Canada tries to tar-sandbag Obama on climate

globemail.jpgThe Global and Mail reported last week:

Less than 24 hours after the election of Barack Obama, Canadian cabinet ministers begin calling for a pact that would keep emissions down while protecting Alberta’s oil sands projects

This is Canada’s version of “Two tens for a five?”

Seriously, Canada, just a couple of days into his transition, and already you’re trying to play our Prez by getting him to high five (fist bump?) the “biggest global warming crime ever seen”? Back off, dudes!

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is proposing to strike a joint climate-change pact with president-elect Barack Obama, an initiative that would seek to protect Alberta’s oil sands projects from potentially tough new U.S. climate-change rules by offering a secure North American energy supply….

A Canada-U.S. climate-change pact could tie those issues together by adopting common standards and mechanisms such as a market-based emission trading system, while acknowledging the important contribution the oil sands make to North American supplies and the need to adopt technologies that would reduce oil sands emissions.

What the Obama team has acknowledged to date is the important contribution the tar sands make to global warming.

In June, Obama said, “each and every year, we become more, not less, addicted to oil — a 19th-century fossil fuel that is dirty, dwindling, and dangerously expensive” and senior energy advisor Jason Grumet then told reporters it’s an “open question” whether Canadian tar sands fits in with Obama’s clean energy strategy:

“If it turns out that those technologies don’t advance . . . and the only way to produce those resources would be at a significant penalty to climate change, then we don’t believe that those resources are going to be part of the long-term, are going to play a growing role in the long-term future.”

You need huge amounts of energy to “extract and upgrade the bitumen to synthetic crude,” most of which is currently produced by burning natural gas. The primary technology being discussed to reduce emissions is our old friend and budget-buster nuclear power (see “Nuclear power, Part 2: The price is not right“). In this strange vision of the future, nuclear-powered environmentally friendly tar sands could be flowing our way as early as 2016. In the unlikely event this ever happens, let’s call the new product “oilent green.” It will certainly provide even more huge water demands on a region whose potable water is already being wiped out by the tar Sands development (see “The tar sands — Canada’s version of liquid coal“).

As an aside, the Canadians now seem to like the term “oil sands” rather than the traditional term “tar sands.” No doubt it makes it seem like, oh, I don’t know, maybe up through the sand came a bubblin crude, oil that is, black gold, Texas tea, Athabasca euphemism (see ClimateProgress commenter, Jim Eager, here).

I can’t imagine that the Obama administration wants to enable Harper’s do-nothing climate policy:

… Canada’s approach does not include a firm cap on emissions, but instead uses an “intensity target” which regulates emissions on the basis of production levels.

Hmm. That sounds familiar. Harper’s plan to “apply intensity-based targets until 2020, allowing emissions to continue to rise until then” — is a direct copy of the Bush administration strategy (see here for an explanation of what intensity-based targets are and why they are meaningless).

Good thinking, Harper. He apparently believes Obama was the guy who ran on a platform of “four more years.” I guess that, to Canadians, American presidential candidates all look the same.

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7 Responses to Canada tries to tar-sandbag Obama on climate

  1. Modesty says:

    Anyone suffering from election withdrawal might want to rekindle the excitement via Dennis Greenia’s Tar Sands explorations.

  2. Richard says:

    Alberta’s Tar Sands are a national embarrassment for many Canadians.* Our Prime Minister is our prime minister simply because he is very popular in Alberta, and he takes great pains to defend big oil even as he does everything he can to lock Canada into a fossil fuel economy for the foreseeable future.

    My country embarrasses me, as I wrote about here:

    As long as the Alberta Tar Sands are operational, Canada won’t meet any GHG targets. Development there is expected to triple over the next 12 years. And since so much of the dirty, heavy oil is refined in the US, it’s a big problem for Americans, too.

    What is funny about Harper is that the media seems intent on giving him a free ride. I laughed when I saw this preposterous news story last week, and yet the Canadian media seemed to play it straight, seemed to think that maybe some sort of North American climate agreement might be possible.

    As if.

    With the recent elections in Australia and the US, Canada has no allies when it comes to climate change. I hope that Climate Progress — and the other readers and writers here — keep up the pressure.

    I’ve mentioned before that I’m starting a web site ( to join the fight against climate change, and we’re going to sell bumper stickers and T-shirts, and hopefully take on a few campaigns to get the message out. The first will be to slow development at the Tar Sands. We won’t pull any punches.

    But the thing that drives me crazy is that Harper is pitting the various regions of Canada against each other, and its working. He’s all about Alberta oil, and he’s convinced many that the country’s economic engine is the tar sands. Thousands of people in Atlantic Canada, where I live, travel to the Alberta to work for six weeks (a three thousand mile commute), and then take six weeks off back here. And so many people here are grateful for the opportunity! They think that’s a good thing.

    Yet in the meantime, I live in a tiny province — an island but for a slender isthmus — surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. We have less than one million people, and more than 5,000 miles of coastline. It’s ALWAYS blustery around here. Why aren’t we the onshore and offshore wind capital of North America?

    Few here seems to get it. Interestingly, in the last federal budget, Harper did throw some energy money our way — to study carbon capture and sequestration.

    We need to get rid of him. Keep up the pressure!


    *One quibble… Canadians are thrilled by Barack Obama’s election. Don’t forget that 64 percent of us didn’t vote for Harper, and don’t like the direction that our country is taking. But our first-past-the-post election results have given us a government that many revile.

  3. paulm says:

    I am disappointed and embarrassed by the outcome of our Canadian elections.

    Harper moved these forward because of the possibility of an Obama win, which would have made it much more difficult for him after.

    Not only is Obama going to do something about AGW, but he is going to enlighten many about the seriousness of the situation.

    Tar sands are dead, they wont be going anywhere now – kudos Obama.

    Canadian economy is now going to tank, thanks to our visionary Harper.

  4. Milan says:

    The situation is a complicated one, particularly given tensions between climate change mitigation objectives and aspirations for energy security. A further complication arises because of overlapping jurisdictions. US states, Canadian provinces, and regional initiatives are all working on climate change mitigation. To some extent, this federal government-to-government bid seems designed to supplant that. Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon has expressed the hope that a Canada-US deal could “provide uniformity and supplant the patchwork of plans that are being implemented in various states and provinces.” While uniformly good policies would certainly be a step forward, there is the distinct danger that more innovative and committed jurisdictions will be forced down towards mediocrity, and that time will be wasted as reorganization occurs.

    In the end, the oil sands are both a huge financial temptation and a hugely sensitive regional issue. How they end up being treated will have a lot to do with the extent to which national governments are willing to consider overall societal welfare, as opposed to the more volatile interests of specific groups, as well as the degree to which either government is willing to bear political risks in order to achieve their existing mitigation targets. I don’t think it can be realistically argued that current oil sands policy is anything other than selfish and reckless. That is on account of both the near-term ecological damage arising from oil sands extraction and refining, as well as the long-term climatic threats associated with using such dirty fuels.

  5. Paul Malouf says:

    Included in the Harper-Stelmach tar sands propaganda push was a November 3 interview of former Alberta cabinet minister Gary Mar on CTV’s Mike Duffy politics show. Gary Mar is supposed to take up his new post as Alberta’s Representative in Washington, D.C. on December 3.

    Reading from “Yo Harper” conservative talking points, Duffy & Mar got all excited about the potential threat of Obama protectionism creeping into US-Canada trade. The show sounded more like a hour long tar sands “Drill Baby Drill” info-commercial.

    The Alberta press release read: “As Alberta’s representative, he will work to persuade US political and business decision-makers that Alberta is a secure, reliable and growing supplier of energy, is environmentally responsible in developing its world-scale energy resources, remains business friendly, and supports strengthened Canada-US agricultural ties.”

    …What a joke!

    Premier Ed Stelmach is quoted in the press release: “As an MLA and member of Cabinet, Gary Mar has proven his ability to represent, defend and promote Alberta’s interests. Those skills will serve all Albertans well in Washington.”

    And on November 6, Premier Ed Stelmach was also quoted in the Globe & Mail that Alberta wants a seat at the table during any talks aimed at reaching a climate change deal between the federal government and the United States.

    …Yeah right, a little presumptuous?

    Hopefully, president-elect Obama will refuse that false argument. Moreover, President-elect Obama will reject Premier Ed Stelmach statement that says Gary Mar is serving Albertans real interests.

    …What about climate change? …What about Albertans real interest in the environment? …What about Albertans real interest in water quality?

    As a Canadian, I hope the US reduces its reliance on Alberta’s “dirty oil”. Tougher climate-change action is needed asap! The fictitious Alberta “energy security” argument must not override the real threat of climate change and environmental degradation.

    It appears that the Ed Stelmach & Gary Mar vision will challenge the threat of climate change with collective failure.

    I look forward to the Obama-Biden New Energy for America goal of “Reduce our Greenhouse Gas Emissions 80% by 2050”.

  6. Dennis says:

    Back in America we tend to think of Canada as a rather progressive place (except for those who bitch about socialism). So it is rather shocking to know that you have something of a backwards looking government where environmental issues are concerned. Your problem seems to be that the Left is split among 3 parties in the Federal parliament: Liberals, NDP and PQ (4 if you include the Greens, who won no seats in last month’s elections). The Canadian Left needs to stop running against each other and run united against The Harper Conservatives.

    I was up in Ontario this summer and was so pleased at the smiles that came across Canadians’ faces when the topic of Obama came up. Maybe the embarasment of an American president who is better on the environment that your own PM will do the trick!

  7. Jake Schmidt says:

    As you point out this is a poor “opening bid” from Canada to President-elect Obama as he both seeks to repower America with clean energy and restore America’s leadership in international global warming (as I discussed here: