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A “thuggish petro-state”?
Dec 11, 2009

Canada is being branded by the international community as the big bad wolf of climate change, who huffs and puffs and blows the climate-change house down. The Harper government is receiving a great deal of heat from other nations at the UN climate-change conference in Copenhagan as a laggard in setting targets for greenhouse-gas reductions. 

Essentially, Canada is accused of doing little to relieve the woes of a world in the throes of climate turmoil. Even the United States, the former bad boy of climate change, is being praised by conference attendees for proposing to regulate greenhouse gases blamed for global warming as a health hazard. Through such a measure, U.S. negotiators can avoid going to Congress anytime they need approval to set emissions targets.

Above all, Canada is taking a hit in the international press. A New York Times  article called us  a “dirty oil” producer that “abandoned its commitments under the 1997 Kyoto climate-change treaty, and for failing to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in any appreciable way.

“By ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, in 2002, Canada’s previous Liberal government pledged that it would cut greenhouse-gas emissions by six per cent from 1990 levels over the period 2008 to 2012. The present Conservative government ... has, however, disowned that policy, substituting instead a commitment to reduce emissions by 20 per cent from 2006 levels by 2020 — a modest target that has been widely panned by Canadian environmentalists.”

Perhaps the most scathing criticism has come from Guardian columnist George Monbiot, who said Canada should no longer be perceived as “The world’s peacekeepers, the friendly nation, a liberal counterweight to the harsher pieties of its southern neighbours, decent civilized, fair, well governed,” but “a corrupt petro-state.”

“Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalization of the country, and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by Bush.”

He makes claims that would be quite disconcerting, if they weren’t so outlandish. 

Monbiot said the Canadian government is held hostage by the “tar barons” of Alberta, and that “this thuggish petro-state is the greatest obstacle to a deal in Copenhagen.”

Another Guardian columnist, Colin Horgan, wrote that to “explain Canada’s dismal record on climate change is to understand the toxic grip that oil holds over its government.” He explained the Canadian government’s dilemma as rooted in its transfer payments to have-not provinces — the money has to come from somewhere and Alberta’s tar sands are a major source. 

Monbiot said the nation is “now to climate what Japan is to whaling,” according to Monbiot. According to the article, Monbiot had formerly believed the U.S. had done the most to sabotage a new climate-change agreement, but he was wrong. “The real villain is Canada. Unless we can stop it, the harm done by Canada in December 2009 will outweigh a century of good works ...

“After giving the finger to Kyoto, Canada then set out to prevent the other nations striking a successor agreement. At the end of 2007, it singlehandedly blocked a Commonwealth resolution to support binding targets for industrialized nations. After the climate talks in Poland in December 2008, it won the Fossil of the Year award, presented by environmental groups to the country that has done most to disrupt the talks. The climate change performance index, which assesses the efforts of the world’s 60 richest countries, was published in the same month. Saudi Arabia came 60th. Canada came 59th.”

Every Canadian knows that the tar sands isn’t the most environmentally responsible fossil fuel source and that the extensive site needs a good clean-up. Still, what Monbiot and Horgan fail to mention is that the tar sands only contribute five per cent of Canada’s greenhouse-gas emissions, so it’s a stretch to claim Canada is a “petro-state” of environmental villains.  The reality is that technology is evolving to make the oil sands a cleaner source of fossil fuel, although more strides have to be made in this direction. 

Cities — whether in North America or Europe — are far greater villains, as they emit the vast majority of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

And Europeans should take note that Canada exports a significant proportion of its oil to the U.S. What responsibility should the Americans shoulder in the Canadian greenhouse gas debate?

By the way, how cold is it now in Europe in relation to Canada? Canadians live in a country with months of sub-zero temperatures, which makes us high energy consumers by necessity. 

While there are climate-change deniers in Canada, the majority of the nation’s citizens accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that something extremely bad is afoot — the only matter really being debated is the depth of the problem.  A recent Canadian Press/Decima poll showed 64 per cent of respondents said the rich nations have a greater obligation than poor nations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Canadians and their governments do care about climate change. Yet, the federal government has been slow in adopting a leadership role in promoting alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar and hydro-electric power. In the latter case, Canada, including Manitoba, has massive hydro-electric potential. 

And the government must set greenhouse-gas reduction goals that favour the environment — charting the same old course is not an option.

For huffing and puffing Europeans, blaming Canada is a good way to prepare for inoperable targets ultimately being set at the conference based on each nation’s unique political circumstances, rather than adopting the extreme goals needed to truly benefit the environment. Other nations aim to make Canada the scapegoat for their own inabilities to address the climate-change issue in a meaningful manner. 

By the way, do they also know that Canada emits less than two per cent of the world’s  greenhouse gases?