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Hill Dispatches

karl nerenberg's picture
Karl Nerenberg has been reporting on federal politics from Parliament Hill for rabble.ca since September, 2011. In his long career, he has won numerous awards as a broadcaster and documentary filmmaker.

Greenhouse gases endanger the B.C. coast's economy

| February 28, 2014
Greenhouse gases endanger the B.C. coast's economy

Climate change is often portrayed as a matter of the environment versus the economy.

The more we move to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the argument goes, the more we will sacrifice growth and jobs.

The Harper government uses that argument in a somewhat sly way.

It claims to be working to limit the emissions that cause global warming, but only in such a way as to not harm "the economy." In practical terms, that means doing almost nothing about greenhouse gas emissions.

There is another view, however, which is that climate change is not only bad for the health of the planet; it is also bad for the economy -- and not just in the future, but right now.

Obama routinely links economy to climate change

Yesterday, in this space, we discussed U.S. President Obama's reticence on the matter of the Keystone XL pipeline. The President says he is worried about global warming and the impact the exploitation of Alberta bitumen might have on the earth's climate.

We reported on the skeptical and scoffing response to Obama's concern on the part of journalist Andrew Coyne and pollster Bruce Anderson, who make up two thirds of CBC's The National's weekly "At Issue" panel.

The two panelists suggested that, in their view, Obama's concern was, perhaps, a bit less than sincere, and that he was merely pandering to the green lobby within his party in an election year.

There are a few ways in which that argument is fairly ridiculous.

For one, there are significant groups within the Democratic Party, especially in the mid-west and west, who would favour increased oil and gas activity, including a pipeline from Alberta.

It is not an obvious political win for a Democratic President to resist Keystone XL.

Another point is that Obama has promised to issue a decision on the pipeline in the summer, several months before the November election. Anderson and Coyne were adamant that, because of Keystone's political sensitivities, Obama would almost certainly wait until after the election.

But the most important counter-argument to the panelists' portrayal of Obama as a callow political opportunist is the language the President himself frequently uses when talking about global warming.

Obama speaks with what appears to be genuine conviction about the threats global warming poses to human health, to coastal environments, to wild species, to agriculture and to the planet's economic well-being. Obama almost always mentions the economy as one of the key reasons for which we have to do something to slow global warming.

British Columbia's scallops are victims of carbon dioxide emissions

Currently in Canada we have a striking example of job loss and economic hardship directly attributable to greenhouse gases on the west coast.

Rising acidity in the ocean has killed millions of scallops off the coast of Vancouver Island. This has caused one fisheries processor to curtail its operation, but scientists warn that it could just be the beginning and that other marine species, such as oysters, could be at risk too.

The cause of the rising acidity, scientists explain, is human-produced carbon dioxide.

The Harper government likes to think of itself as a friend of all kinds of extractive industries, not merely oil, gas and mining. It actively supports salmon farming, for instance, which is controversial especially on the west coast because of the potential negative impact on wild salmon stocks.

But when NDP MPs asked about the scallop crisis in the House on Thursday, Harper's Fisheries Minister seemed caught off guard.

"The Conservatives' plan to fight climate change is to deny, dither, delay and just pray it will all go away," NDP House Leader and B.C. MP Nathan Cullen told the House. "Well, the plan is failing and it is hurting B.C.'s economy. More than ten million scallops are dead in the water around Parksville and Qualicum Beach. A dangerous spike in ocean acidification from carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is killing these scallops ... When will the government ... realize that climate change is real and it is ... costing Canadians their jobs?"

Fisheries Minister Gail Shea's halting and tentative answer had all the earmarks of something her staff had to cobble together in a hurry. That's what happens when a government does not really have a policy response to a serious problem.

"We do recognize that this is a very important issue and that is why we are investing in the research into ocean acidification," Shea answered. "... My department is currently considering applications for more projects to examine this important new problem. We will continue to do the science."

When the best a Minister can come up with is "we are studying the problem" you know she has not come up with much.

It is also worth noting that, on this occasion, the Conservative Minister did not resort to her party's all too frequent partisan rhetoric about how "we are delivering results for Canadians and all the NDP wants to do is impose a multi-billion dollar carbon tax on the economy..."

This Minister, for one, is obviously too smart and too experienced to think that facile rhetoric would impress folks on the west coast who are deeply worried about losing a valuable marine resource.

When greenhouse gas emissions cause drought in West Africa or typhoons in Asia it is easy to ignore them. They are not so easy to ignore when they cost profits and jobs in British Columbia.

And just one other note while on this subject.

To go back to Thursday's story on Bruce Anderson's business connections with the oil and gas industry --when CBC's "At Issue" panel discussed Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, not too long ago, the CBC felt it necessary to inform viewers that Anderson's daughter works for Trudeau.

That seemed like an odd admission, since no reasonable person would argue that a CBC panelist should be responsible for the activities or choices of anyone but himself. Anderson should not, in any way, have to apologize or account for what members of his family do for a living. That is not, in any sense, a matter of public interest.

And that admission about Anderson's daughter's work seems even odder when one considers that CBC did not think it worth mentioning Anderson's own business connections and activities when the subject of the oil sands came up. There is a legitimate case to be made that viewers had a right to know about those.

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