In the National Post Kelly McParland’s criticism of Justin Trudeau in the SNC-Lavalin scandal for suddenly discovering the value of secrets includes the stinging observation that “Not least of the ugly images emanating from Ottawa is that of Liberals once again twisting themselves in knots to protect a Quebec company (and generous Liberal donor) that can’t seem to do business without official favouritism, all the while bemoaning its powerlessness to help the oil and gas industry of Western Canada, which does more to power the Canadian economy than SNC-Lavalin or Bombardier Inc. could ever imagine.” Ah, but the oil and gas industry produces dirty energy not nice clean… cement, steel, planes, trains and, what’s this, oil wells and power plants?
The SNC-Lavalin scandal is not primarily environmental except the threat of extinction that it may pose for some political careers. But it does indicate a distorted view of the world in which politicians and many members of the public can regard a major engineering firm and the products it produces as a vital driver of economic activity without thinking much about how the steel and cement get manufactured and transported, what powers the trains, and how much we are generally dependent on energy to lift us out of the mire.
In a piece in the Financial Post, Canadian energy policy consultant Robert Lyman, former director general of environmental affairs at Transport Canada, takes aim at the Green New Deal and all similar projects for failing to look at the history of major shifts in energy use. They typically take many decades in part because so much existing physical capital, from power plants to cars, cannot readily be retrofitted even if some wonderful new source were to come along, and some of which, including dams and train engines, last for many years. Thus, he notes, Germany has spent over $1 trillion converting from coal and nuclear to wind and solar with minimal gains even in GHG reductions.
If the crisis is as real as they say and we have only 10 years and it’s not a moving target, perhaps something massive is required. But one gets the feeling that the Ocasio-Cortez’s of this world, wanting the U.S. to mount a World War II-style spend-half-your-GDP-on-it conversion effort, don’t really see it as a problem in need of a solution, but the other way around. Were she to learn that her Green New Deal wouldn’t have much climate impact she wouldn’t stop pushing it, because that was never the reason, only the pretext. Likewise Quebec premiers who denounce Alberta oil, and Canadian prime ministers who love engineering firms but scorn pipelines, give off every impression of merely using claims of a climate crisis as a pretext for local political schemes hatched on unrelated grounds, a stratagem that eventually always forces its practitioners into absurdity.
In a choice between Alberta's "dirty oil" and Quebec's dirty engineering and construction firms, I'll side with Alberta every time.