Monday, November 23, 2015

NaBloBoMo -- Climate and Politics

Yesterday the Provincial Government announced its plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In the past governments in this province have been less than active on this point.  In a world where people have, for years, been calling for reduced TOTAL emissions I have heard more than one Alberta government talk about reducing emissions on a per barrel rate.  Which means that total emissions would in fact RISE due to the ongoing and (at the time) rapid growth in the oil industry.

Yesterday's plan is much more aimed at total emissions.

Among the pillars:
  • eliminating coal-fired power generation by 2030.  very ambitious given that a high percentage of power in this province is coal-fired
  • replacing 2/3 of that coal-fired generation with renewable sources
  • a carbon-tax of $20 per tonne in 2017, rising quickly to $30 per tonne.
  • revenue from the carbon tax to be reinvested in anti-pollution measures and to be used to offset the load the carbon tax will place on lower income Albertans
I am still trying to decide the merits of this plan.

Certainly it is better than past "plans".  But there are concerns.

IT is one thing to talk about replacing coal-fired generation.  It is another thing (and often a very expensive thing) to actually do it.  And that may (likely will) lead to higher power costs.

Same with the carbon-tax.  THis plan has it applied to everything--home heating, gasoline/diesel.  Which means it will raise the costs of everything.  NOt just the stuff you buy directly but everything.  Because all those businesses whose costs go up will pass the costs on.

And the reality is that lower income folk not only have less "unassigned" money to spend but they are also more vulnerable to these increases for other reasons.  If you have lower income you can less afford to redo your house to improve the insulation or add solar panels or..... You are more likely to drive an older vehicle. You are less likely to be able to replace your furnace/hot water heater/major appliances with more efficient ones.  And so you pay the cost of using more carbon....

But then again.  I have long believed that if we are honest we have to admit we have not actually been paying the full cost of energy.  Because how do you assign a financial cost to the ecological costs of burning emissions, or of a changed water flow, or of nuclear waste.  There is no such thing as "clean" energy -- just a different form of "dirty".  Maybe a carbon-tax is one way of doing it?

And maybe the best way to encourage people to change is to give them a financial incentive?

There is another piece to this.

One of the handicaps the Alberta oil industry has is that we are landlocked.  Our producers need the goodwill of neighbouring jurisdictions to get their product to market, preferably through pipelines (which are most definitely safer and more efficient than rail or truck).  But because Alberta has a history of preferring economic growth over acting on climate change there is a sense that this gets in the way of that goodwill.  One of the  hopes is that making strong action on the file will not only make a difference in the health of the climate and the health of Albertans but will also help create that goodwill for future discussions on pipeline projects -- because Alberta will still have an economy largely dependent on the oil industry for some time to come, even if this round of diversification talk bears more fruit than ever other round over the last 30+ years.  This is why it was deemed necessary this be announced before the upcoming international climate change summit.

THere have been some of the expected naysayers.  There is a (common) complaint that to make these sorts of changes and announcements when the economy is in decline is "kicking a man when he's down".  On the other hand, experience has shown that there is a distinct lack of drive to do it when things are booming and growth is exploding either.  And again, sometimes we need a driver to push us to change.  Those are more present when times are tougher.

The interesting thing is that the industry appears to be on-side (yes that link IS from an oil company presser, but I can't find a link to the article I read this afternoon).  Not sure what that means....

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