By Roger Annis, A Socialist In Canada, Sept 20, 2017
A commentary published in the Toronto Star on September 19 (full text below) reports that the awareness by Canadians of global warming and associated climate change is growing fast. The writer is a career editor in mainstream media in Alberta, specifically the Calgary Herald daily. Gillian Steward writes that “awareness of the dangers of climate change is accelerating among Canadians”.
And further, “Even in Alberta, Canada’s biggest oil producer, more people would like to see demand for oil declining (38 per cent) in 10 years than would like to see it increasing (28 per cent).”
Of note in Steward’s account is that unlike greenwashing politicians who criticize or oppose specific oil and tar sands pipelines solely or largely in the name of the dangers of oil spills, growing numbers of Canadians oppose the pipelines primarily due to broad concerns over global warming caused by continuing high levels of carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases.
Steward describes her personal experience in spending time in the wildfire regions of British Columbia this past summer.
My substantive article on the wildfires which was published on August 15 has been updated to include the latest figures on the extent of the fires. The total area burned in British Columbia this year has smashed the previous record of area burned, dating from 1958. This at a time when, compared to 1958, far more resources are available to detect and fight fires and take prevention or mitigation measures. Since wildfire records in BC began in 1950, four of the top-ten years of wildfires have taken place in the last eight years.
I have also provided updated information in my article of this year’s wildfires in the United States. The U.S. toll in 2017, including Alaska, is close to the record year of 2015 and may yet surpass it due to continuing dry conditions in many areas. Wildfires in all of the U.S. this year have burned 3.4 million hectares of forest and grassland; in BC, the figure is 1.2 million hectares.
My article includes a weblink to a commentary from Montana in which several professors in the natural sciences there argue the case that global warming is causing increased wildfires.
Naomi Klein published a very lengthy article on the BC wildfires in The Intercept on Sept 9. It is titled Season of Smoke: In a summer of wildfires and hurricanes, my son asks why is everything going wrong?’. It recounts her observations and harrowing personal experiences with wildfires while vacationing with family this past summer in BC. There are many perceptive insights.
The three points in the article in which she discusses the ‘systemic’ issues revealed by the fires are cited here below. The language is her usual guarded language stopping short of implicating by name the capitalist economic system and its relentless expansion imperative for the global warming emergency:
… We should all do what the Secwepmc [First Nation] did [warning how wildfires increased the dangers of oil and gas pipelines] — treat the disaster as a wake-up call about the need to build a safer society, fast. Our political and economic systems, however, are not built that way; indeed, they are built to actively override that kind of survival response…
In almost every corner of the Pacific Northwest this August, when we gazed up at the sky, we didn’t see any of that expanse. We just saw ourselves, more detritus of our own broken system. In the blanket of smoke, we had a ceiling, not a sky — and to me, it felt like a suffocating lid placed over possibility itself…
Here is the conclusion to the article:
… I can barely keep track of the nonstop convulsions, and it’s my job to do so. I do know this: Our collective house is on fire, with every alarm going off simultaneously, clanging desperately for our attention. Will we keep stumbling and wheezing through the low light, acting as if the emergency is not already upon us? Or will the warnings be enough to force many more of us to listen? To respond like the Secwepemc, who, in a cloud of smoke, are nonetheless putting their bodies on the line to stop an oil pipeline from being built on their fire-scarred land?
Those are the questions still hanging in the air at the end of this summer of smoke.
* * *
There is much irony in the fact that a former Calgary Herald editor, not representatives of the Alberta government, would be drawing attention to the changing views of Albertans on fossil fuels.
Until only a few years ago, the Herald and the rest of its media chain (Southam-become-Canwest-become Postmedia) was a regular voice of climate change denial. Today, Postmedia remains a leading advocate of continued fossil fuel extraction and burning. Since May 2015, Alberta has a New Democratic Party government. To the dismay of many Canadians, including members of the NDP, the government of Premier Rachel Notley immediately assumed the role of leading voice and advocate on behalf of Canada’s fossil fuel industry and the country’s fossil fuel-soaked ruling class.
Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have teamed up to try and push through a planned tripling of the capacity of Kinder Morgan Inc’s Trans Mountain Pipeline. That pipeline transports tar sands bitumen nearly 1,000 kilometers from Alberta to the port of Vancouver for export through BC and Washington state coastal waters to markets abroad.
Notley and Trudeau are working on behalf of a doomed industry. Only last week, TransCanada Pipelines suspended its application before the National Energy Board to build a 4,000-kilometer ‘Energy East’ pipeline to transport Alberta tar sands bitumen to the port of Saint John, New Brunswick on the Atlantic Ocean for export. The economics of such large-scale fossil fuel projects (this one forecast to cost more than $10 billion!) are becoming less and less sustainable. But will a doomed industry take the rest of the world down with it in the form of runaway climate change?
We await anxiously the day when Earth science and human solidarity determine the shape of human society and its energy needs, not the vagaries of capitalist economics. If we don’t get there soon, the future looks very troubling.
The good news is that Canadians are becoming increasingly aware of the choices we face. There’s little doubt that most of us will choose life and Mother Earth over what the likes of Trudeau and Notley will deliver.
Communication just received:
‘This is the spaceship Enterprise to planet Earth. We are seeing three catastrophic hurricanes within one month striking the Caribbean islands and southern United States. Mexico has been rocked by two earthquakes within two weeks in September. Wildfires are burning across North America, at record levels in some places. Flooding in Asia has killed thousands and displaced tens of thousands. The polar caps are melting and disintegrating. Are you in need of assistance down there? We have an advanced machine that can suck up all the carbon emissions that your capitalist, expansionist system has been spewing out for the past 200 years. But you must agree to stop spewing before we will agree to act. We have lots of other peoples on other planets to help out if you can’t be bothered to take responsibility for your actions. Over.’
Even in Alberta, views on oil are changing
Catastrophic weather events have shifted the views on burning greenhouse gases and politicians will need to respond
The hard realities of climate change seemed to be everywhere this summer.
In Calgary, smoke hung in the air and burned our eyes as ash fell on our cars from forest fires to the west and the south.
On a drive to the Okanagan, for almost 500 km smoke drifted close to the car or high above in mountain forests. The sun a mere bright blotch in a murky sky.
When I was in Kelowna, a forest just across Okanagan Lake burst into flames.
In B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, people were burned out of their homes or forced to evacuate and wait for the winds and firefighters to decide their fate.
And of course, it was just over a year ago that the monster fire in Fort McMurray devastated the city and turned residents’ lives into a long nightmare.
In the Caribbean and southern United States, killer hurricanes and floods were much, much worse than the 2013 flood in Calgary. But we know how long it takes to clean up, how many houses are deemed worthless, and the cost to the public purse for evacuation centres and reconstruction of roads, bridges, schools and other public facilities.
So it is not surprising a recent survey undertaken by Abacus Data shows the awareness of the dangers of climate change is accelerating among Canadians. And along with that alarm is recognition that the demand for fossil fuels must be substantially reduced if we are to curb the carbon emissions that fuel climate change.
A majority (59 per cent) of Canadians agree that they are recently more worried about climate change and that is influencing their view of how we should use oil. People in B.C. and Quebec are most alarmed. Ontario comes in at 56 per cent.
Even in Alberta, Canada’s biggest oil producer, more people would like to see demand for oil declining (38 per cent) in 10 years than would like to see it increasing (28 per cent). Looking out 30 years, 48 per cent would prefer to see oil demand in decline, compared to 20 per cent who would like to see it increasing.
The results also show how quickly Canadians are changing their views about the use of oil given the impact of carbon emissions on climate change.
Feelings about the construction of new pipelines to deliver Canadian oil to new markets have shifted dramatically in just three years. Negative feelings have not grown (21 per cent), but positive feelings (44 per cent) have dropped, while more people take a neutral stance (36 per cent).
On the question of demand for oil 10 years from now, equal numbers believe demand for oil will be rising (31 per cent) as believe it will be falling (32 per cent). But this is a striking 15-point increase in the number who believe demand will be falling, compared to results just last April.
So what effect will these shifting views having on Canadians’ support for various oil pipeline projects?
The survey reveals anxiety about pipelines is a function of two types of concern: 27 per cent are worried about the risk of spills, but for more people (37 per cent) it has to do with a desire to see a shift away from fossil fuels.
But yet, according to the survey, Canadians remain broadly inclined to believe Canada should continue to harness our petroleum resources and to build pipeline capacity if needed, even while ramping up investments and policies that will see the country shift toward more reliance on renewable forms of energy.
This is very much in line with the transition strategy of Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who both promote pipeline expansion while at the same time introducing policies designed to curb carbon emissions and encourage renewable energy.
But given how quickly Canadians’ attitudes are shifting, the transition phase may have to be much shorter than politicians first thought.
Right now, most Canadians see oil pipelines as a benefit to the economy. But will they still think that in two years? Three years? After another summer of fires and floods?
Gillian Steward is a Calgary writer and former managing editor of the Calgary Herald. Her column appears in the Toronto Star every other week.