British Columbia Election 2013: A Big Loss for the Environmental Movement

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We Can’t Afford Massive New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure: Oral Statement to Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel

George Hoberg

Oral Statement to Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel, Vancouver, BC February 1, 2013

Good afternoon. My name is George Hoberg, and I’m here to add my voice to so many other British Columbians who have spoken to you in opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal.

I’m a professor in the Faculty of Forestry at UBC. I have a PhD in political science from MIT, and I’ve been on the faculty at UBC for 25 years. My research specialization is environmental and natural resource policy and governance. I teach courses in sustainable energy policy and governance. Parts of my remarks today are from the perspective of a scholar, but I will also be speaking as a teacher and now activist, and finally as a father.

I do want to sincerely thank you for your attention today. I am gratified that you are engaged in such a rigorous process of gathering the facts about the project and listening to the values and perspectives of so many British Columbians. I’m quite sad about the set-up of these hearings; that you felt the need to separate the speakers and panel from the audience. But if it has any benefit, I hope that it allows you to better focus and absorb what you are hearing with an open mind.

As a scholar, one of the things I study is aboriginal resource governance. I know the test for sufficient accommodation, last clearly articulated in the Supreme Court’s 2004 Taku case, is vague. But my reading of the jurisprudence leads me to the conclusion that with such widespread and adamant opposition by First Nations, approving this pipeline proposal would not meet an appropriate test for accommodation. The proponent has offered First Nations substantial economic benefits, and assured them that best practices will be used to minimize the risks of pipeline and tanker spills. First Nations’ opposition west of Prince George remains adamant. In this circumstance, it is hard to see how approving the pipeline can be consistent with accommodating First Nations concerns.

As a scholar I also study environmental policies and procedures including environmental assessment. I strongly believe that the decision, in the terms of reference, to exclude consideration of upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions is terribly misguided. The climate impacts of the proposal are not the only environmental risk posed by the pipeline but they are certainly one deserving careful consideration in your process. One needs only to look at the US environmental assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline to see that it is normal and accepted good practice to include upstream and downstream greenhouse gas impacts during regulatory review of oil sands pipeline proposals.

Pipeline or tanker accidents would be a disaster for our rivers and coast. But what worries me more is that even if the oil arrives safely at its destination, it will still contribute significantly to the environmental disaster of dangerous global warming. It is vital to keep in mind what the pipeline is carrying: carbon. The carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere from the bitumen carried through the Northern Gateway pipeline will amount to 83 million tonnes per year.  Shockingly, that’s one-quarter more than the 67 million tonnes the entire province of BC emits in a year.

Climate scientists are telling us that we face a planetary emergency. If we stay on our current fossil fuel energy path, there’s a virtual certainty of catastrophic climate change. Our models also tell us it’s not too late to change course, to avoid the worst effects. But it’s getting very late. According to the International Energy Agency, we only have 5 years to begin a fundamental transformation of our energy system.

The urgency communicated by the IEA, an arm of the OECD, has recently been amplified by both the World Bank and the head of the IMF. We’re not talking about Greenpeace here – these are the pillars of the global establishment that are sounding urgent alarms. The problem is these organizations don’t set global climate policy. In fact, no one sets global climate policy

If climate science teaches us that we face a crisis, my scholarship as a political scientist teaches that global warming is an extraordinary political challenge. The complexity and magnitude of the issue seem to overwhelm us, and we find ourselves in a classic case of the “tragedy of the commons”, where each individual – in this case political jurisdictions like provinces and nations – acting in their own self-interest produce an outcome that is disastrous for their collective interests.

Because of these political challenges, policy has demonstrably failed to act in the interests of humanity. In this context, what is the right way to think about large new fossil fuel projects? What I do it perform a thought experiment: if we had in place a policy regime designed to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets necessary to meet the consensus 2 degree target, would this project make sense? That would involve putting in place a price of carbon that was several hundred dollars a ton. In that context, it’s hard to imagine massive new oil sands infrastructure would be justified. Studies from MIT support this conclusion.

Up to now I’ve been speaking as a scholar, but I want to shift now. As a teacher, I found it increasingly challenging to explain these scientific and political realities to students and not come to the realization that I need to do more than research and teach. How could I continue to stand in front of several hundred young adults each year, the generation that will suffer the consequences of climate change, and not become more active politically myself? It is our generation of leadership – it is me, and it you – that has the power to make the changes to put us on a more sustainable path. If we don’t act now, it will be too late for them.

They are my students. They are our children.

In 2011, along with other faculty and students at UBC, I co-founded a group called UBCC350. We are a group of UBC students, faculty, and staff committed to advocating for meaningful government climate action. We strongly support aggressive global and national action to address the climate crisis, but our immediate focus is on carbon exports from British Columbia. BC has enacted some progressive climate policies, but they have yet to be fully implemented. Recent proposals for projects that would massively increase BC’s carbon exports threaten to overwhelm BC’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gases.

I know that all the members of UBCC350 are vehemently opposed to this pipeline. We will continue to work hard, going door to door, ensuring people know about the climate implications of the pipeline, and encourage them to act politically with their children in mind.

Finally, I want to speak to you as a father. I have two children, ages 16 and 18. By the time they graduate from university, we’ll be beyond the window of opportunity the IEA gives for the fundamental restructuring of the energy system.

The tragic fact is that if we are guided by short term economic thinking, humanity will simply not be capable of rising to the challenge of taking the concerted action sufficient to avoid dangerous global warming. That’s the inevitable conclusion of my scholarship.

My conclusion as a father, and as a citizen of British Columbia, Canada, and this extraordinary planet, is that we need to act now because it is the right thing to do. Surely the first human duty is to protect our children from harm.

I’m very concerned about the risks of pipeline and tanker spills, and the need to respect the rights and aspirations of the First Nations on whose traditional territories we have settled. But my greatest concern with this proposal is its contribution to the climate crisis. We need to act swifty and dramatically to change the trajectory of our energy system. If we want to maintain a safe climate for our children and future generations, that’s what the science tells us we need to do. Approving massive new oil sands infrastructure is simply not consistent with that imperative.

I urge you to find that Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal is not in the national interest.

Thank you for your attention today.

Posted in Climate Action Policy, Energy Pipelines, Oil Sands | 2 Comments

Why 2012 was the Year of the Pipeline: Reflections on an Extraordinary Controversy

George Hoberg
December 31, 2012

The Northern Gateway Pipeline controversy has been remarkable in its intensity, duration, and scope.  It has received an enormous amount of mainstream media attention, beginning with Joe Oliver’s January open letter castigating pipeline opponents as foreign-funded radicals, and continuing through the year. From October 2011 through September 2012, the words “northern gateway pipeline” appeared in 191 stories in the Globe and Mail and 433 in the Vancouver Sun.

The controversy has infected Canadian national, provincial and interprovincial politics, the most extreme example being BC Premier Christy Clark’s refusal to participate in talks about a national energy strategy because of her disagreements with Alberta’s Premier Redford about sharing the financial benefits of the pipeline. It has penetrated deeply into social media and cultural politics. A remarkable number of young people have added “NoEnbridge” as their middle name on Facebook, and even Rick Mercer had contributed with his comedy skit about Enbridge diversifying into piñatas.

There are five categories of reasons why the Northern Gateway Pipeline has been so controversial.

1. Inherently divisive problem structure

The structure of the policy problem has contributed directly to extent of conflict in two ways. First, the distribution of risks and benefits from the project is seriously skewed. The oil sands sector centered in Alberta will receive the overwhelming majority of benefits, whereas the environmental risks of pipeline and tanker accidents are borne predominately by British Columbia. Second, the mega-project is essentially a dichotomous choice. Competing interests can’t bargain over whether to do a little bit of it or a lot. The either/or nature of the choice accentuates the magnitude of consequences and contributes to the sense of immense stakes on both sides.

The fact that this inherently divisive problem structure is overlain by Canada’s particular institutional arrangements and history makes it even more divisive. The federal government – now the cabinet – makes the decision on the project, creating the appearance of distant, centralized power imposing a decision against the interests and will of a opposing province. This situation will certainly sound familiar to Albertans, to whom Pierre Trudeau’s 1980 National Energy Program remains a call to partisan and regional arms.

2. Unstable and divisive political structure

The pipeline controversy is also affected by the peculiar political moment in which Canada finds itself. Core parts of the relevant political structure are unstable because of the disjuncture between the values of the party in power and the public mood. At the federal level, the party with a commanding majority in Parliament received less than 40% of the vote in the last election, and that support comes from the right side of the political spectrum. As a result, the median voter in Canada is well to the left of Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party. Stephen Harper’s victory was enabled by the division among multiple parties on the center-left. If Center-left parties could address this problem before the 2015 election, the majority party could shift fundamentally. Alberta, now dominant in federal politics, could quickly find itself isolated by a Parliamentary majority forged through BC, Ontario and Quebec. (Admittedly, there are no signs at present that this center-left cooperation is likely to occur.)

The political structure of British Columbia is also quite unstable. The currently BC Liberal majority party has become deeply unpopular and seems virtually destined to be defeated by the leftist New Democratic Party that is strongly opposed the pipeline. NDP leader Adrian Dix filed a very strong criticism of the project with the Joint Review Panel, and he’s announced that if he becomes premier the province will reassert its jurisdiction over the environmental assessment of the proposed pipeline.

In terms of interprovincial political structures, there are deep value differences between British Columbian and Albertans. These differences are revealed not just in voting behaviour, but also in responses to questions about value tradeoffs between energy and economic development on the one hand and environmental protection on the other. The center of political gravity in British Columbia is further left and much greener than in Alberta.

In addition to this unstable and divisive national, provincial, and interprovincial political structure, the pipeline proposal has also met with exceptionally formidable organized opposition by environmentalists and First Nations. Environmentalists have brilliantly seized on the issue as a way to mobilize sympathetic British Columbians, especially on the issue of tanker risks, and turned a relatively unaware and indifferent public into strong opponents. The latest poll shows opposition has increased to 60%.

First Nations in BC have also been strongly opposed, and their legal position gives them considerable power. The fact that much of the pipeline’s proposed path (and the tanker routes until open water in the Pacific Ocean) in BC goes through the traditional territories of First Nations greatly complicates the rules for consultation and accommodation.

3. A series of unfortunate events

If the structure of the problem and politics were not enough to create an intense controversy, a series of unfortunate events for pipelines and oil companies added fuel to the fire. The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico was a major political setback for oil megaprojects. The risk of pipeline accidents was accentuated when a significant spill occurred in Northern Alberta in April 2011.

But the most damaging event was the major rupture of an Enbridge oil sands pipeline into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The July 2012 statements by US regulators about the company’s abysmal response to the accident transformed the politics of the Northern Gateway project. The formal National Transportation Safety Board report denounced the company for “pervasive organizational failures.” When the NTSB chair made a public statement on the report’s finding, her choice of language was devastating to Enbridge’s reputational standing: “When we were examining Enbridge’s poor handling to their response to this rupture you can’t help but think of the Keystone Kops.”

The Keystone Kops reference produced a fundamental shift in elite opinion and political positioning — suddenly support for Enbridge was politically toxic. Op-ed writers and columnists declared  the pipeline dead. BC’s leading political columnist claimed the “pipeline looks dead and buried,” and another leading columnist announced that the NTSB report “sounds death knell for pipeline.” BC Premier Christy Clark shifted from her “wait and see” position to forcefully advocating five preconditions to the provinces support, including “a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of a proposed heavy oil project that reflects the level, degree and nature of the risk borne by the province, the environment and taxpayers.” Federal Conservative politicians, including Prime Minster Harper and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, seem to have muted their advocacy of the project.

4. Strategic blunders by pipeline proponents

While probably less important than the previous three categories of reasons, pipeline proponents have not played their hand as effectively as they might have. Enbridge’s efforts to consult northern communities, especially First Nations, have been roundly criticized as inadequate. But the highest profile blunder was by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. On the eve of the opening of the Northern Gateway Pipeline hearings, Oliver issued his now infamous open letter to Canadians, demonizing environmental opponents to the project as “radical groups” receiving “funding from foreign special interest groups” who “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.” While Harper must have believed the move would be politically beneficial, it seems to have backfired significantly by pushing many moderates who were offended by the style of attacks into strong opponents of the pipeline.

5. National Identity Dissonance

While it’s far more speculative, I also believe there is something larger at stake here: a deep divide over what kind of country Canada is. (I’ve hyperbolically titled talks about these ideas “how did an oil pipeline become a battle for the soul of our nation?”) Harper has communicated a strong vision that Canada’s future wealth is tied to commodity development and export, especially oil sands. While the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan and much of their public seem enthusiastic about that vision, many in the rest of Canada are strongly alienated from it. You can see this is the concerns (even if ill-advised) about “Dutch disease” in Ontario, and in the strongly environmentally oriented provinces of Quebec and British Columbia. The counter vision to Harper’s “Carbon Canada” has yet to be articulated, but it feels nascent in much of the criticism and antipathy to the Harper government’s “responsible resource development” agenda.

Will 2013 be any different?

The remarkable controversy over the Northern Gateway pipeline has been fueled by a continental divide in interests and values, by events that have damaged the reputation of Enbridge, by strategic blunders of pipeline proponents, and by a deep divide in what kind of future we want for Canada. What’s likely to happen in 2013 and will it dampen the intensity of the controversy?

I expect that the pipeline will remain as controversial and perhaps become even more so in the upcoming year. The problem structure won’t change, unless the federal government or Enbridge finds a way to deliver much greater financial benefit to British Columbia. The political structure at the federal level won’t change absent an unexpected political crisis. BC is likely to have a new government, which should significantly increase tensions between BC and Alberta, and between BC and the Harper government. Environmental opposition isn’t going anywhere. First Nations opposition west of Prince George has shown no signs of cracking, and the #idlenomore movement is providing a new voice to long simmering indigenous grievances about living conditions as well as land and resource rights. Perhaps there won’t be any new big pipeline accidents, and maybe pipeline proponents will have learned from past mistakes and become more political deft.

The issue could quickly recede if Enbridge withdraws its proposal, but it has shown no inclination to do so, just the opposite in fact. Joint Review Panel hearings will wrap up in the next several months, and that may dissipate media interest in the story. But the panel is required to report by the end of the year and that is bound to reignite the controversy.

Canada has a resource-dependent political economy but a political culture that has not been comfortable abandoning its aspirations for leadership in environmental sustainability. We are a developed democracy but have unusual party and federal systems that foster both partisan and intergovernmental conflict. We take pride in our international reputation for supporting human rights but have not appropriately reconciled with the original inhabitants of the land. It’s no surprise that a pipeline megaproject – taking carbon-intensive oil, across unceded aboriginal territory of spectacular wilderness and waterways, to markets in China — is proving to be a divisive, nation-defining controversy.

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It’s time to draw a line in the sand: Why I’m protesting against oil sands pipelines

George Hoberg
Note: there was a packed agenda at the epic Defend our Coast rally in Victoria on October 22, 2012. I was asked to speak but in the end time didn’t permit. Here’s the text of the speech I would have given.

Victoria, BC October 22, 2012

The Carbon Pipeline

What’s a professor doing here? I’ve got to tell you I’m out of my comfort zone. But what I’ve learned and what I teach compel me to be here. Pipeline or tanker accidents would be a disaster for our rivers and coast. But even if the oil arrives safely at its destination, it will still contribute significantly to the environmental disaster of dangerous global warming.

The Northern Gateway Pipeline, the Kinder Morgan Pipeline – they’re pipelines full of carbon. And they carry a lot of it. If these pipelines are built, they’ll be contributing more than twice as much carbon pollution every year than we currently emit within B.C.

Add that to the coal and liquefied natural gas, and the fossil fuel industry, with government backing, wants to turn our province into a gigantic carbon pipeline to growing markets in Asia. If all the carbon export projects currently on the books in BC get approved, by 2020 our carbon exports will be 10 times our carbon pollution within the province.

The planet can’t afford that. And we have a special responsibility, at this place, at this time, to just say no to these projects. Now is the time to draw a line in the sand.

Climate Science

Scientists are telling us that we face a planetary emergency. If we stay on our current fossil fuel energy path, there’s a virtual certainty of catastrophic climate change.

Science also tells us it’s not too late to change course, to avoid the worst effects. But it’s getting very late. According to the International Energy Agency, we only have 5 years to begin a fundamental transformation of our energy system.

Let’s start here. We simply can’t afford to lock-in more climate warming pollution by building massive new fossil fuel infrastructure like these pipelines. Now is the time to draw a line in the sand.

Political Science

I’m one of a growing number of scientists and other academics who are climbing down from the ivory tower and getting involved in political activism.

The past two decades of climate politics has taught us that the old model of the role of the scientist — “speaking truth to power” — has just not worked.

Those in power don’t listen to the truth if it’s politically inconvenient. In our system the only things that speak to power are money and votes. We don’t have the money, but we can mobilize votes, and that’s why we’re here today:  To show politicians the depth and breadth of opposition to these carbon pipelines.

There’s a time for research. There’s a time for public lectures, for op-eds and petitions. But there’s also a time for more direct action. To stand up for what is right. And that’s why we’re here today. Now is the time to draw a line in the sand.

What climate science teaches us is that we face a crisis. What political science teaches us is that global warming is an enormous political challenge. The complexity and magnitude of the issue seem to overwhelm us. The tragic fact is that if we are guided by short term economic thinking, humanity will simply not be capable of rising to the challenge of taking the concerted action sufficient to avoid dangerous global warming.

We need to reject that mindset. We need to take climate action not because it’s in our short term economic interest to do so, but because it is the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do for our planet. It’s the right thing to do for our children.

The planet can’t afford these new pipelines. We don’t want to profit from them. We have a moral responsibility to say no. Now is the time to draw a line in the sand.

The information on the GHG contributions of BC carbon exports can be found here

The International Energy Agenda 5 years to “lock-in” reference is here

Posted in Climate Action Policy, Energy Pipelines, Oil Sands | 1 Comment

Mr Mulcair Goes to Edmonton, Giving Canadian Climate Hawks a New Dilemma

Spencer Keys and George Hoberg
May 30, 2012

Today the Pembina Institute released a study contributing to the growing expert consensus that Canada has a mild case of Dutch disease. Later this week, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is travelling to Western Canada to further argue his own unique form of Dutch disease.

What a difference a month can make.

Six weeks ago we argued that there is a political narrative available to environmental advocates looking to find a coalition between themselves and the labour movement, which can also drive a wedge in Stephen Harper’s Western Canada-and-Ontario coalition that gave him a majority in the 2011 election: the Dutch disease argument that a rising petrodollar makes Canadian manufacturing exports more expensive and has created a decline in Ontario’s manufacturing sector.

Since then several events, both extraordinary and coincidental, have turned Dutch disease into the most significant policy debate the country is facing. It began with Mulcair, on CBC’s The House:

“It’s by definition the Dutch disease: the Canadian dollar is being held artificially high, which is fine if you’re going to Walt Disney World; not so good if you want to sell your manufactured product because the American client, most of the time, can no longer afford to buy it. We’ve hollowed out the manufacturing sector. In six years since the Conservatives have arrived we’ve lost 500,000 good-paying, manufacturing jobs; more than half of them because we’re not internalizing the environmental costs.”

Mulcair’s comments set off a firestorm of controversy, putting him on the opposite of most political pundits, many economists, the government, and the Western premiers.

IRPP Report

Coincidentally, little more than a week after Mulcair’s interview on The House, the Institute for Research on Public Policy released a report evaluating the significance of the Dutch disease. Specifically, the authors noted there has been “little rigorous analysis of the linkages between energy prices, the exchange rate and manufacturing output in Canada.”

The authors used a two-step process, first determining the relationship between energy prices and the Canada-US exchange rate, and secondly determining the role of the Canada-US exchange rate on manufacturing output.

The first conclusion was that, since 2003, “a 1 percent increase in energy prices was associated with a 0.54 percent decrease in the value of the US dollar relative to the Canadian dollar,” which is much larger than the 0.15 percent decrease in the preceding 1992-2003 period. By comparison, non-energy commodity prices were associated with a 0.73 percent decrease over the same post-2003 period.

For the second conclusion, an analysis of 80 manufacturing industries was conducted and, while 53 out of 80 indicated some level of Dutch disease, only 25 were statistically significant while the rest were functionally the equivalent of no relationship as all. Interestingly, while there was no negative relationship for automotive manufacturing, the biggest negative effects were in textiles, apparel, and leather, “which together account for less than 2 percent of manufacturing output.”

Industry Canada Study

Inconveniently for the Harper Government, it was also revealed recently that an Industry Canada sponsored study being published in the journal Resource and Energy Economics, found some support for loss in manufacturing employment due to Dutch Disease. Unlike the IRPP study, the Industry Canada study looked at losses in manufacturing employment. It concluded that, of those jobs lost to exchange rate fluctuations, 33-39% is due to increases in energy commodity prices. However, given the results of the IRPP study, we can reasonably assume that this constitutes a much lower loss of employment than the headline numbers suggest.

Today’s Pembina and MacDonald-Laurier Reports

Using regional economic impact models produced by the Canadian Energy Research Institute, the Pembina Institute argues that large regional disparities are occurring as a result of the oil sands boom. In fact, the authors of the Pembina study reject the Dutch disease label as inadequate to capture what is happening in Canada today. Instead, they argue the distribution of benefits and rapid growth is “a uniquely Canadian strain of the Dutch Disease that could be called “oilsands fever” – a strain that is beginning to create clear winners and losers in Canada’s economy and could pose a significant risk to Canada’s competitiveness in the emerging clean energy economy.”

The authors emphasize the challenges facing provinces without significant natural resource production in attracting and retaining skilled labour in, the overwhelming hold on the economic benefit from oil sands production (94%) by Alberta alone, and the inflationary effects. Their prescriptive elements include establishing a federal savings fund, eliminating preferential tax treatment for the oil and gas sector, convening an expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada to continue study of the problem, have a federal committee study regional competitiveness, and establish a Canadian energy strategy.

However, the waters of the Pembina report have already been muddied by a MacDonald-Laurier Institute report arguing the opposite conclusion from the same data by the Canadian Energy Research Institute. MLI finds a significant positive impact from the oil sands, in absolute terms, for every province in the country.

The two studies are using the same data. The different conclusions from the reports reflect the different perspectives of the groups. MLI emphasizes the absolute magnitude of the contributions of oil and gas to provinces outside of Alberta. Pembina doesn’t disagree, but emphasizes the economic and political effects of the unbalanced distribution of these benefits, an issue on which MLI is silent. Neither study can convincingly say whether the positive economic spillovers of the oil sands are more or less powerful than the negative dynamic of the Dutch disease. Even MLI’s concluding sentence reveals how incomplete our understanding of these competing forces is: “While the so-called “Dutch Disease” mechanism may operate, in practice it is partially (perhaps more than fully) offset by the gains to the overall Canadian economy documented by these studies.”

Analysts will continue to differ about the magnitude of the Dutch disease dynamic and whether and how policy changes should be made to address it.

Mulcair, Polluter Pays, and Gaps in the Research

Returning to Mulcair’s comments on the CBC and elsewhere, in discussing the Dutch disease he continually emphasizes the critical importance of applying the polluter pays principle. In doing so, Mulcair is describing something that is similar to, but not exactly, Dutch disease, and calling it the same. He claims that Dutch disease occurs when you fail to internalize the environmental costs of resource extraction; specifically, because companies do not have to pay the full cost of greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts, they are able to develop resources at a faster rate than they would otherwise be able to do, and therefore putting more upward pressure on the dollar than would be the case if the costs were properly internalized.

This argument about internalizing environmental costs is Mulcair’s own distinctive addition to the concept of Dutch disease.  Unfortunately, none of the studies summarized above actually deal with the argument that Mulcair is making, leaving a giant hole in the current research.

Climate Hawks and the Dutch Disease

It is particularly surprising that the Pembina report does not address the polluter pays part of Mulcair’s argument because the environmental impact of the oil sands have been central to the group’s mission, and placing an effective economy-wide price on carbon seems to be the natural go-to recommendation in all the group’s reports on the topic. Why would Canada’s leading climate hawk environmental group pass up the chance to make the case for effective carbon pricing in another politically salient way?

We can only speculate that they believed including it would produce an undesirable political backlash. They are already well-known for having that position, and when they have made the case for effective carbon pricing in the past they have been accused, like anyone else who mentions the idea in Canada, of advocating regional wealth distribution. And perhaps because Mulcair’s comments have been considered so incendiary, emphasizing the polluter pays component would have associated the group too closely with a divisive partisan argument.

The dilemma faced by Pembina in this report is a dilemma for many climate hawks: does it make political sense to embrace the Dutch disease narrative? Analytically, it would seem preferable to keep the issues separate. Designing effective climate policy for Canada is an enormous task in its own right, why complicate it by including it in the same package of initiatives designed to address Ontario’s struggling manufacturing sector? Even the strongest serious cases for the Dutch disease argument suggest that there are greater and more important forces at work in Canada’s manufacturing challenge than the explosive growth of the oil sands.

But politically, climate advocates are not getting any meaningful traction in Canada, so aligning themselves with the Dutch disease argument makes sense if Mulcair’s political strategy can be a winning one. Nik Nanos, one of Canada’s preeminent pollsters, believes this is a high reward manoeuver for Mulcair, who is looking to shore up support in Quebec and expand into Ontario, for much of the same reasons as were previously discussed in this blog.

Analysts vs Advocates, again

While Mulcair’s rhetoric may be beyond what is well supported by economic analysis, as noted by John Ibbitson he probably does not have much to lose from adopting more extreme positions than the evidence warrants (yet). A sizeable portion of the public agrees with his viewpoint – enough to make a difference in key areas. According to Harris/Decima, 51% in Quebec agree with Mulcair in Quebec, while 47% in British Columbia and 37% in Ontario do.

If the choice comes down to oil sands expansion with demonstrably inadequate environmental checks and balances, or a sketchy economic argument with powerful narrative potential, the choice seems pretty clear for climate hawks.

Posted in Climate Action Policy, Oil Sands | 2 Comments

The Oil Sands Wedge: Could The Next Federal Election Be A Fight Over Dutch Disease?

Spencer Keys
April 9, 2012

February’s spat between Premiers McGuinty and Redford, about whether the oil sands have contributed positively or negatively to Ontario’s economy, has given national prominence to the spectre of Dutch Disease in Canada. The story is a simple one: a resource boom links the value of the national currency to resource prices; high resource prices change the terms of trade with other nations, lowering the value of exports to other countries because of currency inflation; and export-dependent manufacturing stagnates, leaving the economy even more dependent on high resource prices and creating economic collapse if/when resource prices drop. What is interesting is how different actors are beginning to embrace or reject this story to further their interests.

At first glance, it is easy to see Premier McGuinty’s concern: manufacturing has been declining in Ontario while the loonie has steadily risen from a low of $0.63 in 2002 to its current level around parity. There’s a prima facie case this is bad for both Ontario and Canada as a whole.

However, there is neither consensus on the scale of the problem nor on whether a problem exists at all. Recent statements by Canadian economists show the significant divisions on this topic. Arguments about the size and scope of the public sector, while not directly related, establish one classic left-right division. Andrew Jackson argues Canada’s petrodollar has become a major cause of reduced manufacturing, while Erin Weir identifies the avoidance of Dutch Disease as a reason for extracting higher public revenues from resource projects now, to support robust state activity. Meanwhile on the right, University of Calgary economist, low corporate tax and anti-subsidy advocate, Jack Mintz argues these are solutions without a problem because Ontario’s manufacturing decline tracks most closely with a 30-year trend of manufacturing decline throughout North America, and genuine Dutch Disease would have to have seen a reciprocal rise in manufacturing in the late 1990s, as the value of the loonie dropped, which didn’t occur.

Environmental groups have jumped firmly on the Dutch Disease bandwagon. After the premiers’ dueling talking points, both Greenpeace and Environmental Defence posted critiques of Premier Redford’s view that the country is generally experiencing a benefit from the oil sands. Their interests are clear: if the economy is the overriding concerns for Canadians, promoting the idea that the oil sands are quietly undermining the economy may be a more successful strategy to slow oil sands growth than appeals based on the environmental merits alone.

Interestingly, Canadian political rhetoric is only now latching on to this narrative. In the 40th Parliament and the 41st Parliament, Dutch Disease has been referenced in Hansard on only three occasions, including one speech by new NDP leader Thomas Mulcair. However, given the 2011 election created an unprecedented coalition for the Conservatives between Ontario and the western provinces, focusing on a story that shows the tension of that coalition makes strategic sense. Mulcair is already highlighting that tension through his comments on the oil sands, talking about the need to develop a framework of “sustainable development” that keeps the dollar from inflating for the benefit of manufacturing and the environment. With one policy he can speak to the fears of labour and green constituencies, primarily in urban and suburban Ontario ridings, while trying to avoid a “radical” label from centrists.

It is unsurprising that this debate continues to reflect the framing strategies Hoberg and Rivers have previously identified. Both sides have had ideologically affiliated economic and business leaders speak out, from Robyn Allan on the left to Dr. Mintz on the right. Both proponents of the Dutch Disease narrative and its critics have focused on their preferred criteria: Greenpeace voices concern over the kinds of jobs being created and the effects of those jobs on the environment, whereas some like Laval University economist Stephen Gordon do not see the switching of jobs and capital to another sector of the economy as inherently problematic in the aggregate. Even the phrase “Dutch Disease” is a method of both drawing an unfavourable comparison to the Netherlands in the 1960s, and labelling the scenario unfavourably to imply a problem despite a decent counterargument that the overall increase in wages and shift of capital has produced a net economic benefit.

Whether or not Dutch Disease is happening in Canada, it’s a powerful concept that will continue to plague conflicting interests. And ultimately, because the phenomenon cannot be conclusively said to have occurred until there is a broad economic stagnation, it will be difficult to prove or disprove until it is too late. That feature, similar to the inability to categorically state the the long-term effects of climate change, makes Dutch Disease both an emotional topic and one that is unlikely to resolve itself purely through analysis. If anything, some recent analysis suggests that Dutch Disease is part of the manufacturing decline, but far from the majority of the cause, rendering conclusions about the value of oil sands expansion on economic terms even more difficult to determine.

What is likely is that, as the tension between oil sands expansion and manufacturing decline continues to hang over decision-makers, the Dutch Disease story will become a more prominent part of the policy space. In particular, it is worth monitoring whether this becomes a more significant aspect of environmental advocacy, as environmental groups seek to create a broader political coalition by reframing the oil sands conflict, or if it remains a supportive but ultimately tangential component of the climate action dialogue.

Spencer Keys is a student at the University of British Columbia and a public affairs consultant. He can be found on Twitter @spencerkeys.

Posted in Oil Sands | 3 Comments

Can College and University Campuses Become Nodes of a More Formidable Climate Movement?

George Hoberg
March 12, 2012

The postponement of the Keystone XL pipeline has breathed new life into climate movement that has been struggling in the US, Canada, and globally. Blocking significant new fossil fuel infrastructure can be important in galvanizing interest and creating momentum, but it is only a means to the much larger end of achieving regional, national, and global climate policies that can produce the rapid and deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions necessary to achieve international targets. The climate movement needs to scale up dramatically to create the breadth and depth of political pressure necessary to force more meaningful change.

One potential new source of untapped energy may be college and university campuses. At the University of British Columbia, we are experimenting with a new organization that may provide a model helpful to other campuses across North America.

UBCC350’s Mission

Inspired by the global climate movement fostered by, UBCC350 is a group of UBC students, faculty, and staff committed to advocating for meaningful government climate action. We strongly support aggressive global, national, and provincial actions to address the climate crisis, but our immediate focus is on carbon exports from British Columbia. BC has enacted progressive climate policies, but they have yet to be fully implemented. At the same time, BC has become a significant exporter of greenhouse gas emissions that are not considered when the province measures its emissions. Current greenhouse gas exports are about twice the existing in- province emissions, and there are proposals to increase them significantly through new tar sands pipelines, new LNG facilities, and increased coal exports.  We believe BC needs to take responsibility for these emissions by enacting policies to reduce or at least price these exports.

Our Model

Campuses should be fertile ground for climate organizing. Most universities have faculty expertise in environment generally or climate in particular, and many faculty who are frustrated with government inaction are looking for a way to make a difference beyond traditional science communication and teaching. Most campuses have very active networks of student groups on sustainability, although usually focused on personal or institutional consumption by students and campuses. There are a variety of existing networks and relationships through residences, student groups, majors, and courses that if strengthened and redirected could become potent organizational tools.

We are guided both by a core policy belief and an organizational philosophy. We believe that to achieve the required scale of change, reliance on individual or organizational efforts to reduce carbon footprints will not be sufficient. Significant government policy action is required to price or otherwise regulate carbon to transform the energy system. Mass mobilization and political pressure is required to force reluctant elected politicians to act.

Our organizational philosophy is that effective movement building will only occur through the “strong ties” that develop through sustained face to face interactions. Social media is an enormously powerful communication tool, but real meaning and commitment come from in person interactions, and real political power comes from the capacity to reach out to voters in important electoral races.  With the proper nudging, the university community can be a very nurturing environment for this type of strategy. We’ve broken down the boundaries between faculty and students and created a distinctive group where a variety of members of the UBC community are working together to move beyond the campus to take political action in the surrounding community.

Our First Campaign

Our first major campaign is “Storm the Riding” on March 31, 2012. We will be canvassing in the Vancouver-Point Grey riding, held by Premier Christy Clark. We’ll set up information stations at busy intersections and go door to door in teams, informing voters about BC’s growing carbon exports and asking that they sign a petition demanding Premier Clark take a position in opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline. We will then have a march delivering these petitions to Clark’s constituency office. Our immediate target is Premier Clark, but by targeting marginal polling areas in a competitive riding, we are also trying to send a broader message to provincial and federal parties about the importance of climate issues to voters in BC. We are engaging media in the effort to broaden exposure to the event, and send a signal to the political establishment that youth are mobilizing and climate matters. We believe this strategy will be effective because we need policy change, and the best way to achieve policy change is to convince elected leaders that there is an electoral incentive to act.

A Starter Kit for Creating Your Own Campus Climate Action Group

After Storm the Riding, we will plan additional actions in the Fall and into the future to continue mobilizing support for climate action with grassroots organizing. We are hoping our model of campus-based grassroots political action will inspire other colleges and universities, and help foster a more formidable climate movement.

Here are some ideas for how to get started

  1. Identify catalysts who have the level of commitment and time to take the lead in organizing
  2. Find like-minded faculty members willing to get political
  3. Build on existing organizational networks on campus
  4. Cultivate allies among established non-university activist group
  5. Create a brand that will resonate with your campus and that connects you to the larger climate movement (but that is also acceptable to your university). We used, and you can now register local chapters of here
  6. Select a salient policy issue on which to focus
  7. Select an influence strategy at a reasonable jurisdictional scale

If our current scientific understanding is correct, time is short to reverse the trajectory of the energy system and put us on a path for a safe climate. Please consider the words of Bill McKibben, in his speech at UBC n November 2011.

“There’s no guarantee we’ll win the fight against climate change. There are scientists who think we’ve waited too long to get started in this fight, and there is too much momentum behind this heating. There are political scientists who think the odds are simply too high; there’s too much money piled on the other side. If you were a betting person you might be wise to bet with them because we’ve been losing more or less for twenty years. But that is not a bet you are allowed to make. The only stance for a moral human being when the worst thing on earth is happening is to get up in the morning and figure out how you can change those odds.”

Why not make your campus a more vibrant and meaningful place by getting faculty and students together to take political action for meaningful policy change?

Posted in Climate Action Policy | 2 Comments

The Three Logics of Climate Politics

George Hoberg

Three Logics Visualized by Ben Grossman-Cohen of Oxfam America

February 13, 2012

There are three competing logics of climate politics. One is the climate skeptic, convincedeither that climate science is exaggerated or that the costs of action outweigh the benefits. Another is the climate policy analyst who accepts the climate science and evaluates policies designed to meet climate targets based on their cost-effectiveness.  The third is the climate advocate, who is convinced there is a climate crisis and focuses on which political strategies are best suited to decarbonizing the energy system. While having little patience for climate skeptics, the analyst also bridles at the open advocacy of climate advocates, scoffing at their exaggerated rhetoric and bemoaning the inefficiency of their prescriptions. In doing so, however, they frequently misunderstand  the logic of politics guiding the advocates.

The Climate Skeptic

I have a hard time understanding the logic of climate skepticism from serious people. I get that some are contrarian by nature and revel in railing against orthodoxy of any sort. I get that there are widely divergent views of the appropriate relation between the government and markets, and that serious climate policy might seem alarming to those with a libertarian bent. But I have a very hard time understanding how any conservative who understands welfare economics can deny that there are certain well understood conditions, particularly externalities and public goods, which justify a strong government role in climate policy. I find it particularly hard to understand what appears to be a willful inability to accept the logic of probabilities implied by the best climate science. Even though it is frighteningly cynical, I find it easier to understand Doonesbury’s character depicted at “the honest man,” who accepts the science but opposes sound climate policy “because I care much more about my short-term economic interests than the future of the planet! Hello?”

The Climate Policy Analyst

But this post is not about the logic of climate skepticism, which is too mysterious. I want to focus on the difference in the logics of climate advocates and climate policy analysts. The conflict in perspectives between these two views was reinforced in my mind again Saturday by a New York Times column by Joe Nocera about the KeystoneXL pipeline. The column accuses climate advocates of exaggerating the significance of KeystoneXL’s contribution to global warming.  “The crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta, which the pipeline would transport to American refineries on the Gulf Coast, simply will not bring about global warming apocalypse.” Therefore, Nocera’s logic seems to go, given that we need the oil and Canada is a reliable partner, the pipeline should be approved.

Several leading climate policy analyst/bloggers/tweeters chimed in “yup, that’s what we’ve been saying for months.” Andrew Revkin, the dean of climate blogging at the New York Times, tweeted a reference to his September 2011 overview piece that generally supports Nocera’s conclusion. Revkin’s piece refers to the affirming work of two other leading climate policy analysts, Andrew Leach at the University of Alberta and Michael Levi at the Council of Foreign Relations. The analysts’ essential argument is two-fold. First, given the amount of GHG emissions enabled by the pipeline and the nature of North American and especially global oil markets, the marginal impact of the KeystoneXL pipeline on global GHGs will be insignificant. Second, there are much more cost-effective ways to reduce GHG emissions than blocking pipelines.

I believe that both are these arguments are unquestionably correct. But I also believe that they completely miss the point about why environmentalists are so opposed to the KeystoneXL. The logics of  analysis and advocacy are fundamentally different. The analyst is guided by aspirations for truth and well-reasoned argument, and guided largely by the value of maximizing the cost-effectiveness of solutions. They chaff against exaggerations and misuse of data by advocates on all sides, and search for the best reasoned argument for the most efficient path forward.

The Climate Advocate

In contrast, the climate advocate is trying to maximize political leverage in an effort to foster systemic transformation of the energy system. The logic of political action and movement building is different from the logic of policy efficiency. The advocate works to strategically frame problems and solutions that work politically, not those that best adhere to the standards of analytical rigor. Frequently, this involves exaggerated claims that aggravate the analyst.

Probably the best example from the KeystoneXL is the James Hansen claim that the pipeline represents a “carbon bomb” because it increases access to Canada’s unconventional oil deposits in the tar sands. [Correction: the phrase attributed to Hansen and reported repeatedly by McKibben and others is "fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet."] If fully exploited, Hansen claimed, the tar sands could add 200 ppm of GHGs to the atmosphere, meaning it’s “essentially game over” in the battle against climate change. This” game over” frame was repeated again and again by Bill McKibben, the lead organizer of the anti-Keystone. Analysts chastised him for exaggeration and confusing the magnitudes at stake. Turns out Hansen and McKibben have a pretty good understanding of the magnitudes of carbon flows. It’s just they find the metaphor of “carbon bomb” and “game over” enormously powerful as a catalyst for mobilizing people, so they continue to use it.

McKibben and his allies didn’t choose to draw a line in the sand on KeystoneXL because it was the most cost-effective policy to reduce GHG emissions. They picked it because it made political sense given the state of the climate movement in US and global politics. Having failed so spectacularly at Copenhagen and then in the US Congress to get meaningful action, McKibben and Co. recognized that to have meaningful success, more direct action would be required to galvanize the intensity of preferences at the grassroots level needed to foster a powerful social movement. Keystone XL turned out to be a perfect short-term vehicle for that.  It was a point of leverage they could use to focus concentrated pressure, and it turned out to be a spectacular success on its own terms.

The Leap of Faith

I’ve felt the conflict between these two logics very personally. As an academic, I’ve always prided myself on the commitment to analytical reason and been uncomfortable with the rhetoric of advocates even when I’ve shared their values. But in recent years I’ve felt increasingly unsettled in that stance as the gravity of the climate crisis has become more apparent. The past two decades of climate politics have clearly demonstrated that “speaking truth to power” has not been effective at inspiring climate action. And as I’ve tried to come to a deeper understanding about humanity’s failure to act yet on climate change, I came to an insight that transformed my stance.

When you consider the structure of the climate challenge as a public goods and public choice dilemma, you can see that if we are guided by short term material thinking we will simply be incapable of rising to the challenge of taking the concerted action sufficient to avoid dangerous climate change. The logic of the climate policy analyst is dominated by this economic rationality that can’t generate the necessary solutions. To envision a capacity to act you need to take a leap of faith that enough citizens and leaders are willing to act on moral, not economic grounds. You take climate action not because it is in your or your nation’s interests, but because it is the right thing to do. And you need to start acting that way yourself.

From Analyst to Advocate

UBC was fortunate to have Bill McKibben come visit and give a series of talks in November. I had breakfast with him in a small group and challenged him on all of these factual issues. What was immediately apparent is that he understood all of the criticisms, but was simply working from a different logic about how to maximize political opportunities. In a larger group he had a session about the tensions between academics and advocates. He bemoaned analysts who were “in love with the caveat” and unwilling to join hands with advocates in the fight for climate action. He explained that he was sensitive to the concerns of many academics that they would be sacrificing their credibility if they engaged in advocacy. He then spoke of the gravity of the climate crisis, calling it the “greatest challenge of our time,” and asked: “What are you saving your credibility for?”

McKibben closed his November speech at UBC with the following words:

“There’s no guarantee we’ll win the fight against climate change. There are scientists who think we’ve waited too long to get started in this fight, and there is too much momentum behind this heating. There are political scientists who think the odds are simply too high; there’s too much money piled on the other side. If you were a betting person you might be wise to bet with them because we’ve been losing more or less for twenty years. But that is not a bet you are allowed to make. The only stance for a moral human being when the worst thing on earth is happening is to get up in the morning and figure out how you can change those odds.”

What I’m doing is working with students at UBC to create a campus climate movement, UBCC350, oriented towards fostering meaningful government action against carbon exports from British Columbia. By taking on a more explicit advocacy role, I’m not abandoning the commitment to analytic rigor typified by the logic of the analyst. I see myself as harnessing that in the service of advocacy.

Up next: more on the model will are building for using university campuses as strategic nodes in the climate movement.

Posted in Climate Action Policy | 24 Comments

Canada’s Third Great Pipeline Debate: The Political Landscape as the Northern Gateway Pipeline Hearings Start

George Hoberg and Andrea Rivers
January 10, 2012

Map of Route from EnbridgeJanuary 10, 2012

As hearing finally start today on the Northern Gateway pipeline from the oil sands to coastal British Columbia, politics on all sides of the dispute have been escalating. The Joint Review Panel process is well described here. This post surveys the political landscape leading into the hearings.

This is Canada’s third great pipeline debate. The first was in 1956, when the debate over the TransCanada pipeline between Alberta and central Canada became an issue for Parliament and contributed the defeat of the St. Laurent government. The second was in the 1970s over the MacKenzie Gas Pipeline from the Beaufort Sea to the south. The Berger Inquiry on the issue was a landmark event in Canadian environmental policy and aboriginal rights.

As we move into this third major debate, the political landscape is dominated by high-level accusations of foreign interests hijacking the process, continued massive economic stakes for the oil industry and vehement opposition by environmental groups, divisions between Western provinces, uncertain public opinion, and continued challenges of adamant opposition by a significant number of affected First Nations. The political economy of Canadian natural resource policy in a nutshell.

Harper Government Support, Castigation of Opponents and Procedures

The Harper government continues to play an active role promoting the project. Both the Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver have taken a curious twist in their arguments. At first, they were pretty direct in expressing support for the pipeline, even though it had yet to go through a process of environmental assessment and regulatory review. They then shifted tack, in an effort to appear more respectful of the process, and began focusing more on the general benefits of opening Asian market to Canadian energy exports. Minister Oliver trumpeted the pipeline as no less than “nation-building”:

“We believe that we have to have access to Asian markets for our energy products, for our oil and gas. That is clearly in our national interest. We’ll survive without it, but not nearly in the same way…It’s nation-building, without exaggeration.”

Over the past week, however, the tone of the Harper government rhetoric has sharpened. Last week Harper publicly echoed the message of the “Ethical Oil” campaign by expressing concerns that the pipeline’s regulatory process could be stalled by foreign-funded groups: “Growing concern has been expressed to me about the use of foreign money to really overload the public consultation phase of regulatory hearings just for the purpose of slowing down the process… We have to have processes in Canada that come to a decision in a reasonable amount of time and processes that cannot be hijacked.”

Monday morning, Natural Resources Minister Oliver escalated the rhetoric further in an open letter, and he repeated the theme in a media blitz throughout the day. After describing the benefits of the project, Oliver launched into a lengthy attack on pipeline critics:

“Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade. Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.

These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects. They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest. They attract jet-setting celebrities with some of the largest personal carbon footprints in the world to lecture Canadians not to develop our natural resources. Finally, if all other avenues have failed, they will take a quintessential American approach: sue everyone and anyone to delay the project even further. They do this because they know it can work. It works because it helps them to achieve their ultimate objective: delay a project to the point it becomes economically unviable.”

This blatant attempt to discredit pipeline critics as un-Canadian radicals sent a shockwave through the environmental policy community.

This high level government attack has highlighted two major political issues. First, the support received by Canadian environmentalists from US charitable foundations has become a significant issue for project proponents. The mainstream media has become somewhat more balanced over the past week on noting the extensive foreign involvement in the Canadian energy sector, but the rhetoric of the Harper government remains one-sided.

Second, the time-consuming nature of the environmental assessment and regulatory review process has become an even bigger issue for the Harper government. Both Harper and Oliver are accusing project opponents of abusing the process and trying to stymie progress to create interminable delays in the project with the intent of killing it. The Canadian oil industry and others jumped on the bandwagon today. Streamlining the regulatory process has been an enduring concern for the Harper government and they appear to be using the “foreign plot to hijack” the Northern Gateway proceedings to strengthen the political case for statutory change. CBC’s The National reported that changes may actually be made to the Northern Gateway process itself.

The Continental Divide between BC and Alberta

Harper and Minister Oliver have made their stance on the project very clear to Canadians over recent months, and Alberta premier Redford has expressed clear support for the project. On the other side of the Rocky Mountains, however, B.C premier Christy Clark has yet to declare a position. Clark has stated that she refuses to take a side on the issue until the National Energy Board has given a ruling on the project in 2013. However, it is being suggested she may be “forced off the fence” by pressure from both sides of the argument and at different levels of government.

Environmental Opposition

The mainstream media have given extensive coverage to the concerns of project opponents leading up to the hearings. The Vancouver Sun ran a thorough 8-part series on the risks and benefits of the pipeline that was picked up by other Postmedia outlets including the Edmonton Journal. One article including the  star power environmentalists have mobilized  to fight the project. Another pair of articles in this series weighs the risk of pipeline and tanker spills –among the strongest arguments for northern gateway opposition.

Public Opinion in BC

Over the past week, a series of opinion polls have been released showing dramatically different levels of support and opposition. Enbridge released a poll that received a significant media attention suggesting more British Columbians supported the pipeline than opposed it. Prior to this time, the only publicly available polling was from environmental groups that showed up to 80% of British Columbians opposed oil tankers along the BC coast, so it was treated as a major correction to that impression. Closer scrutiny of the wording and results raised doubts about how significant the findings were, especially in light of another poll released that showed quite different results.

The Enbridge poll was conducted by Ipsos Reid. The poll showed that 55% of respondent were not familiar with the pipeline, suggested there is a lot of room for advocates on both sides to move opinion. The question was posed as follows: “As you may know, Enbridge is the company leading the Northern Gateway Pipelines Project, which is a proposal to build an underground pipeline system between near Edmonton, Alberta and Kitimat, in northern BC. One pipeline will transport oil to Kitimat for export by tanker to China and other Asian markets. A second pipeline will be used to import condensate (a product used to thin oil products for pipeline transport) to Alberta.” While the question did have a reference to tankers, it did not mention the oil sands, nor did it mention the risks of a pipeline rupture or oil spill. (It also did not mention the economic benefits.) Given this question, 48% of respondents favoured the pipeline, 32% opposed it.

At the same time, an older Mustel poll commissioned by ForestEthics in May 2010 asked a different question and got opposite results. This poll tended to prime environmental concerns in respondents:  “Based on what you currently know, would you say you support or oppose Enbridge’s proposal to build an oil pipeline from the tar sands and bring oil tanker traffic to B.C.’s North Coast? “ In almost the exact reverse of the Enbridge poll, this one found that 51% were opposed and 34% were in favour. The contrast in the polls is a classic example of how polling results can vary depending on the design of the question.

In the wake of Harper and Oliver’s attacks this week on foreign funding for environmentalists, West Coast Environmental Law released a poll conducted in April 2011 suggesting that British Columbians were far more concerned for foreign ownership and control  of Canadian resources than they were about foreign funding of environmental groups. (The wording of those questions is important to consider as well.)

First Nations Opposition

One of the most challenging issues in the case is the adamant opposition of First Nations in the Fraser River watershed and along the BC Coast. Enbridge claims that two dozen First Nations support the project and have signed equity agreements with them, but other than the Gitxsan, they have not revealed the identity of these groups.  In contrast, 130 First Nations have announced opposition. That includes the Coastal First Nations who have issued a ban under their laws of oil sands tanker traffic along the BC inland coast and approximately 70 that have signed the Save the Fraser Declaration banning new oil sands pipelines through their territories.  Here’s a map that shows the extensive territory covered by BC First Nations who have formally opposed the pipeline (some in the Northwest Territories have as well). First Nations east of Prince George have apparently been more open to the pipeline. Many of them have far more extensive experience with oil and gas pipelines, and seem to have a different benefit-risk calculus with respect to Northern Gateway.

Enbridge announced an equity agreement with the Gitxsan First Nation with great fanfare in early December. Since then, significant opposition to that announcement has emerged within the Gitxsan community, and it is uncertain whether the individuals signing that commitment had the authority to do so. At this time it is best to consider the Gitxsan decision as contested and uncertain.

Posted in Energy Pipelines, Oil Sands | 3 Comments

Hoberg’s Media (MSM and not) Guide to Western Canadian Energy/Environment Policy

George Hoberg
January 2, 2012

This guide is intended for the students in my energy policy classes but I wanted to make it more widely available. You can find it here.

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