In an interesting experiment in climate policy, a majority of voters in the western Canadian province of Alberta have opted for a semi-conservative government under Premier Danielle Smith, who vows to fight the federal carbon tax and other assaults on the economy of her major fossil-fuel-producing province. Many are pleased. But Smith, as a politician and even as a radio host, has resolutely avoided challenging “the science” on climate change and indeed has endorsed it when cornered. So will this attempt to rally round the beige flag work? [Read more.]
In her victory night speech, Smith took square aim at the planned federal cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s preposterous but sincere and aggressive plan for a “net-zero electricity grid” in just 12 years:
“As premier, I cannot under any circumstances allow these contemplated federal policies to be inflicted upon Albertans. I simply can’t and I won’t. I invite the prime minister to instead halt the introduction of these harmful policies and come to the table in good faith to work collaboratively with Alberta on an energy emissions strategy.”
We will not inflict, even on our Canadian readers, the Constitutional complexities of a premier in our federation saying they will not allow the federal government to act in areas the courts agree are part of its jurisdiction. But we would like to note that having rejected the feds’ energy emissions strategy, she promptly offers one of her own, or a hollow shell so labeled, on the theory that you can and should have an emissions cap on the oil and gas industry, and a net-zero grid by 2035, just a different and better one that is all gain and no pain instead of the reverse. Which she can’t tell you about right now because she didn’t think of it yet except as a communications strategy.
Under the print headline “Smith’s savvy warning to Trudeau” the right-leaning National Post came out strongly in favour of the premier’s position:
“Smith says she sees opportunity for positive outcomes if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agrees to work with her. Her victory speech conveyed her own desire to work with Ottawa – as long as the feds ease off the regulatory burdening to manage carbon emissions. She’s interested in collaboration on technology, like nuclear and hydrogen (rather than emissions caps and taxes).”
But when it turns out that most of these are mirages, other than nuclear, which will give way, the belligerent rhetoric or the claim to believe the science on climate change? Because she’s promising square circles, which is rarely as clever as it seems. And once you’ve said there’s a man-made climate crisis, you look like a dunce saying we shouldn’t do anything about it, and a greedy fool if you say we shouldn’t act because of the money.
Trudeau has already welcomed her to his side, saying in response to her party’s election victory that:
“I look forward to continuing to work with Premier Smith and the provincial government to deliver results for Albertans – including growing the economy, creating good jobs for the middle class, improving health care, continuing to position Alberta as a leader in clean energy, and making life more affordable.”
Of course if he were commenting on the results of an election on Mars he would claim the winners shared his priorities and worldview. But she did rather invite this thing about clean energy. And while the business press might think “Smith has opposed a plan to make the nation’s electricity grids net zero by 2035, and she has promised to fight efforts to slash emissions from the province’s oilsands” she could have trouble later saying all that clean energy chatter was just the usual deceptive stump oratory. Revealingly, Canada’s state-funded broadcaster notes that:
“In an interview on Real Talk Ryan Jespersen, the host asked Smith how she reconciles her government's energy policies with experts linking this year's extreme fire season to climate change…. ‘Every expert that we talk to indicates the significant factor that climate change is playing on our susceptibility to wildfire and on the conditions that lead to these massive blazes that are happening earlier and earlier in the season.’ Smith responded that she's concerned about arson being the cause in some of the fires…. Scientists have said fires are larger and more intense, due to climate change. Jespersen followed up with Smith during Thursday's interview, noting that the hot and dry conditions that allow fires to grow are connected to climate change. Smith again didn't acknowledge his comment, instead suggesting the Alberta government needs to do a better job building fireguards around communities.”
Of course neither the Premier nor the journalist seemed aware that Environment and Climate Change Canada, hardly a hotbed of denialists, in its 2019 report on Climate Change in Canada, poured a bucket of fire retardant on glib claims of climate-driven trends in the kinds of weather that promotes forest fire (pp. 172-173):
“The Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index (FWI) System is a collection of indices that use weather variables, including temperature and precipitation, to characterize fire risk… A few studies have looked at trends in these indices across Canada. Large year-to-year variability in the FWI indices hinders detection of trends (Amiro et al., 2004; Girardin et al. 2004). Trends may sometimes be discerned from a very long record of data, as is the case with increases in the Drought Code in northern Canada and decreases in the Drought Code in western Canada and parts of eastern Canada during the 20th century (Girardin and Wotton, 2009). Another study found that the mean number of fire spread days across Canada increased over 1979 to 2002, although the trends varied regionally, and only some were significant (Jain et al., 2017).”
So Smith was justified in shifting the focus to arson and hoping vagueness can save her. But at some point she may get cornered. And arson only takes you so far, because whatever started the fires, they did then burn. Of course you could also blame poor forest management that lets the “fuel load” accumulate, and you’d be right. But sooner or later you either think man-made climate change is a key factor or you don’t, and thus far Smith is doing the dance of the seven vagues.
It’s not just her. The federal Liberals, and just about everyone else, claim that the federal Conservatives “continue to deny climate change”. And that they “continue to put their heads literally in the sand” so evidently these accusers do not use words to convey ideas. Including on the substance, because what the Conservatives actually do is claim to believe in climate change (and that it’s man-made though they flirt with denial when addressing their base only to panic when caught), but claim that whatever the Liberals are doing to fight it is too drastic and too feeble at once, and they have a better plan they just can’t tell us about right now because they don’t know what it is yet.
It’s clearly a tempting position. One right-leaning Canadian pundit just argued that federal Tory leader Pierre Poilievre’s attack on Prime Minister Trudeau’s escalating carbon tax could be the wedge issue he’s been seeking in vain to this point:
“And that’s because he has numbers on his side. Two weeks ago, Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux released a report showing that by 2030, fuel taxes imposed by the government’s Clean Fuel Regulations (CFR) will cost Canadian families between $231 and $1,008 per year, depending on household income. Giroux further states that lower income households will suffer more as the tax represents a larger share of their disposable income and called the CFR ‘broadly regressive.’”
She thinks Liberal efforts to deny these actuarial truths will do them no good. And:
“As a voter issue, carbon taxes could be a winner for the Conservatives. A poll for Politico last year showed that only 21 per cent of Conservative voters are ‘very concerned’ about climate change, compared to 48 per cent and 58 per cent of Liberal and NDP voters, respectively. Two out of five Conservative voters are either not at all concerned, or not too concerned about the issue. When it comes to animating the Tory base, a regressive tax from an untruthful government, to fight a low-priority issue, might be just the ticket. Among switch voters, however, there could also be support, if carbon and fuel taxes are shown to be not only ineffective tax grabs, but a drain on Canadian competitiveness, now that the U.S. is subsidizing alternative energy like EV batteries.”
However, she then panics that:
“There is no question that the world needs to do something about climate change; news came out just this week about Georgia’s decimated peach harvest and carp boiling to death in overheated Chinese rice fields. Inaction will cost us dearly, but the wrong kind of action will do the same.”
Carp boiling in Chinese fields! If ever one needed proof of the climate crisis, there it is. And the problem for Poilievre, Danielle Smith, and all those who would have their panic and eat it too, is that if it’s really true, then attacking any meaningful measure makes you look like a knave, a fool or some overheated combination of the two, and you wind up one dead carp.