(originally posted at www.greenparty.ca)
We will not – and let me be clear about this – aggravate an already weakening economy in the name of environmental progress." - Jim Prentice, Federal Minister of Environment.
Stephen Harper and the Conservatives believe that the environment must always take a back-seat to the economy. In their reality, the "economy" and the "environment" are separate files, each to be managed as best as possible, but clearly distinct from another. And as distinct files, there must be priorities. And the environment isn’t it.
Outside of the spin-inhabited world of the Cons exists the real world. In the real world, the economy and the environment have always been linked to one another, and will continue to be; to say that they are flip sides of the same coin does not really do justice to the reality. The interconnections are so entwined that they are manifest within each other; the environment IS the economy, and the economy IS the environment.
A lack of understanding of this reality by Conservatives and Liberals has led to the situation where many of our elected officials are reluctant to act on the climate crisis which is engulfing the planet. Where there is the perception that jobs might be at stake, actions to curb the degradation of our natural environment must perforce be put on hold.
Often, the argument to do so is about jobs, and money. "It will cost too much money to do anything about the environment, and we’ll lose jobs in the process. This will have a negative impact on our sputtering economy."
And as such, nothing gets down. Oh sure, some things might be seen to get done. And maybe a lot of money is being spent to create the illusion of action, so that when the time comes, the Conservatives can go to the voters and toot their own horn, saying, "Look at us. Even in these difficult economic times, we’re doing our part to address climate change. We’ve invested X number of millions of dollars..."
Sure, it’s greenwashing, but it will be compelling.
Especially when the fill in the "X".
The "X" is likely to be in the billions of dollars. We’ve seen some signs of this already in the January budget, when about $700 million federal dollars were allocated for "environmental" initiatives. Add in provincial contributions, and you’re likely to see an "X" of about $1.5 billion. Maybe it’s more. Jeffrey Simpson, in an article in today’s Globe and Mail (which prompted me to write this blog), uses a figure of $2 billion, which also includes provincial funding.
And Conservative funding slash campaign announcements will not be hesitant to include the provincial funding in their press releases. Always announce the highest number when it comes to funding announcements, even if it’s overly-manipulated or not-quite true. It’s the one which will stick in people’s minds.
So, what will Canada get for its $1.5 billion investment in "environmental" initiatives? Ideally, we should be getting quite a lot for this sort of investment.
Unfortunately, the lion’s share of this "investment" is going to the Alberta Tar Sands industry, to facilitate the development of carbon capture and storage technology. As much as $1.2 billion or more (more if you use Simpson’s numbers).
And what will be achieved? According to Simpson, who uses the government’s own "best case scenario", an overall reduction of 2.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide which otherwise would have been emitted. Of course, since this will likely fall within the "intensity-based targets" being designed for tar sands emissions, we’ll still see an overall increase of carbon dioxide being emitted from the tar sands...just not as much as we would see without these projects.
Well, that must be good value for our money, no? I mean, if the Conservatives are willing to invest $1.2 billion in the Tar Sands, and if it prevents the emission of 2.1 million tonnes of CO2, that must be a good investment, no?
Well...no. First, it’s a preventative measure, which is necessary, but remember that we’ll still see an overall rise in emissions occur here.
Second, the scenario is "best case". Carbon capture and storage technology is still pie-in-the-sky. It’s untested, and it’s quite unclear what the end results in emissions reductions will be. Could be more, sure...but it could be a lot less. Remember: announce the highest numbers, because they are the ones which stick in people’s minds. No one really knows what the end result in emissions prevention will be.
Third, is $1.2 billion really a lot of money (or $2 billion, if you use Simpson’s numbers?). Well, sure, it’s nothing to scoff at. But how much money did our governments recently chip in to bail out the auto industry? I seem to think that maybe it was as much as $6 billion. And how much is allocated to our armed forces in a given year? Something like $10 billion. And what is the budget deficit which our government is going to have to seek to do something about in 2011, through funding cuts and asset sales? Something like $60 billion annually for 2009-10, so about $120 billion.
So maybe $1.2 billion (or even $2 billion) isn’t all that much after all.
And finally...(and this is the one which I was not aware of, so thanks go to Mr. Simpson for pointing this out...and I’ll use Simpson’s numbers from here on in, because he, a nationally-published journalist, likely considered this to a far greater extent than I, an off-the-cuff complainer, have)...and finally, what about value for money?
Well, Simpson estimates that for every tonne of carbon dioxide which will be prevented from being permitted, it will cost $761 dollars. How does this measure up to the costs of other ways of preventing CO2 emissions?
It’s not even on the same planet, that’s how. To illustrate, based on research which took me less than 60-seconds to acquire, I just visited Wikipedia’s Carbon Off-Set article, and discovered that in 2006, about $5.5 billion in carbon offsets were purchased, representing 1.6 billion tons in CO2 reductions. Convert that to metric, and it works out to about 1.45 tonnes (if my online converter is to be trusted). Divide the cost of $5.5 billion by the 1.45 tonne reduction, and you end up with a price of about $3.79 per tonne.
Three dollars and seventy-nine cents per tonne of C02 reductions, versus the Conservative’s "investment" in reducing CO2 at the cost of $761 dollars per tonne. In a best-case scenario.
Admittedly, my comparison here is flawed. What do you want for a 6-second investment of time? But keep in mind that I have decided to walk or bike to work each day, or take transit in lousy weather, instead of driving the car. The cost to me has actually been less than zero...I’m making money by not driving the car AND reducing my CO2 emissions to the tune of about one and a half tonnes a year. So whether my math is bang-on or not, or whether you believe in off-sets, the point I’m making is that it’s freaking absurd to think that there’s good value for the money in paying $761 per tonne for CO2 reductions.
Is it any wonder that the Conservatives believe that trying to fix the environment will cost too much money and be detrimental to our economy? Maybe, when it comes to a "fix", they’re just barking up the wrong tree.
Using public funds to invest in carbon capture and storage technology is clearly the "wrong tree". Maybe they could save a few bucks and reduce CO2 in our atmosphere by simply planting a few trees.
And this from the Party which continues to poll the highest as the "best financial managers" of any Canadian political party.
Frankly, this whole situation is absurd.
Read Jeffrey Simpson’s article again. It was an eye-opener, for sure. I liked it so much, I’ll link it here again for you.
Updated (October 22, 2009):
It was brought to my attention that the Globe & Mail, on Thursday October 22, 2009, provided a Correction Notice to the Jeffrey Simpson article, from which this post referenced considerably. The Globe & Mail’s correction provides a significantly reduced estimate for the cost per tonne of CO2 reductions through the to-be-funded carbon capture and storage projects. Today, the G&M estimates the cost to be around $30 per tonne, and not the $761 originally estimated by Simpson in his article, and which I have used as a benchmark in my blogpost.
This significantly reduced cost estimate appears to alter some of the opinion I have formed with regards to carbon capture and storage: I am least, in a very small way, somewhat mollified that the $2.1 billion "investment" in this untried technology may not be the absolute complete and utter waste of resources which I believed to be the case the other day.
What has not changed, however, is my opinion that the pursuit of carbon capture and storage technology as a sensible way of reducing greenhouse gases in an effort to avert the oncoming climate crisis which we find ourselves in, is, to be blunt, wrongheaded, mis-guided, and utterly at odds with the responsible management of our tax dollars. This scheme is being perpetuated on the Canadian people because there may be some benefit in using stored carbon to extract oil from the tar sands, and because there will be a benefit for the Conservatives at the polls come election time when they will use the $2.1 billion environmental "investment" in this technology in an attempt to deceive the Canadian public that they are actually committed to taking action to avert climate change.
So, no, it may not be the "complete and utter waste" I believed it to be earlier. I’ll downgrade it to being one of those "marginal at-best" contributions to fighting global warming, but one which certainly costs us all way too much and which diverts resources away from programs and initiatives which might actually do some good for the natural environment.
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