The view from different planets: connecting dots between fire and climate change proscribed only on Planet Alberta

Posted on July 11, 2017, 12:46 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: A wildfire in B.C. (Photo: B.C. Wildfire Service). Below: The Fort McMurray Fire (Photo: CBC/Tia Morari); Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May (Twitter).

Apparently Alberta and British Columbia exist on different planets.

Literally, I mean. Not metaphorically.

How else are we to explain the political discourse among, essentially, the same people in geographically contiguous landmasses experiencing the same climatological phenomenon?

That is to wonder, why are you allowed to state one obvious conclusion when B.C. is afire, but not when Alberta is burning?

Let’s call these two astronomical bodies Planet A (for Alberta) and Planet B (for B.C.)

This summer, as alert followers of the news are bound to have noticed even if they haven’t been outside to sniff the air, much of Planet B is on fire. But commentators on that planet have no problem considering the possibility global climate change may have something to do with this unhappy situation.

No one screamed bloody murder or treason, for example, when the CBC yesterday morning asked if global climate change might mean that dangerous fires like those in B.C. have become “the new normal” and can be expected to threaten people and their homes every summer in Western Canada.

Mind you, departing B.C. Premier Christy Clark said the same thing in the same words about the same problem back in 2015, at the same time as fire experts from the University of British Columbia Forestry Faculty and the B.C. Forest Service were making similar observations. So there’s really not much new or controversial about such conclusions – which will presumably make it easier for B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan to say the same sort of thing when he’s sworn in as premier one week from today.

Not everyone agrees with this proposition, of course, but apparently on Planet B it is a question that can be asked without anyone suggesting the questioner is attacking the residents affected by fire. Likewise, no one appears to be arguing vociferously on that planet that the middle of a fire crisis is no time to talk about the cause of the crisis. On the contrary, now is evidently seen as a fine time for everyone to be asking the same obvious questions.

By comparison, when Planet A was afire in May last year, this was precisely the line taken by that planet’s “conservatives” – many of whom are market-fundamentalist extremists who view carbon extraction as not just a right, but a duty – about any such line of discourse.

In short order, as a result, discussion of the conditions that caused the fire known last year as “The Beast,” which threatened all of the oilsands service city of Fort McMurray and damaged a significant portion of it, was almost completely proscribed on Planet A.

In other words, discussion of climate change in the face of serious impacts that could easily be attributed to climate change was successfully declared to be politically incorrect by the political right, notwithstanding their ironically and loudly claimed opposition to political correctness. Anyone who dared to state the obvious was immediately declared to be politically persona non grata. “Anthropogenic” became a four-letter word.

Consider Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada and its sole Member of Parliament. She was roundly excoriated for daring to connect these rather obvious dots. A drivelist for the National Post called her as a result an “excessive climate zealot,” and that was one of the nicer things said about her. The tone of social media was considerably nastier. And the people at Rebel Media, who frequently scrape the bottom of the rhetorical barrel, called her a “drunken cat lady.”

And yet – and here’s the thing – in the alternative universe that is political discourse in Alberta, these same Planet A conservatives have had nothing at all to say about the discussion on Planet B openly including commentary that is forbidden here on Planet A, even among the planetary leadership led by NDP Premier Rachel Notley.

Two conclusions are possible from this.

Conclusion No. 1: that Alberta and British Columbia really are on different planets, and possibly in different universes as well.

Conclusion No. 2: that, never mind the casual evidence, the allegation discussion of the environmental effects of climate change was somehow hurtful or inappropriate in the wake of the Fort McMurray wildfire was used to suppress needed discourse that went against the conservative narrative about the future of Alberta, the province’s economic needs and wants, and the causes of the problems the province faces.

In particular, it is said here, it was used to silence people who might express doubts about the Alberta case for pipelines through British Columbia or other parts of Canada in light of practical evidence of the effect of climate change.

This strategy seems to have worked, at least with politicians from all the major parties that aren’t overtly hostile or dismissive to environmental concerns. At any rate, they mostly cautiously refrained from making any links between climate change and the 2016 Alberta fire – or even commenting on Ms. May’s observation.

If this were not the case, one would think, these same conservatives from Planet A, that is to say Alberta, would now be making the same arguments against the discussion that is considered quite normal and respectable on the planet next door. Instead, we hear crickets, or at least something akin to the Music of the Spheres.

Likewise, this suggests the principal users of the political correctness weapon to disrupt political discourse on Planet A are conservatives.

You decide what’s actually going on.

Race to lead Alberta Greens now has three candidates

Speaking of Greens, as we just were, the Green Party of Alberta now says it has three candidates running for its leadership: Romy Tittel, Grant Neufeld and Marco Reid, all from Calgary. The trio are running to replace Janet Keeping, who is stepping down.

Ms. Tittel is a businesswoman and journeyman electrician who ran for the Green Party of Canada in the federal Foothills riding in 2015. Mr. Neufeld is described in a Green Party release as a community organizer and activist, and Mr. Reid as the holder of degrees in law and psychology.

The nomination deadline for leadership candidates is Sept. 10, said party president Carl Svoboda.

32 Comments to: The view from different planets: connecting dots between fire and climate change proscribed only on Planet Alberta

  1. anonymous

    July 11th, 2017

    “…we hear crickets, or at least something akin to the Music of the Spheres.”

    I walked down back roads at midnight and heard both crickets and the shimmering sounds of northern lights. It was a melodious harmony.

    Reply
    • Lorenzo Garratt

      July 11th, 2017

      I know it seems like you can, but you can’t hear the Northern Lights shimmering. It’s your imagination. Sorry.

      Reply
      • anonymous

        July 12th, 2017

        If you can’t hear the northern lights then that indicates either lack of imagination or brain damage (parietal lobe). Consult a physician. Sorry.

        Reply
  2. Scotty on Denman

    July 11th, 2017

    Depends how the dots are arranged and what kind of narrative that can be made out of it. Alberta was unfortunate enough to have two big dots virtually superimposed, with wildfire wreaking what some interpreted as divine justice upon the very place where the devil-goo is mined; it’s an easy narrative so there wasn’t much counter except to demonize anybody who mentioned it.

    BC’s not much better though: it just has differently arranged dots that allow for a more complacent narrative. Our politicians have traditionally used wildfire as an opportunity to show empathy and effectiveness while allowing them to shrug them off as natural. Whatever it is, we here get to absolve ourselves of complicity because we don’t truck in bitumen—at least not yet. The facile position also allowed the BC Liberal government to tout an liquified natural gas industry as “clean energy”—naturally contrasting, parenthetically, with nasty old tar sand Albetar—even though LNG burned in China (the target market) contributes to global warming as much as the same LNG burned anywhere else. But the dots are farther apart and it’s easier to get away with patent disingenuousness.

    We’ve scrapped a lot here in BC about stuff that hasn’t—and might never—even happened yet. There is no LNG industry, and likely won’t be anytime soon—only a partly-built hydro dam on the BC plains that’s supposed to power the nonexistent LNG industry. Not only are the dots arranged differently, they’re moving around handily so’s to allow this kind of absurdity.

    It’s about words. Even in places where climate warming is obvious, the term “global warming” has been dumbed down to “climate change” which is much more easily adopted by deniers who parry with the trite fact that “climate always changes…” and no fact,”… so there’s nothing to worry about.” But the words are more easily accepted when global warming—referring to the sudden increase in average global temperature attributable to human industry—isn’t so plain. Here on the Coast, global warming —globally, that is—means climate cooling—locally, that is (more evaporation=more clouds which pile up against the mountains and block the sun).

    So BC can comment on climate change, I mean, global warming, because it isn’t nearly as impolitic as it is in Alberta, despite our governmet’s active courting of petro-industries, whether home grown or shipped in and through, and despite ample contributions of automobile pollution that makes the life expectancy in Hope, at the east end of the Lower Fraser Valley, a number of years less because of smog prevailing eastward from Vancouver.

    We can acknowledge global warming more than Alberta because it’s not so plain what out own contributions to it are.

    We can dream more here: the once ubiquitous starfish, the bane of the shell fishery, are hardly missed now that they’re gone. But the dots between man-made CO2 and ocean acidification which kills the creatures’ tiny larva before they shell up are obscured by the shears size of the ocean (in narrative fabulation, such a huge thing just can’t be affected by us puny humans)—and of course the near total and unthinking lack of empathy for icky starfish.

    Probably easier to play political football, two-sided, in Alberta—not so many trees and mountains in the way, I guess. Last time a negative actually caused by climate change was punted in the BC political arena, the hyper partisan BC Liberals blamed a previous NDP government for the massive pine beetle kill. As obtuse as that accusation was, it played well as dead-standing pine candled out of control across the vastness of its unmanaged range. But the complexity of the situation—the low-value species was eschewed by loggers for better and was allowed to grow into its beetle-susceptible age because of a century of public-funded fire suppression—largely escaped accurate account. It wasn’t summer heat so much as lack of larva-killing winter cold that allowed the beetle population to explode into the virtual smorgasbord of perfectly done pine. But those are all dots so far apart we can cook up a smug, self-absolving story.

    Reply
  3. Farmer B

    July 11th, 2017

    There were commentators that during the Fort McMurray fire inferred that as contributors to climate change the residents were getting what they deserved, this linkage has not been made in the fire in BC.

    As for Albertan’s belief in the right to extract carbon based fuels. There is no doubt We as Albertan’s are addicted to the benefits of the oil industry and would like to see it continue to grow. Look at the NDP. As a way to allow the growth of emissions to continue in the oil sands a roughly equivalent reduction in emissions was created by mandating the early phase out of coal fired power generation. We eliminated an affordable dependable source of electricity to attempt to make our growth in oil production politically acceptable.

    Reply
    • Rocky

      July 11th, 2017

      Yes, there were a couple of such mean comments. So rude! But oddly enough they weren’t the ones who were excoriated, as our host puts it, by the right-wing hate machine. It was legitimate commentators like Eliz. May who got blasted with both barrels. Similar linkages have been made in B.C. too, but the rude boys are dismissed by everyone there as the idiots they are. Idiocy is part of the mainstream in Alberta conservative circles.

      Reply
    • Farron Kelly

      July 11th, 2017

      “We eliminated an affordable dependable source of electricity to attempt to make our growth in oil production politically acceptable.”

      I guess that’s one way to look at it. But then, natural gas is chraper than coal these days. So the nature of coal being “affordable” and “dependable” is moot.

      Reply
      • Farron Kelly

        July 11th, 2017

        *cheaper

        Thank you, iPhone :p

        Reply
      • Farmer B

        July 12th, 2017

        Farron, no doubt at present natural gas is inexpensive and plentiful but it is a finite resource. Yes we can quit using coal to generate electricity and replace it with natural gas, but eventually the law of supply and demand will kick in. At some point the amount being used will catch up to production and it will no longer be cheap. Then electricity prices will go up as will the cost to heat the majority of homes. Imagine the double whammy of high natural gas costs and the carbon tax and how that will affect your monthly heating bill!!

        Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      July 11th, 2017

      Yeah, ‘They got what they deserved’ is a bit over the top. They are only feeding their families, and if they didn’t do it someone else would.

      I really think the problem is on the demand side, not the supply side. All of us that use fossil fuels have blood on our hands. Mind you, Friends of Science and other preachers of climate change denial have a bit more.

      Reply
      • Farmer B

        July 12th, 2017

        “Blood on our hands”. Bob I generally enjoy your posts and find your thought quite reasonable but this seems a bit much.

        My Dad who is no longer with us was born in 1923. As I grew up he told me many stories about tough it was when he was young and how different technologies improved his life. When he was young their house was poorly insulated and heated with coal. In the winter if he left a glass of water on his night stand it would have ice in it in the morning, the house was cold until his parents stoked the furnace. Today for the majority us, our automatic natural heating systems keep us as warm as we desire. He talked about having 32 volt lights in the house powered by batteries in the basement charged by an old generator. He worked for the local REA putting in power poles in 1953 so that they could finally have electricity later that year. As a farmer he was always thankful for the availability of fertilizer and how it improved his crop yields and gave him the ability to eliminate summer fallow and the soil erosion that came with it. I could go on and on. My point is that fossil fuels greatly increase our comfort, our mobility and our quality of life every day. And the solar panels and wind turbines that are promoted to replace some of their use couldn’t be created without them. Enjoy your day:-)

        Reply
        • Bob Raynard

          July 14th, 2017

          Hey Farmer B,

          I am not sure if it my use of the phrase ‘Blood on our hands’ or the theme of my post in general that you took offense to. If it is the phrase, I certainly apologize for my extreme phrase, my point was just that we all share the blame, not just the people that mine the oil sands.

          Exchanging late father stories, my dad, who grew up digging coal out of the coulee bank adjacent to their family homestead, used to tell me when I complained about someone else, ‘make sure your own hands are clean’. Thus I am really annoyed that someone would say the McMurray workers are getting what they deserved if they are enjoying the benefits of burning fossil fuels.

          While you are certainly right about fossil fuels improving our quality of life, extreme events have shown us that there is also a downside, and it is incumbent on us to try to reduce the amount we use. Realistically there isn’t much you can do on the farm, but there is a lot of things city dwellers can do. Sadly people here will drive their SUV 5 km to a gym so they can work out on a stationary bicycle!

          Enjoy your day too!

          Reply
          • Farmer B

            July 18th, 2017

            I agree with your comment on the SUV ride to the gym. We have become complacent and wasteful. What the more extreme element of the environmental movement is promoting is not just minor efficiency gains it is total decarbonization of the economy. Having said that I appreciate your moderate and common sense outlook.

  4. July 11th, 2017

    It’s an Alberta conservative agenda to have the Alberta NDP government fail to get pipelines built. That the people of BC should see their current misfortune as a feature of global warming, and consequently harden their resistance to pipelines from Alberta, is currently advantageous to Alberta conservatives. Consequently, crickets, as you say. But Alberta conservatives want Albertans to want pipelines; that puts pressure on the Alberta NDP, even isolating Alberta’s NDP from NDP supporters from other nearby planets. Consequently, when the fire burned in Alberta, outrage about global warming discussions!

    Two planets! nice analogy, David.

    Reply
  5. Bob Raynard

    July 11th, 2017

    David, how dare you write such blasphemy. If you aren’t careful someone will steal the bull nuts off the back bumper of your jacked-up half ton!

    Reply
  6. Bob Raynard

    July 11th, 2017

    It doesn’t even matter if these events were caused by climate change. The important point is that climate scientists have been telling us about the climate change problem since (at least) the 1980’s, and telling us that climate change would lead to more wild fires and floods. So, even if the BC fires, the Fort McMurray fire and the Calgary flood are not consequences of climate change, they are a preview of what we can expect from a changed climate. So when politicians and commentators tell us how devastating it will be on the economy for us to take action on climate change, we have a non-action worst case scenario to compare it to.

    The same discussion must be happening in the States, part of which is also burning, while Donald Trump has pulled out of the Paris Accord.

    Reply
    • Les W Kuzyk

      July 12th, 2017

      You likely know Dr. James Hansen testified on climate science before a US federal committee in 1988. Yes, a long history of ignoring the issue, and now fires and our Calgary flood. A truly wicked problem. Dr. Hansen wrote a backcover comment on the climate novel Pinatubo II, which hopes to expand on warning and informing people.

      Pinatubo II — free if you read ebooks
      https://0urnearfuture.wordpress.com/books/

      Reply
  7. Albertan

    July 11th, 2017

    Money always talks. Millions of renewable energy jobs could change the need for Planet A conservatives feeling the need to play to their base re: a fossil fuel economy, as described here, and also including the characteristics of climate-denying:
    http://www.qz.com/813747/how-to-talk-to-a-climate-change-denier-psychology-of-denial
    And re: increase in wildfires due to climate change? Getting difficult, and embarrassing, to deny? Read here about the latest findings by researchers:
    “Climate change found to double impact of forest fires”
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/climate-change-found-to-double-impact-of-forest-fires/article32314179/

    Reply
  8. David

    July 11th, 2017

    Just as we can’t say cancer was caused by a particular cigarette, we can not say climate change caused a particular fire. Did it cause the fire in Fort McMurray, but not the ones in BC or vice versa? Well, in the end it doesn’t matter. We have to both expect there to be more forest fires, the fires to be more damaging and more frequent due to climate change. That is the prediction and that is exactly what is happening.

    It must cause climate change deniers, minimizers or ignorers more grief to see what is happening in some cases right on their own doorsteps. However, climate change is really a global phenomenon, so it does not matter whether BC has a more environmentally friendly government than Alberta or not. It is not just divine retribution on those who may be climate change deniers, it is something we all have to deal with, but particularly people who live in areas prone to forest fires.

    Right now the climate change debate is somewhat like talking about cutting back from two packs to one pack a day, with the deniers, minimizers or ignorers insisting two packs are just fine. Just because some of the consequences are still in the future does not mean everything is fine. Unfortunately, we have been polluting for so many years that the chickens are starting to come home to roost now. How much longer do the deniers want to play their dangerous game?

    Reply
    • July 12th, 2017

      Well put, the comparison to smoking and how many packs. People hear stories much better than science, unfortunately. The game will be played until a recognized crisis shows up, and that’s not quite yet in my evaluation. BC has a history of wildfires and many will explain them in the good old way like before.

      A speculated ‘soft’ crisis dramatized in my climate novel
      https://0urnearfuture.wordpress.com/books/

      Reply
  9. Sam Gunsch

    July 11th, 2017

    Even Americans discuss the fire increase due to climate change more openly than AB.
    ==============

    Longer, Fiercer Fire Seasons the New Normal with Climate Change
    Dry spells are getting drier in the West as temperatures rise, creating a greater risk of wildfires.

    By Georgina Gustin

    https://insideclimatenews.org/news/11072017/wildfire-forest-fire-climate-change-california?utm_source=Inside+Climate+News&utm_campaign=5e7a757646-InsideClimate_News12_10_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_29c928ffb5-5e7a757646-326465561

    excerpt: ‘Forest ecologists and climate scientists say this is the new normal—what the fire historian Stephen Pyne has called the “pyrocene”—and recent research has solidly linked it to human activity. A study last year found that human-caused climate change had nearly doubled the amount of forest burned in the West since 1984.

    “Dry periods are getting drier, and the risk of wildfire is greater as a consequence of climate change,” Trenberth said.’

    Reply
  10. Sam Gunsch

    July 11th, 2017

    That stubborn socialist muckracker Upton Sinclair, once said something that remains relevant to the AB RW attitude toward discussing how increasingly hot/larger/widespread forest fires might connect to fossil fuel burning.

    Upton Sinclair > Quotes

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” ― Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upton_Sinclair

    He also made some media critique that arguably, applies to some AB media:

    Sinclair on media: “Our newspapers do not represent public interests, but private interests; they do not represent humanity, but property; they value a man, not because he is great, or good, or wise, or useful, but because he is wealthy, or of service to vested wealth.” (Source: The Brass Check, p. 125)

    Reply
  11. Sam Gunsch

    July 11th, 2017

    And regarding journalism’s responsibility to the citizen re climate change, a USA perspective from David Roberts, just nails it.
    =================

    excerpt: ‘The vast majority of people do not have an accurate understanding of how bad climate change has already gotten or how bad it is likely to get, much less how bad it could get if we keep electing crazy people.

    When there are important things that people don’t understand, journalists should explain those things. Attempts at dime-store social psychology are unlikely to lead to better journalism. ‘

    https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/7/11/15950966/climate-change-doom-journalism?utm_campaign=drvox&utm_content=chorus&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter
    ==============

    Whether our AB political leaders on the right actually care to have an informed citizenry re climate change and our fossil fuels production and use, is up for debate. Which is obviously a core AB political issue about which Climenhaga’s post raises some question.

    Reply
  12. Farron Kelly

    July 11th, 2017

    The two key differences

    1) British Columbia has by default a more left-inclined population than Alberta in general, and a much more storied experience with successful Left movements (NDP, Greens, pot legalization, indigenous rights, etc.). Therefore, it is not beyond the pale in any reasonable way to state that climate change has played a part in wildfire propagation.

    2) The great right-wing utopia that was Fort McMurray, with its exemplification of the Right’s fantasy of working-class men and women earning doctor’s wages for operating in an industrial culture which glorifies low-brow ignorance, was hurting from the recession and now faced its greatest crisis ever. An existential one, even. As someone who was born and raised in Fort McMurray and who saw the transition from small-town life in the ’90s to boomtown madness in the 2000s, I can say definitively that McMurrayites have a bunker mentality at the best of times. It’s not entirely unwarranted, given the kind of ignorant caricaturing of the city that has occurred in the past, but I have yet to find another community so much in rejection of self-reflection and mired in hubris. Whatever dissent there is to the prevailing narrative that the oil sands are a gift from God is viewed with contempt and excoriated venomously by people desperate to think highly of their lot in life. At any rate, in a time of serious crisis like the fire, this mentality goes into overdrive. I lost 3 or 4 friends over the course of the evacuation because they couldn’t abide by my rejection of their frothing hatred for Notley and rebuttals of their ignorant Facebook posts. Notley was the enemy. Anyone saying that Fort McMurray may have contributed to the fire that took their homes was a disgusting traitor. Even criticism of Mayor Blake and Darby Allen was forbidden. They were one of us. It wasn’t their fault for letting things get out of hand. It was Notley, who hated oil. It was Trudeau, who hates Alberta. It could never be one of us at fault. The right-wing politicians used this unthinking insularity to benefit from the crisis by taking the side of the unquestioning. (Sorry for the giant text block. Seems there’s no way to go back up in this text window :/ )

    As well, as a final point that I thouhht of while I was typing, one must consider that a huge proportion of Wildrosers and PCs actually genuinely believe that climate change isn’t real or, at least, is being caused by the Sun or some such thing. Therefore, those stating that climate change was causing fires like The Beast were really just George Soros plants trying to demonize Fort Mac and kill the oil industry and send everyone back to their impoverished rural hamlets to die in longing and misery. Kenney, Jean, & co. know that they have the backing of these individuals, and so aren’t afraid to rush in headlong to vituperatively denounce anyone bringing up the topic of climate change.

    Reply
  13. July 11th, 2017

    I have yet to read a word from Rebel Media so I missed their fabulous description of Elizabeth May. It was a line Don Rickles would have been proud of.

    Reply
    • tom in ontario

      July 12th, 2017

      Except that Don Rickles was actually funny.

      Reply
  14. July 12th, 2017

    I mean awesome well written analogy, the two planets, the two provinces. As an analyst, I’ve seen the stats on maps and the political voices on each side of the border showing in hard numbers. But as a writer, I see this challenge devolving into a closed border in our near future as we piss away our need to have addressed climate change decades ago, and unbelievably continue to bicker and argue over the issue like teenagers in the schoolyard.

    In short climate drama “Blown Bridge Valley”, Vince escapes last minute with his daughter across the once BC/Alberta border. Lots of other climate stories before, after and as other alternatives exemplify the seriousness of our planetary situation.

    Blown Bridge Valley
    https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/497190

    Reply
  15. Justin

    July 12th, 2017

    It’s funny how British Columbians turn their noses up at Albertans because Alberta just happens to have oil. If BC had the oil they’d extract it and reap the profits. Hypocrites.

    Reply

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