Climate change, climate denial and climate ironies in the wake of Alberta Legislature’s pipeline demand vote

Posted on March 15, 2018, 1:20 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. Below: Soon-to-retire Alberta Liberal MLA and former party leader David Swann, Shannon Daub of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and United Conservative Party MLAs Grant Hunter, Drew Barnes and Rick Strankman.

Happy Ides of March.

On Tuesday, the Alberta Legislature passed a motion declaring the support of everyone there for the Trans Mountain Pipeline to the West Coast.

The motion, introduced by NDP Premier Rachel Notley, also demanded the federal government take “all necessary legal steps” to get cracking on the project to expand the existing pipeline owned by the Canadian subsidiary of Texas-based Kinder Morgan Inc.

The project was approved by the National Energy Board last year and, if completed, is expected to increase tanker traffic about seven fold to and from the Kinder Morgan Terminal at the far eastern end of Vancouver’s long, narrow and windy harbour, which is one part of why the megaproject is so unpopular on the B.C. Coast.

And what do you want to bet they couldn’t pass a unanimous motion in the B.C. Legislature in Victoria saying the opposite of what MLAs all agreed to say in the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton? So there!

Meanwhile, on Monday, the Alberta Legislature’s NDP Caucus published a news release pointing out that while Opposition Leader Jason Kenney now insists his MLAs aren’t “climate deniers,” things said by many United Conservative Party Caucus members suggest otherwise.

This is pretty hard to deny, assuming Mr. Kenney meant “climate change deniers.”

You never know with Mr. Kenney. He’s a sharp one. You sometimes have to parse his sentences to see what he’s actually saying, like when he acknowledged there’s climate change, but it’s … not caused by anything us humans do.

At any rate, the NDP Caucus news release listed a half dozen examples, with citations, of UCP MLAs saying things that sure sound like climate change denial to a fair-minded person.

There was Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, who financed a climate change denial video, sitting at the head table of an event billed “Climate Dogma Exposed.” Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter posted a tacky cartoon mocking the idea of climate change, while Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Scott Cyr provided a link to a story suggesting global cooling is the problem. Both Drumheller-Stettler MLA Rick Strankman and Mr. Kenney were quoted suggesting climate change is just one of those natural things, nothing to do with anything we get up to in Alberta.

This was fair enough for the NDP to target, but there are people who would argue that what Ms. Notley and her MLAs are doing is also a variety of climate change denial.

Specifically, back in May last year, Seth Klein and Shannon Daub of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives argued that just because there are hardly any outright climate change deniers any more doesn’t mean there isn’t any more climate change denial.

Most fossil fuel corporations, governments, think tanks, Astro-Turf organizations and politicians who benefit from activities that contribute to climate change have nowadays stopped denying that global warming is a thing, they explained.

Instead, the director and associate director of the CCPA’s British Columbia office asserted, such people and groups are typically shifting from outright denial to conceding that the science is real while doing things that delay meaningful change that might do something about it. Ms. Daub dubbed this “The New Climate Denialism.”

“They’ve decided to stop fighting the science,” she said, cataloguing four strategies for doing nothing while acknowledging the reality of the problem. She called one group “The Pragmatists,” those who seek an image makeover for oilsands extraction to win markets abroad.

That’s what Ms. Notley and her MLAs are doing, Ms. Daub argued last year, when they use carbon pricing and tougher environmental regulations in an effort to persuade Canadians we can have climate leadership and more oil and gas expansion at the same time.

But many environmentalists argue it’s not possible to use such arguments to justify pipeline expansion that would facilitate continued increases in oilsands extraction when that in turn would make it impossible for Canada to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

So all the Alberta NDP is doing, according to Ms. Daub’s argument, is providing “green cover for industries profiting from fossil fuels and pumping carbon into the environment.”

Seen in this context, the NDP Caucus news release is mildly ironic in light of the next day’s unanimous motion.

And while the motion without question reflects preponderance of opinion among MLAs and the public generally in Alberta, it is nevertheless troubling there was not a single voice of principled dissent in the assembly.

As readers will recall, even in moments of grave national crisis, there are usually one or two elected representatives with the courage to swim against the tide on principle – as Tommy Douglas did in 1970 when he voted, alone in the House of Commons, against the government “using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut” by implementing the War Measures Act.

On Tuesday, even Dr. David Swann, the sole Liberal in the Legislature, voted for the Trans Mountain motion, despite the defeat by the House of his amendment to require more transparent annual reporting “on both the benefits and the risks of increasing bitumen flows. …”

Alert readers will recall that in 2002, before entering politics, Dr. Swann was canned as Medical Officer of Health for the Palliser Health Region for daring to support a resolution by an organization of health officers that sought government action on climate change. It was revealed later the Progressive Conservative environment minister of the day pulled strings to force him out.

Yesterday, the MLA for Calgary-Mountain View, whose political career included a spell as leader of the Opposition and two stints as leader of the Alberta Liberals, announced he won’t seek reelection in 2019. “This is the right time for me to move on to other things, pass the torch to the younger generation,” he told reporters.

Dr. Swann vowed, however, to remain active on the issues he fought for during his political career, including government action on climate change.

29 Comments to: Climate change, climate denial and climate ironies in the wake of Alberta Legislature’s pipeline demand vote

  1. Sam Gunsch

    March 15th, 2018

    EXCERPT: So all the Alberta NDP is doing, according to Ms. Daub’s argument, is providing “green cover for industries profiting from fossil fuels and pumping carbon into the environment.”
    ================================

    And the NDP are being forced to do this to have a snowball’s chance in hell, of being-re-elected because a majority of Albertans have come to believe the climate disinformation campaign funded by Big Oil.

    It’s not ‘false consciousness’. It is simply a case of being lied to, over and over and over and over again.

    Reply
    • Hana Razga

      March 15th, 2018

      Could not have said it better myself…..

      It is a case “damn if you and damn if you don’t”.
      I understand that we need to move to renewables, but it will take some time to build capacity to replace all the fossil fuels. So we are stuck with the fossil fuels for foreseeable future. And that does not mean we don’t need to be moving forward with actually building that renewables capacity.

      Reply
      • Death and Gravity

        March 17th, 2018

        And the NDP’s policies are at least consistent with moving in this direction. They are much to be preferred to the actually available alternatives.

        Reply
    • Sam Gunsch

      March 16th, 2018

      New op-ed on the history of the fossil fuel industry’s disinformation campaign and the lawsuits going after the industry for climate related damage
      ===========================

      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/15/50-years-climate-change-denial?CMP=share_btn_tw

      Making up for years of delay and denial will not be easy, nor will it be cheap. Climate polluters must be held accountable Thu 15 Mar 2018

      excerpt: ‘The memo’s end goal was clear: create doubt about science where none existed, deceive the media and Congress about the risks of climate change, and block the momentum that was building to address rising emissions through the Kyoto protocol, a precursor to the Paris accord. ExxonMobil alone would go on to spend upwards of $30m on ads, front groups, and pseudoscience intended to carry out the plan. That’s in addition to the cash that flooded the coffers of climate deniers in Congress who are rewarded amply for willful ignorance.

      API’s strategic deception campaign was a success, which is why we now stand at the brink of the highest global temperature considered safe.’
      ======================

      And as reported, some of the UCP MLA’s, the Friends of Science types, & some column writers in the corporate media, are still on board with the ‘deception campaign’.

      Reply
    • Sam Gunsch

      March 16th, 2018

      Another UCP MLA does climate deception:

      ‘UCP MLA Angela Pitt wrote to a constituent, in an email shared on social media, “Climate changes all the time. Co2 has very little impact on temperature changes. The science has changed on this topic many times.”[1] Jason Kenney has similarly stated, “Co2 is not pollution.”[2]

      Pitt doubted scientific evidence and the media, stating, “The data that is largely reported on in the media and by government isn’t the whole truth.” She also wrote, “there is evidence that some climate scientists have been discredited ie the NASA scientist.”’

      https://albertandpcaucus.ca/news-events/post/ucp-climate-change-denier-caucus-grows-again

      Reply
  2. David

    March 15th, 2018

    Kenney is a far too clever politician to be labelled a climate change denier. He will carefully chose his words to avoid saying in plain words he believes climate change, or what used to be called global warming, is mostly man made. At least Brian Jean was more straightforward when he was asked if he was a climate change denier. Kenney will deny he is a denier, but of course not protest too strongly because that would not be plausible.

    Kenney is what I would call a climate change ignorer. While he doesn’t really have a plan on climate change he seems to favour the aproach of the old PC government which is do little or do nothing. In the end I think being an ignorer is worse than being a denier. Whether you agree with what the current provincial government is doing or not, at least they are trying to do something, more than was done before. It may not be ideological perfection, but that seems more Kenney’s approach, where it is black and white, the economy vs the environment. Most Albertans see the need to balance both, but Kenney is betting if forced to choose only one, the economy would be the choice for most Albertans and most Canadians.

    Reply
    • political ranger

      March 15th, 2018

      too true Joe! excellent little article, worth the read for everybody here

      And for our Premier: “… policies made at the top are still overwhelmingly designed not to meet our planetary crisis at the scale and speed it demands, but to protect the institutions, companies and systems causing that crisis from disruptive change.”

      Reply
      • Hohey

        March 16th, 2018

        In this case I would change it to read “policies are still overwhelmingly designed not to meet our planetary crisis at the speed and scale it demands, but to [do anything necessary to increase the chances of re-election]”.

        Reply
        • Death and Gravity

          March 17th, 2018

          On the other hand, we need to be clear that if we stopped the use of fossil fuels in September 2018, more than 90% of the population of Alberta would be dead by spring. It will take decades to change that fact, and the NDP is the only party even talking about moving in the right direction. And to keep on moving, they have to win the next elections.

          What specific policies would recommend in their place?

          Reply
  3. Jerrymacgp

    March 15th, 2018

    When it comes to climate change denialism, the claim that the climate has always changed is one that I find particularly ridiculous. Yes, it has, over the eons that some fundamentalist Christians deny the Earth has been around for, but it has changed s l o w l y, over thousands, even tens of thousands of years, a pace that most of the ecosystem could adapt to. The current Anthropocene pace of climate change, when mean global temperatures can rise significantly in one peron’s lifetime, is unprecedented in geological history, and that is what we need to act on.

    However, the position many hard-core environmentalists have taken, of opposing any and all fossil fuel development or infrastructure to transport it, is a classic example of making perfect the enemy of good. BC’s intransigence over TMX will, if it succeeds in halting the pipeline, simply mean the Notley-led NDP government will go down after only one term in office, and instead of a moderate, pragmatic, largely centrist government in Alberta which accepts the necessity of taking action on climate change, Alberta will get an extremist right-wing Jason Kenney-led full-on climate change denialist government that will roll back even the modest efforts that have begun. How much progress will Canada make if that happens?

    Reply
    • Geoffrey Pounder

      March 15th, 2018

      “A classic example of making perfect the enemy of good.”

      Misframing. The NDP’s climate change plan with oilsands expansion at its centre is not remotely acceptable. Never mind “good”.

      “instead of a moderate, pragmatic, largely centrist government in Alberta which accepts the necessity of taking action on climate change”

      A climate change plan without basis in science, without targets or timelines, that fails to reduce emissions isn’t “action on climate change”. It isn’t “pragmatic”. It’s a deception. It’s dishonest. And it’s a betrayal.
      Progressives need to distinguish between genuine action and window-dressing.
      The NDP are playing Albertans for fools.

      Reply
  4. Athabascan

    March 15th, 2018

    Dear NDP,

    If you claim not to be a climate denier, but your policies are the same as climate deniers, what the difference?

    You can’t be pro-environment (believe in global warming) and in the same breath support the construction of more pipelines that encourage tar sands expansion.

    Reply
    • David

      March 15th, 2018

      Two obvious flaws with these arguments. First, its not the pipelines that result in climate change. How many fewer cars will be on the road in the lower mainland or elsewhere as a result of not building this pipeline? Probably none, but I suppose it might help Venezuela export more oil though.

      Second, the current Alberta government has a carbon tax, which does reduce energy consumption. The UCP opposition has said it will get rid of it. This would seem not to be the same policy.

      Reply
  5. political ranger

    March 15th, 2018

    Notley is saying that climate leadership and saving jobs in the patch are not mutually exclusive. From a Jason Kenny POV she might be right.
    However, slowing the production of GHG from an increase of 100% or 50 or 30 to only 5% or 10 is hardly leadership. And certainly does not qualify as responsible action on GHG. For example the emissions limit on the tarsands is 50% higher than what’s produced today.

    The state of affairs we humans and other living organisms of Earth are facing is a reduction of GHG on the order of 80% over the next 30 years. If we wish to continue ‘life’ as we understand it.
    More of the same is not an option! Even, just the same is not an option. No!, we need a serious reduction. The kind of reduction any recovering junkie or alcoholic understands. It hurts and you’re never the same again. But it’s better than dead.

    Another pipeline that will increase GHG production for the next 40 years just so some good-ol’-boys can have the cash they need to continue their wasteful and extravagant lifestyles is not just ridiculous, it’s a con job by the Notley gov’t and just plain criminal.
    I’m happy to see “legal steps” prevail.

    Reply
  6. Ron

    March 15th, 2018

    “people who would argue that what Ms. Notley and her MLAs are doing is also a variety of climate change denial.”
    Gentlemen Junkies generally admit that they are addicts. The wilful ignorance of our political class is stunning.

    Reply
  7. Pogo

    March 15th, 2018

    So I’ve run across something that once again reminds me about how inextricably linked Alberta is to the worst of right wing politics in our neighbour to south. yes, the white trash Trumpster fire. Anyway, here’s Rebel Media founder and cruise director Gavin MacGinnis holding forth loudly for all the stifled voices of your UCP. Just ask Ezra Levant or his new best bud, Sebastian Gorka. This is the real deal! https://www.mediamatters.org/video/2018/03/15/alex-jones-lesbians-have-just-had-bad-experience-men-and-once-they-find-man-they-become-very-happy/219651 A vote for Kenney is a vote for this.

    Reply
    • Lars

      March 15th, 2018

      And a vote for Nickleback. Never forget that.

      Reply
      • pogo

        March 16th, 2018

        Ok! I stand infected!

        Reply
  8. Geoffrey Pounder

    March 15th, 2018

    As it turns out, the NDP’s climate leadership/carbon tax gambit is a charade.
    “Government house leader Brian Mason said the carbon tax was always intended as a tool to force the federal government to support building a pipeline to tidewater.”

    The “climate leadership” the NDP promised is really “pipeline leadership”.
    Who cares about climate change? Who cares about your grandchildren?
    Not the NDP. (And they hope this subterfuge will win them the next election!)

    Neither side has been honest with Albertans about the carbon tax.
    A pox on both their houses.

    Reply
    • Geoffrey Pounder

      March 15th, 2018

      We’ve lost half our Arctic ice, coral reefs, and kelp beds in the last few decades. And the AB NDP want to keep going?

      “We were — waist deep in the Big Muddy
      “And the big fool said to push on”
      (Pete Seeger)

      “Our governments have not accepted the reality dictated by the laws of physics and climate science: we must phase out fossil fuel emissions rapidly. Mother Nature will not wait for bumbling half-baked government schemes for reducing emissions.”
      — James Hansen, “Young People’s Burden”, 2016

      We don’t have a half-baked government scheme for reducing emissions. We have a half-baked government scheme for building pipelines.
      We apparently have no plan for reducing emissions. The real plan is to increase them.

      Reply
    • Farmer Brian

      March 16th, 2018

      Geoffrey, I happen to agree with you to a point. The carbon tax certainly is a charade but I would say that governments are interested in the revenue more than anything. They are simply trying to find a politically sellable way to raise taxes and therefore revenue. Kathleen Wynne tweeted one day after Doug Ford’s leadership win “The Conservatives plan to kill carbon pricing and rush to balance the budget will put as many as 40,000 public sector jobs at risk”. There was an article in Mclean’s discussing the Ontario Conservative’s desire to axe the tax, over 95% article discussed how it would leave a hole in Ontario’s finances, one short paragraph at the end discussed the environment. I also agree with you that to change people’s habits the tax would need to be far higher, probably $200 a tonne. The only way to reduce emissions is to create a recession, in Canada in our climate if our economy is growing so will our emissions. One question Geoffrey, I payed $101 of carbon tax on natural gas in February, a $200 a tonne carbon tax would raise the tax I payed to $675 does that sound reasonable or affordable to you? This is just one reason I am not a fan of a carbon tax! Enjoy your day

      Reply
      • Expat Albertan

        March 19th, 2018

        Well, if you’re serious about reducing deficits, taxes will have to rise and spending will have to fall. A carbon tax is a better option than, say, higher income taxes because (a) the former is good for our environment and (b) are, ultimately, reducible by changing our behavior. The only way to reduce income tax is to have less income (if you’re an ordinary person) and who wants that?

        Reply
  9. pogo

    March 16th, 2018

    I don’t see a farmer. How tragic that they have been lost in all our civic to and fro! Shall we lament? Like my family did. When all the men went to the front? Why no! It’s an opportunity to make the land yet more bountifull by taking it into the hands of those more clever. What a poem they said could be written by those who lost everything. So it goes!

    Reply
    • pogo

      March 20th, 2018

      oops! I meant forever! My bad.

      Reply
  10. Hohey

    March 16th, 2018

    Where is the Green Party of Alberta in all of this? Why aren’t they receiving any media attention? I know we’re in the minorty but there has to be some voice given to Albertans who oppose this pipeline and want principled environmental leadership. Politics abhors a vacuum and this could be be a great opportunity for the Green Party to grow into a realistic alternative to the UCP and NDP, both of which appear to have been captured by Oil’s Deep State.

    Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      March 17th, 2018

      Sadly, Hohey, a vote for the Green Party will wind up being a vote for the UCP.

      Reply

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