Category Archives: Canada

Oilsands not a good candidate for carbon capture

Turns out that carbon-capture is not the panacea for Canada’s oilsands that certain politicians have been saying, according to a briefing note (marked “secret”) obtained by the CBC:

Little of the oilsands’ carbon dioxide can be captured because most emissions aren’t concentrated enough, the notes say. For efficient capture, there must be a high concentration of CO2 coming out of a smoke stack.

“Only a small percentage of emitted CO2 is ‘capturable’ since most emissions aren’t pure enough,” the notes say. “Only limited near-term opportunities exist in the oilsands and they largely relate to upgrader facilities.”

The Canadian and Alberta governments are spending about $2.5 billion on developing carbon capture and storage, and the oilsands generally come up as the first reason for spending the money.

This doesn’t mean that carbon-capture and storage is a useless technological innovation, just that it’s of negligible use in the oilsands, which are extremely energy-intensive. CCS can be of some help in reducing emissions from upgraders — where sandy tar mined from the ground gets turned into flowing oil — but that’s only part of the production process. The upgraders on the drawing board now, which are likely to get built eventually even if they’re on hold till the economy recovers, are planned to meet pretty high standards, which is a mixed blessing. It’s good that they’re efficient and relatively low-pollution, but they’re not going to be low-hanging fruit in the hunt for emissions reductions.

The oilsands are an environmental nightmare. No getting around it.

Nanny McGuinty strikes again

I understand the thinking that piling a whole bunch of young people into one car can be a bad idea, but I’m stunned that the Ontario government wants to forbid it entirely. Under legislation introduced today in the interests of road safety, teens can’t carpool for a night out (or to summer jobs) and they can’t be designated drivers.

It amounts to a whole lot of pig-headed moralizing on the part of the McGuinty government:

Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday the “modest restrictions” will include a zero blood-alcohol limit for all Ontario drivers aged 21 and under and escalating sanctions for young drivers who speed, starting with a 30-day licence suspension.

Drivers between 16 and 19 will also be limited to having only one teenage passenger in the vehicle, which Mr. McGuinty conceded will mean three 19-year-old adults could not go to a movie — or church — in the same car.

“Perhaps the most precious thing we have in society is our children, and that includes our older children,” Mr. McGuinty said.

Adam Radwanski dissects it all skilfully here. And one of his commenters points out an additional problem: the 30-day licence suspension for younger drivers caught speeding to any extent at all will put them in an impossible position, given that the normal speed on any road anywhere is usually 10 to 20 kilometres per hour above the legally posted limit.

Enforcing speed limits has always been at the discretion of the police, and discretionary laws are pretty much always bad because they give enforcers too much power, but this’ll crank up street officers’ authority over even 21-year-old drivers tremendously.

Taking stock

Obama speaks

Obama speaks

(Credit: “obama,” Flickr/BohPhoto)

Wow. Lots has changed since I was last blogging here something like as often as I want to, back before the Canadian federal election ate my life. That kicked off at the beginning of September; since then the markets have spiralled downward, the prices of oil and of gas have tanked, a serious recession has apparently begun, the Canadian Conservatives have been re-elected and named a new cabinet, and, oh yes, the Americans elected Barack Obama.

The landscape has clearly changed. Some observations:

  1. The crashing price of energy — oil is down more than 50 per cent from its high last summer — indicates dramatically reduced demand for the stuff. Environmentally speaking, this is good: the slower we burn through the supply, the less urgent will be efforts to exploit marginal deposits of it. But it’s also a clear indicator of dramatically reduced economic activity, which means people as a whole are poorer. There’s a serious policy problem: When fuel was expensive, critics said we couldn’t afford cockamamie plans to make it more expensive — by taxing it — to encourage the use of alternatives. Now it’s cheaper, but critics say the economy can’t take any more shocks, such as a tax on fuel. There will never be a comfortable time for market-oriented policies that make any kind of energy more expensive.
  2. If we’re lucky, though, people won’t soon forget how unpleasant it was to take out second mortgages to fill the tank and won’t flock back to SUVs they don’t need. I’m not terribly optimistic on this point, though: we had the energy crisis of the 1970s and the SUV came along anyway.
  3. The downturn should, however, create opportunities for entrepreneurs with the best kind of green ideas: those that help the planet while making the economy more productive. Efficiency is a lot more appealing in bust times than in booms. And the downturn should also kill off some of the sillier children of the recent green boomlet, such as bogus carbon-offset programs.
  4. With a weaker economy, the make-work argument for green policies (that aggressive government action to promote green technology will “create jobs”) appeals to a lot more people. Obama’s platform promises five million new green-collar jobs, for instance. More jobs may be a happy byproduct of sound environmental policy, but making them a deliberate economic end is asking for trouble.
  5. In the same vein, rumour that Obama is considering making Robert F. Kennedy Jr. the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is unsettling. I have no idea whether Kennedy is a capable administrator who can head a large government entity; I do respect his vigour and enthusiasm in fighting traditional pollution, especially of waterways. The question is whether the EPA will be the point agency on climate change in an Obama administration or whether the issue will be seen as essentially an economic/industrial matter and be handed to an appropriate cabinet officer. I hope that’s what happens.
  6. In Canada, the environment portfolio’s just been given to Jim Prentice, who was most recently the minister of industry. He’s also considered Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s most quietly competent ministers. We’ll have to see whether what Harper’s after from him is quiet or competence. I hope Prentice is in the job to steal the best parts of the Liberals’ “Green Shift” plan. Harper could safely do that pretty much immediately, since its author, Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, is resigning in disgrace over the election results as soon as his busted party can pick a successor.
  7. By the way, poor Stéphane Dion. A very good man in a very wrong job.

Regular blogging resumes. Thanks for your patience.

The environmental consequences of the Canadian election in four words

Climate change fixes dead.

(Every intention of resuming blogging in earnest, but not yet. Need time to recharge.)

Where the hell have I been?

Blogging on the Canadian election here, mostly.

We’re still spewing

Didja see this? Apparently not in any Canadian news source, at least as far as Google News is aware.

The Global Carbon Project posted the most recent figures for the worlds’ carbon budget, a key to understanding the balance of carbon added to the atmosphere, the underpinning of human induced climate change. Despite the increasing international sense of urgency, the growth rate of emissions continued to speed up, bringing the atmospheric CO2 concentration to 383 parts per million (ppm) in 2007.

That’s at the very upper end of the projections made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Pretty much a worst-case scenario. And Canada looks ready to give a majority government to a party that wants to do absolutely as little as it can possibly get away with on the subject.

I’m just sayin’.

A shortage of options

Columnizing for CBC.ca, Simon Jackson pumps up the idea that a growing bloc of young voters is keen on something like my own brand of environmentalist conservatism: seeing sound long-term economic policy and sound long-term environmental policy as pretty much the same thing, and wishing desperately there were somebody to vote for who seems to really get that.

Jackson surveys the bleak electoral landscape:

All of the current parties have elements within their platforms that should be attractive to Young Green Tories.

Jack Layton’s NDP has placed an emphasis on “green-collared jobs;” Stéphane Dion’s Liberals have the Green Shift that marries a tax on pollution with massive income tax cuts; and the Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have a strong emphasis in investing in green technology, such as capturing carbon, that would benefit both the environment and the economy.

Yet each party also appears to have a fatal flaw when it comes to attracting Young Green Tories: the NDP is still viewed as the party of old-school socialism; the Liberals are perceived to be suffering from a leftward retreat and sponsorship-scandal hangover; and the Conservatives are feared to be insincere in their support for the environment.

The Green party appears to have the best hope of rallying Young Green Tories — at least with their talk on the campaign trail of “catering neither to the left nor right but rather to those who believe in sound fiscal management and strengthening our economy while ensuring that it is sustainable.”

Indeed, this purposeful approach of the Greens — reading correctly the mood of many of today’s young activists — may be what is contributing to their surge in popular support in recent polls.

That said, as Andrew Steele of the Globe and Mail noted recently in his online column, when the Green platform is assessed closely, the party still has fringe elements of the old-school activist community that may ultimately be the stumbling block to an electoral breakthrough.

Two thoughts. First, the notion that “the Conservatives are feared to be insincere in their support for the environment” is the best wry understatement I’ve read all months.

Second, I’m not sure the Greens are really surging. They’re doing OK in the CBC’s Harris-Decima poll, 12 per cent, though probably not well enough to win any seats. Nanos has them at six. The Strategic Counsel’s battleground-riding polls (PDF) show a bit of a surge, and then a subsiding. Neither here nor there, though, since I think the underlying point about the Greens’ crunchy history showing through a bit too much is accurate.

With the election campaign reaching the midpoint, it looks to me as through the Liberals are probably the best environmental vote, but they leave so much else to be desired that it’d be a nose-holder for sure.

The Green Shift for beginners

We put together what I think is a pretty good primer on the Liberals’ Green Shift for the Citizen today. Here’s senior writer Don Butler’s main explainer piece, and my analysis of why the Liberals are having such trouble with their sales job.

The Green Shift isn’t central: Dion

This is one of those semi-gaffes that sinks campaigns.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said today that his Green Shift plan featuring a controversial carbon tax is not a major part of his election platform.

“You have said it was but never me,” Dion told reporters.

His surprise declaration follows by a day campaign appearances in the Toronto area where he failed to mention it once in his speeches.

Dion released the Green Shift plan in June in Ottawa with great fanfare. It proposes to tax fossil fuels while cutting taxes for lower and middle income Canadians.

“I have always said it was an important policy for Canada. I strongly believe it would be good for Canada,” he told reporters.

You can see what he’s getting at. Dion and the Liberals aren’t just running on the Green Shift. They do actually have a bunch of other ideas and proposals, which they’ve been trickling out as the campaign progresses, as parties will.

But that’s not what he said, and what he said is that the platform plank that he’s allowed everybody to believe is central to the Liberal campaign is not, in fact, central to the Liberal campaign.

I suspect this is a mortal wound.

Paul Martin’s the best you’ve got?

When we call Joe Clark, John Turner, Kim Campbell and Paul Martin “former prime ministers,” it is technically true. But, I mean, come on…

Four former prime ministers – Kim Campbell, Paul Martin, Joe Clark and John Turner – and leaders in academia, science, business and the environment have united to demand the federal government do much more to deal with climate change.

The diverse group, which also includes students, steelworkers and authors, is expected to release a statement in Toronto Tuesday calling for “steep cuts” in Canadian greenhouse gas emissions and deployment of “climate-safe technologies at a staggering rate.”

While the group claims to be non-partisan, it is clearly dissatisfied with the Conservative government’s performance on what many consider the most pressing issue facing the planet.

These were really, really, really bad prime ministers. Only Martin actually won an election and that was another technicality — he really just sort of notched an election along the Liberals’ long decline. In fact, the secondary members of the group

Stephen Bronfman, the Hon. David Peterson, Prof. David Keith, Katherine Giroux-Bougard, National Chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students, Prof. Andrew Weaver from the IPCC and the University of Victoria, Ken Neumann, National Director for Canada, United Steelworkers, Kashmere Dahliwal, President of North America’s largest Sihk temple and Dr. Marlo Raynolds from the Pembina Institute

— while a somewhat random collection of luminaries, probably collectively shine brighter than the most embarrassing living losers in Canadian politics.

Which is a shame, because the group’s signature policy recommendation, that some sort of policy be adopted that prices carbon at not less than $30 a tonne, ought to be taken seriously in the public debate.