kyoto debate is leaving reality behind

Kyoto 6

Stephen Harper, leader of the Canadian Alliance, says global warming is only a theoretical problem dreamed up by scientists and environmentalists bent on having fun.

Economists debating whether Canada should ratify the Kyoto accord start with a « business as usual » scenario, even though there will never be business as usual again.

Business analysts, especially those at Peters & Co. Ltd. in Calgary, warn that companies will flee Canada if the accord is ratified.

William Thorsell, CEO of the Royal Ontario Museum, throws up his hands, saying global warming is happening anyway, so why bother cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

And the Prime Minister insists that if Canada is to ratify Kyoto it should get credit for exporting clean energy in the form of natural gas and electricity to the United States — even though his logic means Canada should also get credit for exporting bicycles, shoes, housing insulation, canoes, hand saws, solar panels, and everything else that provides an alternative to driving a car, using a motor of some sort, heating or cooling a house, and drawing electricity from fossil fuel plants.

In short, the Kyoto debate has become phantasmagoric. It’s leaving reality behind.

The biggest factor missing in the debate is the cost of global warming. It’s nonsensical to talk about business as usual, when the costs of global warming keep piling up, changing everything day by day.

Ask drought-plagued farmers on the prairies how much they would appreciate a do-nothing approach. Or smog-ridden Torontonians, who experienced the worst summer yet as record high temperatures sent coal-fired electricity generating stations into overtime to keep up with demands for air conditioning.

Calculations about how much Kyoto is going to cost, without adding up what the cost will be without Kyoto, are meaningless.

The problem is that Kyoto is a very small step. In itself, it won’t slow global warming by much. However, it has big implications. Without ratification, there is no basis for industrialized nations to demand restraint from developing nations. For the big steps to happen, there will have to be big-time, worldwide cooperation.

China, for instance, is industrializing at a tremendous rate, using coal as the primary fuel. The implications for the world down that particular road are horrendous. There’s no way that the West will be able to say, « You must change, but we won’t. »

To a large degree, the existing debate about the impact of Kyoto assumes an inability to adapt. Yet we have the example of what industry (not including the petroleum and electricity businesses) has accomplished in Canada. Since 1990, its greenhouse gas emissions have increased by only 1 per cent.

No one suggests that restraining emissions has made industry uncompetitive. On the contrary, cost savings, resulting mostly from energy efficiency, have made made it more competitive.

By comparison, petroleum and electricity emissions increased by a whopping of 36 per cent (18.7 per cent for petroleum and 17.3 for electricity) since 1990.

It’s devious for the Prime Minister to want credit under Kyoto for shipping natural gas to the United States, because in Canada emissions related to producing, processing and transmitting natural gas and oil south of the border increased 131 per cent from 1990 to 2000. In the name of helping the environment, he’s trying to wipe out the stigma of harming it. The petroleum industry obviously has a lot to learn about efficiency from industry in general.

In Ontario, the province could reach half of it’s Kyoto target simply by switching its coal-fired electricity generating stations to natural gas. That would help Alberta’s petroleum industry, and go some way toward softening the impact of Kyoto in the West. And if Ottawa helped pay the cost, it could also take credit for reducing smog and improving the health of people in southern Ontario.

It’s this kind of specific proposal that we should be debating, instead of playing with smoke and mirrors.

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