Category Archives: columns

Latest column, on the NRDC campaign against the tarsands

(Photo credit: “Air Canada Airbus A319-114 C-GBHN“, Flickr/Cubbie_n_Vegas)


My latest column for the Ottawa Citizen is here. It’s on this Natural Resources Defense Council campaign to get North American airlines to swear off fuel that comes from Alberta’s tarsands and from liquefied coal.

In Canada, we still have generous federal tax treatment for new oilsands projects, which amounts to a subsidy. Alberta’s Premier Ed Stelmach has decided to increase his province’s share of the profits from projects that extract publicly owned oil, but his province is still an impressively easy place to make oil money, for companies with the capital to put up to get started. Alberta is the only province to put a real price on greenhouse-gas emissions, although the price is low — $15 per tonne of carbon dioxide beyond a set limit, far below the $50 or so for every tonne that’s at the low end of expert estimates of what we should have to rein in climate change.

In the United States, politicians from coal-mining states are delirious over the prospect of a massive new market for their dusty black gold, and they’re pushing subsidy programs to develop coal-liquefication technology like there’s no tomorrow.

So we do make environmental degradation more appealing than it needs to be, and the Natural Resources Defense Council is doing its job by pointing that out. Asking airlines to join in the fight, however, is a bit like asking golf-course operators to fight for more restrictions on water use, or for high-rise dwellers to call for an elevator tax. It’s not just difficult, it’s diametrically opposed to their interests. At heart, flying planes is a fuel-burning business and jet fuel is the airlines’ lifeblood.

A point I already wish I’d made more strongly is that airlines already have every economic incentive in the world to make their planes as efficient as possible, even if there are limits to how far that can go. It’s also spawned me an interesting e-mail debate on whether flying or driving is a more efficient way to cover a moderate distance.

Latest column, on the Asia-Pacific Partnership

My latest for the Ottawa Citizen, on how we’re billing helping India dig up more coal as an environmentalist project, is here.

Does India have much coal, you ask? Its state coal-mining company reports it dug up about 360 million tonnes last year, about one-third as much as the United States.

The threat I pose to Tofino

My column in today’s Ottawa Citizen reflects on what it was like to visit Tofino, B.C. — a beautiful, magical place that I and 10,000 other people were threatening just by being there.

Tofino feels, in short, like a destination on the brink, a hidden treasure no longer hidden. It’s suffering from an insoluble conundrum of eco-tourism: the best way you can help preserve the place is by not going, but if you don’t go, hundreds of thousands of other people will and they’ll wreck it anyway. The district is isolated, which means getting to it is carbon-intensive, too: you can fly, or drive about six hours from Victoria.


One of the Broken Islands in Barkley Sound, off the west coast of Vancouver Island.
That’s an eagle sitting up there. 

Latest Ottawa Citizen column, on ethanol

Specifically, on the American and Canadian love affair with so-so alternatives to gasoline:

Whether ethanol is a good substitute for gasoline depends on whom you ask; it’s cleaner, but it doesn’t push a car as far as the same amount of gasoline does. Nevertheless, both the United States and Canada are big fans of ethanol. Five per cent of all the vehicle fuel sold in Canada is to be ethanol by 2010, and the U.S. is adopting similar rules.

To be precise, we’re big fans of a particular kind of ethanol — the kind that comes from corn and other grains. Trouble is, those aren’t a really good source of ethanol, they’re just what we happen to grow a lot of.

Latest column

My latest column for the Ottawa Citizen, developing some ideas I’ve fooled around with here about former Reform Party leader Preston Manning’s environmentalism, is online here.

Latest column, on food

My latest column for the Ottawa Citizen, pushing forward some of my thinking on organic food versus locally grown food, is here.

As complicated as all this is, it’s a good sign that consumers might be interested in all this information about their food. It’s not quite at the top of the list of lifestyle choices we make that can have a devastating impact on the earth — badly insulated buildings are first, personal transportation second — but it’s easily the most fraught. Food is bound up with culture, tradition and history, with family and childhood memories, with health and sensory pleasure and status.

Latest column

My latest column for the Ottawa Citizen, on the low price the Canadian government wants to put on greenhouse-gas emissions, is here.

Column day!

My column in today’s Ottawa Citizen, about various ways of getting rid of old stuff, is here.

Weekly column link

Here’s my column in today’s Ottawa Citizen, on how the Ontario government’s plan to charge a modest fee to take water from the province’s waterways doesn’t go far enough.

Until now, we’ve handled water in much the same way as we’ve handled air: It belongs to all of us, so you can more or less do what you like with it unless you’re doing something blatantly harmful. For that, you need a permit.

Latest column

My latest Ottawa Citizen column, on charging people directly for the garbage they produce, is here.