It has been almost three decades since delegates from 172 countries met at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that since then, the Earth’s atmospheric temperature has risen by an average of 0.03° Celsius per year. At that rate, the planet’s climate will warm by 2.4° by 2100. That’s a sizable amount over 80 years, but even if the planet warms exactly as forecast, it’s certainly not the “climate emergency” needed to galvanize people into making life-altering sacrifices such as giving up cars or air travel, moving en masse into “tiny homes” or switching to “eco-friendly” food.
The answer to every climate activist’s prayer came in the form of Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg. Her transformation into the world’s pre-eminent climate-change warrior began in 2018 at the age of 15, with Fridays spent demonstrating outside the Swedish Parliament while gaining the attention of financially capable fellow warriors. Her carefully choreographed journey last year to New York by “zero-carbon” sailboat (in fact a rakish and well-equipped ultra-modern racing yacht, built largely out of petroleum products, with an expert crew who all had to be transported back home again) was timed to coincide with the UN Climate Action Summit, where she passionately delivered her apocalyptic “How dare you!” tirade heard around the world.
Here in Canada Thunberg’s performance inspired radicalized groups including “Extinction Rebellion,” which enraged drivers by blocking roads and bridges during busy rush hours, generating uncounted tonnes of needless greenhouse gas emissions. A one-day climate strike shut down school classes across the country as pupils joined climate emergency rallies. In a scant few days, the angry scowling Swede evoked existential climate-change anxiety in teenagers everywhere. Unfortunately, her words had an even greater effect on younger kids, striking terror into pre-teens. In one elementary class, a child yelled out, “I don’t wanna die.” Another went home and said, “Mommy, they say that we’re going to die in eight years.” Traumatizing young children by telling them the world is about to end crosses the line from eco-activism to emotional eco-terrorism.
After New York, Thunberg journeyed to Alberta where she held an anti-oilsands rally. This was a puzzling choice given that Canada produces just 1.6 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, with the oilsands contributing just one-tenth of that. China or India’s emissions make Canada’s just a rounding error. Indeed, in some years the increase in China’s emissions approximately equals Canada’s entire annual total. Why didn’t Thunberg travel there? While she was in Edmonton, the ever-determined reporters at Rebel Media asked her that question. Her answer? She “hadn’t been invited.” No doubt that’s true. If she or Extinction Rebellion tried their stunts in the Communist-run police state, they would likely be “invited” to a forced-labour camp. Just ask the Hong Kong protesters, who are risking their lives merely to preserve their most basic legal rights.
Either way, Thunberg’s disparaging visit to Canada’s oilsands again illustrates activists’ fixation on Western countries even though virtually all emissions growth is elsewhere. China, India, South Africa, South Korea, the Philippines and Japan, all signatories to the Paris climate accord, are in various stages of constructing a total of 1,800 coal-fired electric power plants. If Canada disappeared from the face of the Earth, those new plants would replace our emissions in a few short months.
There’s little doubt Thunberg’s visit also influenced Canada’s federal election. Massive media coverage of her climate emergency claims increased support for prime minister Justin Trudeau’s national carbon tax. Trudeau’s task was made easier by Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s failure to explain clearly why his party’s environmental policy would more effectively reduce global emissions than the Liberal carbon tax.
Scheer’s mission shouldn’t have been all that difficult to accomplish. Virtually all experts agree the carbon tax would have to be several times higher than planned to have any perceptible impact on Canada’s emissions (and as we’ve seen, Canada’s total emissions have negligible impact on global emissions). By contrast, the cornerstone of the Conservative environmental platform was the recognition that exporting Canadian natural gas on a large scale would have a real impact globally. The evidence for this is compelling, for the large-scale switching from coal to natural gas in the United States has largely accounted for that country’s dramatic decline in greenhouse gas emissions, despite the fact the U.S. has spurned various global climate accords.
Natural gas-fired electrical generating stations produce, on average, just half the greenhouse gas emissions as coal-fired plants per unit of power produced. Every natural gas-fired plant fuelled with Canadian gas around the world would enable shutting down one old coal-fired plant, or would forestall the construction of one new one. The more clean-burning natural gas Canada exported, the more global greenhouse gas emissions would be avoided. So it’s no surprise that Canada’s energy industry, as well as the governments of energy-producing provinces, had urged the Trudeau government to push recognition of that reality at last month’s Madrid climate conference. Once again, they were disappointed.
Instead, the Liberals and Canada’s vast climate emergency movement remain preoccupied with national rather than global emissions, and this leads to myriad “local action” absurdities. The award for most ludicrous goes to Victoria’s City Council for its plan to spend $14 million on installing shore power at its harbour so that cruise ships can shut off their generators while moored at city docks. Council clearly doesn’t understand that emissions caused by actually propelling the ships after they leave port are hundreds of times greater than their generators produce.
More tragic than ludicrous is the systematic destruction of one of the world’s most technically advanced and ethically responsible oil industries. While hundreds of thousands of trained workers have been rendered jobless and, in many cases, hopeless as capital investment and corporate headquarters have fled to the U.S., the world’s oil consumption continues to grow. It is now 6 million barrels per day higher than it was in 2010 and the International Energy Agency forecasts that demand will keep rising for at least two more decades. China recently gained the dubious distinction of world’s largest oil-importing country.
Yet the Trudeau Liberals’ progressive evisceration of our oil industry has handed that growing market to such environmental stewards and human rights champions as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Nigeria and Algeria. Adding insult to injury, Quebec, consistent with its “distinct society” status, favours its own political interests over those of the country at large and continues to import oil from those countries in preference to Alberta’s “dirty oil.” But it happily accepts this year’s equalization grant of $13.1 billion, as it does every other year’s, funded disproportionately by Alberta taxpayers.
No other country has so deliberately turned itself into a climate-change martyr. And yet for all the economic, social and national unity pain inflicted, our sacrifices will have no perceptible impact on global climate change. Entering the third decade of this troubled millennium, we can only hope our federal government somehow realizes the future of our Confederation requires leaving behind blind ideology and finding some basic common sense.
Gwyn Morgan is the retired founding CEO of Encana Corp.