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Climate Change? Blame Canada

The Nicest Country On Earth is now a petro-state, recklessly drilling for profits as the world warms

Photo Credit: Adopt A Negotiator



What has happened to Canada? To the dismay of many Canadians, a country with an international reputation for its relatively progressive environmental policies (at least compared to the United States) is rushing headlong to dig up all the oil, gas, and coal it can. The country’s leaders can scarcely muster the effort to pretend to want to limit greenhouse gas emissions. And the Canadian media has largely  gone along with the program. Put it all together, and you have a country that has become a full-blown petro state.

People are starting to notice. Last December at the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa, Canada beat out tough contenders like Saudi Arabia and the US to be elected "Colossal Fossil" by environmental campaigners from around the planet. Canada had the dishonor of being the most uncooperative country out of 193 nations at the climate summit. It was the fifth year in a row that international environmental groups gave Canada their 'highest' award for its consistent efforts to block any agreement on reducing carbon emissions.

By contrast, the European Union managed to persuade the rest of the world to breathe life into the Kyoto Protocol, the only international agreement to reduce. Less than 24 hours after those very difficult climates talks ended, Canada declared it wanted no part of Kyoto, a treaty it had once championed.

During the two weeks following its announced withdrawal from Kyoto, Canada approved expansions of tar sands operations by oil giants Exxon, France's Total, and Canada's Suncor. Those multi-billion-dollar expansions are expected to increase tar sands oil output by one million barrels per day by 2020. That will result in an additional 220 million tons of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere annually from both the energy-intensive tar sands production process and burning the resulting gasoline and diesel. Well-to-tank greenhouse gas emissions from Canadian tar sands crudes are 72 to 111 percent higher than the conventional oils, according to a  May study from the US Congressional Research Service.

Those three expansion projects alone will generate more climate-damaging emissions than the annual emissions of sizeable economies such as Argentina and the Netherlands.

"My early Christmas present to myself — and to Canada — was to exercise our legal right to get out of the Kyoto Protocol," Peter Kent, Canada's Minister of the Environment, said in a  speech in Calgary, Alberta on January 26. Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, Canada promised to reduce its emissions six percent below 1990 levels by 2012. In 2010, Canadian emissions were at least 26 percent greater than in 1990.

"It really wasn't a tough decision," Kent said.

A Fossil Fuel Industry Takeover

What's happened to Canada is that it has experienced a steady takeover by the fossil fuel industry. Canada's is now the world's sixth largest crude oil producer and the biggest supplier of oil to the US. Canada is also the third largest producer of natural gas and one of the top ten miners of coal. This enormous boom in fossil fuel production has been underway since the late 1990s. Like Saudi Arabia, fossil energy is by far Canada's biggest export and has become the dominant economic and political focus.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made this perfectly clear in 2006 when he proudly proclaimed Canada as "the emerging energy superpower" during a G8 meeting. Harper, the son of an oil company executive, heads the Conservative party that has pulled Canada sharply to the right. Prior to entering politics, Harper was the climate-change denying head of a right-wing lobby group. Not surprisingly,   his government has done little to reduce Canada's carbon emissions, which are among the fastest growing in world. By contrast, US emissions declined in recent years.

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