What Now Mr. Harper?

What Now Mr. Harper?

"It's not that we don't seek to deal with climate change. But we seek to deal with it in a way that will protect and enhance our ability to create jobs and growth, not destroy jobs and growth in our countries.”          

    – Stephen Harper, June 9, 2014

 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s bitumen bias and carbon tax preconceptions are coming home to roost.

Overwhelming facts are giving the lie to our Canadian PM’s climate change denial and environmental laggardness.

It is no longer a question of “if” but “when” Harper will have to face the consequences of his cosy alliance with fossil fuel interests.

Consider what has occurred in recent weeks:

  •  First the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report confirmed once again that human-caused global warming is proceeding rapidly.
  • Then scientists reported the irreversible disintegration of the West Antarctica ice sheet.
  • Last month, the National Climate Assessment stated the United States was already experiencing severe, global warming-related droughts and that the future did not look any better.
  • No surprise then that the Obama administration in Washington finally acted and unveiled a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation to cut carbon emissions from U.S. coal-fired power plants 30% by 2030.
  • At the same time, the World Bank called for countries and companies to support a proposed statement on pricing carbon that the bank says is necessary to tackle climate change.
  • Then on a day when Harper and his Australian right-wing soul mate PM Tony Abbott trashed talked the “job-killing carbon tax”, a new economic study from the United States said a revenue neutral carbon tax could create 2.1 million jobs over ten years.
  • And also on that same day, Christine Lagarde, International Monetary Fund managing director, urged all countries to put mechanisms in place – whether a carbon tax or a cap and trade system – to pay for the effects of global warming carbon pollution.

Harper: been there, done that

Harper, who has repeatedly stated he will only tackle CO2 emissions “in concert” with the U.S., responded to news of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan with a shrug and a “been there, done that”. He told the House of Commons that Canada’s regulation of coal-fired power plants – announced two years ago – will have a 150 percent larger reduction than the U.S. action.

But as to whether our PM will do more to improve Canada’s performance in climate change protection (last November the European group Germanwatch named Canada and Australia the worst nations among industrialized countries in climate change protection performance), Harper was silent.

Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), an organization of 150 local volunteer groups in Canada and the U.S. that is pressing for progressive climate legislation, issued the study by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) that examined a tax on the carbon dioxide content of fossil fuels in the U.S.

The tax would start at $10 per ton, increasing at $10 per ton each year. Revenue from the tax would be returned to households in equal shares as direct payments. Under this approach (called a carbon fee and dividend), the REMI study found that recycling the revenue back into the economy would add 2.1 million jobs over ten years. Improvements in air quality would save 13,000 lives a year and CO2 emissions would decline by 33%.

Since 1980, REMI has provided economic impact studies for governmental and private-sector clients including the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), consulting firms Booz Allen Hamilton and Ernst & Young, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). So REMI is a reliable, established company that wouldn’t tarnish its reputation with a pie-in-the-sky report.

Carbon fee and dividend adds jobs

“Detractors have said that a carbon tax will kill jobs,” said Mark Reynolds, executive director of Citizens Climate Lobby, which commissioned the study. “The REMI study turns that assumption on its head.

“With the REMI study showing a carbon tax that returns revenue to households will add millions of jobs, this is the option everyone can embrace,” Reynolds added.

Green Party MP Bruce Hyer embraced a revenue neutral carbon tax that refunds householdsin a speech May 26 in the House of Commons, saying:

“Carbon fee and dividend almost does it all. It prices carbon fairly and scientifically, uses only free market forces to foster CO2 reductions, costs virtually nothing to administer, benefits lower income Canadians and, what should appeal to that side, no money goes to the government at all.”

Harper a cheerleader for Northern Gateway and Keystone XL

What Harper hasn’t been silent about is his government’s unequivocal support for fossil fuel industry initiatives like oil sands expansion, the Enbridge Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines.

This support has critics like Thomas Homer-Dixon saying that Canada is beginning to exhibit the economic and political characteristics of a petro-state.

“The Conservatives have slashed financing for climate science, closed facilities that do research on climate change, told federal government climate scientists not to speak publicly about their work without approval and tried, unsuccessfully, to portray the tar sands industry as environmentally benign,” Homer-Dixon wrote in a 2013 New York Times op-ed piece.

In a recent National Post column, Andrew Coyne decried Harper’s constant abuse of power and Harper’s distain for those who oppose his petro plans.  “In the past week we’ve also learned that the government is monitoring ‘all known demonstrations’ in the country, with all departments directed to send reports to a central registry,” Coyne wrote.

So what about Harper’s argument that he has to protect the jobs and growth that the tar sands and bitumen exports will provide Canada?

For an industry that Harper claims is the engine of the country’s economy, its job importance and economic benefits lag far behind what the average Canadian believes.

A March 2014 Pembina Institute briefing note to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources states:

“Looking at jobs, in 2012 the oilsands provided direct employment to 22,340 workers, representing only 0.2 per cent of Canada’s full-time workforce. Looking at the entire oil and gas sector (which includes oilsands, conventional exploration and production, oil and gas services, and pipelines), direct employment increases to 195,200 workers in 2012, or 1.4% of Canada’s full-time workforce. For comparison, the retail sales sector provided 3.9% of Canada’s full-time jobs in 2012 and the manufacturing sector provided 5.4%. Lastly, turning to federal government revenues, in 2012 the oil and gas sector paid $1.3 billion in federal corporate income taxes. This represents 3.7% of total corporate income taxes collected across all industries, and 0.5% of total government revenues.”

And if you think the future looks bright for the industry, read the Canadian Energy Research Institute’s May 2013 oilsands report which states “that the future growth of provincial and federal economies as well as the industry’s growth may become increasingly uncertain if market opportunities are seized or strained, social license to operate is revoked, and the debate over the future of oil sands among Canadians, governments and industry is unproductive.”

Energy subsidies are astounding

The Harper government’s support of the energy sector in Canada comes at a huge cost that goes virtually unreported in our country’s media.

In a May 15 article in The Tyee, Mitchell Anderson – with the help of International Monetary Fund researchers – gave readers a detailed breakdown of Canadian subsidies provided to petroleum, natural gas and coal consumption. These subsidies are a whopping $34 billion each year in direct support to producers and uncollected tax on externalized costs.

“The lion's share of the $34 billion are uncollected taxes on the externalized costs of burning transportation fuels like gasoline and diesel -- about $19.4 billion in 2011,” Anderson writes. “These externalized costs include impacts like traffic accidents, carbon emissions, air pollution and road congestion.”

The proposed Vancouver subway line to the University of British Columbia could be built using less than two months of the subsidies provided every day to the energy sector, he adds.

Decisions based on low energy prices can have unintended consequences says Anderson.

“If gas is cheap, people will choose to buy cars rather than take transit, clogging both our roads and emergency rooms. Transportation accidents alone cost Canada $3.7 billion each year. Every vehicle bought based on low fuel prices will produce years of carbon emissions, and every owner over the life of that vehicle will have an interest in voting for cheaper gas.”

As for jobs, Anderson explains that $34 billion could be used much more wisely.

“Adding solar and wind capacity provides some of the best job-generation per dollar of any option available -- more than seven times the employment from an equivalent investment in oil and gas extraction,” he writes. “Extrapolating the findings from a 2012 report on green jobs, $34 billion could create 500,000 person years of employment and install more than 150,000 megawatts of clean generating capacity.”

Is the risk worth the cost?

I think it is time for all Canadians to ask what risks are posed by continued reliance on fossil fuel developments and what will be the effects on the long-term competitiveness of Canada’s economy?

There are clear costs to development of any energy source that policymakers must factor into the price, Lagarde stated in an interview with CBC’s The Current on June 10.

She said “externalities such as wastage of water, congestion on the roads, additional risks to mortality and so on, need to be included in the thinking process that applies to policies encouraging the use of one or another form of energy.”

Lagarde told reporters at the conference of the International Economic Forum of the Americas in Montreal that most economists agree that some price has to be attached to carbon and she hopes that experiments such as the carbon tax system in British Columbia and carbon exchange system in California will continue.

“I don’t think lip service is going to pay back very much and I think coming generations will be the first ones to come back and remind us about it,” she told The Current.

Stephen Harper told the Toronto Star in 2002 that global warming is “a scientific hypothesis and a controversial one”. That same year he told Parliament that “carbon dioxide is not a pollutant”.

Harper’s lip service on global warming and a carbon tax is becoming an anomaly in today’s world. If there is no way to change his mind on these issues, it is clear the Canadian public must change prime ministers.

Michael Jessen is a Nelson-based eco-writer whose consulting business is called Zero Waste Solutions. He can be reached by telephone at 250-229-5632 or by email at zerowaste@shaw.ca

RESOURCES:A press release about the IPCC’s report Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability is at http://ipcc.ch/pdf/ar5/pr_wg2/140330_pr_wgII_spm_en.pdf

A New York Times article about the West Antarctica ice sheet disintegration is at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/13/science/earth/collapse-of-parts-of-west-antarctica-ice-sheet-has-begun-scientists-say.html

New York Times’ coverage of the National Climate Assessment is found at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/07/science/earth/climate-change-report.html

Details on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan rule are at http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/clean-power-plan-proposed-rule

The World Bank’s Putting a Price on Carbon statement is at http://www.worldbank.org/content/dam/Worldbank/document/Carbon-Pricing-Statement-060314.pdf

The World Bank’s 2014 report State and Trends of Carbon Pricing is at http://www.imf.org/external/np/pp/eng/2013/012813.pdf

CBC’s story on Harper and Abbott’s mantra about the “job-killing carbon tax” can be read at http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/tony-abbott-stephen-harper-take-hard-line-against-carbon-tax-1.2669287

CBC’s coverage of the EPA’s CO2 limits regulation and Harper’s response is at http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/u-s-carbon-dioxide-limits-touted-by-epa-as-economically-wise-1.2661784

Citizens Climate Lobby Canada has a website at http://citizensclimatelobby.ca/

A copy of the REMI study can be downloaded here: 
http://citizensclimatelobby.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/REMI-carbon-tax-report-62141.pdf

A three page summary of the REMI report from CCL Legislative Director Danny Richter is at http://citizensclimatelobby.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/REMI-National-SUMMARY.pdf

Homer-Dixon’s NYT op-ed is at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/01/opinion/the-tar-sands-disaster.html?ref=opinion&_r=1&

Andrew Coyne’s column is found at http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2014/06/06/andrew-coyne-we-once-had-to-wait-weeks-for-a-new-harper-abuse-of-power-now-were-getting-them-two-or-three-a-day/

The Pembina Institute’s briefing note is at http://www.pembina.org/reports/rnnr-briefing-note-2014.pdf

CERI’s report Canadian Oil Sands Supply Costs and Development Projects (2012-2046) can be downloaded at http://www.ceri.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=106:ceri-study-133-oil-sands-update-2012-2046

Mitchell Anderson’s Tyee article on Canada’s fossil fuel subsidies can be found at http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2014/05/15/Canadas-34-Billion-Fossil-Fuel-Subsidies/

The International Monetary Fund’s report on energy subsidy reform can be downloaded at http://www.imf.org/external/np/pp/eng/2013/012813.pdf