Guest Post: United Conservative Party stance on climate change amounts to not much more than hot air

Posted on September 08, 2017, 1:44 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: Hurricane Harvey batters Corpus Christie, Texas. (Photo: ABC News.) Below: Guest post author Barret Weber, Conservative leadership contenders Jason Kenney and Brian Jean, and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives researchers Shannon Daub and Seth Klein.

Guest Post by Barret Weber

One truly surprising aspect of the United Conservative Party leadership race to date has been the lack of sustained reference to the realities faced by Alberta’s citizens.

When it comes to the economy, UCP leadership candidates act as if Alberta is still mired in the economic hardship experienced in the province circa 2015.

Just how closely Alberta’s economic fortunes are linked to the international price of oil is well understood and clearly documented. Indeed, it became the policy of the Alberta government during the years Ralph Klein was premier, and was replicated on the federal front by former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Government.

But while recent oil prices have remained considerably lower than the $108 US per barrel West Texas Intermediate, or WTI, reached in June 2014, they are nevertheless well above their low of $29 in January 2016. Today’s oil prices are in the $40-50/bbl range, and the WTI price has only exceeded $50/bbl once since May, so this appears to be the “new normal.”

While oil prices had stabilized, at least until the recent hurricanes, UCP leadership candidates continue to recycle well-worn talking points – some of them dating to the 1990s – that contain little truth.

It’s obviously not very helpful for Conservative politicians to keep insisting the sky is falling, when it obviously isn’t. Still, such claims may do some good by helping to manage expectations about what’s normal in a province (ideologically) addicted to bumper-sticker prayers for the next oil boom.

But damage can result when conservatives imply only they can bring on a new commodities boom without specifying the policy mechanisms they propose to do this or consider whether such a thing is even desirable.

Putting a price on pollution

In fairness, all UCP leadership candidates seem to have made one key promise in this regard: to “repeal” the “job killing carbon tax.”

This is, of course, yet another remnant of the dismal Harper years in Ottawa: the propensity “to lie and stick to the lie.”

UCP leadership frontrunner Jason Kenney was a former Harper Government cabinet minister. His chief competitor for the job, Brian Jean, was once a Harper Government backbencher. Both have adopted the claim carbon taxes damage to the economy and kill jobs, and that they do little to reduce emissions. They slip in the dubious argument that eliminating taxes on pollution will bring back the economic booms of yesteryear.

On the climate file, there is no upside to careless talk that celebrates an economic approach characterized by sustained and willful ignorance in the face of climate change that threatens every aspect of our current lives and futures.

This is especially so when the Alberta economy is showing real signs of recovery, but the climate crisis is far worse than conservatives want to let on.

What implied action is there from the main UCP leadership candidates?

While Jason Kenney didn’t take the risk of releasing a formal campaign platform, his capacity for misleading anti-carbon-tax polemics seems endless.

Examined in detail, he appears to have no policy beyond promising that if he’s elected premier he’ll “repeal” the provincial carbon levy and perhaps take the federal government to court for backstopping the provincial carbon-pricing system.

Note that soon-to-depart Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall proposed the same response to the policies of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, but, as University of Ottawa professors Nathalie Chalifour and Stewart Elgie recently wrote: “In the end, Mr. Wall’s threat to challenge the federal carbon-pricing backstop may be nothing more than political hot air.”

Mr. Jean released a platform document, but it didn’t say a word about what Alberta would do under his leadership to help mitigate the climate crisis.

Mr. Jean does talk about promoting “energy literacy” in the education curriculum, but, as journalist Markham Hislop wrote, “a modern Alberta education curriculum can’t cheerlead for oil and gas but ignore the most significant global trend affecting the energy industry.”

Mr. Hislop pointed to the widespread distrust and lack of support for Canada’s hydrocarbon industry. “If Brian Jean and the UCP want to support the Alberta oil and gas industry, they need to come up with policies that sound like they weren’t written by Ernest Manning and the Social Credit Party.”

UCP candidates are not only letting their own base down by promising things they can never deliver, they are failing all Albertans and Canadians down by mocking sensible policies like pricing pollution that, while no panacea, can play a role in responding to the realities climate change represents for our environment, lives and economies.

The time for action is now

While politicians surely have a role to play in the public policy dilemmas we face, we all are responsible for resisting a turn to regressive, populist temptations.

This truth was has been driven home in recent days by disastrous hurricanes in the Caribbean and on the U.S. Gulf Coast, and the huge fires this summer in California and British Columbia.

Not only is it impossible or expensive to prevent such events, the costs of cleanup can be massive – and a good use for carbon tax revenues.

Individual events can’t be pinned directly on climate change, of course, but we know it plays a significant role in the string of “once in a century” events now happening with increasingly regularity, like the floods in southern Alberta in 2013 and those in Texas last week.

Instead of standing by while conservative politicians act out, we need to ask what kind of society allows politicians to grandstand in ways so radically separated from the realities and challenges we all face.

If there was ever a time to think about alternatives to the status quo, it is now. Instead, Alberta’s would-be UCP leaders are relying on recycled and nostalgic mantras.

As Seth Klein and Shannon Daub of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives argued last year, perhaps “it’s time for an intervention!”

Sometimes, real friends just have to tell the truth. We can acknowledge the steps our political leaders have taken towards becoming climate leaders – but we also need to keep pushing them to meaningful action.

Conservatives have had their fun with climate change denialism, but putting off dealing with the crisis is a luxury Albertans can no longer afford.

Barret Weber is an Edmonton researcher with a doctorate in sociology from the University of Alberta.

17 Comments to: Guest Post: United Conservative Party stance on climate change amounts to not much more than hot air

  1. Farmer B

    September 8th, 2017

    Barret, has it ever occurred to you that Brian Jean or Jason Kenney are espousing certain policies not because they are trying to steer in a certain direction but because these policies are what the public wants. Democracies are supposed to respond to the wishes of the electorate. What you are suggesting is that the general public are not smart enough to make responsible decisions and therefore these decisions must be made for them. Both Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau are selling the narrative that what is good for the environment is good for the economy and that by imposing a carbon tax(a tax that was never voted on by the electorate) we will help the environment. A policy that as each new public opinion poll is taken is receiving less and less public support. Until the day comes and it will that a new method of energy production or energy storage is discovered that is as cheap as fossil fuels the public will resist the switch. Enjoy your day:-)

    Reply
    • Death and Gravity

      September 8th, 2017

      Was the Alberta Carbon Tax part of the Alberta NDP platform? I think it was.
      Did the NDP win the last election? I think they did.

      Reply
      • Farmer B

        September 8th, 2017

        There was no mention of imposing a carbon tax in the NDP platform during the election. I have no doubt behind closed doors they were discussing it but it was never mentioned in their election platform. From a re-election standpoint the Alberta NDP could have followed the federal Liberals carbon tax plan(not mentioned in election platform either) and let them take the heat for the tax. As it is Albertan’s dislike of the carbon tax will be an issue that the UCP will be able to successfully exploit.

        Reply
        • Expat Albertan

          September 8th, 2017

          If you are going to pull on that rhetorical string, then we will criticize all governments for any policy they did not explicitly campaign on. That would incriminate everyone, for pretty much everything, Farmer, even your ideological fellow-travelers.

          Reply
          • Skeptic

            September 9th, 2017

            The NDP Carbon Tax was and is a major policy change and has significant economic impact. It was not honest to implement it in the way it was. It is not was not something that Albertan’s knew they were voting for. It is NOT revenue neutral, which is what Ceci and Notley tried to sell. Just like the federal Liberal gun laws of the 1990’s contributed significantly to western alienation, the Carbon Tax has alienated most Alberta voters.

        • Death and Gravity

          September 10th, 2017

          I stand corrected. The C tax followed from some of their specific proposals re energy export, but was not an explicit part of their platform

          I don’t think that really is a strong argument against the tax however. Taxes of any kind have been rendered so toxic by 40 years of Fraser Institute etc. propaganda that it’s impossible to have a public discussion on any issue of substance.

          Reply
    • K. Larsen

      September 9th, 2017

      Just FYI: last year the total BC carbon tax on a whole CN rail car of wheat was only eighteen dollars and sixty cents. Not even the cost of a case of beer – hardly the end of the world.

      Reply
      • September 11th, 2017

        Well spoken K. Larsen. Simple direct answers are the only way to counter political rhetoric. I know you do your research and read your invoices carefully. Thanks for your gently enlightenment.

        Reply
  2. J.E. Molnar

    September 8th, 2017

    Excellent analysis Barret!

    Neanderthals, like the entire cabal of UCP leadership race hopefuls, show their utter stupidity when they fail to even mention a climate leadership action plan in their platforms. Mainstream voters are wise to the illogical right-wing mantra they espouse. When it rains on their parade in 2019, they will only have themselves to blame (pun intended).

    Reply
  3. Sam Gunsch

    September 8th, 2017

    David Roberts’ writing about USA conservatives is explanatory context for Weber’s post about AB conservative leaders.

    https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/9/7/16258848/us-climate-politics-farce

    Jean and Kenney know their context is +50% of the AB conservative voter base has been persuaded that climate change isn’t happening or it’s natural, by almost 3 decades of propaganda from RW political leaders, by industry, RW MSM columnists and RW denying thinktanks.

    Public policy that’s reality-based that might serve the public good has got nothing to do with Jean and Kenney and UCP’s climate takes.
    ==========================

    Also, this one by Roberts:

    https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/3/22/14762030/donald-trump-tribal-epistemology

    excerpt: ‘US conservatives have been trained for decades to listen only to other conservatives. I called this “tribal epistemology” ‘

    Also this of course:
    https://www.amazon.com/Merchants-Doubt-Handful-Scientists-Obscured/dp/1608193942

    Reply
  4. Albertan

    September 8th, 2017

    I would imagine even right wing politics in The Netherlands would support what they, as a country, have done/are doing re: climate change. It is a matter of potential survival for them…they would ignore, or deny, climate change at their peril. Here is a really pertinent read:
    “The Dutch Have Solutions to Rising Seas. The World Is Watching. In the waterlogged Netherlands, climate change is considered neither a hypothetical nor a drag on the economy. Instead it’s an opportunity.”
    (Trust the Dutch, the inventors of capitalism, to take this slant on climate change!)
    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/15/world/europe/climate-change-rotterdam.html?mcubz=3

    Reply
  5. jerrymacgp

    September 8th, 2017

    The relationship between climate change and severe weather events like floods, wildfires and hurricanes, is a bit like that between smoking and heart attacks. Smoking is the most significant risk factor for heart disease, and smokers are 2-3 times more likely to have heart attacks than non-smokers, all else being equal. But heart attacks do happen to non-smokers, and you can’t point to one individual and say with certainty what caused their heart attack.

    It’s the same with climate change. You can’t say with any real confidence that the 2011 Slave Lake wildfire, or last year’s Horse River fire that devastated Fort McMurray, was caused by climate change, any more than you can say that climate change caused the Calgary and High River floods of a couple of years ago, or this summer’s flooding in Windsor, Ontario, or Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. But you can say, with some degree of scientific credibility, that the risk of such events is increased from what it was a few decades ago, and that this increased risk is attributable to climate change.

    Of course, these nuanced understandings don’t fit well with the kind of narrative that these neo-cons want to advance, the same narrative that the whacko currently occupying the White House has favoured: that global warming is a hoax.

    Reply
  6. brett

    September 8th, 2017

    There is so much hot air emanating from Jason Kenney and Brian Jean that it could, in itself, cause some climate change.

    Reply
    • Northern Loon

      September 10th, 2017

      Since most of the hot air seems to be a result of both talking out of their, uhm, “nether regions” it is also toxic in high concentration. Most of their supporter have either been inoculated, or become immune due their penchant of kissing said regions.

      Reply
  7. brett

    September 11th, 2017

    Lots of people are lining up in close proximity to those ‘nether regions’. They see an opportunity to get back on to the gravy train that was so rudely interrupted, and in some instances abolished, by the current Government!

    They all want to be on the ‘winning’ side. The smart ones are supporting both financially and holding their vocal support until the it becomes clear who will be the victor in this race. After that, all the rats will be scrambling back on board the good ship Lollipop. It is just human nature…self preservation.

    Reply

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