Polls suggest strong support for action on man-made global warming. But actions say otherwise. Including in New Brunswick where mighty Irving Oil, the province’s largest emitter of CO2 (3m tonnes a year from its St. John refinery alone in 2016), says it supports carbon pricing as long as it’s completely ineffective.
Not in those exact words, of course. But Irving is doing the usual dance, avoiding getting pilloried for “denialism” while rejecting effective measures to reduce GHGs. At least, measures that cost it money. Others can freeze in the dark if they like but “We wouldn't want to find ourselves in a position where we've taxed our industry out of business,” according to Irving’s chief financial officer Jeff Matthews speaking to a Canadian Senate committee holding hearings in St. John on the ill-advised Bill C-69.
As we’ve noted before, there’s a serious conceptual disconnect between what people say they believe and what they are actually prepared to do on this file, including the Trudeau Liberals with their small carbon tax that gets rebated so we can afford more gas.
It’s remarkable how stalled we are on carbon taxes. As the Globe & Mail’s Margaret Wente recently summed it up, “carbon taxes are on a losing streak…. The central problem is that they’re either too low to be effective, or they’re so high that the politicians responsible for introducing them will get booted out of office.” The Globe editorial board is still blowing hot and cold on this, assuring us patronizingly “Canada can cut greenhouse gas emissions while building pipelines. Canada can lower greenhouse gas emissions while allowing the oil industry to grow. And Canada can enjoy a vibrant economy, while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.” Lovely thoughts, but regrettably they don’t say how.
Nor really did Irving. At one point their “director of growth and strategy” (that’s a real job, apparently, at least in the sense of existing in an org chart and having a salary attached) Andy Carson assured Senators Irving considered climate change “a very, very significant and important issue". Then he said there are electric-car charging stations at several of its gas stations. Wow. Guess we can check that problem off the list.
It’s kind of hard to imagine New Brunswickers giving the global thermostat a big twist all by themselves. But it makes no sense to advocate action on emissions that doesn’t cause fewer emissions. Which is one area where left and right see the situation with greater shared clarity than the mushy middle. For instance Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and climate true believer, warns that changing your own lifestyle “doesn’t actually change much”.
In keeping with the disagreeable tone of much alarmism, Schmidt brushes aside those who accuse the Al Gores and Justin Trudeaus and, well, Gavin Schmidts of this world for their hypocritically huge carbon footprints, saying “People who use the personal choices of climate scientists as some kind of excuse for not understanding science or refusing to accept science, those are not good-faith arguments, and we shouldn’t really entertain them.” But he also says that while he’s all for changing your lifestyle for personal and for policy reasons (he’s become vegetarian partly due to climate concerns) you should not underestimate the magnitude of the response that is needed if people like him are right about the magnitude of the problem. Which brings us back to where we started.
Either say man-made climate change is not enough of a problem to be worth incurring large costs over, or stand ready for deep emissions cuts. Don’t ask someone else to do it. Especially not your customer.