Tag: Canada

Open Data: Let’s talk about more than just government

Victoria is hosting its open data day and Hackathon Saturday the 23rd (Facebook Link). I plan on being there because I support openness and transparency, I’d like to learn more about available data sets, and hangout with like-minded people. The City of Victoria has taken steps since 2011 through Councillor Marianne Alto‘s initiatives and more to facilitate more open governance. Like any other government entity, there is valid criticism and issues to navigate, but stated goals exist and progress can be tracked and critiqued.

Enough people talk about open government data, and there’s consensus that governments should be more collaborative, open and participatory. But most of us spend more time and money interacting with non-government entities than we do with government entities. Look at your monthly budget. You will spend 30-40 percent on your mortgage or rent, goes to a non-government entity. The next biggest line items, probably groceries, car payments are all to private entities. Should we as consumers not expect the same open data sharing standards from our private entities as we do from government? The book Open Government, released for free by Safari books after Aaron Swartz’s death (does not appear to be free any more) has one chapter by Archon Fung and David Weil titled Open government and Open Society, which outlined my concerns very well:

Enthusiasts of transparency, which most readers of this book are, should be aware of two major pitfalls that may mar this achievement. The first is that government transparency, though driven by progressive impulses, may draw excessive attention to government’s mistakes and so have the consequence of reinforcing a conservative image of government as incompetent and corrupt. The second is that all this energy devoted to making open government comes at the expense of leaving the operations of large private sector organizations—banks, manufacturers, health providers, food producers, drug companies, and the like—opaque and secret. In the major industrialized democracies (but not in many developing countries or in authoritarian regimes), these private sector organizations threaten the health and well-being of citizens at least as much as government.

Open Government – Chapter 8 – Open Government and Open Society – Fung and Weil

I wrote briefly about one aspect of open data in our private interactions, shopping receipts. We spend a lot of time, effort and money shopping, yet we’re very unlikely to leverage the power of data to help us shop better because our individual decisions are captured in paper receipts. But there are many more examples.

  1. Mortgages – Do you have to go to every bank/lender’s website to do a comparison? Ratehub is a start, is there an API or download capabilities?
  2. Real Estate Data – Realtors control real estate data in Canada, I would call this a major conflict of interest. There are efforts to open this data up a la the US, but slow going. This is the biggest market transaction any of us will undertake in our lives, but information is controlled by the agency that benefits most from our lack of knowledge.
  3. Rentals – Craigslist is notorious for hoarding data and going after people who want to present data in more useful formats. Community posted information is created by the community, but captured by private entities due to network effects (everyone’s on craiglist, so I need to be there too, regardless of their data policies).
  4. Insurance markets – Government provided insurance information (ICBC – Car, MSP – health) is transparent. Try getting insurance in the open market for condos, homes and more, you’ll find the same pdf/paper quote formats that make it difficult to compare and choose wisely.
  5. Corporate governance – There is so much information missing on actual corporate structures, ownership, directorship, brand ownership and lobbying
  6. Pollution and resource use. Do we have a good idea what companies pay for water or power? Do we have a way of understanding who pollutes what and where?

My goal on open data is to advocate for openness in all of society, not just in government. Also, just because data is available does not mean it is open. APIs and download capabilities are key.

So, when you think open data, do try and shift your gaze away from government occasionally. Remember that your housing decision is much more critical than the salary information for the assistant city manager, so openness is vital everywhere.

cart

 

Update: as Kevin pointed out on twitter, the federal tax bill is pretty big. I was talking more in terms of the municipal parts like property taxes. The point nevertheless stands, we pay private entities large sums of money under poor data transparency conditions.

Canada to stop asbestos mining and stop defending it.

Canada’s long and sorry saga of exporting death (asbestos) and defending it loudly and proudly in international fora is over and I needed to mark this happy day on the blog. The newly elected provincial government in Quebec, the Parti Quebecois have followed through on their campaign promise to finally end this small “industry” employing a few workers. Canada will no longer produce asbestos, or fight the listing of asbestos as a toxic substance.

It is going to take $50 million in government funds, a fraction of the cost of one fighter jet, to transition the workers away (if they get the money, not the mine owners). That’s it, why were we exporting death to India and other countries for this, I don’t know.

Canada’s many conservative and liberal governments fought hard for years to preserve the industry, using techniques lifted from tobacco propaganda, or today’s climate change challenges. I leave you with the ruling Canadian government’s response: Finely tuned to appeal to everyone who likes mesothelioma, cancer and death.

“Mrs. Marois’s decision to prohibit chrysotile mining in Quebec will have a negative impact on the future prosperity of the area,” (Industry Minister) Mr. Paradis said in a statement.

That about sums it up. But, it is a good day for public health, nevertheless.

Citing PQ pressure, Canada to cease defending asbestos mining – The Globe and Mail.

Featured image courtesy wikipedia used under a Creative Commons license (a micrograph of asbestos fibres causing lesions in the lung).

Weaver and the Tarsands: What the media missed.

It appears that Canada (or the part I follow) is all a twitter about an interesting analysis ($$$) by prominent climate scientist Andrew Weaver and his colleague Neil Swart that counts up all fossil fuel reserves, then converts them into global temperature increases based solely on their combustion CO2 emissions potential. It turns out that oilsand reserves are dwarfed by the available coal and natural gas reserves and overall tarsands contribution to temperature increase is modest.

If the entire Alberta oil-sand resource (that is, oil-in-place) were to be used, the associated carbon dioxide emissions would induce a global mean temperature change of roughly 0.36 °C (0.24–0.50 °C)  However, considering only the economically viable reserve of 170 billion barrels reduces this potential for warming by about tenfold (to 0.02–0.05 °C), and if only the reserve currently under active development were combusted, the warming would be almost undetectable at our significance level.

The Canadian media has chosen to play up just the fact that on a global scale, the project will result in a small increase in global temperature, so the oilsands are okay to exploit.

Climate expert says coal not oilsands real threat – CBC

Other articles pretty much say the same thing,  Prof. Weaver’s quoted comments don’t help either:

“The conventional and unconventional oil is not the problem with global warming,”  “The problem is coal and unconventional natural gas.” “One might argue that the best strategy one might take is to use our oil reserves wisely, but at the same time use them in a way that weans us of our dependence on coal and natural gas”

Weaver’s comments to the media posit this as an either-or, coal and natural gas = bad, oil = okay. Knowing him to be a very intelligent person, I suspect this is some selective quoting. Also, oil is primarily used to fuel transportation, coal and natural gas are used for electricity generation, so I am curious as to what Prof. Weaver is suggesting here as far as using oil reserves to wean us off coal use? Would the plan be to use all the money that we get from exploiting the tarsands to develop an electricity infrastructure that puts efficiency, reduced electricity use, 100% renewables first? I wish! I don’t see that happening. Alberta is currently powered mostly by coal, and if the Federal government is serious in its stated goal to phase new coal out (which is fantastic), then Alberta would switch to natural gas to fuel its tarsands exploitation, and that would not be okay either! Also, these infrastructures are all linked. A lot of BC’s natural gas and proposed big damaging dams like Site C are designed to fuel the tarsands. A province and by extension, country that makes most of its money by taking the resources it was provided for free, and selling them at great profit is not likely to want to transition away from that.

It was interesting that a few weeks back, Mark Jaccard, yet another prominent BC climate scientist (we are blessed) looked at the same issue and came to the following conclusion.

Canadian tarsands must contract as part of a global effort to prevent a 4 degree increase in temperatures and catastrophic climate change.

Vancouver Sun – January 26, 2012

So, is this Jaccard vs. Weaver?

Not really.

Is the Swart and Weaver message that simple? Are they actually saying that it is okay to exploit away because it makes no difference?

The media should start by reading the byline:

The claimed economic benefits of exploiting the vast Alberta oil-sand deposits need to be weighed against the need to limit global warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions.

That’s how the paper starts. It then calculates global warming potentials based on reserves, current production, total “in place” (present, but not always exploitable) and shows that coal and natural gas are by far the greatest potential contributors. This is of course simply because we have much greater reserves of coal and natural gas, so their global warming potential is going to be huge. The paper makes no mention of rate of use, or whether it is humanly possible to use all that coal and natural gas, and what kind of population growth, and per-capita consumption that would entail.

Here’s a very important calculation from the paper that will be lost in the details. To limit temperature rise to 2 °C or less, the allowed, cumulative per person future carbon consumption is 85 tons of carbon. The per-capita carbon potential of the tarsands alone to US and Canada is 65 tons of carbon. So, by itself, the proven reserves (10% of what’s there) of the tarsands can eat up 75% of our allowed carbon budget, not so small, is it.

Here’s what Swart and Weaver have to say about trajectory:

The eventual construction of the Keystone XL pipeline would signify a North American commitment to using the Alberta oilsand reserve, which carries with it a corresponding carbon footprint

Here’s the last paragraph from the paper, another big trajectory argument.

If North American and international policymakers wish to limit global warming to less than 2 °C they will clearly need to put in place measures that ensure a rapid transition of global energy systems to non-greenhouse-gas-emitting sources, while avoiding commitments to new infrastructure supporting dependence on fossil fuels

Absolutely, 100% agreed, but this is not what the media message is at all, interesting.

So Swart and Weaver point out that we need to avoid commitments to new infrastructure promoting fossil fuel dependence, and that building projects like Keystone XL and the Northern Gateway signal a serious commitment to using the entire tarsands. The message in the paper is much more nuanced, and more measured than what’s in the media, not surprising.

I have long since come to the conclusion that this is not about counting of individual carbon atoms and their non-measurable global warming contributions, of course any single project will not tip us over one way or the other. It is about trajectory. To use two smoking analogies, the argument against smoking is not that the next cigarette will kill you, it is that smoking will kill many people in a population over a lifetime. More aptly in this case, the argument is that  Grand River Enterprises, a small Canadian cigarette concern, doesn’t contribute as much to smoking deaths as does Imperial Tobacco, so it is somehow different and okay.

Every major fossil fuel commitment we make is a commitment we do not make to reducing consumption, or increasing renewable use. Every foreign policy/domestic policy decision we take to keep our dollar high to get maximum revenue from the tarsands to shareholders (not the population) is a commitment to not building renewable infrastructure, or spending money on energy efficiency. So, trajectories count, and that is the underlying message from Swart and Weaver.

To finish it off, here’s the PhD Comics Science News Cycle, which is very apropos.

PS: Is Weaver and the Tarsands a good band name?

Update:

Joe Romm of climate progress responds to the paper here, thanks @softgrasswalker

And from comments, looks like Prof Weaver was on the CBC this morning, reprising his usual climate hawk self, will listen when they put the audio up.

Here’s Prof. Weaver in the Huffington Post commenting on the study. More about this when I don’t have work to do.

References:

Swart, Neil C., and Andrew J. Weaver. “The Alberta oil sands and climate.” Nature Clim. Change advance online publication (February 19, 2012). http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1421.

Income Inequality = Super VIllains

From the very awesome Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal Website, a reminder that income inequality causes more super villains than science, and mashing DNA 🙂  Canada’s Conference Board, which no one would accuse of being socialist, came up with a report yesterday flagging growing inequality in Canada. They flagged inequality as “raising questions of fairness”, and declared it of “moral concern”.

They are late to the party. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has been on this beat for years, and has an ongoing project called The Growing Gap about income inequality. Go read The Spirit level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett of the Inequality Trust in the UK for an epidemiological look at inequality and various social conditions.

Just wanted to share the awesome cartoon, that’s all 🙂

Want a tougher Canadian Refugee Policy? Read this

Deported to torture – thestar.com

The memories aren’t all good. The country the Benhmudas love is also the country that rejected them as refugees. In 2008, the Canadian government deported the family back to Libya — even though the two youngest boys, Adam and Omar, are Canadian citizens by birth.

For the boys’ father, it meant being deported to torture.

Adel Benhmuda, now 43, says he was detained on arrival at Tripoli’s airport and taken to the notorious Ain Zara prison on the outskirts of the Libyan capital. For a total of six months, during two separate periods of detention, he says he was repeatedly beaten.

Note that the tougher it is for refugees to prove their case, the more likely it is that some will be sent back for further persecution.

Hey Young Woman! Canada’s Senate needs you!

Canada’s Senate, that life-tenured repository of appointed political loyalists, ex-journalists and random washed up celebrities, got in the news recently after Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed three failed conservative MP candidates, including two who had resigned from their life time senate appointments to run. While all this is unethical and just serves to perpetuate the plutocracy and the welfare state Canadian politicians have set up for themselves, it is clearly the PM’s sole prerogative to do this. He would have done these appointments regardless of majority/minority. The PM knows that the median voter will only turf him in the event of obvious corruption, or a recession, not for riding roughshod over parliamentary procedures, or being divisive, or any such “subtle” issues.

There are calls to reform the senate to make it more relevant, and Stephen Harper has made noises about introducing legislation that will limit senators’ terms and provide for an elected model. The article is short on detail on exactly what the election process will look like.  But let’s look around for some examples, of course rule out the UK House of Lords, sorry, no point discussing hereditary peers!

  1. The American Model: Good god, no. The US Senate is unrepresentative and broken. It assigns two senators to each state regardless of population, and has procedures like the filibuster, anonymous secret holds, etc that are severely undemocratic. Just read George Packer’s devastating report in the New Yorker and you’ll run screaming from this option. Anyway, they have too much power, that’s the last thing we need. The Australian model is somewhat similar (though it uses the single transferable vote or STV for voting).  and is unrepresentative.
  2. The Indian Model. India’s Rajya Sabha. It is elected by the State’s MLAs through a regionally population weighted formula using a Single Transferable Vote multi-member list. Members are voted to 6 year terms. It has has a small percentage of appointed members meant for prominent scientists, artists, etc. The Rajya Sabha does not have equal powers, it cannot initiate appropriations bills, or reject them (only send them back). Also, in the event that the Rajya Sabha (assembly of “rulers”) disagrees with the Lok Sabha (the assembly of the people), there is a joint session, in which the Rajya Sabha, limited by number to 250, is always outnumbered by the Lok Sabha (not more than 552), and would generally lose. This has only happened three times, so in general, the Rajya Sabha serves as a rubber stamp body, and a place for politicians who aren’t up for an election campaign. However, members of the Rajya Sabha can be part of the cabinet, or even be PM. Most famously, India’s current PM Manmohan Singh is from the Rajya Sabha and has been there since 1991. The only time he ran for the Lok Sabha in 1999, he lost.  The Indian model is better than the US model, but I am not too keen on having PMs that have never been directly elected, there’s something wrong about that.

It appears that the original intent of Canada’s senate was to be an unelected body of people which provided sober, non-partisan review of House of Commons legislation. Given that the Canadian senate recently rejected climate change legislation Bill C-311 (with much rancour and little debate) after it had been passed by the House of Commons, this premise is dead. The voting was entirely on party lines, rejected democratically passed legislation, and debate was anything but sober. The current political system will only serve to make any Canadian Senate increasingly partisan (not always a bad thing, partisanship is honest). Voting will not change this much, even if the voting is based on proportional representation, which appears to not be too popular with the status quo. Why have a senate that once again prioritizes the voices of the elite, especially if we don’t intend the senate to have equal power? What to do?

Lottery Democracy, that’s what! Let’s randomly pick, based on provincial weighting, a certain number of people out of the elector pool, to serve in the senate for a fixed term, say 4 years or so. Also, since the current system biases towards age, let’s put an age restriction as well, younger than 35! Obviously, the pay has to be good enough, and the work has to be part time. The current senate sits for anywhere between 50-90 days in a year. Let’s pick a small enough senate, say a total of 50-100 senators, one minimum per province/territory,  then weighted by population. Let’s make most of the senate proceedings online friendly, so most voting, discussion, etc can happen by video conferencing, with 2-3 weeks per year face time in Ottawa. This way, the work is part time, and can be worked around jobs/children, etc. The pay will have to be good enough for the senators to afford good day care, etc.

What powers would we give this senate? The power of a second voice, nothing more. If the senate does not like a legislation, it sends the bill back for discussion. If the Commons chooses to pass it unchanged, have a joint vote. The number disparity between the Commons and the Senate would ensure that the Commons gets primacy, unless the bill is so egregiously divisive, and voting so close that a joint session produces a different result.

What are the advantages of having a randomly picked “young” senate?

  1. Age – Provides valuable policy experience and job training to someone just starting their career, not a sinecure and pension to someone finishing theirs off. At the end of 4-5 years, you get someone who has lived public policy. Obviously, a lot of training and civil service help will be needed, just like for MPs currently.
  2. Elitism – Since we will get a randomly selected senate, there are fewer White male middle aged lawyers.
  3. Representativeness – This provides a direct democracy element to our governance.
  4. Orthogonality – The senate is picked using rules completely different from the Commons, so we will get a different set of people.
  5. Ego and power – Being a politician means wanting to be one, and all the compromises that come with it. I am not a politician basher, many of them want to do good. But having a vote for people who did not have to raise money, or are not beholden to any special interest groups (in theory) provides a good complementary view.

I am under no illusion that this senate will be less “partisan”, whatever that means. We have strong biases whether we acknowledge them or not, and the senators will vote with these biases. That’s okay, politics is about making choices. But we can design senate rules to mitigate party affiliation and conflict of interests.

Obviously, just like jury duty, people could have an option to refuse for the right reasons, but there should be no other restrictions. If you’re eligible to vote, you’re eligible to be picked regardless of your past history. Will there be a few slackers, yes, but look at the current senate/house of commons, there are some who make you wonder… We also have people in the Senate appointed in 1979, clearly time to leave after 30 years!

So, hey young woman, you sitting in the corner pondering your next move, would you like to be a senator?

Image courtesy – Flickr – Andresrueda used under a creative commons license.

Update: Canada's Carbon Targets Survive

In a vote today, the Canadian Parliament voted to keep debate on Bill C-311 alive. The vote was 155-137. This is good news, though the bill likely faces an uncertain future even if it passes parliament, thanks to Canada’s nominated and recently conservative majority senate. It was heartening to see the liberals vote en masse in favour of realistic targets. I am also attaching in verbatim, an email received from Michael Ignatieff’s office this morning on the bill.

On behalf of Michael Ignatieff, I would like to acknowledge receipt of your recent email regarding Bill C-311, The Climate Change Accountability Act.

Mr. Harper is isolated on the environment – he’s behind the provinces and our peer countries when it comes to taking leadership on climate change and the environment, and has undermined international progress at every turn.

The Liberals are taking the Harper Conservatives to task over their failure to commit to a principled environmental policy backed up by real action. We’re calling on the government to immediately put in place a national climate change plan with economy-wide regulations on emissions and strategic investments in renewable and clean energy.

Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party are also supporting Bill C-311 as part of our staunch opposition to Mr. Harper’s laissez-faire approach to the environment and climate change. We support its central principle – that Canada needs to take immediate, ambitious action to get us back on track to reducing emissions and improving our renewable energy sources.

We must be clear, however: Bill C-311 is not a climate change plan. It picks targets, but it does not lay out a plan on how Canada can reach those targets. That’s where it comes up short. The Liberal Party has put forward a credible, achievable climate and clean energy strategy that will create jobs and make our economy – and our country – one of the cleanest and most competitive in the world. Canada cannot afford to miss this opportunity.

Thank you for taking the time to write the office of Michael Ignatieff on this important issue.

Canada's only proposed Carbon Targets in Danger

Bill C-311, Canada’s Climate Change Accountability Act, is back in the “news” (no silly, not the media, who have more important things to worry about). I had written about this before the Copenhagen meeting. This bill sets Canada up with greenhouse gas emission reduction targets that would put Canada in a respectable mainstream position, 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. But the Conservatives, in one of their classic legislative gambits, have forwarded the vote for April 14th, Wednesday. If the bill doesn’t pass here, it’s dead, and 4 years of countless committee readings, and multiple votes to pass would be wasted. And Canada will not have any climate change legislation whatsoever.

Serious business, isn’t it? Climate Action has more, including what you need to do (I know, short notice, that’s apparently how important decisions get made around here).

The Liberals hold the key. It was they who voted with the Conservatives the last time to scuttle the pre-Copenhagen vote. As of writing this post, no official word from the Liberals on their position.

A call to Michael Ignatieff’s office, (613) 995-9364 gives me little hope of passage. I was told that the MPs had met, that Mr. Ignatieff would not be voting (apparently, because it’s a private member’s bill, leaders don’t vote, weird). Also, the official position of the party is that because it is a private member’s bill, that every MP would be free to vote on their “conscience”. Given that the Liberal party could not even defend women’s health in a recent whipped vote, I wonder where their conscience is on this.

A call to David McGuinty’s (the Liberal Environmental Critic) Office, (613) 992-3269, elicited the rather helpful response that they would not be commenting on their stand till after the vote.

Of our local MPs, both Denise Savoie (NDP) and Dr. Keith Martin (Liberal) will be voting to preserve the bill, they are on record saying this at a forum on climate change last week. Of course, Gary Lunn (Conservative) is not part of the equation here, pointless.

So, call, call and call away, the Liberals need to hear about this. They don’t appear to understand the most basic rule of opposition politics, you get no points for supporting the government, except from pundits in the mainstream media. Only if you inflict some defeats on the government will the people of Canada take you seriously.

David McGuinty – (613) 992-3269
Michael Ignatieff – (613) 995-9364

As always, remember that it is the Liberals that will be blamed for this bill’s demise, we all know the Conservative position on climate change. The NDP and Bloc Quebecois have voted repeatedly to pass this legislation. It is Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals who will stand in the way of Canada’s environmental progress.

Fluent English – Racism in Mainstream Reporting

From Canada’s paper of record…

Speaking fluent English, he described the gruelling 42-day high-seas journey and talked of the deteriorating living conditions in his homeland. He also described his dismay at arriving in Canada only to be branded a potential terrorist and jailed for nearly three months.

Ah, the old “compliment”, “you speak such good English”, code for “I am so culturally and racially ignorant that the act of any non-white non Anglo-Saxon speaking English surprises and amazes me, and I am clueless enough to think of this statement as a compliment”. If the statement is made by a lay-person, I view it as an opportunity to educate. This represents the culmination of a long journey growing up in privileged middle class India and slowly accepting myself as a person of colour (different and yet to be written blog post). But, for a reporter specifically assigned to write about immigration and refugee claims, this is inexcusable, especially because the language of his testimony has no relevance to his story. It’s almost as if the reporter thinks that this person would be more deserving of Canadian sympathy if she lets us know that he speaks “fluent English” just like us!

The rest of the story is not too bad, it uses neutral language to chronicle the story of a heroic person’s struggle to first help the people around him, then finally make a risky journey across the world in search of a better life.

But wait, there’s more! The headline writer seems to have his or her own agenda as well (not captured in the website article, but see the Page One headline (captured on cellphone camera!):

Not bad, ” Tamil Migrant Sought Relief from Homeland Threats” – neutral, descriptive and to the point.

Now see the headline for the continuation:

Wow, “Militant Claims No Ties to Tamil Tigers”. Hello, what happened? When did migrant become militant, when did his statement become a “claim”, and what relevance do the Tamil Tigers have to this man’s refugee status? Is every Tamil a Tiger? (true story, playing pickup at the gym the other day, this guy asked me what my ethnicity was, then called me a Tiger, then got very defensive when I yelled at him!).

A writer’s bias becomes very evident in the choice of words used to frame statements. I always look for “said”, “asserted”, “claimed” as short forms for “we are reporting this statement, but here’s what we really think”.

This is not the first time headlines have made me scratch my head. This happens especially often in the world of science, as this blog post very ably documents. I once got into a brief email discussion with a reporter at the Raleigh News and Observer who was writing articles about undocumented workers. She would use “undocumented immigrant” (Good), “illegal immigrant” (Bad) and occasionally, “illegal alien” (Alien??) interchangeably. However, the headline would always contain the very pejorative one word “Illegals”. I asked her about it and her one line dismissal was that “she did not write the headlines”, which is a nice and casual shirking of responsibility! Since most people only see headlines anyway, the words stick. So, Tamil = Tiger, immigrant = illegal, etc.

It made me a little sad to see the story of good things (he survived and will have his refugee claim heard) happening to a good man reduced to a disgusting innuendo filled headline. For more on the Tamil refugee story, see this article. The Canadian government is using secret evidence to decide who gets to go free and who is detained. While some of the people on board this ship could possibly be linked to violence, secret trials and innuendo do not help anyone involved. The Canadian government should know this, given that its dealings with immigrants using the security certificate program have been criticized before. I understand and fully sympathize with the Canadian government’s position that this is a complex situation and each person needs to be dealt with carefully on a case by case basis, but secrecy is not necessary here.

Doom and Gloom on Canadian Climate Change Report

“The conclusions [the report] draws are irresponsible,” said Mr. Prentice in an interview with The Globe and Mail from Kingston, where he was meeting with provincial and territorial environment ministers. Specifically, he said Canadians will not accept the report’s advocacy of emission targets for 2020 that would reduce Canada’s gross domestic product by 3 per cent nationally and 12 per cent in Alberta from business-as-usual estimates.

Climate change report ‘irresponsible,’ Prentice says – The Globe and Mail.

Canada cannot take its national unity for granted and must not, in the service of international obligations, allow itself to be immolated by a government policy of such wrenching dislocation.

Globe and Mail Editorial

Wow, “irresponsible”, “Threat to Canada’s National Unity?” What could we talking about? Surely, not a report that addresses the cost of meeting Canada’s commitments to greenhouse gas reductions by 2020?. A bit of hyperbole from this nation’s great flagship newspaper and the Environment Minister?

The study (English summary) looked at two different scenarios, first the weak sauce 20% reduction from 2006 levels by 2020 proposed by the Canadian government. The reason the Canadian government deliberately shifted the baseline from 1990 (the accepted consensus baseline so comparison can be made easily) to 2006 is that if you calculate what the change from 1990 levels is for the Canadian government proposal, it is actually a small increase, not the 20-25% decrease that is needed to put the world on a stabilization path for <2°C rise in temperature. This is unethical and dishonest, like telling the world that the average Canadian is 4 feet tall (head to knee only). The authors of the report know this is an unacceptably weak proposal and therefore looked at what was actually needed, a 20-25% reduction from 1990 levels. BTW, remember that if someone ever shoots a percentage off for you, ask for the baseline, check if this is standard.

Incidentally, the editorial pages of the G&M has not read its own report, or wilfully ignores all the good news while selectively playing up the bad news, geez, it’s like they have an agenda or something! The good news:

  • Canada CAN meet its climate goals
  • The effect on Canadian GDP growth is modest. Under the required goal of 25% reduction from 1990, GDP growth is about 3% below “business as usual” standards. Note that this year, GDP growth was negative, what percent is that?
  • Alberta, which would “suffer” the greatest reduction from “business as usual” scenarios still leads the country in growth. This is the scenario which the G&M concern trolls as a threat to National Unity
  • Jobs still grow, very few changes from business as usual scenarios
  • Significant Increases in energy costs. But money flows from carbon revenue to defray some of these costs, so actual costs to consumers are modest
  • Massive increases in the efficiency of cars, houses, heating, etc., means lower prices in the long run

Of course, the environmental, social and geopolitical costs of “doing nothing” are not enumerated. Are we prepared to face a world with melting polar ice caps, climate refugees, water wars and anger? Are we willing to take those Canadian flags off our backpacks and put Swedish flags on them? There is also a very good chance of incremental breakthroughs in electric vehicle technologies squeezing the demand out of oil and completely collapsing Alberta’s economy, making this entire decision moot. Things can change quickly, just ask anyone involved in the BC timber industry! My point is that unless you factor in the costs of doing business as usual, any change proposed will not compare favourably. The report alludes to the cost of doing business as usual, a 5-20% LOSS in global GDP over the century. But does not include this into the calculation of the business as usual scenario. Note that none of the changes envisaged here propose anything but “growth”.

The changes required are quite significant.

  • Capture and storage of carbon dioxide from the oil and gas industry and power plants (Ha!)
  • Reduction of “fugitive” emissions from the oil and gas industry and from landfills
  • Increased energy efficiency throughout the economy (e.g., in vehicles and buildings)
  • Increased production of renewable energy (e.g., wind power accounts for 18 per cent of electricity generated in 2020 when meeting the 2°C target)
  • Replacement of fossil fuels by cleaner electricity (e.g., for heating buildings).

When you are near the bottom of the pack when it comes to efficiency and per capita emissions, you do necessarily have to work a little harder. Most of these goals (except the first one which needs a major technological advance) are easily achievable and would put Canada more in line with European countries as far as energy efficiency goes.

What do the words of the mainstream media and the government mean? We are screwed. Canada has NO leadership or commitment to steer away from the cliff. We do not have a powerful enough constituency for climate change. We have a government and polity completely captured by oil interests. We will be dragged kicking, screaming and unprepared into a new, efficient and carbon constrained world. We may still turn out okay because we are a VERY rich country with very few people. But, be prepared for the backlash.

Note, more from the excellent blog greenpolicyprof ‘which makes some of the same points I made, but expands to include coverage of West vs. the Rest issues.