Alberta’s carbon tax: Science is political when it doesn’t suit Wildrose agenda; politics is scientific when it does

Posted on January 03, 2017, 12:37 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips at yesterday’s Edmonton press conference on the imposition Jan. 1 of the NDP Government’s carbon tax. Below: Wildrose Electricity and Renewables Critic Don MacIntyre. Both are CBC photos.

Alberta has had a carbon tax for two days now and as Environment Minister Shannon Phillips observed at a news conference yesterday, notwithstanding the predictions of the two principal right-wing parties, the province remains standing.

In this regard, I suppose you could say, Alberta is like British Columbia, which is similarly still standing after having had a carbon tax for 3,108 days.

don-mcintyreWhile Ms. Phillips was quite right to point out a lot of preposterous things are being said by the Opposition and its supporters about the likely impact of her NDP Government’s carbon levy, which took effect on New Year’s Day, I’m not sure if her comment set quite the right tone to persuade voters who are still making up their minds about an issue that is subject to a lot of commentary verging on hysteria.

Well, we feel her pain. Anyway, she went on more diplomatically: “It’s a large change with large rewards, and it is completely fair for ordinary Albertans to have questions.”

Alberta and British Columbia may be subject to the same science, of course, but they are not necessarily subject to the same political science.

This much will be immediately measurable: The tax will add 4.5 cents per litre to the price of gasoline. We will just have to wait a while to understand the political effect. After all, a political cataclysm was foretold in Alberta as well when Canada’s GST was brought in on the same day in 1991, by a Conservative prime minister, Brian Mulroney, no less. Nowadays we Albertans pay it with barely a mutter of complaint.

However, the way the Alberta Opposition views science came through helpfully in a couple of comments made by Wildrose Party Electricity and Renewables Critic Don MacIntyre in his response to the minister’s news conference. His remarks were strikingly juxtaposed in the Canadian Press coverage of the story.

Most Albertans continue to oppose the tax, the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA claimed, arguing, in CP’s words, “that the science isn’t settled on whether humans are responsible for the majority of climate change.”

Now, to take issue with such a statement is to risk setting off a chorus of climate change denial and conspiracy theorizing by the conservative base. Be that as it may, if nothing else it was a pretty clear indication Alberta’s main Opposition party remains mired in climate change denial, a topic on which the science seems pretty settled even if the political science remains in an uproar here and in Saskatchewan.

Regardless, what’s really striking is how Mr. MacIntyre’s attitude to science quickly reversed course when the politics changed. A few lines later in the CP story, the Wildrose critic was taking issue with the argument the recent pipeline approvals made by the federal government to Alberta’s benefit only happened because of the Alberta NDP’s Climate Leadership Plan.

Hyperventilating that the policy is a “typical move on the part of a socialist government to tax its businesses into insolvency and its people into poverty,” Mr. MacIntyre argued that pipelines used to get built when there were no carbon taxes and, in CP’s paraphrase again, “pipeline approvals should be based on scientific merit by the National Energy Board rather than politics.”

Let’s think about this statement. Mr. MacIntyre is right, of course, that a lot of pipelines got built before there were environmental policies designed to mitigate their impact on global climate change. (And remember, he doesn’t really seem to believe in climate change, notwithstanding his past work as an instructor and curriculum developer in the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology’s Alternative Energy Program.)

Widespread public understanding of the science dealing with the environmental impact of resource extraction may very well be the reason the construction of pipelines has become such a political question.

From this, Mr. MacIntyre concluded, however, that democracy should have nothing to do with how we decide whether pipelines get built. We should leave it to the “experts” at the NEB, and trust them to base their decision on “scientific merit.”

Now, I am sure there are a lot of people who might argue that if the NEB really based its decisions on science, no pipelines would ever get built – because resource extraction has impacts beyond the mere question of whether pipelines are safer than rail cars to transport bitumen hither and yon from Alberta.

And there are plenty of Canadians who would argue the NEB, as currently structured, is inherently political, and there’s nothing either scientific or impartial about its activities.

If I may be so bold, what Mr. MacIntyre is really saying is that people outside Alberta shouldn’t get any say in the question of whether pipelines get built through their provinces – which is exactly the Harperite arrogance that got us into the situation Premier Rachel Notley has been trying to get us out of, apparently with some success.

Arguments like Mr. MacIntyre’s, which insult the intelligence of voters – including voters in other parts of Canada where there is a preponderance of public opinion against pipelines – just make the problem of getting the social license needed to solve our province’s economic problems more difficult.

Perhaps that’s the intention, but more likely it’s just that Alberta’s conservative parties are so mired in their market fundamentalist ideology that, ironically, they have no time for the marketplace of ideas.

Oddly enough, we’ve tried rule by “experts” before in Alberta. It was called Social Credit, and it failed utterly as policy when it bumped up against Canada’s democratic institutions in the 1930s.

Regardless of those lessons forgotten, this much should now be clear: To Alberta’s Opposition, science is political when it doesn’t suit their agenda, and politics is scientific when it does.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

13 Comments to: Alberta’s carbon tax: Science is political when it doesn’t suit Wildrose agenda; politics is scientific when it does

  1. Sam Gunsch

    January 3rd, 2017

    Maybe the most important context on the WRP’s views on climate change is the underlying issue of why larger percentages of voters for conservative parties tend to not believe that climate science is settled.

    Useful overview of some possible explanations here:
    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/03/denial-science-chris-mooney?page=4

    excerpt: ‘If you wanted to show how and why fact is ditched in favor of motivated reasoning, you could find no better test case than climate change. After all, it’s an issue where you have highly technical information on one hand and very strong beliefs on the other. And sure enough, one key predictor of whether you accept the science of global warming is whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat. The two groups have been growing more divided in their views about the topic, even as the science becomes more unequivocal.

    So perhaps it should come as no surprise that more education doesn’t budge Republican views.’

    ================

    A related point is that communication strategies won’t work to shift views on climate if they rely heavily on just repeating that ‘science says’, ‘all scientists agree’, which is something that’s been effectively explored under cultural cognition theory, by Dan Kahan and others here: http://www.culturalcognition.net/

    In fact, just pounding on facts! science! will cause a backfire effect sometimes, as is pointed out in the article at the MotherJones link. Which, my guess, may be happening in AB with a large percentage of WRP and PC voters since the climate plan was announced in fall 2015.

    Reply
  2. Sam Gunsch

    January 3rd, 2017

    WRP/PC leaders’ opposition to climate plans/taxes is understandable in realpolitik terms, given polls of the last few years.

    re : ‘global warming is a fact and is mostly caused by emissions from vehicles and industrial facilities’;

    excerpt Dec 2015 poll: ‘Only 32% of Progressive Conservative and 26% of Wildrose Party voters in the last provincial election share this view.’

    http://www.insightswest.com/news/half-of-albertans-oppose-the-provincial-carbon-tax/

    Full excerpt:
    ‘More than half of Albertans (52%) think global warming is a fact and is mostly caused by emissions from vehicles and industrial facilities—a proportion that increases to 72% for NDP voters and 74% for Liberal voters in the 2015 provincial election. Only 32% of Progressive Conservative and 26% of Wildrose Party voters in the last provincial election share this view.’
    =====================================

    FWIW InSight’s findings fit with with the AB’s numbers on this extensively researched polling here:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/climate-change-yale-project-montreal-study-1.3458142

    excerpt: ‘For example, only 33 per cent of people living in the Fort-McMurray—Cold-Lake riding in Alberta believe climate change is partly or mostly caused by humans. ‘
    ============

    Glum reality? In the span of a 4 year mandate, it’s probably not possible for any communication strategy to reverse enough of the disbelief about climate science created by almost 3 decades of climate denial campaigns funded by the oil/gas/coal industries.

    The AB NDP inherited a wicked problem that exists here, the USA, Australia, and UK mostly and is so far mostly unsolved.

    Reply
    • Sam Gunsch

      January 3rd, 2017

      FWIW Do PC leadership candidates think climate science is settled?

      Kenney in Cochrane on climate demonstrates his political skills in dog-whistle…excerpted from PressProgress coverage.
      ==================

      Kenney excerpt: “I grant there appears to be a scientific consensus about anthropogenic climate change,” Kenney replied, before dusting off his dog whistle and adding that climate change is a “natural” phenomenon too:

      Kenney: “We all know climate change exists because it’s a natural part – the climate’s been changing since the beginning of time, right?”

      While he speculated “some” of the climate change seen today has probably been “accelerated” by human activities, he also said the question of how much could be an “interesting debate.”

      https://www.pressprogress.ca/jason_kenney_to_climate_change_denier_the_climate_been_changing_since_the_beginning_of_time

      Reply
  3. Bob Raynard

    January 3rd, 2017

    Even if we take the Wildrose position that ‘the science is inconclusive on climate change’ (I don’t), it is incomprehensible that the Wildrose would argue that the inconclusive science is a reason to do nothing. The flood in Calgary and the fire in Fort McMurray are both examples of what climate scientists have been warning us about for a couple of decades. Notice I am not saying they were caused by climate change, I am just pointing out that these are the consequences inaction on climate change will wreak if climate change should prove to be real. I am sure people fleeing the floods in Calgary and watching the flames come closer in Fort McMurray weren’t worrying about a carbon tax pushing them towards a less carbon based lifestyle.

    Yes, Canada is a small contributor to the global problem, but we are leading a lifestyle the big emitters aspire to. It is incredibly hypocritical for us to drive SUVs, heat monster homes and have outdoor hot tubs, then tell China that the environment cannot handle all of their citizen driving a car.

    Reply
  4. CuJoYYC

    January 3rd, 2017

    “… “experts” at the NEB …”

    Isn’t ‘experts’ just code for ‘elites’? 😉

    Reply
  5. David

    January 3rd, 2017

    There was quite a run up in gas prices, by about $ 0.20/litre over the last few weeks. I wonder if the opponents of the carbon tax will try to blame it all on the carbon tax. It would be funny if they did and then gas prices dipped to an amount lower than at the end of last year. I suspect they will be a bit quieter after that.

    Reply
  6. Farmer B

    January 3rd, 2017

    I find the flooding in Calgary being used as an example of climate change somewhat amusing. One of the oldest farm families in my district first came and looked at land I believe in 1900 or 1901 and chose the quarter he liked, a nice flat piece of land. He came back in 1902 ready to go to work only to find this land under water and unfarmable. He then chose land 2 miles east which was very hilly and because of the hills had some farmable land. They built a very successful multi generational farm on this land. I point this out because beginning in the summer of 2011 we are having rainfalls similar to what I could find for records back in 1902. Now I am not pointing this out not as a denial of climate change but as an interesting bit of history in the variability of rainfall.

    As for your point that science and politics get changed around at times by the Wild Rose, I would say the same occurs in the IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

    Reply
    • K. Larsen

      January 3rd, 2017

      Here is a very interesting site which shows climate records from 1950 compiled by people at the University of Lethbridge. You can zoom down to the area around your farm. It has precip levels, frost free days etc. Most interesting changes. Finding reliable and consistent area-specific data like this previous to the 1940s is difficult. Harper burned all the scientific papers at the various Ag Research stations in Canada so those are all gone as well.

      https://abrecords.cfapps.io/

      Reply
    • Sam Gunsch

      January 3rd, 2017

      re: science…get changed…same occurs in the IPCC

      Yeah, you’re right… the most recent IPCC reports always come back with greater certainty than the previous, that climate change is accelerating and that GHGs from from the fossil fuels powering industrial society are the primary driver.

      Reply
      • Farmer B

        January 4th, 2017

        In 2007 Al Gore and the IPCC jointly were awarded a Nobel peace prize. Here is a couple quotes from Al Gore:”many scientists are warning that we are moving closer to several tipping points that could-within as little as ten years-make it impossible for us to avoid irretrievable damage to the planet’s habitability for human civilization,” Gore at NYU law school in 2006. Gore told a German audience in 2008 that “the entire North polar ice cap will disappear in five years.” So yes there are scientists on the IPCC panel but there are also many politicians.

        IPCC reports contain a “Summary for Policymakers”, which is subject to line-by-line approval by delegates from all participating governments. No it is not political at all!

        Reply
        • Val Jobson

          January 4th, 2017

          Sorry, you are trying to say that climate scientists are as dishonest as the Wildrose Party politicians, and that is just BS. You are also conflating Al Gore with the IPCC; he publicized it, he didn’t write the IPCC reports. The science is strongly supported by much evidence and the WRP are simply refusing to accept reality. It’s scary.

          Your story of the 1902 flooding is interesting. I know of someone who settled near Calgary around that time & talked of having flooding at first, then never as much flooding in subsequent years. Mahood, I think was the name.

          It’s an interesting anecdote, but neither you nor I know enough to understand why there was such a wet period nor why it changed to be dry in following years. If scientists have studied the period they might have an explanation. Maybe El Nino or La Nina, maybe something else.

          For the climate change today, the scientists have studied it and they do have an explanation, which they all agree on, which is that the GHGs we produce by our way of life are causing the earth to get warmer and this is making our climate change in many complex ways. We can expect to have more flooding, because warmer air holds more moisture so rain events will produce more rain. We can expect more droughts in areas that have tended to have drought. We can expect more fires since warm weather contributes to starting fires.

          Reply
        • Sam Gunsch

          January 4th, 2017

          re Farmer B said: ‘No it is not political at all!’

          Wow. you’re right again!

          In your sarcasm, you actually draw attention to a critical weakness of the IPCC reports, in that rather than reporting the science data from a precautionary stance, they have to satisfy the lowest-common vested-interest denominator, i.e. cave in to the editing demanded by gov’ts of countries that most deny the severity of climate change because their fossil fuel industries hold the political$$$ gun to their heads (see USA, Canada, Australia).

          And hence these gov’ts insist on the most conservative warnings only in the IPCC reports…i.e. the IPCC stated concerns have consistently underestimated the actual climate warming that’s happened.

          Reply
  7. Val

    January 3rd, 2017

    “Now I am not pointing this out not as a denial of climate change but as an interesting bit of history in the variability of rainfall.
    As for your point that science and politics get changed around at times by the Wild Rose, I would say the same occurs in the IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

    good point but you shouldn’t be so apologetic in regards of someone’s political stances.
    sometimes it’s fun to observe when the left blames the right in aggressiveness and arrogance in very similar aggressive and arrogant manners.

    Reply

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