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Are Business Interests Giving Bad Advice to the Canadian Government on Climate Change Strategy?

In 1988, the Government of Canada, under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, created the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE).

In laymen's' terms, its duty is to advise Ottawa on ways of developing this country economically that won't destroy our environment or the hopes of future generations.

Just this month, NRTEE published a largely credible report on global warming , entitled "Degrees of Change" in the magazine, Canadian Geographic. It describes it as "The first comprehensive illustration of expected climate impacts published for Canada."

It lists several consequences, "some positive, most negative" which are expected across the country this century, "as climate change brings increasing temperatures and changing moisture levels."

Well, so far, so good. Many of the impacts documented in the report have been foreseen by most climate scientists for some time. 

Most reasonable people might also find understandable, I think, the report's prediction that certain recreational pursuits, such as golf, might even benefit from a warming world.

But then, incredibly, the NRTEE adds, and these words lifted off the page for me, another example of a positive impact; 

"[There will be] greater access to northern oil, gas and mineral resources."

"….greater access to oil, gas and mineral resources…..??"

Now just a moment! Could it be that this distinguished agency, presumably schooled in the climate sciences, is not aware that oil and gas resources are creating the climate crisis we are all facing now? 

The International Panel on Climate Change, long recognized as the ultimate authority on the topic, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, said the following in its Fourth Assessment Report in 2007:

"The increases in global atmospheric CO2 since the industrial revolution are mainly due to CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels, gas flaring and cement production." 

Carbon dioxide, of course, is the main greenhouse gas fuelling global warming.

For years now, it has been widely accepted by climate scientists everywhere that man-made emissions from the burning of oil and gas resources have been a leading contributor to our current crisis.

In and of themselves, minerals do not produce greenhouse gasses. But massive new mineral mines, especially in remote places like the Arctic, will be incredibly indulgent in the use and consumption of even more fossil fuels. And for what purpose? So we humans can adorn our fingers with more diamonds and our necks with more gold?

While there is no doubt NRTEE has to deal with "competing interests" in its deliberations, this does nothing less than fly in the face of modern, accepted and conventional wisdom and cannot be allowed to stand! 

It is simply wrong-headed and stupid; Surely this is just another "out" Prime Minister Harper will latch onto and use as an excuse to continue in his dishonourable role as climate-denier to the world. 

So just who are the people who make up NRTEE?

Several have strong business connections and political ties to the federal government. Could it be that their "pro-business" desire to make money is trumping their will to curb the disastrous consequences of global warming?

Before turning to academia (he now teaches at the University of Calgary), NRTEE's Chair, Robert Page, worked for the Calgary-based TransAlta Corporation. It describes itself as the largest, publicly-traded generator and marketer of electricity and renewable energy," in the country, with revenues into the billions. 

According to the corporation's website, TransAlta places heavy emphasis on the development of alternative, renewable energy sources. While it already operates plants which run on gas and coal, it also runs several others on wind and hydro. 

But if that Corporation is as committed to renewable energy as it claims, Mr. Page does not seem to have carried that commitment with him now that he heads the Round Table! 

There is no mention in Degrees of Change of the importance of replacing conventional energy with alternative or sustainable sources, for example! None!

What his group does do is paint an unfortunate picture of fossil fuel resources, laid bare by melting ice, snow and permafrost, all driven by global warming, as an "opportunity" to carry on that very same dangerous cycle of global warming, indefinitely, into the future.

Reading between the lines, NRTEE members certainly seem more determined that we all "get use to" climate change than attack its root-causes.

According to NRTEE President and CEO David McLaughlin, “Adapt and prosper will be increasingly central to Canadian governments, communities, and businesses as these effects become more and more evident.” 

Sadly, a report that might have been a useful public policy tool to eventually help adapt, lessen and even solve our catastrophic climate crisis, has been reduced to a weapon which Captains of Industry can now wave around to justify business as usual.

I invited the NRTEE to comment on my story. It did not respond.

Contributed by: Larry Powell
City: Roblin
Country: Canada
Date: November 17, 2010