Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 12, 2007
Leave a habitable earth for our children
A Chinese proverb says that a journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step. The Alberta government is proposing to take one tiny baby step in the battle against global warming by setting mandatory targets for the province's greenhouse gas producers.
It wants to set "intensity-based targets" for reducing greenhouse gases - an approach that could see greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions actually increase even if polluters meet their targets. This is a long way from the decisive action that is needed if Alberta - which produces 40 per cent of Canada's GHG - is to make the drastic reductions agreed to under the Kyoto Accord. But it is at least a first step in the Alberta government's 1,000-year journey towards meaningful action.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says the government is only being realistic by expecting total emissions to increase during the current boom. "Unrealistic targets" will only drive industry away, it claims.
Better we grab all the profits we can now and let our grandchildren fry in the hot wasteland that is left when the oil sands are fully mined and global warming has reached the nth degree.
Better also to ignore the Pembina Institute report that argued it is possible for the tar sands to be "carbon neutral" by 2020 for a cost of US$2.50 a barrel. That sounds like a lot, but not when compared with the $1.75 a barrel it already costs to remove lead from gasoline.
The nay-sayers are quick to note that Canada produces only two per cent of the world's GHG. Anything we do to reduce emissions will have little effect on global warming. In fact, we are not acting alone, but in consort with dozens of other nations. Moreover, it is not unreasonable to expect that the United States will commit itself to significant action against global warming within the next couple of years.
The better question is why does Canada so often have to be one of the last nations to take environmental issues seriously. And why, within Canada, does Alberta so regularly have to bring up the rear?
In 1979, a pair of Alberta government-sponsored reports saw the long-term viability of Alberta developing solar, wind and biomass renewable energy. The government of the day airily brushed those reports aside, saying it didn't want to create competition for the petroleum industry.
That was 28 years ago. If Alberta had begun to develop renewable energy sources at that time, by today we would be a world leader in that industry. Instead, 28 years later, the government is still finding excuses to do as little as possible. Some things never change.
But they could change. There is now a public will to take decisive action to help prevent global warming. People may not want to change their lifestyles, but they do want governments to firmly regulate industry. Governments have not yet formed the political will to do so, seemingly afraid of the potential reaction from the petroleum industry.
Catholic social teaching is clear about humanity's role as steward of the environment. In a 1997 talk, Pope John Paul II said the exploitation of natural resources threatens our planet. "The environment as 'resource' risks threatening the environment as 'home,'" the pope said.
Present generations have a responsibility to the future. The natural environment is a common good that must not be mined exclusively for private gain. "Economic activity (must) respect the environment to a greater degree," stated the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (n. 470). Governments have a special responsibility because market forces will not do the job.
Failure to act decisively to reduce GHG emissions in Alberta is not acceptable. We have a God-given responsibility to leave a habitable environment for those who come after us.
- Glen Argan
Letter to the Editor - 03/05/07
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