Alberta Politics
A Syncrude Canada Ltd. camp and oil sands facility north of Fort McMurray (Photo: Julia Kilpatrick, Pembina Institute, Creative Commons).

Alberta discourse may still be mired in climate change denial, but the rest of the world is moving on

Posted on August 14, 2019, 12:36 am
7 mins

Public discourse in Alberta may still be mired in climate change denial, but the rest of the world is changing and changing fast.

Even the New York Times, which along with much of the mainstream media in the United States could be accused until recently of seriously underplaying the climate change story, seems to be getting up to speed on the topic.

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

In July and so far in August, the Times has published no fewer than 93 news and commentary stories containing the words “climate change” in its pages. Three of them were published yesterday. While a range of interpretations and commentary are found in these articles, the overwhelming theme is that climate change is real, it’s happening now, and the consequences for the planet are serious.

In the context of the policy debate about this topic in Alberta, some of the headlines are very significant, because they give us a hint of the direction the rest of the world is moving, even as Alberta and Saskatchewan continue to debate a question that’s been settled.

Consider this selection of recent Times headlines, chosen not quite randomly to make the point that climate change is now assumed to be a thing, no longer a topic of debate, no matter how angry that makes Premier Jason Kenney, his “War Room,” and their legion of Twitter trolls:

  • “Europe’s Heat Wave, Fueled by Climate Change, Moves to Greenland”

    Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

  • “A More Active Hurricane Season Could Lie Ahead, Scientists Warn”
  • “How Hot Was July? Hotter Than Ever, Global Data Shows”
  • “Climate Change Fills Storms With More Rain, Analysis Shows”
  • “Automakers, Rejecting Trump Pollution Rule, Strike a Deal With California”
  • “Moody’s Buys Climate Data Firm, Signaling New Scrutiny of Climate Risks”

The last two in particular should make blood of the operatives in Mr. Kenney’s strategic bunker run cold. After all, there’s nothing makes your typical UCP mouthpiece angrier than the suggestion that the day is coming when the market for Alberta’s bitumen will shrink, and back in the days of Rachel Notley’s NDP Government, there was nothing the Conservative Opposition liked to shriek about more than a decline in the provincial credit rating given by firms like Moody’s Investors Service.

If climate change is now going to be an assumed reality like gravity, elsewhere if not here, it doesn’t really matter how “ethical” our oil is, and that’s not good news for the Kenney Government’s business strategy.

And if those two headlines from the same time frame don’t concern anyone, think about these two:

  • “Climate Change Is a Winning Campaign Issue — and President Trump Knows It”
  • “Climate Could Be an Electoral Time Bomb, Republican Strategists Fear”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Now, this is not to suggest that Alberta and its equally cranky provincial neighbour to the east are going to go Green any time soon. No, in these places we will hang on to our charming faith in the future of fossil fuels with the determination of a West Virginia coal miner assessing the potential for anthracite.

But it may contain some hints of what’s likely to happen in Canada in October, and in the United States in November 2020.

Political developments in the most important markets for our principal export matter. To put the best possible light on his trip, perhaps that’s the reason Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen went south in 2016 to campaign for Donald Trump.

If you think Alberta’s fossil fuel resources are in danger of being turned into a stranded asset now, with a prime minister willing to spend billions buying us a pipeline and expanding it regardless of what abuse we heap on him, imagine what things will look like with an activated U.S. population fearful about climate change and a Democratic president in the White House inclined to do something about it!

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen, who campaigned for Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

As for those who say our Liberal prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is involved in a secret plot to close down the oilsands development, there’s really no hope for such people. What Mr. Trudeau is doing and former NDP premier Rachel Notley was too is trying to buy a few more years for Alberta’s economic mainstay while we figure out what the hell to do next.

Mr. Kenney’s strategy of yelling at anyone who disagrees is not going to prove very effective if the world comes to the conclusion, as now appears to be happening, that climate change is real and an international response to it is urgently required.

The only approach that was likely to work, it’s said here, was Ms. Notley’s much reviled “social license” strategy, and given what’s happening even that had a definite best-before stamp with a date not too far in the future on it.

Even if President Trump is re-elected and federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer manages somehow to become prime minister, the respite is bound to be a short one, and our comeuppance will be worse when it happens.

But as the headlines suggest, in the rest of Canada and south of the 49th Parallel, climate change increasingly looks like a winning issue, just not for Republican climate change deniers and their Conservative lookalikes in Canada. This is not a harbinger of a prosperous future for Alberta as currently led.

10 Comments to: Alberta discourse may still be mired in climate change denial, but the rest of the world is moving on

  1. Sam Gunsch

    August 14th, 2019

    There is some evidence that the Climate Denial movement is falling apart…losing their funders.

    AB’s UCP/Kenney/fossil fuel tribal politics is now in jeopardy… here’s some USA analysis.

    ======
    Even with Trump in Office, the Climate Denial Movement Is Quietly Falling Apart
    Behind the scenes, climate deniers are losing funding and succumbing to infighting.

    https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/gyzp9b/even-with-trump-in-office-the-climate-denial-movement-is-quietly-falling-apart?utm_campaign=sharebutton&fbclid=IwAR3b3DtBEzP7LkF0DkeAj0TB0RAQvP0ILPSMLlv6Kd2opcNIcNiOPhU48KA

    Reply
  2. brett

    August 14th, 2019

    There can be no denying climate change. At some point a few of the UCP folks who have been denying it for so long are going to start to look just a little silly even to their staunchest supporters.

    I recently had a casual conversation with a staunch UCP supporter who told me that the current federal equalization agreement was obviously the fault of that terrible Liberal Gov’t. I mentioned that, in fact, it was Stephen Harper’s team who put the last agreement in place and it was Jason Kenney who sold it to us.

    The person was in disbelief. I think this is where the global warming/climate change was a year or so ago. In the headlines, people read/heard the short blurbs and believed all the less than factual statements from politicians on both sides. I suspect that this has changed over the past 18 months.

    Some politicians are starting to look rather silly and rather short sighted, They remind me of those very odd people who deny the existence of dinosaurs-some with the extreme view that the bones and fossils were planted by those who want to hoodwink us. Go figure…it takes all kinds even science deniers.

    I believe that this is one of the reasons why Scheers recent climate and carbon reduction plan was greeting with such criticism. The media, and the public moved past the headline to quickly see that it was all smoke and mirrors with zero content and no plan whatsoever. Instead of being a boost it is proving to be somewhat of an embarrassment to the Party. I am not certain that this would have been the case a year ago. A recent column by Chantel Hebert suggests that Scheers plan may be hurting Conservative support int Quebec for this very reason.

    Kenney and the UCP need to pay some attention to this and to understand that, on this topic, many Albertans are starting to read and gain a true understanding of the issues.

    Reply
  3. Geoffrey Pounder

    August 14th, 2019

    “What Mr. Trudeau is doing and former NDP premier Rachel Notley was too is trying to buy a few more years for Alberta’s economic mainstay while we figure out what the hell to do next.”

    Pipelines, LNG plants, and oilsands mines are not intended to last “a few years”. Major fossil fuel infrastructure takes decades to recoup its capital costs. Making such huge investments locks us into a fossil-fuel future.
    Digging the hole deeper makes it that much harder to climb out.

    New pipelines and oilsands expansion cannot be reconciled with Canada’s (inadequate) emissions targets. In plain English, building pipelines puts Canada’s emissions targets out of reach for decades. It’s a plan to fail for decades.

    If the world takes real action on climate change, all these assets are likely to be stranded. The ultimate oil price crash will be devastating for Alberta.
    Doing our children no favor.

    Reply
  4. Dave

    August 14th, 2019

    There are benefits to being a big fish in a small pond, as Mr. Kenney has probably discovered, but there are also drawbacks. As an export driven, resource producing province, Alberta is at the mercy of the whims and preferences of its national and international markets. The world and Canada is increasingly concerned about climate change and Kenney’s war room in unlikely to have much impact on this. Whether Alberta fully appreciates this yet or not, Kenney is sort of like King Canute sitting at the sea side trying to get the tide not to rise.

    This is another reason why I suspect Kenney will quickly tire of being the big fish in the small pond and try to engineer a return to the big pond, probably before his lack of success in Alberta becomes made widely aware of, particularly to Conservatives outside of Alberta. I think the only good news for Alberta is that our energy industry will not disappear overnight. Much like coal in West Virginia it will continue on for a long time, however it is likely the days of its hectic growth, expansion and boom have probably ended. I don’t think politicians who deny or ignore this are doing us any favours as delaying the adjustment will probably make it more painful. Of course, long before then I suspect Kenney will have packed up his carpet bag already and left for greener pastures.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      August 15th, 2019

      Remember, the point being made by King Canute, a pious man, was that even a monarch can’t control the forces of nature. Something for our arrogant leaders today to remember. DJC

      Reply
  5. Mike in Edmonton

    August 14th, 2019

    David, the news for both King Jason and The Donald may be worse than you think. Here’s a link to the Guardian web site about coal miners in Appalachia losing faith in Trump’s promises:

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/12/west-virginia-appalachia-miners-green-new-deal

    Things are getting so bad that ordinary people are wondering what the hell is going on with the weather. Then there’s crop losses, biodiversity losses, fisheries collapse, birds dying off, extreme-weather events raising insurance rates…. Imagine that. The first serious warnings were from insurance companies worried about losses. Of course, nobody noticed beyond “Damn insurance company raised my rates again.”

    That’s human nature. Folks don’t think about the big problems until they are personally impacted. Our problem in Oilberduh is that our politicians are still in hock to the oil guys for their campaign funds. Heres another link, from rabble.ca this time. Turns out Canadians have become aware of the dangers of the climate emergency and are ready for action–IF repeat IF the governments will just lead:

    http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/policy-note/2019/08/canadian-public-ready-climate-action-now-we-need-politics-catch

    Unfortunately, we still have a slight majority in Oilberduh who won’t be convinced till 1) their house is destroyed by a tornado, 2) the wreckage is burned to ash by a wildfire and 3) the ashes are washed away by a flash flood. Then they can be really sure….

    Reply
    • Michael Brayall

      August 15th, 2019

      The thing about this poll, which is very interesting, doesn’t address the extent of the measures that will be required to make significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Realistically, major lifestyle changes for many is going to be required and this is where I predict the largest failure will be with the political will.

      Reply
  6. Jerrymacgp

    August 15th, 2019

    What worries me, is that while those voters concerned about climate change have three options to choose from, the deniers — both the deniers it’s a real thing, and the deniers that we need do anything about it even if they accept that it is real — only have one. So, in October, votes for parties that propose real action on this file — including the Liberals’ although many have accused their plan of being inadequate or a sham — will be dissipated amongst those three parties, while voters who oppose any real action will flock to the ScheerCons, and so we run the real risk of a ScheerCon government.

    Meanwhile, PM Justin Trudeau’s laser-focused aim at his own foot — did anyone say “SNC Lavalin” — is liable to give the Cons a boost in the polls just when they were starting to slide back to parity with the Grits … which, given the excess of Conservative support in the Prairies, where fewer voters live, meant that the crucial electoral battlegrounds of Atlantic Canada, Québec, Ontario & BC were more competitive. So, instead of a “hung Parliament” and the possibility of a Liberal-led minority government propped up by the NDP &/or Greens, we might actually see a Conservative plurality or even slim majority.

    We are in deep shit as a country (sorry, David, for that fine Anglo-Saxon word from George Carlin’s famous list … feel free to bowdlerize it before posting if you prefer lol).

    Reply

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