The iconic image of the fires still raging in Australia (Photo: Variously attributed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter; possibly New York Times).

Remember the anger in Alberta in 2016 when some observers connected the dots between the fire that spring in Fort McMurray and the phenomenon known as global warming?

Such statements were denounced as outrageous. Also insensitive — and, without doubt, a few of the comments on social media were. But hoping to avoid a discussion of the serious issue the fire made obvious, Alberta climate-change deniers, fossil fuel industry advocates, and conservative supporters looking to undermine the NDP government of the day adopted the same strategy as the National Rifle Association does after a mass shooting: Now, they said, is not the time for politics.

Fort McMurray residents escaping the fire that struck the northern Alberta oilsands service centre in May 2016 (Photo: DarrenRD, Creative Commons).

It mostly worked. Folks who saw the connections were inclined not to say so publicly — out of genuine sympathy with the plight of the fire’s victims, who however they made their livings in Fort McMurray were not personally responsible for the conditions that made the fire so dangerous, and out of fear of the ugly reaction from the Internet mob.

Scientists may have come to the conclusion the wildfires in Northern Alberta were “climate change in action,” but anyone who pointed to the irony of a climate-change-driven disaster in a region and province grown rich on the oilsands was going to take a lot of heat.

That was 2016.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (Photo: G20 Argentina, Creative Commons).

Now it is 2020 and about 150 fires covering territory the size of the U.S. states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined are burning their way through Australia — with no end to the catastrophe seen for months. People everywhere are no longer so shy about pointing out the obvious.

Defenders of Alberta’s powerful fossil fuel industry can’t expect the tactics of 2016 ever to work as well again.

Of course, many of the people speaking undiplomatically in the past few days about climate change were Australians waiting on beaches of New South Wales and Victoria states like British soldiers at Dunkirk for the Royal Australian Navy to carry them away from the climate apocalypse on their heels.

The man in burned-over Cobargo, New South Wales, who famously told Australia’s fossil-fuel-boosting Prime Minister Scott Morrison that “you’re not welcome, fuckwit,” probably spoke for a lot of folks, not all of them Australians.

Prime Minister Morrison is a man not unlike Alberta Premier Jason Kenney — a religious and market fundamentalist determined to defend the maximum profitability of country’s fossil fuel industry and prepared to downplay climate change, if not deny it outright, to get what he wants. He even seems to have his own Australian version of Alberta’s Energy War Room.

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

So Mr. Kenney probably ought to brace himself for similar reactions as a climate apocalypse starts to seem like the new normal.

Alberta’s not a country of 26 million people occupying an entire continent, so maybe he can hope to keep a larger percentage of the locals on side for longer. But he can’t count on as polite a reception from the rest of Canada, even among conservatives, if the rest of the 2020s are anything like their first few hours.

As New York Times economics columnist Paul Krugman observed last week, “not long ago it was all too common to read articles about heat waves, floods and droughts that seemed to go to great lengths to avoid mentioning climate change.”

No more, Dr. Krugman observed. “Reporters and editors have finally gotten over that block.” A few of them are even here in Alberta!

The bad news, the Nobel Prize-winning economist pointed out, is that the Republican base in the United States — and it goes without saying their Conservative counterparts in Alberta and Saskatchewan — are still deeply mired in climate-change denial.

The thing is, as Dr. Krugman noted, “the dangers of climate change are no longer predictions about the future: We can see the damage now, although it’s only a small taste of the horrors that lie ahead.”

That’s going to change politics here and around the world whether Mr. Kenney and company like it or not. There’s very little the Alberta Energy War Room could do about it even if the organization was competently run.

After all, you can put off your date with reality, but you can’t put it off forever.

Join the Conversation


  1. Since the terrible Fort McMurray fire and the one in Slave Lake before that, there have been major fires in places not as beholden to the energy industry, including BC, California and now Australia. People elsewhere are beginning to connect the dots. Of course fires are not the only issue of climate change, things like droughts affecting agriculture, sea level rise and more severe floods in some places may be even worse issues we have to face.

    I remember 20 or 30 years ago, global warming, which we now refer to more broadly as climate change, being talked about as a problem of the future. Well guess what folks, yes that future is here now and it will continue to get worse, particularly if we do little or nothing to deal with it.

    Mr. Kenney should take note of the reception the climate change foot dragging Australian PM got in places that probably were more supportive of him in the past, denial and inaction only works politically for so long. Climate change is inexorable, it is like the volume continuing to increase louder and louder. At some point it can no longer be ignored or denied even by those most determined to do so.

    Of course, the rest of the world will become concerned, or I should say is already becoming increasingly concerned. It will take action accordingly, whether Mr. Kenney is ready or likes it or not; he and his war room will be poweless to stop it.

    Mr. Kenney has been successful at advancing his political career so far, but the battles he has fought have often been losing ones against progress and change, so I suppose it is no surprise he has picked another losing battle yet again. I am sure when Albertans realize his ineffectiveness, it could be the end of him politically here too. However, I think other things will cut his political career here short before Alberta realizes climate change concern is, as one respected national political commentator recently said, not a fad, is not going away and is not a conspiracy by the Federal government and a Quebec government that does not like pipelines.

    Mr. Kenney is an experienced politician and I have noticed he can shift positions considerably when it suits him or he needs to, so perhaps he will avoid the Ausralian PM’s fate. Perhaps now would be a good time for him to actually start to be more concerned about climate change.

  2. Haven’t got a clue about the relative size of Vermont and New Hampshire even though I’ve been to both several times. They’re landlocked. So, I’d say the Oz bushfires can be more easily imagined versus the size of Nova Scotia. You know, it sits out there in the Atlantic all on its lonesome and can be spotted on maps even by adults.

    Prior to this past weekend, the Oz bushfires had exceeded 5 million hectares or 50,000 square kilometres, the size of Nova Scotia. And it wasn’t as if Australia had a whole lot of decent land to begin with – it’s mostly desert. This season’s fires are already 20 times bigger than last years. It’s disaster, and Morrison fiddles while his country burns. Australia counts about 46 million hectares as arable, so over 10% has been scorched this year only halfway through the season.

    The hottest temperature I’ve ever experienced was 39C and it was unbearable. Temperatures continually over 40 C, as a lot of South East Australia has repeatedly experienced is beyond endurance for many – they’ll die unless there’s A/C and the eletricity stays on. So when some asinine twit in a white shirt helicopters in to commiserate with firefighters who have to fight fires clad in fire gear in over 40C temperatures, no wonder he got told he was an arsehole or worse. The man is oblivious, obviously, an ideologue who won’t even give his thousands of volunteer fire fighters much of a financial break. And his Liberal party which is actually conservative has similar idiots in cabinet. The real numbnuts are the major papers, the biggest of which is The Australian run by the son of Rupert Murdoch of the UK Sun and Times and the Fox “News” Network “fame”. A billionaire elitist dolt if ever there was one, where coverage of the fires was on page 4. I’ve been reading Oz newspapers online the past couple of weeks, and progressivism is missing. Concern is expressed as Australians bravely battling the odds. None of the white shirts there are doing much about it – they want to sell coal to India by the megatonne.

    I sent quite a big donation personally for Fort McMurray fire relief back in 2016, but if it all happens over again because no attention was paid to forest management to mitigate risk as was promised, I’d feel not much interest in doing so again. Particularly considering all I ever heard since then was first Notley and recently Kenney bleating about dilbit prices as production itself has surged. You remember the old joke about cutting losses by selling more? It fits Alberta to a tee. Trudeau spent billions buying that old pipeline for Albertans which pissed me off, and is building new ones. How dumb can politicians be putting in infrastructure that’ll last 50 years to dig up ever more carbon? And how dumb can a populace like the majority of Albertans be to vote in these petro pimps? The answer is: as dumb as Scott Morrison.

    About all BC and AB can do this summer is pray they don’t have forest wildfires to rival Australia’s in intensity, that will leave the rest of us downwind choking on smoke. Oh, maybe Trump the assassinating war criminal will have killed us all by then anyway. Threatening the destruction of cultural centres in Iran or anywhere is the raving of a mad right wing fascist besides being illegal under any and all international treaties and conventions, and the man is too dumb to know it. Just a horrible person.

    What a goddam mess, all put upon us by rich people, nobody else. And their lackeys trying to curry favour with them. Notley is no angel, as I’ve said on this blog far more than once. On tarsands, she might as well be a Con. Sorry Dave, that’s the truth.

  3. Climate change reality, it seems, for some, takes the hitting between the eyes with the proverbial 2 x 4, to register.
    One would think that the cost, globally, to mitigate/estimate the damage from these severe climate change emergency weather, fire, flooding, etc. episodes, probably now in the $trillions, if not more, would really register…..since money, always, talks, particularly in the right wing realm.
    It sometimes takes a long time though, cognitively, for political belief systems to rejig.

  4. All of those people with legitimate claims, and the thousands with bogus claims in Fort Mac should have been heholden to Notley -they betrayed her. Ponder that.

  5. Interesting to read how currents in the Indian Ocean affect weather in Australia. A positive Indian Ocean dipole lowers rainfall amounts in both Indonesia and Australia. There are many articles online describing historical dipole events and the resulting weather effects. There is a strong positive dipole right now which is not helpful to the situation in Australia. I have 2 close relatives that live in Australia, 1 is in the fire zone and 1 is not. Watching from Alberta what is happening in Australia it is hard to wrap my head around the devastation from the fires. From what my relatives tell me the high winds combined with the extremely dry conditions are creating a lot of havoc and making the situation extremely difficult.

    We could shut down Alberta’s oil industry, that would remove 4 million barrels from what is sold daily in the world market but would it lower the world’s consumption? I doubt it, it would raise the price and encourage more exploration and production in other countries. Once viable affordable alternatives are available consumption will be reduced on its own. We need to find a collaborative middle ground that works for everyone. Enjoy your day.

    1. It’s so great that you are prepared to learn from the large body of experts who study the earth system, including dynamical processes such as the Indian Ocean dipole which you mention. When will you listen to their findings on anthropogenic climate warming?

      As for removing Alberta’s 4 million barrels a day, that’s not on the table just at the moment, as I think you probably know full well. A reckless commitment to expanded production is what is drawing unfavourable comment, as it should. (I would support the pipeline expansion only if it could be shown that it would realize greater profits for existing production).

      It’s really hard to tell your remarks from what a paid propagandist would produce.

      1. “(I would support the pipeline expansion only if it could be shown that it would realize greater profits for existing production).”

        I think this pipeline will realize greater profits for existing production – because we would have access to world markets which would reduce the differential between Western Canadian Select benchmark and the West Texas Intermediate. Thoughts?

        1. AJ, the whole ‘pipeline will give us access to world markets’ argument is one we hear a lot, but I am a bit leery about one thing. We are able to get some bitumen to world markets already, using existing pipelines and those interminably long trains of black rail cars. Why does no one point out the higher price we are getting for that oil?

  6. “The bad news … is that the Republican base in the United States — and it goes without saying their Conservative counterparts in Alberta and Saskatchewan — are still deeply mired in climate-change denial.”

    Even worse is the climate-change denial on the left and centre.

    Trudeau: “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.”
    Leaders like Trudeau and Notley are peddling a new insidious form of denialism.
    Acknowledge the science, but ignore its implications. Boast about climate leadership, but push oilsands expansion and pipelines. Sign int’l agreements, but fail to live up to them.
    “The New Climate Denialism: Time for an Intervention” (The Narwhal, Sep 26, 2016)

    Trudeau and Notley and Kenney are betting that the world will fail to take real action on climate change. The only scenario in which oilsands expansion makes sense.
    According to Trudeau, the path to renewable energy and a sustainable future runs through a massive spike in fossil-fuel combustion and emissions. Complete disconnect from the science.

    The sordid plot is detailed in Donald Gutstein’s book, “The Big Stall: How Big Oil and Think Tanks are Blocking Action on Climate Change in Canada”.
    Gutstein details how neoliberal “progressive” politicians like Trudeau and Notley subverted the climate change agenda and enabled Big Oil’s “predatory delay”:
    “The Rise and Fall of Trudeau’s ‘Grand Bargain’ on Climate” (The Tyee, 14 Nov 2018)

    Let us not forget Notley’s efforts to subvert her own climate plan, sabotage Canada’s climate action, make our intractable climate problem worse, and put solutions out of reach.
    Notley’s signal achievement was to “push country-wide support for pipelines from 40 per cent to 70 per cent.” Something Kenney could never do. Notley acolytes now embrace an essentially denialist position.
    With her pipeline hysteria, Notley led progressives astray to support oilsands and pipelines, downplay the science, and ignore IPCC warnings.
    Notley acolytes now embrace a denialist position.

    Why is it worse when the progressive party fails on climate?
    When Kenney denies the science, progressives reject his arguments and head in the opposite direction.
    When Notley denies the science and its implications, progressives accept her arguments, enable her climate sabotage, and follow her over the brink.
    With her pipeline hysteria, Notley led progressives astray to support oilsands and pipelines, downplay the science, and ignore IPCC warnings. Something Jason Kenney cannot do.
    Notley’s brand of denialism lulls the public into a dangerous complacency and paralysis. “Progressive” denialism is more insidious than the blatant right-wing variety.

    The pre-2015 AB NDP was a force for good in opposition. The only voice of sanity on climate and energy. Notley has eliminated that option.
    Now we have zero oil industry critics in the AB Legislature. Banished to opposition benches, the shrivelled NDP caucus can say nothing about oilsands expansion, oil & gas pollution, and climate inaction — because they shilled for Big Oil in office.

    Once Notley endorsed Vivian Krause wacky theories, it was no longer right-wing and no longer conspiracy theory. Notley took it mainstream.
    We no longer have a mainstream party that champions science.
    We no longer have a progressive party in the NDP.
    Notley eliminated the progressive option. Taking away our last hope for real action on climate in AB.

    1. I agree with your comments about the disappointment from the so called progressive and “left” parties; you can add Premier Horgan and the BC NDP for kicking off the fledgling LNG industry with billions. Even the equivocating Mr. Singh and the Federal NDP offered support, supposedly because of the exemplary consultation process. Ms Notley and PM Trudeau are not alone in undermining progressive voters.

      1. Every Canadian politician is to some extent in the service of the fossil fuel companies, the mining companies, and extract and ship in general. They speak more boldly in opposition, but once in power, they discover how completely captured government is.

        What we’re going to do about it, as the climate disaster their business model has prepared for us, is a good question. But if you’ve seen the latest stats on how fast emissions from pleasure juanting long distance plane flights are going up……one answer for all of us who are truly concerned and in the know about greenhouse gas emissions……..would be not to get our privileged white butts on planes and head off for just one more vacation.

        There’s real work to do here………where we actually live.

    2. It is so tiresome to hear people on the left denigrate Rachel Notley, who did more about climate change than anyone had ever done, or is likely to do in Alberta until the NDP get back in. Things look a lot different when you actually are in government and are faced with a powerful industry staring you in the face, and have to figure out how to get there from here. In fact, the NDP’s Climate Leadership Plan was negotiated by stakeholders, as things are in real politics, and it was remarkably successful. And for the record, your statement that “Notley endorsed Vivian Krause wacky theories” is a blatant falsehood.

  7. What is it about idealogues like Jason Kenney and Scott Morrison? Every time something important happens, they skip town — and skipping town means leaving the country? Kenney does it with aides: mysterious taxpayer-funded business trips to Texas and London. (Oh, and taking in the tinsel with cabinet ministers at peak holiday party season in Ottawa, which in pre-Wexit terms is still Canada.) ScoMo took a holiday with his family to Hawaii. Idealogues have one playbook. It follows that what happens to ScoMo post-haze could happen to JayKay. The biggest surprise? Scorched earth policies lead to scorched earth. Who knew?

    I’ve been a regular visitor to Australia where, as everyone knows is in the midst of fire and smoke for the past two months. Why now? What are the conditions for people and animals? Two hours to the west of Sydney in the Blue Mountains by son’s sister in law and her children were forcibly evacuated, not sure if they’ve returned home yet. The smoke blows west to east, engulfing the city in thick brown haze and depositing black ash on Sydney beaches. Worse air than Beijing.

    On the north coast of New South Wales I lived for a year in Port Macquarie on the Pacific, home of the koala sanctuary where naturalists think 400 or more of the poor creatures have perished. Those fires were only a prelude to the conflagrations raging now.

    Australia is an old continent. Aborigines lived 40,000 years before Europeans took over with the invasion of 1788. British colonists ripped up the natural vegetation for agriculture and animal grazing, permanently putting the place in natural imbalance. Recall the history of the North American west. Now, with a combination of years long drought, searing heat, extremely low humidity, the scope and intensity of the fires are at their incendiary worst. Wildlife experts peg the loss of native species at upward of 480,000 including animals such as potoroos, marsupials about the size of a small house cat. Many more indigenous species may become extinct.

    The area of Australia is roughly equal to the 48 contiguous United States. The fires literally form a ring, stretching around the coastal periphery. The equivalent would be a circle of fire from San Diego, along the Rio Grande, up the eastern seaboard to New York, westward through the Great Lakes to Washington and the West Coast. The only comparable sliver of non incendiary territory would extend from the Northern California border to about Los Angeles, few people and little vegetation can be found in this part of Western Australia.

    Politically, the country is run by politicians in the hip pocket of the coal companies and the Rupert Murdoch publishing empire. The doltish prime minister never misses a chance to show off his thick skull. But in fairness, 200 years of abuse of the land won’t be ameliorated by any single human being.

    1. Thank you for sharing the all important backstory that seems to be largely ignored in favor of beating the climate change drum to death. Yes, humans have a role in this disaster, but let’s get the whole story out there so that real and relevant work can be done in the future.

  9. Regarding the firestorm that ripping through Australasia (It’s more than a country; it’s a continent.) Climate Change denial was couched in the notion that the effects of severe climate events only happened to the other people, the ones living in the developing or under-developed countries. In other words, brown people. The horrific firestorm that’s wrecking much of Australia is driving the point home that the events caused by Climate Change can effect the first-world, the developed world. AKA, white people. Seeing English-speaking white people run for their lives, even taking to a flotilla of recreational pleasure-craft, from the raging inferno shocks the governments of North America into action. Well, not so fast.

    Australian PM Scott Morrison seems to be blissfully unaware of the magnitude of the situation, even going so far as to say that any criticism of himself is “inappropriate”. There’s a difference between being tone deaf and stone deaf, and right now Morrison appears to be stoned to the point of numbness. No doubt he wishes he was back in Hawaii and never heard of a place called Australia. Well, he’s the PM of the ‘land down un’der’ so maybe he should do what an irate Aussie suggested: get off his pommie arse or get the f*ck out.

    In the meantime, in Alberta-stan, everyone is so caught up in Trudeau-rage that they are also completely unaware of the gasping canary in the coal mine. Worse, given the UCP propensity for conspiracy theories, I have no doubt that the next round of wildfires across Alberta will be blamed on Trudeau & Notley and their ANTIFA thugs. I mean right now the belief is that the conspiracy theory that is the most outrageous will fly the highest and distract the most.

    The best part will be when PMJT actually grabs a pair and does the right thing on Climate Change policies, telling Alberta’s angry midget to get stuffed. And that will give us exactly what we don’t need: Jason Kenney throwing another tantrum, screaming and shaking his tiny fists at the heathens in the Laurentians.

    Oh, and happy stupid New Year.

  10. A bit by Clarke & Dawe. “It Couldn’t Happen Here.”
    It has the line – “The Scott problem…”. Kept it book marked. It certainly comes in handy at times like this.

  11. Follow the money as always, in the Australian example coal is key to their CO2 emissions. Although the extraction produces some emissions where is it actually burned to produce power? Hint Greta didn’t visit either place.
    It is hard not to be cynical as politicians wrap themselves in green but always stop short of addressing where emissions are growing. One of the reasons the Paris agreement was such a fraud. The doomsday scenarios from those out for money like Gore have done so much damage to actually addressing environmental issues, why were his timelines so far off?
    And of course the obligatory Krugman quote…

    1. Thank you for your information. I wish you had praddled on like some of the previous climate change hysterical ones as it seems you actually have something relevant to say. If you care to elaborate and possibly be more clear, my reading between the lines is tough, it would be appreciated.

  12. Hi, AJ: I’ve read seemingly well-researched accounts arguing both ways….it’s beyond me to make a reasoned decision about the profitability or not of the venture. I will only say that it makes sense to realise as much economic gain as possible from the bitumen that is already scheduled to come out of the ground. If the real reason for the pipeline were instead to somehow underwrite new bitumen mines, well that would be bad….I do not think we should allow any more to be established. Of course if the profitability of new ventures strongly depended on a new pipeline, that might suggest also that a pipeline would indeed increase profits for existing production. That would be a serious danger: You expand the pipelines, leading inexorably to new development to fill them. It seems impossible to imagine instead “we will expand the pipelines to maximise return on past investments, but will not develop new bitumen mines, even if the new expanded pipelines would make them (more) profitable.” I can imagine a rational 20-30 year plan under which this would be a sensible tradeoff between short term income and longer term emissions profiles. On the other hand, some opponents of the pipeline hint that it would be bad because a) it would encourage further development and b) it’s not profitable anyway, which seems to be a contradictory position. The whole problem calls for a coherent long term national strategy, which as I hinted, seems to be discussion we are incapable of having. Some of the Prime Minister’s remarks hinted at this, but hardly anyone was listening, or if they were they didn’t believe him, which is whole nother proble,

  13. A good article David and pretty accurate as well. My partner and I have been speaking, and working to implement renewables on the ground, for over 10 years now, and it is pretty lonely work in Alberta. Even most people in the renewable field act most of the time as if solar and wind are just 2 more capitalist options……..and are careful not to emphasise the dangers we face by continuing to double down on dirty unconventional fossil fuels. Personally, the claptrap I’ve had to debate on line has been pretty awful too……….but one thing is certain. If you persist, you learn a lot about the simple minded ways that climate deniers dismiss th science.

    A current one….all those fires (with the exeption of maybe 2 or 3) were set by arsonists. Eco terrorists as one old curmudgeon put it. Temperatures in Australia are no different than 100 years ago…they have charts to prove it. These fires are normal……Australia always has them in the summer.

    I think a persistent consequence of those of us smart enough to understand the science not talking…… that even now, many people can fall victim to this dumbed down reductionism……because too many of us who knew better were bullied out of speaking up. We’re going to have to make up for lost time now.

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