What the Canadian media has the fossil fuel industry wrong – Canadian Dimension


Photo by Matt Jiggins/Flickr

Last week, the Liberal government took the first steps toward updating the emissions cap it promised in the last election for the oil and gas sector. In response, the Globe and Mail– along with many other major Canadian media outlets – ran a slew of articles culminating in an editorial in which the newspaper’s board argued that a climate policy aimed at reducing total oil and gas production in Canada “is not an option”.

This media campaign is a political intervention with a more subtle objective than it appears at first sight: media like the World are not trying to divert the Liberal government from its strategy. Instead, they feign opposition to deliberately shape the boundaries of political debate, ruling out any threat to the continued expansion of the oil and gas industry.

Before delving into exactly how this intervention to narrow our political horizons works, it is worth clarifying how much the WorldThe argument is.

First, its writers say that if Canada doesn’t produce oil, someone else will. Insert vague claims about human rights and environmental regulations here.

This argument is naive at best and deliberately manipulative at worst. “Economics 101” tells us that supply has a direct impact on demand. As supply increases, prices fall and global demand rises to a new equilibrium, thereby increasing total global emissions. A US court recently struck down a series of federal oil and gas leases on precisely that premise. As I have written before, applying this tribunal’s logic to Canada’s oil and gas expansion plans adds Billions tons of excess carbon dioxide due to supply-driven demand.

But even that doesn’t fully capture the political and economic reality of consumption: we don’t live in a world of ruthlessly efficient markets, rational actors, and transparency. Big business leverages its power – through advertising, political influence and other legal and extra-legal strategies – to shape demand. The fossil fuel industry has been consciously shaping demand for its products for a century; he worked with the state to bolster automotive infrastructure, convinced the public that plastic was recyclable and, of course, seeded the climate denial movement through massive disinformation campaigns. Continuing to empower the industry rather than forcibly dismantling it allows it to continue to do all it can to increase demand for its products, which the Earth cannot afford.

Second, total global oil production must start falling if we are to have any hope of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5. Immediately. This is not a radical statement; it is an established science. Every IPCC model includes (many would say unrealistically) high levels of carbon removal, but still requires a big drop in oil production. The United Nations Environment Program publishes an annual report quantifying the gap between global fossil fuel production plans and fossil fuel production levels consistent with various warming goals. The conclusion is quite clear on two points: first, that production “must begin to decline immediately and sharply.” And second, that governments like “Canada’s plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.”

This poses the third problem with the WorldThe argument of: he pays lip service to the idea that world oil consumption could eventually decline (apparently after 2050) but implicitly asserts that Canada should be the very last oil producing country. This is the same argument that all fossil fuel companies and fossil fuel producing countries make when trying to reconcile the continued expansion of oil and gas with the urgent need to rapidly reduce production.

The problem for the World, and for the Liberal government, is that Canada is uniquely placed to make this argument: we have some of the most expensive and dirtiest oil and gas in the world. The World actually notes this, but brushes it off by suggesting that capital investments (especially in risky bets like carbon capture technologies) will allow fossil fuel companies to significantly improve their emissions intensity.

A study published last year in Nature examined exactly this question: the authors used the cost and intensity of emissions to determine which fossil fuels could still be extracted (and burned) in a compatible global scenario at 1.5°C. They found that up to 98% of Canada’s petroleum resources and 89% of Canada’s fossil gas resources are inextractable precisely because Canada has “more carbon-intensive, higher-cost resource bases.” Unlike the WorldBased on the company’s claim that carbon removal will enable the continued growth of the Canadian petroleum industry, the study authors found that allowing significantly higher levels of carbon removal reduced their “non-extractable estimates” by only 2-3%.

The smart thing World what this intervention accomplishes is that it forces us to make these arguments: we are playing on the playing field that the fossil fuel industry has drawn.

There’s a much less complicated way to look at the situation: on the one hand, Canada’s “Scope 3” emissions—fossil fuel emissions mined here and burned elsewhere—exceed all of Canada’s domestic emissions. Canada combined. On the other hand, Canada is one of the countries most responsible for climate change on a current and historical per capita basis.

We have no right to continue burning the world for our own benefit. The oil companies and the Liberal government have even less right to do so their own benefit.

But thanks to the World and other mainstream media, we don’t seem to be having that conversation. The success of their strategy is why opposition to projects like the Trans Mountain expansion and Coastal GasLink focuses so heavily on the pipelines themselves, but leaves the upstream oil and gas expansion largely uncriticized. . It’s also why the Liberal government’s flagship climate policy being crafted in 2022 is a sectoral emissions cap coupled with massive subsidies for carbon capture – a policy that carefully avoids any risk of real production cuts. .

Towards the end of the play, the World The editors allow a peek behind the editorial veil: “Ottawa must turn a deaf ear to the more radical voices on both sides of this debate and make a reasonable, fact-based decision on how much emissions reduction the industry can reasonably be asked to perform. ”

Here the World maneuvers the controlled decline of the Canadian oil industry out of the realm of possibility, relegating it to the naïve and “radical” world of young climate activists, freeing up space for “realists” to talk about what is actually achievable . Unfortunately for most of us, as the UN Secretary-General recently said, the “really dangerous radicals are the countries that increase fossil fuel production.” Countries like Canada.

The oil and gas industry has controlled Canadian discourse for too long: we owe it to the rest of the world to put supply back on the table. Coastal GasLink wouldn’t be a project without plans for a massive expansion of fracked gas production in British Columbia’s “sacrifice zone”. The Trans Mountain expansion would not be necessary without an intention to massively expand the oil sands. The science is clear: none of these upstream projects are compatible with a viable future. We cannot allow the Worldthe Liberal government or the oil and gas industry to control the limits of Canada’s climate discourse.

Nick Gottlieb is a climate writer based in Squamish, BC and the author of the Sacred Headwaters newsletter. Her work focuses on understanding the power dynamics behind today’s interconnected crises and how they can be overcome. Follow him on Twitter @ngottliebphoto.


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