially Harper's argument. Everyone else is worse than us so why bother too much. It's a recipe for do nothing…or at least don't take the problem seriously. We should clean up our patch for our own benefit and our citizens. I live downstream of the oil sands [ in the winter months] and i can tell you water quality is fast becoming an issue with residents of the north.

        • "Which is essentially Harper's argument."

          Yup. A fundamentally amoral argument. Like George W Bush after Abu Ghraib: "well, our torture wasn't as bad as Saddam's". Or a neighbourhood crack dealer: "well, if I stop, somebody else will take my place."

          Honestly, I thought Canada was better than this. But nope – we're selling our souls and our international reputation for money. We elected two-dollar whores and we're turning into the same.

          • I hope it's not that dire…but no doubt it's hard to remain optimistic.

  11. Canada has no responsibility to cut so called green house gases until someone shows that the computer models on global warming are valid, that the benefits of warming would not outweigh the costs and that whatever Canada did would make any difference whatever given India and China have stated they will not commit to specific reductions or any reductions that affect their economic growth.

    • Ever heard of the precautionary principle. Ever wonder if India and China may be becoming more intransigent not less, as we continue to insist that they go first?

      • We aren't insisting they go first? We're insisting they come along with us. I fail to see the logic of those who insist this is a crisis that requires immediate action but not by two of the countries where the bulk of the future growth of GHG emissions is actually going to occur.

        • An unwise phrase for sure. But now you're twisting what leading by example means. Would you care to show how we are going to move the big emitters off the pot by insisting that nothing will happen until everyone excepts hard caps. Of course China and India should except limits, but again why should they when we excuse ourslves with " we can't because it would damage our economy" – isn't that what they're saying? I certainly don't advocate we commit economic suicide in order to set an example.

          • "Would you care to show how we are going to move the big emitters off the pot by insisting that nothing will happen until everyone excepts hard caps."

            I could flip that around and say what makes you think the big emitters will move once others move first. The Europeans capped emissions years ago and it's not as if the Chinese position has moved. But, at the end of the day if climate change is a global problem, then the Chinese and the Indians will have similar incentives to act as we do. Still, I think the debate is going nowhere if the conversation goes into how much emissions we should allow each country to emit. I think negotiators would be better off trying to get countries to agree to set a price on carbon in their countries through a carbon tax mechanism.

          • ' I think negotiators would be better off trying to get countries to agree to set a price on carbon in their countries through a carbon tax mechanism"

            That sounds sensible. I just wish i could feel confident that our [and their] negotiators were working towards such a solution.I have an uncomfortable sense that there is no win win solution for all of us here, given the vested interest of all parties.

    • Rob H = Dummy.

  12. No.

    Some people in the country choose to bind themselves up to the energy economy and they take everybody else with them whether they like it or not. Not all Canadians.

    The current government _chooses_ to abdicate any form of leadership and prefers to spread its legs for all comers to earn a cheap buck as long as some bones are thrown in. This is the Alberta mess of economic management on a national scale.

    They will never lead on this file because they inherently believe that the future of Canada is actively promoting the regression of our economy towards a tin-pot resource economy that is incapable of producing our own goods and services, and appears to welcome the handing over of these industries to India and China through free-trade agreements so that Canada's economic future will forever be set in stone.

    All this talk of "emissions targets" is just lip-service at best, and bald faced lies at worst.

    Nothing on this file will happen under the CPC. Absolutely nothing.

  13. Every year without action means more CO2 in the atmosphere, more of our infrastructure and economy invested in technologies requiring carbon pollution, and an ever-increasing rate of emissions. This means every year the problem becomes more expensive to tackle. Worse, any technological advancements that could be made here, to create more sustainable and stable infrastructure will be made elsewhere, putting us at a competitive disadvantage and further reliant on both foreign thinking and the fickle natural resources market.

    Prentice isn't an idiot – he knows this. Even if he doesn't believe AGW is a problem, he knows that if action is to be taken, the sooner the better. So, what he's said here isn't a stall. It's a very clear indication that the Conservative government never intends to take any real measures.

    Why this is the case is clear – the base is in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where any efforts to curtail emissions would be felt the most. Alberta emits more CO2 than Ontario, despite having just over a quarter of the population. Just as any efforts to reduce emissions in the world require China and India, any efforts to reduce emissions in Canada require Alberta and Saskatchewan.

    • The really worrying thing here – assuming one accepts AGW – is that politically speaking the consevatives are likely the only party that can pull this off. It's hard to see the liberals ever being able todo so, even if they return to power – cue the wildrose. If that cons wont do it, we're sunk. I suppose there is a chance the AB public may eventually put their foot down and insist action be taken…but it's a slim hope. Overall i'm pesimistic anything will get done.

  14. I love when Maclean's publishes posts like this one – it smokes out the imbeciles who still deny global warming…slavishly rehashing the arguments from hack "scientists" who reside in the pockets of Big Oil.

    The same morons who claim Global Warming is a hoax are the same kinds of dolts who denied that cigarettes caused cancer in the 80s.

    • lol In some cases it's the very same " scientist'" and advertising agencies.

  15. The good news is they have yet to get around to the biggest greenhouse gas of all, that one lighter-than-air component that really acts as a blanket to keep the sun's radiant heat trapped in the earth. Most exhaust stacks, including internal combustion engines, spew out this gas in large volumes, dwarfing carbon dioxide, methane, sulfur dioxide and even nitrogen for its impact on the environment. It's awful! If we didn't have to contend with it, we could be much happier living on a bone dry planet. claysamerica.com

  16. As long as the prevailing attitude amongst journalists (as opposed to scientists) is that Anthropogenic Global Warming is a an incontrovertible fact, such that "… for us to abdicate on our responsibility to reduce emissions for the sake of future generations would be particularly shameful," there will be no meaningful debate and hence no meaningful solution to this issue.

    Those of us who are skeptical are unwilling to see our economy wrecked on a supposition. The solution to the divide is to convince us that the supposition is more than just a popular fad. The say-so of reporters won't get you very far. Otherwise we will consistently vote for the party least likely to enact emissions legislation, all other things being equal.

    On a slightly humorous note, that noted authority on climate change Al Gore, in his infinite scientific wisdom, has just declared the earth to be a small star. That's taking the Global Warming message to extremes, I'd say.

  17. Those of us who are skeptical are unwilling to see our economy wrecked on a supposition.

    I think "[t]he solution to the divide is to convince us that" the economy will indeed be wrecked, and you're just not mindlessly repeating spin and fearmongering.

    So, how about some facts and analysis that can withstand scrutiny? I'll provide the latter if you provide the former.

  18. The longer this disco science of doom from CO2's glitter fear is not experienced by any of us as promised, the sooner it will slowly be revealed as the mistake that it was, with the thinnest of truths and was shockingly profited for reasons of ideology, academic and media dollars.

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