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Friday, December 18, 2009

hej enhver! lade os gennembanke alberta!

As an Alberta, there are very few things more patronizing than being lectured by an Ontario politician. At the COP15 Conference in Copenhagen this week, our province's less than perfect environmental record was the target of Ontario's Environment Minister John Gerretsen:

"Our biggest fear is that the feds may try to use the good work that's been done by [Ontario and Quebec] as part of their overall goal, and thereby allow the tar sands development to proceed without hesitation."
I have seen the steel mills in Hamilton and am familiar with the work of Edward Burtynsky. As Debra Yedlin pointed out, Ontario and Quebec have the highest number of registered drivers. This means that they significantly contribute to the transportation-related activities which account for 25% of Canada's emissions (the oil sands make up 5% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions). Alberta's environmental record in developing the oil sands is nothing to brag about, but it is also a convenient distraction to the current problems facing elected officials in Ontario.

I am a proud Albertan and I know we can do better. The tailing ponds and the contamination that they have caused are embarrassing. According to the Pembina Institute, current tailings ponds waste water is equal to 220,000 Olympic swimming pools. By 2020, it is expected that Alberta's oil sands will create enough tailings ponds to fill 400,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Even in the midst of an economic recession, Alberta is the financial envy of Confederation. If we are serious about keeping our position as leaders in energy development, we need to turn our province's biggest public relations weakness, the oil sands, into our greatest strength. Instead of playing the same games as those who would demonize our province as the bad child of Confederation, we should be putting Ontario and Quebec to shame. If we are serious about creating a new economy, our actions will be more powerful than any government-bought expensive half-page newspaper advertisements (see the advertisement to your left that was in yesterday's Vancouver Sun).

We can do better and we know it.

"The market system and its incentives are an accepted part of the good society; this is not in doubt. But there is no divine right of free-enterprise, or free choice, for the producing firm. Or for its consumers. The largest community interest must be protected, as also the future climate and well-being, and there must be concern as to depleatable resources. Since automobiles must be built, have fuel and be driven, and other consumer goods and services must similarly be supplied and utilized, a compromise between the current financial and long-term public interests in essential and inevitable. As a broad rule, however, this compromise must favor the larger community interest and the interest of those to come. That is because the business and political voice and money are allied with the current economic power - with the firms that produce the goods and services, their lobbies and captive or susceptible politicians. The community and the longer public future draw on less specific support."
Government is not going to solve this problem. Innovation will. Our natural wealth affords us the opportunity and ability to define the cutting edge. Alberta has longed been dubbed as 'Texas of the North', if this is the case where is our T. Boone Pickens? Instead of just relying on our current resources (and the boom-bust cycle) to define who we are and what we do in the eyes of the world, we need to create an innovative economy that will develop real new and efficient renewable energy and technology for the world here in Alberta. Government is not going to solve this problem, but it can play a positive role by helping create an environment where innovative ideas can flourish, not be crushed under the massive funding of short-term public relations campaigns like Carbon Capture and Storage.

As Albertans, we have the opportunity to decide the future of our province - do we continue on the same path or do we take some bolder action with the financial wealth we have inherited?

(Apologies to her Majesty for the rough translation)


Anonymous said...

No plan.

Anonymous said...

Government won't be the solution, but they could start by ending subsidies to the oil companies, charging fair royalties, and offering incentives to green technology.

Good post, Dave.

I think we should all chip in and buy cabinet a copy of Green Oil Book for xmas

Anonymous said...

I love Alberta. Are there a million things we should be doing? Absolutely. But as Carrie in SATC thinks of New York, I think of Alberta. And ain't nobody allowed to talk smack about my boyfriend.
Can we as a group and government do better with the oil/tar sands (choose your rhetoric)? Absolutely. But nothing galvinizes even the most critical of Albertans and Saskatchewanians than provinces who use equalization payments to bail out the automobile industry criticizing our emissions.

As a side note: Texas of the North? Even Houston just elected an openly gay mayor.

Gauntlet said...

I'm fan of Galbraith, and of yours. But every time you suggest that CCS is nothing more than a PR stunt I'm going to call bullshit, Dave.

It's not adequate. It's not a silver bullet. And it is being held up to be more than it is. But that does not mean that the technology is not beneficial, particularly for places like China that are still strongly dependent on coal for electricity production.

And there is at least as much moral blameworthiness in pretending it is nothing as in pretending it is everything.

Nat said...

Excellent comment Gauntlet. Alberta has needed to develop technology to export to the world since, oh I don't know, the dawn of time. CCS is an opportunity to do so, or the province can let it be developed elsewhere and then buy it later.
I actually think Stelmach's letter was pretty good. But thank god he didn't go to Copenhagen. I wish Bronco had put Miller in his place, why didn't he?

Dave, what do you think of Ian Capstick yesterday on tv?

daveberta said...

Gauntlet - I do believe that throwing $2 billion at CCS was an easy PR move. I see little reason why the Government needed to invest the $2 billion of public funds into a project that many of the larger energy companies were investing in anyway. Why did Premier Stelmach dedicate $500 million to Shell, one of the largest and most profitable energy companies in the world?

If CCS is viable, market demand will draw the significant private sector investment needed to make it happen. The original announcement had the GOA investing $2B in CCS and an additional $2B into the GreenTrip program which would invest in public transit infrastructure in Alberta. The GreenTrip was cancelled, the CCS investment remains.

The $2 Billion to CCS is a handout and I see little convincing evidence to suggest that it is needed.

daveberta said...

Nat: Some people may see CCS as a short-term fix, but let's export the long-term technology that will actually reduce CO2 emissions, not hide them.

Mandi said...

Gauntlet & Nat, I respectfully but wholeheartedly disagree. CCS is indeed a PR stunt, and little more than a stop-gap solution to enable us to continue down our present fossil-fuel consuming path without actually addressing the real issue.

I'm with Dave... "we need to create an innovative economy that will develop real new and efficient renewable energy and technology for the world here in Alberta."

Denny said...

"Ontario and Quebec have the highest number of registered drivers. This means that they significantly contribute to the transportation-related activities which account for 25% of Canada's emissions (the oil sands make up 5% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions)."

Oh my, they have the highest number of registered drivers? What a shock considering they're the two most populous provinces. The pollution caused on a per-capita basis for transportation would be a lot more meaningful than a statement about who has the highest number of registered drivers.

Nat said...

Yeah, it's total PR spin. That Dr. David Keith at the U of Calgary is all about PR stunts.
Alberta electricity production is over 75% coal. Wind and Solar is around 2%. That's a massive gap.
Renner has said the price of carbon is going to go up and I have no idea why they don't do it sooner rather than later. However, you have to remember, that it's still free to emit carbon in all but 2 provinces (BC and AB). Cost to emit carbon in Ontario/Que = FREE.

Anonymous said...

What does Carbon Capture have to do with cleaning up the oil sands?

Nat said...

The oil sands themselves, nothing. CCS doesn't work on small emission sources. However, if you plan on doing any upgrading of bituminous sand, then CCS is very useful for upgrading.

One option Alberta could look at for reducing GHG is getting out of upgrading. Politically disasterous, but would lower your GHG.

But, as Ian Capstick knows, the realities of the oil sands doesn't really matter; it's all how you spin it.

Anonymous said...

What I don't understand is this: How does slamming carbon capture push innovation?

Innovation will mean taking a bunch of creative ideas (almost all of which will likely be funded by those that benefit ie. various levels of government, if you consider the benefit to be the environment) and nurturing one or two of those ideas into a profitable form. 95% of the innovative options will not be viable, but that doesn't render them useless. They're simply part of the process of vetting a better solution. I hate to use John Kennedy in this, but he challenged a nation some time ago to put forward the best and brightest minds to get the US to the moon. We need the same kind of commitment from our current leaders. And best of all, the solution doesn't have to come from Alberta alone. Rather than get into a tit for tat predictable trade war of words, why don't we invite Ontario and Quebec into the process of finding a solution? Last I heard, those provinces could use the jobs and we could use some help finding the solution. Shaming the eastern provinces does nothing to solve the issue, because the issue is not the eastern provinces. The issue is carbon and water and how we extract oil from an unusual location. Wouldn't it be fantastic for our premier to stand up, acknowledge that our current practices aren't the ones we should be using, and challenge (with funding) anyone that wants to help come up with a viable alternative. Isn't that why we have universities? We don't need T Boone Pickens. We need a bunch of people in lab coats with a grant to investigate an idea.

You'll also notice I haven't even mentioned big-oil in this rant. The burden is not theirs alone either. We cash their cheques from royalties. We breath the air. And we drive the cars. They'll operate within whatever system we establish, but as we've seen with traditional oil, it's the smaller companies that drive innovation and creativity. And THEN they're gobbled up by big oil, because they've gone bankrupt from R&D. Not coincidentally, there's no small oil companies in the oil sands.

Boris said...

David Suzuki seems to have lost it. Anyone see him on Solomon? I hope he knows what he's doing. People like Daveberta and at times Pembina do a good job of sticking to the facts about the oil sands.
I wonder if his comments are going to damage the Pembina/Suzuki Foundation's recent study.

Anonymous said...

How can any free-thinking person say that carbon capture and storage is a "short term public relations campaign?"

What a complete head-in-the-sand comment.

Anonymous said...

Its not carbon capture and storage. Its oxygen capture and storage.

Every 44 tonnes of CO2 has 32 tonnes of oxygen and only 12 tonnes of carbon.

Tax dollars capture and storage is an even more apt term.

Anonymous said...

The air is a "public good". What's at all wrong with the public kickstarting carbon capture and storage? I fully support it and am a Wildrose member. The leader and the party is wrong about this.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Dave. The time for PR stunts is past. We need action.

Anonymous said...

So your tax dollars pay to pump oxygen and a bit of carbon underground. Then the oil companies use this to extract more oil.

The oil extracted utterly negates the carbon sequestered from a net carbon sequestration view.

So now you've just paid the oil company to extract more oil for their benefit with no benefit to the environment.

CCS is a scam.

Educate yourself.

Fight it.

Anonymous said...

And the oil will generate revenue for the government which will more than offset the cost of carbon capture and storage - with the benefit of reducing our carbon footprint.

Educate yourself.

Support it.

Anonymous said...


Dazzer said...

If Alberta wanted to take a risk on "out there" technology, what about starting a fund for a "Plan B" type of activity in case clean energy and conservation doesn't make it as we all suspect? What about geoengineering of inventive processes to counter CO2 already in the atmosphere? Some have suggested pumping volcano-like sulpher compounds to block the sun temporarily until we can get our act together. Sounds totally stupid I admit, but it would be something to make our mark on the whole problem, instead of carbon capture which may be a smaller bandaid and is a somewhat similar hair- brained scheme. If you don't like that then maybe some simple energy conservation projects to start? Like measuring CO2 emissions from cars as part of a standard universal testing process to take out the worst offenders? Better than the hair-brained Cash for Clunkers, puts the drivers on notice that gross polluters will be taken off the road and would have better and wider environmental effects. How about requiring energy audits of buildings in the province? We already have building inspectors, it wouldn't be that hard to do and you could use private firms, creating jobs. You could have some kind of code for Co2 problems, the public given a report on how to clean up their act, and some subsidies for renos for problematic GHG violations. Penalties or clean-up orders required for the worst violators. New buildings not allowed up with violations being built into the project. Yes, new bureaucracy I admit, but no choice I guess.

Anonymous said...

T. Boone Pickens is a rich oilman lobbying for subsidies under the guise of saving the world. Make no mistake, his actions are not altruistic and we don't need someone like him.

Holly Stick said...

"Government is not going to solve this problem. Innovation will."

Actually this statement is false. Private enterprise will not innovate unless government forces them to do so by establishing regulations and enforcing them. Read George Monbiot's column about how far behing the US is technologically.

That is what stupid rightwinger deregulation has brought us to.

We must get our government to do its job which is to regulate the oil corporations, not to have our MLAs sit on their lazy overpaid asses letting oil companies 'voluntarily report' how much pollution they have produced.

daveberta said...

Holly Stick: My point was that I do not believe that government is going to come up with the next big idea that will improve how we produce better energy. I am not opposed to increased environmental standards.