Be proud of Canada's Kyoto cockup

Posted: August 24, 2009 in Uncategorized

According to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, high flying economies such as Canada’s should be permitted more latitude in their obligations to reduce greenhouse emissions than more depressed areas of the globe. It’s not our fault that we didn’t meet our Kyoto targets – our superior economic performance made us act like the energy swilling fools we’ve become. If one accepts Frontier’s logic, we should be proud!

Writing in yesterday’s Winnipeg Free Press, Frontier’s Ben Eisen argues

Canada’s inability to meet its Kyoto commitment is not a source of national shame — it is the inevitable result of a flawed treaty which failed to recognize the relationship between population growth, economic growth and greenhouse-gas emissions.

As the Copenhagen conference approaches, Canada should learn from the failure of Kyoto, and participate in a new climate-change agreement only if the new pact does not punish growth. Predetermined emission caps make little sense in a dynamic country like Canada in which the rate of economic and population growth are unpredictable.

The new climate-change treaty should only be signed if emission targets are flexible and responsive to changing demographic and economic conditions.

Eisen is quite correct in stating that GDP, energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and population have all increased while energy use per unit of GDP (“emission intensity”) has decreased.

According to Natural Resources Canada, energy use grew less rapidly than the economy, but more rapidly than the population. An NRC report states: “Between 1990 and 2005, energy use in Canada increased by 22 percent . . . [while] the Canadian population grew 17 percent . . . and GDP increased 51 percent . . . More generally, energy use per unit of GDP declined, while energy use on a per capita basis increased.”

If citing GDP growth is intended to help us feel good about destroying the planet, note that most of this growth went to the richest 20 per cent of Canadians. They saw their after tax incomes increase from $96,200 in 1990 to 116,500 in 2005, a 21% increase. This compares with 10% for the middle 60% and 2.3% for the bottom 20% of the population.

Canada’s “emission intensity” has decreased, somewhat like a heavy drinker switching from whiskey to beer, all the while drinking more beer to get high. Like this delusional drunkard, we will pay a heavy price for unsustainable energy consumption.

Canada's tar sands are an oil reserve the size of England. Extracting the crude oil called bitumen from underneath unspoiled wilderness requires a massive industrialized effort with far-reaching impacts on the land, air, water, and climate. Air emissions from the tar sands include 300 tonnes of sulphur a day. This photo was taken during the production of "Petropolis", a documentary film about the tar sands, directed by Peter Mettler and produced by Greenpeace Canada.  For more information about this project, please go to:

Alberta Tar Sands. Photo: Greenpeace / Eamon Mac Mahon

One reason for Canada’s growth in GDP is the Alberta tar sands development, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, projected to account for 3% of Canadian GDP by 2020, and to devastate a boreal forest the size of New Brunswick. Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil. By 2015, the tar sands are expected to emit more greenhouse gases than the nation of Denmark (pop. 5.4 million). (Another reason for GDP growth is increased military spending and our criminal war in Afghanistan – but I digress).

The mission of the Frontier Centre, it would seem, is to shill for the growth-at-any-cost crowd. As one of the highest per capita users of energy on earth, Canada must reject its flawed logic. The plain fact is the world cannot sustain uncontrolled growth any longer.

  1. andrea says:

    Agreed, completely. Canadian’s should be proud of a government who’s not afraid to say what they think is ethically correct.

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