Much Ado About…Alberta?

Posted: June 25, 2012 by aydencumming in Topical

Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen, Durban: International climate change conferences and negotiations attract the world’s attention. Hundreds of thousands of news releases, blogs and tweets report the on-goings of delegates and protestors alike. We hope that world leaders will put aside their differences and genuinely try to reach an agreement about how to protect our environment. But no one holds their breath.

And me? I find myself captivated by politics a smaller scale. In the sprng, for example, I spent weeks following the campaign for the 2012 general election in Alberta, Canada. Of course, I paid attention because I’m from neighboring British Columbia and despite living abroad, I try to stay up-to-date with news from home. But the truth is, I couldn’t have stopped paying attention even if I had wanted to. I was terrifyingly captivated. It was like watching a train wreck about to happen. I wanted to close my eyes but I couldn’t. Why? Because the Wildrose Party was leading in the pollsost of the campaign; scarily, this party denies human-induced climate change.

The fiscally and socially conservative Wildrose party maintains that corruption and politicization are evident in scientific publications regarding climate change; therefore, they argue that climate change science remains inconclusive. During an online leaders’ debate, the Wildrose Party leader, Danielle Smith, declined to answer this direct question: “Danielle, are you seriously denying climate change?” However, she did say that the “science isn’t settled” and that her party would “continue to monitor the debate”. Party officials confirmed that this stance reflected official party policy.

That any provincial party would have such a stance is unsettling because Canada’s federal governing system dictates that exclusive control of non-renewable energy sources rests with the province, not the national government. For Alberta it’s particularly disturbing as the province has tar sands. Alberta’s tar sands extraction doubled from 1995 to 2004; by 2030 it is expected to produce 5 million or more barrels of oil a day. Tar sands are the single largest and fastest growing contributor of Canadian greenhouse gas emissions, producing more than double the emissions of all the cars and trucks in Canada. How terrifying would it be if environmental regulation of the tar sands was in the hands of a political party that didn’t believe in human-induced climate change?

In the end, the Progressive Conservative party won a majority government in the provincial election, and all my stress seemed to be for nothing. Except that it did get me thinking. The tar sands aren’t subject to international agreements. Those international treaties are ratified by countries, not individual provinces. And thanks to the tar sands, Alberta’s increasing carbon dioxide emissions will prevent Canada from meeting global greenhouse gas reduction targets. So, while international treaties are exciting and full of potential, maybe it’s time we all started following politics on a smaller scale.


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