Alberta Politics
A Wildfire at Loon Lake on the Ashcroft First Nation Reserves in British Columbia in 2017 (Photo: Shawn Cahill, Creative Commons).

Jason Kenney fiddles (with climate policy) while Alberta burns

Posted on May 24, 2019, 1:34 am
9 mins

It is an irony, though not a particularly satisfying one to observe, that while Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party Government moves swiftly to repeal Alberta’s carbon tax, the province is aflame, with more than 5,000 Albertans required to leave homes and communities in imminent danger of destruction.

It is only May. The leaves on most of the elm trees on my street in St. Albert have not even appeared yet. In other words, it’s barely spring. God only knows what things will be like around here by midsummer. Smoky, I imagine.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Well, get used to it. It gets harder by the day to deny the reality of global climate change. One of the effects of this inconvenient fact on Alberta’s part of our planet is that there are going to be more frequent and more severe forest fires – the kind that destroyed large swathes of the town of Slave Lake in 2011, Fort McMurray in 2016, and which are now threatening High Level.

“Fire driven weather is ‘new reality’ for Canada and elsewhere, expert cautions,” said the headline on the news summary of an episode yesterday of The Current, CBC Radio’s daily news analysis program hosted by Anna Maria Tremonte.

Ms. Tremonti’s interview with Ed Struzik, author of Firestorm: How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future and a fellow of the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy, was playing on the car radio as I drove to work. Fire-caused weather that results in dynamic, fast moving fires is “the new reality,” Mr. Struzik was saying. “We saw it in B.C. in the last two years, and Alberta the year before, Waterton National Park. Ontario got hit hard last year. I think this is what we’re going to be seeing more of every summer.”

U.S. commentator and public figure Bill Moyers (Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons).

Pine beetle infestations that have killed vast swaths of trees in this region, another manifestation of global warming, have left explosively dry dead forests in their wake, compounding the problem.

Mr. Kenney’s response to this situation is to pretend it isn’t happening. Oh, sure, he and members of his government make pro forma acknowledgements of global climate change from time to time, but their actions and intentions belie them.

This includes, of course, their Trump-like efforts to dismantle all of the inadequate measures taken by the previous NDP government to reduce Alberta’s massive carbon footprint. Alberta oilsands extraction operations alone add more carbon pollution to the atmosphere than the entire economies of British Columbia and Quebec combined.

Bill 1, An Act to Repeal the Carbon Tax, was introduced in the provincial Legislature on Wednesday and will take effect on May 30. A federal carbon tax will likely replace it, although Mr. Kenney has vowed to fight that in the courts. The position of this bill atop of the government’s radical agenda is intentionally symbolic and tells you everything you need to know about where Mr. Kenney really stands on climate change.

Author and fellow of the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy Ed Struzik (Photo: Twitter).

Premier Kenney also intends to fight measures to ameliorate climate change in the court of public opinion. In the fall he plans to travel to his native Ontario to campaign against the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and install another climate-change denying Conservative government in the nation’s capital.

Conveniently for Mr. Kenney, the federal Elections Act doesn’t prevent provincial governments from intervening in a federal campaign, although he claims he won’t use Alberta government resources to campaign against the Liberals. This much is possible, of course, since Mr. Kenney is widely thought to have his eye on Mr. Trudeau’s job himself, and it might make sense for him to let federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer lose in 2019.

CBC Reporter Anna Maria Tremonte (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Mr. Scheer, whose energy policies are drawn from the same playbook as Mr. Kenney’s and Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s, has his own answer to stories like the CBC’s interview with Mr. Struzik. Back in 2016, he promised that if he became prime minister, he’d shut down the CBC’s news division. Easy-peasy, that solves the problem of stories about global warming!

Writing in the Guardian on Wednesday, the 84-year-old American journalist and commentator Bill Moyers lamented the shameful job U.S. news organizations do covering global climate change, the greatest crisis of our age.

“The Goliaths of the U.S. news media, those with the biggest amplifiers – the corporate broadcast networks – have been shamelessly AWOL, despite their extraordinary profits,” wrote Mr. Moyers, who was press secretary to U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s. “The combined coverage of climate change by the three major networks and Fox fell from just 260 minutes in 2017 to a mere 142 minutes in 2018 – a drop of 45 per cent. …”

Former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

He compared that unfavourably to the efforts of “Edward R. Murrow and the young men, none of them yet famous, Murrow hired to staff CBS Radio in Europe on the eve of the Second World War.”

“These reporters spread across Europe as the ‘phony war’ of 1939–40 played out, much like the slow-motion catastrophe of global warming plays out in our time,” Mr. Moyers wrote. “They saw the threat posed by the Nazis, and they struggled to get the attention of an American public back home exhausted and drained by the Great Depression.”

Well, there’s no danger of anything like that happening in Alberta.

“Alberta’s public sector unions back doomsday anti-oil campaign,” screeched former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith in a column typical of the drivel published on this topic by Postmedia, the U.S. controlled corporation that dominates media in Alberta.

“It simply doesn’t follow that catastrophe awaits humanity with an additional 1.5 degrees more,” insisted Ms. Smith, who nowadays hosts a right-wing talk radio show. “The record shows that humanity has proven remarkably resilient and adaptable to climate change. There’s no reason to believe that will stop.”

Think of climate obstructionism in Alberta today as a three-legged stool. Postmedia and commentators like Ms. Smith are one leg, the Kenney government is another, and fossil fuel industry lobby groups are the third.

Like the wildfires in northwest Alberta, expect their denialism to grow more fierce and dangerous as the crisis becomes more obvious.

19 Comments to: Jason Kenney fiddles (with climate policy) while Alberta burns

  1. Dave

    May 24th, 2019

    Mr. Kenney’s commitment to go campaign federally in Ontario for the upcoming election should give some cheer to the Federal Liberals. It should give them a boost of a few points wherever he goes, nothing like someone from another province coming in to tell Ontarians how to vote. Between that and the Ford PC’s recent bad news budget, which should also remind Ontarians why they may not want Conservatives in Ottawa too.

    Of course, Kenney’s helping/not helping campaigning comes with the ulterior motive that he may want the Federal Conservatives not to win this time, so he can jump back into the big pond in an opportune moment in a few years. One gets the sense there will be a lot more out of province travel for him in the next few years and he will not be as interested or focused in running Alberta as in other things.

    The wildfires are sure not helpful to the climate change deniers or do nothings message. As it becomes clearer reality is in conflict with their ideologically driven, make believe view of the world, it will get harder and harder to convince people, even in Alberta, that theirs is still the right course. Another reason why I feel Kenney does not plan to stick around here for the long run. The going for the UCP may get a lot tougher than most of their supporters think. Alberta’s economic challenges are not going to go away and the world will not go back to what it was before either.

    Reply
  2. Bill Malcolm

    May 24th, 2019

    Excellent blog post. Nobody will listen of course, because it’s inconvenient to have to face reality. After the Alberta smoke, perhaps a dose of BC smoke during the summer will make things even smoggier, but the yipping fools of the right and the lemmings who voted them in for jobs at any cost but with offshored profits will not admit anything. We need foreign investment to help poison ourselves, say these brass intellects.

    It’s idiocy and it’s real.

    Reply
  3. Bob Raynard

    May 24th, 2019

    To put things in perspective, during the last ice age global temperatures were 5 degrees cooler than they are now.

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      May 25th, 2019

      To finish your point, small changes can have massive effects.

      Reply
  4. Sam Gunsch

    May 24th, 2019

    Appears that Postmedia may have trouble trying to double-dip into both Kenney’s provincial gov’t funding for UCP/Kenny + industry propaganda efforts, AND also get funding out of the federal media funds proposed by Liberals.
    ================

    Postmedia hopes it can thread the needle between Kenney and Trudeau

    By Carl Meyer in News, Energy, Politics | May 23rd 2019

    https://www.nationalobserver.com/2019/05/23/news/postmedia-hopes-it-can-thread-needle-between-kenney-and-trudeau?utm_source=National+Observer&utm_campaign=19ee40b75d-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_05_24_12_53&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_cacd0f141f-19ee40b75d-254386613
    Federal NDP is calling out Postmedia…EXCERPT: ‘In his letter to Morneau, Angus called on the minister to ensure the tax measures are not used to prop up “government-led communications efforts on behalf of one industry.”

    “If Postmedia is acting as a vehicle for paid propaganda content for a particular government and industry, it would make a mockery of the notion of independent journalism and should not be entitled to taxpayers funding,” reads the letter.’
    =================
    ================

    FWIW, imho, with only a tiny staff, the National Observer’s coverage of AB petro-industry is regularly quite a bit better than Postmedia’s. Worth supporting with a subscription.

    Reply
  5. Sam Gunsch

    May 24th, 2019

    so… weeks *after* the election of the UCP climate plan killers, today we get a useless howler from Postmedia editorial writers at Edm Journal… ‘don’t kill the carbon tax.’

    Fig leaf much?

    Reply
  6. Jim

    May 24th, 2019

    Might have been nice to have the revenue from the carbon tax to deal with the firefighting bills. We know a carbon tax in Alberta or Canada for that matter isn’t going to affect the global climate, but the revenue would be nice especially if it was in Alberta’s coffers rather then Ottawa’s. Ironically Kenney seems opposed to equalization payments a government he was a part of put in place but is more than happy to send Ottawa carbon tax revenue. I’m sure they will send it all back to us.
    This really demonstrates the view Kenney and his ilk have for our province, that is a short term view and then move on. I find it sadly amusing the support conservatives get in rural areas where most have a closer tie to the land than in urban areas. You can’t just pick up your land and move perhaps you should try voting for someone who respects this. As long as the chickens keep voting for colonel Sanders they will continue to get deep fried.

    Reply
  7. tom in ontario

    May 24th, 2019

    “We saw it in B.C. in the last two years and Alberta the year before, Waterton National Park. Ontario got hit hard last year. I think this is what we’re going to be seeing more of every summer.”
    Ms. Smith and her friends notwithstanding, the trend is unmistakeable. Wikipedia reports, “The 2018 California fire season was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season on record with a total of 8,527 fires burning an area of 1,893,913 acres, the largest amount recorded in a fire season according to the California Department of Fire Protection as of December 21.”

    Reply
  8. Dfjo

    May 24th, 2019

    The seat of this stool rests on a ball. The three entities are funded by the same source.
    A fine stool sample!

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      May 25th, 2019

      I’m starting to regret that three-legged stool metaphor. C’mon, people! It was after midnight when I wrote that. DJC

      Reply
  9. Geoffrey Pounder

    May 24th, 2019

    Under the NDP’s climate plan, AB’s oil & gas industry emissions would continue to climb year after year.
    The oil & gas industry GROSSLY UNDER-REPORTS its emissions (of all types). The Notley govt did not acknowledge the discrepancy, much less address it.
    Govt figures for oil & gas industry emissions are FICTION. Actual figures are much higher.

    As Canada’s most recent National Inventory Report indicates, AB’s emissions show NO SIGN of falling:
    Year: 1990…2005…2012…2013…2014…2015…2016…2017…Change (%) 2005 to 2017
    GHGs (Mt): 173…231…261…271…276…275…264…273…18%
    https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/climate-change/greenhouse-gas-emissions/sources-sinks-executive-summary-2019.html

    The oilsands industry is far closer to AB’s fraudulent cap than govt and industry let on.
    Total oilsands emissions including projects that are under construction, have received approval, or are seeking approval “blow well past” AB’s fraudulent cap. (Pembina Institute)

    NDP or UCP. When it comes to GHG emissions, Albertans have no real choice. Notley took emissions reductions and our inadequate Paris targets off the table.
    Notley’s signal achievement was to “push country-wide support for pipelines from 40% to 70%.” Something Kenney could never do. (And she’s still at it.)
    Notley acolytes now embrace an essentially denialist position. Something Kenney could never achieve.
    Notley’s denialism and pipeline push, supported by a wide swath of progressives, created the political space for Kenney to move AB further and faster towards climate disaster.

    Whether we go over the cliff at 100 kmh or 50 kmh, the result is the same.

    Reply
  10. Doug Brown

    May 24th, 2019

    Specific events cannot be linked to climate change. Suggesting so is disingenuous. Climate change may lead to increased wildfire risk, but given insufficient data (would need thousands if not tens of thousands of years’ data) the baseline risk is unknown.

    Reply
    • Kang

      May 25th, 2019

      The Boreal is actually fire adapted. Specific events may not be directly linked, but trends certainly can be. And we do have tens of thousands of years of data from prairie lake sediment deposits. Counting pollen types and volumes along with some elementary chemistry has given us a good picture of climate since the last ice age. Ice core samples from the Antarctic and else where have given us similar information going back hundreds of thousands of years. Here is a rather cheeky take down of denialists which serves as a lead in to some basic chemistry and the role of CO2 in the atmosphere.
      https://youtu.be/9XIpTqbLR5Y

      Reply
    • Geoffrey Pounder

      May 25th, 2019

      Doug Brown wrote: “Climate change may lead to increased wildfire risk”

      Higher temperatures, drier conditions, heat waves, earlier springs, more rapid snow melt, more precipitation falling as rain and less snow, more mountain pine beetles infestations, more dead trees, and more lightning inevitably lead to longer fire seasons and more intense fires.
      What more do we need to know?

      Reply
    • Geoffrey Pounder

      May 25th, 2019

      Doug Brown wrote: “Specific events cannot be linked to climate change.”

      Warming is a contributing factor to the frequency and intensity of wildfires, regardless of ignition mechanism. In a warming world, more intense wildfires is what we would expect to see.

      Scientists now do attribution studies, in which they determine the incremental effects of climate change as distinct from natural causes.
      “Fingerprinting involves rigorous statistical tests of the different possible explanations for a change in some property of the climate system.”
      (Skeptical Science)

      Scientists have recently identified one or two events (e.g., a 2017 marine heat wave off Australia) that would have been “virtually impossible” without human influence.
      “Climate change was behind 15 weather disasters in 2017” (Washington Post, Dec 10, 2018)

      In general, scientists are careful not to attribute single weather events to climate change as the sole or primary cause. Rather, climate change is a contributing factor.
      Global warming is the climate on steroids. Warming loads the dice for extreme weather events.
      Warming amplifies extreme weather events, even if they begin naturally.
      Meaning more intense, frequent, or prolonged floods, droughts, heatwaves, wildfires, storms, and other extreme weather events.

      “How climate change is making B.C.’s wildfire season hotter, longer, drier” (The Narwhal, Aug 13, 2018)

      “‘Attribution’ can be done for specific events. This basically compares how often an extreme event of a particular magnitude and duration occurs in climate model simulations both with and without human emissions of GHGs. This was first done on the 2003 European heatwave. So it can be done, but is heavily dependent to the event you analyse, the spatial scale on which it occurs, and even the climate models and experimental set up you use.”
      “Analysis of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si” (Climate Feedback)

      “A discussion with experts on California wildfire links to climate change” (Climate Feedback)
      https://climatefeedback.org/discussion-experts-california-wildfire-links-climate-change/

      “The field of ‘extreme event attribution’ has indeed become much more prominent in recent years. This is a result of a combination of better modeling and analysis tools, plus a longer period of observed climate data from which to draw conclusions. While it is not possible to make these kind of attribution claims for all types of extreme weather events, it is increasingly true that this has moved from the margins to the relative mainstream of climate science.”

      “Washington Post story puts recent weather extremes in accurate climate change context” (Climate Feedback)

      Reply
    • Jerrymacgp

      May 26th, 2019

      Mr Brown: No, you’re correct, but only to the extent that you can’t necessarily attribute any one fire or flood to climate HD age. But you can attribute the increasing frequency and severity of hugely destructive wildfires and overland flooding to a warming global climate.

      It’s analogous to the relationship between risk factors for cardiovascular disease, like smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and an individual’s risk of heart attack. You can’t take population-level statistics that describe who is at higher and lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and point a finger at one individual and tell them if they will or will not have a heart attack. But, for example, if you take two groups of 10,000 people each, one group all daily smokers and the other all lifetime non-smokers, you will see two to three times more heart attacks amongst the smokers group than in the non-smokers group.

      Yes, there have always been wildfires, and floods, and hurricanes. But we will see more of each of them, and more severe and destructive events, as the global average temperatures continue to climb. And, yes, the global climate has always been in flux, with average temperatures rising and falling over time. But, there are two significant differences that make the current situation more urgent: one is the speed of change, with the global climate now changing rapidly, within one human lifetime, instead of over many millennia as in the past; and, for the first time in the 4.5 billion years of the Earth’s existence, there is a species living on the planet—us—which is not only the principal cause, but with the capacity, if it chooses to, to do something about it.

      We can debate how to take action, how rapidly to undertake the measures needed to mitigate the problem, and how to accommodate the economic needs of the people most affected by those measures; but in my view, to simply deny that we need do anything at all—as Conservative politicians across Canada and around the world have been doing—is irresponsible.

      Reply
  11. Scotty on Denman

    May 24th, 2019

    If there were only three legs, it would have toppled over when the NDP took one away for repair. But it didn’t because there are actually four legs of climate-change obstructionism or denial—that is, including the Alberta electorate.

    As Premier Notley discovered, her relatively slight adjustment of the government leg did nothing to change widespread climate-change denial among voters who made that amply plain in the recent election when the UCP garnered over 60% of the so-called ‘popular vote.’ Instead, her tiny shortening of the rate of increased bitumen production only made the stool a little tippy— but limping like a bison calf for the singling-out by wolfish partisanship. (Maybe the Soldiers of Odin will have to show JKKK the barroom trick of putting a matchbook under that tippy leg.)

    The fourth leg now handed back to the UCP makes the ‘everybody’s-out-to-get-us’ chapter of Alberta’s official climate-change denial narrative sound pretty solid. But like it is when trying to level chair or table legs, it might take a few sawings to stop it from wobbling completely.

    Self-interest naturally prejudices perspective which, from the circled wagon laager’s point of view—one of narrative’s most durable tropes which Albertans have successfully cultivated and demonstrated once again—is really very little perspective at all: looking out from the within the laager’s ‘event horizon,’ it’s easy to convince that enemies abound on all sides of the singularity. That milk-stool on which vested interests milk the tarry bitumen and political redoubters bilk True Believers hardly contemplates the bigger picture, but it’s all their ilk need to know.

    If there’s another way to address the climate and fossil fuel relationship, it’s not in the UCP’s hymnary: this is Armagetumin. Bitumen is the one true god and dilbit its only profit. The Righteous believe in Rapturous Salvation while the enemy is consumed by real fire now threatening to encircle the locus of this great Revelation. The backdrop could not be more convenient as summer winds fan political tinder, nor a scape goat be more handy—they’re everywhere.

    The trouble with this sort of Jihadist POV is of course its myopic omissions of larger truths which reveal bitumen braggadocio as overblown and incite false accusations against neighbours, federates and allies who live in the larger community outside of the wagon laager and its milking stool—especially problematic when the list of “enemies” contains “freinemies” who are actual customers of the low-grade petroleum of the bitumen mines: the most immediate market for bitumen products, while not the biggest, is still very big, but as well the wealthiest, most powerful in the world. Yet it is characterized with enmity, BC and Quebec supposedly doing America’s bidding in keeping the goo from being bought up by further-flung nations which are as unethical as those which currently supply them with “unethical,” but superior-quality (and sometimes even cheaper) oil.

    Meanwhile Jason KeKKenney, Scott Moe, D’ohFo and Andrew Scheer are content to adopt, virtually verbatim, the rhetorical bile of our southern neighbour which they otherwise accuse of maligning Alberta so viciously (meaning, within the mythical laager, all of the Alberta Umma).

    The irony blesses the encircled laager just in time for the approaching election in Canada, one of Alberta’s enemies, re: carbon taxes; today’s Court of Appeal decision in BC, another of Alberta’s enemies, re: TMX, conveniently twists the issue of our times like a pall from flaming forests and towns over floodwaters choked with the jetsam of tornados, the flotsam hurricanes, and the odd pipeline leak; the perfect rhetorical storm is already underway—again, conveniently for the UCP government—in the USA, another of Alberta’s enemies, re: manipulators of dilbit ‘discount’ prices, where its own 2020 federal election, with its much longer campaign period, is also just catching fire, as ‘t were.

    The milking stool is firmly planted with optimal stability for the dilbit export industry’s self-styled ‘do-or-die’ fight approaching. Only one leg can possibly make it the least bit tippy, public and news media opinion—but so little of it is printed, at least inside the laager, and probably not enough of it read there from social media (this’ll be the source of outside news and opinions which will, as always, reveal that Alberta is not really surrounded by enemies out to destroy it).

    But, right now, the Alberta government has three more legs to stand on, anyway. True Believers do not prime their muskets with, nor rest them upon conventional truths and negotiable solutions.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      May 28th, 2019

      Fireproof drywall, maybe. DJC

      Reply

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