Authors endorse broad-based carbon pricing mechanism
By Cathy Orlando, Cheryl McNamara and George Morrison
Discourse on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to the B.C. coast got off to a raucous start with name calling, accusations and concerns that Canada’s economy is at stake even before the hearings in Kitimat, B.C. even began.
Underlying the debate is the assumption that the oil sands are good for Canada’s economy. But are they more a Faustian bargain? Is Canada sacrificing the stability of the environment and other key economic sectors for the sake of generating as much money as possible from a non-renewable commodity?
While concerns over the pipeline’s safety are legitimate -any spill could seriously affect the ecologically sensitive west coast and Fraser River for hundreds of kilometres — there are more widespread concerns that have largely been ignored.
If given the green light, the Northern Gateway pipeline will serve as a conduit for accelerated oil sands development. The Harper government prefers not to put oil sands and climate change in the same sentence, but they do go together. James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, warns that development of remaining oil sands and coal reserves will tip the planet towards dangerous global warming.
Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that the burning of fossil fuel has increased the parts per million (ppm) of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which is warming the planet. Civilization has prospered for 10,000 with greenhouse gases stable at 280 ppm up until the dawn of the industrial revolution. That figure is now at 392 ppm and rising by an astonishing 1.5 to two ppm per year.
Changes of just one or two degrees Celsius to the global mean temperature can cause radical changes in the climate -widespread drought in some regions, flooding in others, and more severe and extreme weather events, which undermine agriculture, economic development and public health.
Indeed, many parts of the globe, including Canada, are beginning to experience extreme weather-related disasters due to a hotter and moister atmosphere.
Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurer, has documented more than 30,000 natural catastrophes worldwide over 40 years.
According to the reinsurer, the number of registered loss occurrences from extreme weather throughout the world has almost tripled since 1980.
Aside from the costs associated with a warming climate — the 2011 floods in Manitoba cost the province $815 million — accelerated oil sands development is costly in other ways.
While it is projected that the Northern Gateway pipeline could contribute $131 billion to Canada’s gross domestic product and $27 billion in tax revenues between 2016 and 2030, Canada’s manufacturing sector contributed $159.7 billion to the economy in 2010 alone.
However, our manufacturing sector has been in decline since 2001. This is partly due to the rapidly developing oil sands, which has helped strengthen Canada’s currency.
There is name for this phenomenon. It’s called the Dutch disease, so named in the 1970s when the discovery of gas in the North Sea drove up the Dutch currency. The high Dutch guilder increased export prices and led to the decline of Holland’s manufacturing sector. For Canada, this is beginning to look a lot like deja vu.
Other warnings are coming from unusual quarters. The very conservative International Energy Agency recently advised countries not to lock themselves into insecure, inefficient and high-carbon energy systems — which the Gateway Pipeline will surely do for Canada.
Clearly a national debate on the future of the oil sands is warranted.
Happily Canadians have an opportunity to do just that. Provincial energy ministers have begun meeting with the Minister of Natural Resources to chart a national energy strategy.
While some see this as a means to fast track oil sands development, others, such as the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and the Citizens Climate Lobby are calling for a broad-based carbon pricing mechanism that is transparent and predictable to help optimize energy conservation, as well as spur development and innovations in clean energy.
According to Torsten Jeworrek, CEO of reinsurance operations at Munich Re, “switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy is the prime task this century faces and offers substantial financial opportunities.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Cathy Orlando is project manager and Sudbury group leader for Citizens Climate Lobby Canada. Cheryl McNamara is communications officer and Beaches East York group leader. George Morrison is Parkdale High Park group leader.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Markham began his journalism career writing columns in the mid-1980s for Western People Magazine, then reported for a small Saskatchewan daily. He has spent most of his career in media and communications, likes to dabble in politics, was actively involved in economic development for many years, thinks that what goes on in the community is just as important as what happens provincially and nationally, and has a soft spot for small business (big business, not so much). Markham is a bit of a contrarian and usually has a unique take on the events of the day.