harper must do more than talk up green agenda

On January 23rd, George W. Bush said “climate change.” The fact the former oilman said these words made news around the world.

On January 23rd, George W. Bush said “climate change.”

The fact the former oilman said these words made news around the world.

In the twilight of his second mandate, Bush has pledged support to wind and solar power, to alternative fuels and to increased fuel-economy standards.

He also said the US has to end its dependence on foreign oil.

He’s said all this before (in 2006, he pledged to make dependence on Middle Eastern oil “a thing of the past”).

To date, he’s done nothing about it.

Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address came five days after CBC Radio One news reported the US is pushing Ottawa to expand Alberta’s oilsands production by 500 per cent.

Apparently, the US wants this done quickly.

The increased oilsands production scheme was cobbled together in Houston, Texas, in January 2006, far from prying eyes.

The story was broken by CBC’s French-language network Radio-Canada, which had to pin down the meeting through an access-to-information request.

According to Radio-Canada, American officials and business leaders want Canada to export five million barrels of oil a day to the US.

Currently Canada exports one million barrels.

If Alberta hit the target demanded by US officials, Canada would supply 25 per cent of US demand and would provide half its imported oil.

And Bush would meet his target of lessening dependence on foreign oil. Sort of.

If you think about it for a minute, America pledging to lessen its dependence on foreign oil by getting it from Canada is a compliment, or deeply troubling, depending on your perspective.

To accomplish the increased production, Canada would have to “streamline” its environmental regulations for new energy projects.

Asked about this, the newly green Prime Minister’s Office said that would never happen.

We’re skeptical.

On Thursday, federal Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn said Canada was considering plunking a nuclear power plant in Fort McMurray.

According to Reuters, Energy Alberta, a private firm, is pitching the nuclear plant idea. It pledged to have a full-blown proposal on the table in a couple of months.

Currently, the oil industry uses natural gas to separate the oil from the sand. The gas is used to generate steam, which is pumped into the ground to make the tar-like bitumen flow easier.

Many consider this a waste of valuable gas, which has other uses. It also creates greenhouse gases.

Nuclear doesn’t produce planet-warming gases. But it does create nuclear waste, which poses other problems.

“Listen, you believe in reducing greenhouse gases or you don’t,” said Lunn. “You believe in climate change, and if you do, you should be taking a hard look (at nuclear energy for the oilsands).”

Like Bush, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are new to the global-warming ball.

That has a lot to do with Canadian geography. The Conservative’s power base remains tied to neocon Alberta and the oilpatch.

Alberta’s Reform Party morphed into the Canadian Alliance Party, which staged a hostile takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party, creating the Conservative Party.

Today, wealthy Albertans hold sway in Ottawa.

And, with their dependence on the oil and gas industry, they’re not disposed to thinking too much about global warming.

But these days, the public is growing worried about the weather.

That puts the Conservatives at odds with most Canadians. And the rest of the world.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“I think when the Canadian government was elected, the present one, their intention was to kick the whole climate-change issue into the long grass,” Elliot Morley, Britain’s special envoy on global warming, said in an exclusive with the Globe and Mail.

“And I think they underestimated Canadian public opinion, the strength of the opposition parties, who kind of united around this particular issue, and I think they’ve now come to the conclusion that they’ve really got to do something.”

The Conservatives have been forced to action. Like Bush, Stephen Harper is starting to move, grudgingly.

So far, he has started mentioning the environment. And he has reinstated some Liberal programs he abandoned shortly after being elected a year ago.

But it bears mentioning that he’s brought nothing new to the table.

And, so far, Harper is sticking to his assertion Canada cannot meet its Kyoto targets.

Again, that’s Alberta talking.

But there’s mounting evidence that pandering to Big Oil could be ruinous.

On Friday, a report by 2,500 scientists will be released by the UN.

It predicts droughts, rising sea levels, torrential rainstorms — those who have seen it suggest it is profoundly disturbing.

It will ramp up public concern, firming it up as an election issue.

Acting to protect the environment does not come easily to Harper.

So, with an election possible this year, he’ll position himself as an environmentalist by doing as little as possible, and talking it up, while working to destroy Liberal leader Stephane Dion’s credibility on the issue.

That’s the political strategy. But there’s more at stake than Canada’s next majority.

Canada must demonstrate tangible, dramatic action to curb its greenhouse gas emissions.

If it doesn’t assume a leadership role, Kyoto could fall apart, warned Morley.

“There is a real danger of failure,” he said. “It will be a complete disaster for the global economy and the global environment if that was the case, and that’s why there has to be a step change in progress from the major powers.” (RM)