The view of Victoria Harbour and the Olympic Mountains yesterday morning — sorry, Alberta, but the smoke is courtesy global climate change (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

VICTORIA — The world is waking up to the fact the climate emergency is, well, an emergency.

This certainly isn’t good news for Alberta, although, perversely, it may be good news in the short term of the United Conservative Party of Premier Jason Kenney and governments like his in other petroleum dependent jurisdictions.

Pogo, speaking his famous words of wisdom — Alberta take note (Image: Walt Kelly, 1913-1973).

As climate change makes things worse for millions, governments in heavily impacted places will become more aggressive with jurisdictions and businesses they view as contributing to the problem.

“This is a climate damn emergency,” an exasperated California Governor Gavin Newsom said the other day as he promised to fast-track the state’s planned transition to 100-per-cent renewable energy. This does not bode well for Alberta’s oil, no matter how ethical we pretend it is.

And the climate damn emergency is hard to deny. The west coast of the United States is aflame. What may be the hottest ambient air temperature in human history, 54 and a half degrees Celsius, was recorded in Death Valley this summer. Serious people are suggesting it may not be long before millions of people in the United States face becoming climate refugees.

You don’t have to go to California to see that it’s real, either. You just have to sniff the air here in British Columbia’s capital these past few days.

It’s said here this will win help Joe Biden win the U.S. Presidential election in a few weeks — and it will mean Mr. Kenney’s $7.5-billion campaign to get Mr. Biden to change his mind about the Keystone XL Pipeline won’t gain much traction when the pragmatic Democratic Party candidate moves into the White House in January.

Never mind COVID-19, as bad as it may be. When America’s suburbs start to burn, baby, burn, America’s party of climate change denial will be done like dinner. After all, a police station in flames in Minneapolis doesn’t hold a candle, if you’ll pardon a combustion metaphor, to 60-foot walls of flame roaring across a state with a population of 40 million.

Still, deny it some will — especially in petroleum-dependent places like Alberta. Which is presumably what Mr. Kenney’s “anti-Alberta” inquiry commissioner Steve Allan is trying to figure out how to do without actually analyzing any facts, because the facts are certainly not co-operating with the Alberta government’s narrative these days.

California Governor Gavin Newsom (Photo: Office of the Lieutenant Governor of California).

As the hostility to places like Alberta inevitably grows as a result, it will be easier in the short term for a cynical politician like Mr. Kenney to persuade a lot of Albertans that we need to stick together because there’s a foreign and domestic conspiracy against us.

Indeed, with Rachel Notley’s NDP apparently breathing down his neck for the first time since the election of April 2019, this may turn out to be the premier’s ace in the hole.

And in a sense — if we Albertans keep doing what we’re doing now — this will be true. At least if you think pulling a fire alarm when you smell smoke is conspiratorial behaviour.

This will likely make it easier for Mr. Kenney to persuade a lot of our fellow Albertans that any opposition politician who recognizes the increasingly obvious facts — that the planet is going to look like Venus if we keep burning fossil fuels the way we do now — is playing footsie with the enemy.

The reality, of course, is that our refusal to face facts is absolutely the best recipe for the ruination of our economy. If you think things are bad now, just wait till climate change forces several million Americans to conclude they might have to pull up stakes and move to escape rising sea water, infernal heat, or rampaging wildfires.

And that is not some dystopian prediction. It’s happening right now.

I’d like to think we Albertans are smarter than that. Given what I’ve seen the past few years, I’m not optimistic.

As Pogo famously warned: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

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  1. Dave, The problem for Kenney is he’s been pursuing the policy you outline above all along–and his polls are still tanking. Are you suggesting he’ll double the war room budget to 60 mill?

  2. Thanks for another great column, David.

    The National Post section of the Edmonton Journal had an ironic juxtaposition on its first page a few days ago. In big bold letters, the headline, in response to Justin Trudeau’s plan to include environmental considerations in rebuilding the economy, screamed ‘The Liberals Secret New Carbon Tax’. Directly above that was a smaller headline encouraging readers to look inside the section for a story about ‘California Residents Fleeing Fires’.

    You are correct,of course, in your suggestion that not all Albertans will be swayed by the new reality that is occurring in California, Siberia, Portugal and elsewhere. Brian Jean lost his house to climate change but still did not seem to change his tune, so people depending on the oil industry (a number this is getting smaller all the time) will likely continue to engage in some form of denial, such as blaming China, over population etc. That said, one by one, these catastrophic events have to be weakening people’s positions.

  3. Remember when Albertans went out of their way to turn on all the lights on during Earth Hour? That may have seemed very clever then to those who did it, but how funny will it be when our migratory birds do not return in the spring? Scientists at New Mexico State University recently revealed mass songbird die-offs, likely due to toxic smoke from the wildfires along migration routes, and altered migration routes due to the fires. Altered weather due to climate change along those altered routes is a further hazard. The bird deaths could be in the millions before fall migration is over. Silent spring is coming. Oh, how clever it will be to turn on all the lights once again. Let’s show the world what we are: the smug, self-serving, self-righteous, selfish neighbors nobody wants.

  4. And yet Greta said it was ok for poor jurisdictions around the equator to implement coal fired electrical networks because they are poor.

    Well, looking at our budget deficit, it looks like we are definitely getting there.

    As to California burning. Likely they need a more aggressive forest management policy. And if they invest heavily in green energy, it can only be a good thing.

    Once they close down their heavy bitumen oilfields around Bakersfield we will know how serious they are.

    1. howdy do there Bret
      couple of things,

      looked around to find Greta Thunberg saying that it was ok for poor jurisdictions around the equator to implement coal fired electrical networks because they are poor
      no joy howzabout a link or or something

      in California forest management policy re fire suppression/control is part of the problem but anybody can see that the extra high temperatures, high winds, are to blame as well – global warming or even climate emergency if you will

      glaciers melting, arctic and antarctic ice melting, greenland melting, lot’s of extinction type events.
      most recently birds falling dead out of the sky by the thousands,
      a market global decrease in insect populations,
      more frequent and more intense tropical storms etc etc etc etc

      so cuz California still has heavy oil fields that gives us here in AB social license to carry on and bear down on oil more oil all in for oil policies at the exclusion of all others ?

      at this point it really is about trying to transition to green energy in a intelligent fashion
      probably as quickly as possible
      the Kenney/UCP refusal to even address this is obtuse and bone headed

      didn’t finance minister say something about we can think about about diversifying when we balance the budget or some such nonsense ?

      this aphorism if you will, still applies to too many Albertans
      “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
      Upton Sinclair,

      1. She said it in Edmonton. Ask anyone who was there. It is kinda funny that the usual suspects didn’t report on it though, more on ulterior motives later. As to forest management and “global warming”, just like dealing with the pandemic, if there has been a change, a new normal will have to be developed. I’m pretty sure all of those smart people in California can figure out how to deal with fires, especially now they are aware of the problem. As to vote for your wallet, well I agree, statements from people should be scrutinized based on where their advantage might lie. For instants all of those Californian politicians blaming global warming for the fires instead of their poor practises. So how does one determine which statements to believe? You will have to address the arguments behind them. Which is why I highlight the Cali oil fields. If they truly believe in global warming is burning down their state they would be willing to make sacrifices.

        1. Forest management in the US is a Federal matter. The States only have an advisory role. Opposite in Canada. Human caused global warming has just put natural forest succession onto steroids.

          1. The spread of neighbourhoods into forest areas and the inability to do burns, because the neighbourhoods are right there, are the main culprits.

            I guess their building codes need abit of work.

            Are those federal responsibilities too?

  5. It took a while, but the smoke from the forest fires has now made its way to Edmonton also. I think it is a metaphor for the shift in attitudes about climate changes and perhaps about future political ones here . Alberta is not an island and as much as the initial reflex in the past here was to deny what was happening in the world and resist it, I think this will diminish in the future as it becomes clearer it is not just Ottawa or a few US politicians, but broader world opinion and reality that has shifted.

    I am not at all surprised about Mr. Kenney’s recent disappointing poll results, I had been anticipating that would happen soon. If you know anything about Mr. Kenney’s character, he is a bit of an opportunist. He arrived in Alberta politics after a long career in Ottawa, at a time when the conservative movement here was at a bit of a low point, disorganized with no compelling leader. He arrived at the right time, however good opportunities are transitory. I am not sure if he is as keen a student of Alberta Politics as some of us who have lived here a long time. Alberta may appear to the outside to be this conservative monolith, but for instance, did he know that no Alberta Premier has been re-elected since 2001? – and those were better times than now!

    I have long believed one of two things will happen to Mr. Kenney. First, he will take the escape hatch sometime before the next election – probably by going back into Federal politics. With Mr. O’Toole who Kenney supported as leader, that is more of a possibility than a if certain other candidate won. Second, he will go down fighting with the UCP ship. It is clear that the UCP is pretty much the Kenney party and I am not sure if anyone else there is capable of filling his shoes.

    I don’t think the fires in the US hurt Mr. Trump much, after all he didn’t win any of those western US states before anyways. Fortunately for him Nevada or Arizona, where he has a better chance are less forested. Of course his clueless and vindictive statements about forest management don’t help, but then competence and pleasantness have never been his strengths. It does further add to the pile of problems Trump has failed to adequately address, but there are so many already.

    A change in US government might cause Albertans to rally around our provincial government if we felt under siege, but I think that would only happen if people felt our provincial government had a competent response. Neither the war room or inquiry into environmental activities have really achieved anything so far.

    In some recent polls, Kenney actually seems to be a bit ahead of the UCP in popularity, so perhaps his strategy of keeping people like Mr. Shandro around to attract political blame is working to some degree. However, I think that is a transitory thing also. At some point, the blame will start to shift from the bungling Shandro, to the boss who seems to do nothing about him. Perhaps it already is.

  6. Kenney was not supported by 45% of us Albertans, who got out to vote last year.

    AB’s politics can change. A lot more progressive-green minded citizens in AB than Kenney-UCP want us to consider.

    Too bad we’re stuck with FPTP of course. e.g. Greens would probably have had
    AB seats for years now and would by now have pulled AB politics to significantly more progressive climate policies, as they did in Germany re solar for example, imho.

    e.g. Green candidate won 25% of vote in the heart of Calgary in 2012

    EXCERPT: ‘Conservative Joan Crockatt won the Calgary Centre byelection with 36.9 per cent of the vote.

    She was followed by Liberal Harvey Locke with 32.7 per cent and the Green Party’s Chris Turner with 25.6 per cent.’

  7. My dad had bound volumes of Pogo. Could the wise little bumpkin exist in the world today? Would his famous tact allow him to say: “I told you so…”

    The cartoon story is illustrated in frames, and if human intolerance were so portrayed it would need a minimum of four. Frame-one would show intolerance right off the bat, a given so familiar no set-up or back-story is required: so-called “identity politics”—but, really, hyper-partisanship and xenophobia: “us against them”.

    The remaining three frames show basically the same thing over and over but are needed to illustrate that the “us” will find a “them” no matter how many times “they” are incarcerated, deported or otherwise exterminated. Thus when the characters of one skin colour eliminate those of another skin colour in frame-one, it won’t be long, if intolerance is still irritated, until characters of one eye colour will single out those of another eye colour in frame-two, thence, when all the characters remaining in frame-three have the same skin and eye colour, another distinction will be fingered, say, hair colour.

    So why not stop at three frames? Hasn’t intolerance been amply illustrated and confirmed at this point? Narratologically the second frame results from the experiment of the first, but since the third frame replicates the phenomenon, isn’t that enough to to establish a trend from which valuable knowledge might be gleaned? Why bother with a fourth frame?

    Frame-four is required to show intolerance doesn’t learn from its own intolerance, doesn’t find a remedy for it and, in fact, only feeds it. Thus the fourth frame not only portrays intolerance of some feature hitherto unimportant, say, height or handedness or something else not quite so distinctive as skin colour, but also shows the characters don’t much learn from the initial (reactionary) experiment, don’t recognize the trend (of ignorance), and are (as “True Believers”) thence likely to continue, ad infinitum, the fourth frame merely illustrating that even absurdity (phrenology, for example) is soon exceeded.

    Only at this point does adding more frames become redundant. Nothing, it seems, will stop this wheel from breaking new ground, yet the ‘promised land’ of intolerance, like the rainbow’s pot of gold, is never reached—it seems to have the compelling elements of narrative (as if liturgy), an animating crisis and conflict, but then a never-ending series of resolutions (really, pointless plot-points) that yield no meaning and maddeningly keep ‘evaporating’ at each approach like a mirage. For example, capitalism’s intolerance of restraint, even when crises urgently recommend, and its praise of impossibly infinite growth within a finite world, exemplifies this kind of strange story line and repeated resort to intolerance whenever capitalism, in this instance, is challenged, with equally absurd prospect—a narrative with no end which, naturally, can have little meaning unless that be the simple pitch: we came and, by our customary intolerance, drove ourselves (at least) to extinction. Theoretically, such a story couldn’t have meaning to us if we weren’t around for the denouement.

    Clannishness, ‘Otherism’, tribalism and vendetta, some of the human traits associated with intolerance, we assume have been mundane as long as so-called “Wise Humans” have existed, and this supposed naturalness has probably misinformed us for at least that long; for example, a lot of climate change denial stems from belief that it’s natural, not man-made, harkening back to when all existence was thought to be animated by ubiquitous spirits inhabiting, rocks, trees, rivers, &c; conversely, plague has been historically blamed on other humans such that, in Medieval Europe when the natural, living agency of the Black Death wasn’t yet conceived, the small Jewish minority was accused of poisoning wells—that is, as if plague wasn’t natural. Intolerance resulted in any case, intolerance of people, of ideas and beliefs (When mobs ran out of Jews, they simply turned somebody else). Intolerance also amplifies within a group or tribe that convinces itself of ‘The Others’’ supposed malice toward it (here the four-frame illustration is most apparent). Stalin and Hitler knew the trick is to persuade subjects of the threat of a malicious enemy, of the necessity of strict, unified action or else be victimized while, at the same time, singling out allegedly intolerable spies, fifth-columns and traitors allegedly lurking within the fold by way of show trials and other tools of state oppression—selecting victims from amongst its own citizens.

    Reality is not necessarily so scholastically formulated, despite our historiological habit of narratizing just about anything that puzzles us. Stalin and Hitler might have imagined that the four-frame of intolerance was sustainable forever, but that was delusion easily seen from outside their horrific concept of human nature. Objectively, we know that Nazi or Soviet intolerance didn’t simply arrive ex-nihilo but, rather, resulted from the confluence of crises of the times, war, famine, pestilence, &c. But most are more familiar with these stories’ middles (genocide, slavery and death) and endings (quick defeat for Hitler, slower for Stalin); for many the larger story has important meaning (“Never Again”).

    Inside the wagon laager, wildfire smoke or cratered bitumen prices aren’t cast as part of a bigger picture: instead they’re supposed to be proof of the enemy’s tactics to defeat the redoubt’s self-righteous occupants. The only question is whether those inside the circled redoubt are in late-third-frame or early-fourth. When a viral pandemic is denied, one tends to pick the latter—but, starting from the first step off the cliff, does it really matter? (I’m guessing that’s where “The Rapture” comes in…?)

    On the outside it’s a whole different picture, one that proves we have to do something aside from personifying both natural and man-made as white hates or black hats. That only ever mattered in B-grade westerns where sufficient entertainment (a lot of shooting) can be sold to absolve the screenwriter of having to arrive at meaning—at least something more than the good guys always win.

    Perhaps a lesson in heraldry is in order: in all this smoke who can tell “friend” from “foe”?

  8. California is facing a mass migration and it has little to do with climate change, a good lesson for Albertans that one party rule is never a good idea. Newsom was at one time the mayor of San Francisco and we all know what kind of hole that once great city has become. Another person who comes from old oil money and now is a champion of the environment. Enough about California politics the state is about as poorly managed as their forests are and should serve as a cautionary tale on a number of fronts.

    By name calling and insisting on referring to anyone that questions the climate change solutions proposed by the billionaires you like, who really don’t care about the average person, as deniers you fall right into the trap set for you. Congratulations you are now no better than the cultists who follow Kenney as their saviour. Do you really think that people are going to go willingly and live under the extreme lock down conditions we have witnessed as a result of the covid hysteria? It has served as a good lesson about what life will be like under green new deal like proposals, limited mobility, destruction of small business, only certain connected large corporations allow to operate, and most of the population being declared non-essential. By dehumanizing anyone that questions your religion with terms like denier discussion and debate become impossible. We have been divided enough as a population perhaps it is time critically think who’s agenda you are pushing when you throw around the word denier.

  9. Now I am not an aristocrat or for that matter any kind of crat at all. Why, when I look for my relatives back further from my father? I have to poke through all sorts to even find any from here to kingdom come! Unfortunately, I surmise mine is an existence born from a short line of Pogos. I detect that line is shorter by the minute! So. Rather should I honour someone who can actually think, write and still exists? I have unearthed a song that will hopefully cheer us all, come what may! Spill that ink maestro! They deserve it! In fact they asked for it! For the Jasons!!111!! Let’s hear it?…..

  10. Kenney’s recent remarks on the state of global oil prices was very telling. He declared that the “real world” uses oil. Following this train of thought, one would think that the reality, where people were interested in owning and driving electric cars and renewable energy is a burgeoning economic sector, is some weird alternate universe that doesn’t really exist.

    At this point, I expect Kenney to spearhead initiatives, like a special tax on electric cars and solar panels, as a means of preventing Alberta from straying away from the O&G path.

  11. I like the fact you wrote your column from Victoria’s perspective. One point many ignore is the fact that GHG emissions are on the rise in BC. In 2018 the latest year that the numbers are available for B.C. emitted 67.924 million tonnes of GHG’s. In 2008 when B.C’s carbon tax was first implemented B.C. emitted 63.776 million tonnes of GHG’s. That went down to a low of 59.892 million tonnes in 2010, I would say due to the economic recession of 2008-2009 and emissions have been rising ever since, up 13.4% since 2010! Now I have no doubt someone will point out on a per capita basis emissions have decreased in B.C., certainly true but the fact remains as a province B.C.’s emissions are increasing. So while everybody enjoys attacking Alberta and its pro energy policies it is interesting to look at how other provinces are doing. One other thought how will B.C.’s desire to export LNG affect these numbers?

    1. Hope your harvest has gone well Farmer B: You ought to know BC has developed a large fracked gas field near their Peace country. As is typical of such developments, it leaks huge amounts of methane. The theory is it will be liquefied, which creates even more GHGs and then exported and burned in the “peeing end of the pool.” Industry is still the big driver of GHG emissions.

      In the mean time things continue to go badly on the environmental front with 68% of the essential components of the biosphere disappearing since 1970.

      Back in the real world: to quote the Houston Chronicle, “The cost to build new utility-scale solar farms fell 50 percent and wind farms fell 27 percent between 2013 and 2018, according to the Department of Energy.”

      But not to worry, Canada’ Conservative elite is in fine form. The Guardian reports that in her memoir Babs lets rather too much slip.
      Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words:

        1. I take umbrage with your characterization of the winsome/lose-some Babs having blown anyone to get where she is! “Blow by blow”, why I thought I might faint when I read it, but instead emailed [NAME OF DEFAMED PERSON DELETED – ED.] for tasting notes. No reply.

      1. Capital cost from power generation would have to drop to zero to be the same price as forms of energy which are periodic, with the sun or the wind, because you need uninterrupted power.

        Perhaps mirrors in space will work.

        And of course the ramp up environmental damage to provide twice the capacity has to be taken into account.

      2. “Industry is still the big driver of GHG emissions.”

        Industry’s that produce commodities are not what is causing these green house gasses. It is the will to consumption said commodities.

        Because you export your commodity production to other jurisdictions means it looks like your CO2 per person looks good. However, that is not the case.

        People with a shread of self respect understand that youre not being “low carbon”, youre just trying to look good.

        And Im looking at you metro populations.

        1. Would “youre not being “low carbon”, youre just trying to look good” include the UCP’s announcement of the repeal of the basic laws of physics by blowing the TIER fund on carbon capture and storage projects? TransAlta already did the test on one of their coal plants (BTW,to their credit, the Stelmach government allocated two billion to the project, and they only used half of it to show CCS is a fool’s errand).

          1. Generally I would agree, carbon capture is a fools errand meant to placate global warming fanatics. Personally, painting all roofs white probably has a better chance of success.

            That said, figuring out this stuff requires large scale experiments. Co2 capture aspects could be cost effective for certain applications.

            A good example would be Germanys huge investment in gasification during world war 2 in effort to keep their panzers moving. Chemical engineers have used this information to dream up and build all sorts of different things.

  12. Always great to read your columns, David, and good point here. Environment might be an issue on which this crowd are vulnerable. In our Calgary neighbourhood, there are “Defend Alberta Parks” signs out on lawns all over the place, including on lawns that had Jason Copping and Len Webber signs for the 2019 elections.

    For Dave: well Ralph was re-elected in 2004, wasn’t he ?
    For Sam: Green party has done OK in some federal elections in AB, at least in some ridings, and especially in the By-election you mention above (that was federal). Their performance in provincial elections has been dismal for some some time (below 1 %) and I could not find an election since 2000 where they came in above 5 %, which is often the threshold for getting seats in a proportional system (eg. MMP, or straight proportional). Green party provincially has often been a complete shambles.

  13. The relationship between wildfires & climate change age is complex & somewhat statistical. You can’t point to any one specific fire & say it was caused by climate change — it might have been deliberately set, or negligently by some careless human, or naturally by lightning. But you can say that the frequency & severity of wildfires is trending upward because of climate change.

    I’m a cardiac rehab nurse by profession, and so I draw the analogy with smoking (and other known risk factors) & heart disease. Nobody is completely free of risk for heart disease, and nobody is at 100% risk. Many smokers live to a ripe old age, or die younger of lung cancer, COPD or some other unrelated cause, without ever getting cardiovascular disease. Many others who have never smoked still get heart disease. But if you take 10,000 smokers, and 10,000 lifelong non-smokers, and compare their rates of heart disease, you will find 2-3 times as much heart disease in the smoking group than the non-smoking group, keeping everything else equal. The same principles apply to other risk factors like blood pressure & cholesterol.

    Similarly, there were wildfires before the climate started changing, and in fact they happened long before the emergence of humanity as a species. But now they’re getting worse: more frequent, more stubborn, and more destructive. It’s that upward trend, not any one specific fire, that can be explained by climate change.

    As for the counter-argument by denialists that the climate has always changed, and that it’s a natural process not affected by human activity, that’s deceptive: past natural climate changes happened over many tens of thousands of years, giving habitats and the ecosystem time to adapt, while now we are seeing the climate changing far more rapidly, within one individual’s lifetime — virtually instantaneously in geological time scales. That speed of change is far faster than could be explained by any natural process other than some catastrophic event, like the impact that killed off the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. Since no comets or asteroids have struck the Earth since the beginning of recorded history (except in the movies … Armageddon & Deep Impact come to mind), the only explanation for this very rapid climate change has to be human activity.

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