The despicable ‘Climate Prosperity’ campaign

[Update: 7 March 2012] It’s not entirely clear if the early news reports about Climate Prosperity – on which the blog post below was largely based – were accurate reflections of the nature, purpose, or conclusions of the group. The view expressed below may not be entirely accurate.

Canada’s government seems to have sunk to a new low:

The Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has launched a huge Suncor-sponsored campaign to reframe climate change as a good thing for Canada’s economy.

This takes selfishness to a new extreme. The serious scientific and economic analyses that have been undertaken have concluded that unrestrained climate change will cause far more harm than benefit, particularly in the developing world. To argue that climate change may be good for Canada, therefore we should not worry about it, takes the implied right to pollute to absurd new lengths.

Even if some degree of climate change would cause benefits for Canada, that doesn’t mean Canada has the right to impose the risk of dangerous or catastrophic climate change on others. Furthermore, we have many reasons to believe that climate change will not be a benign phenomenon in Canada, despite the drool-inducing possibility of more oil and gas development in the north and the possibility of longer growing seasons.

Mountain pine beetle and Russia’s wildfires are a couple of examples of how climate change can harm even cold countries. It is worth remembering that all of our infrastructure – from roads to cities to hydroelectric dams – was designed for an unaltered climate. The more change humanity produces, the more unsuited our infrastructure will be to the world in which we live.

[Update: 18 October 2010] It is worth noting that Climate Prosperity is an initiative of the National Round Table on Energy and the Environment (NRTEE). NRTEE was created in 1988 and operates under an independent mandate.

12 thoughts on “The despicable ‘Climate Prosperity’ campaign

  1. Anon

    A bunch of hoodlums might as well get together and set up a ‘Mugging Prosperity’ advertising campaign.

    Did you know that income from mugging is the #1 source of jobs and income for muggers?

  2. Pingback: Imperialism and Moral Obligation: (not) Apologizing for Crimes against Humanity

  3. .

    Oil Industry And Canadian Govt Team Up To Attack European Fuel Standards That Could Limit Alberta Tar Sands Development

    The Tyee has an excellent piece exploring the joint lobbying efforts of the Canadian government and the oil industry to attack European climate legislation that would set a precedent that could eventually impact the development of Alberta’s dirty tar sands.

    While very little of Alberta’s tar sands oil is currently exported to Europe (nearly all goes to the U.S.), the entrenched tar sands defenders in Canadian government and the oil companies who stand to profit from tar sands development are concerned that Europe’s efforts to favor low-carbon fuel sources could influence other countries that also need to find ways to reduce global warming emissions – say the U.S. for instance.

  4. .

    ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’: Canada Sees Climate Change Prosperity Instead of Calamity

    by Stephen Leahy

    UXBRIDGE, Canada – The first comprehensive look at the expected impacts of climate change on Canada offers an embarrassing and misleading “don’t worry, be happy” vision, citing more golf days and better access to northern deposits of oil and gas courtesy of global warming, critics say.

    “The chart needs to be withdrawn,” said climate scientist Danny Harvey of the University of Toronto. “It is full of bad science and utterly downplays the serious impacts of climate change.”

    The chart Harvey referred to is the “Degrees of Change” interactive diagram released this week as part of a national educational initiative called “Climate Prosperity” by the prestigious Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE).

    “How can we (Canada) talk about profiting from climate change when most of the world will suffer devastating impacts, in part because of our emissions?” Harvey said. “It is disgusting.”

    In a release about the Climate Prosperity initiative, David McLaughlin, NRTEE president and CEO, said, “Adapt and prosper will be increasingly central to Canadian governments, communities, and businesses as these effects become more and more evident.”

  5. .

    “This project has the fingerprints of the fossil fuel industry all over it,” said Harvey.

    In fact, the report and chart was sponsored by Suncor Energy, Canada’s largest oil company, a major operator in extracting oil from Alberta’s tar sands and that markets gasoline as Petro-Canada. Suncor has been fined several times for pollution violations at its tar sands operations, even under Canada’s oil-friendly governments.

    One of the impacts downplayed in the chart is the impact on marine life from increasing ocean acidification from emissions of fossil fuels, Harvey noted. “They say ‘marine life will be affected’. The scientific literature is clear that we will see complete collapse of marine ecosystems.”

    The chart also says some polar bear populations are at risk of extinction if the global temperature rises four degrees C by the end of the century. Harvey says several studies this year estimate 15 to 30 percent of all species on the planet are at risk of extinction at two degrees C. At current rates of carbon emissions, the planet will be two degrees warmer by 2050 at the latest, he said.

    “The whole thing paints an utterly misleading picture,” Harvey stressed.

  6. Milan Post author

    I wrote a letter to my M.P. about this issue:

    Mr. Dewar,

    As one of your constituents, I wanted to draw your attention to a rather shocking recent decision by the government. Apparently, they are cooperating with Suncor to run a public relations campaign claiming that climate change will be good for Canada:

    While a bit of warming might be beneficial, it strains belief to think that Canada would be better off in a world 5.5 to 6.1°C warmer than before humans started changing the climate. And yet, that is where the world is headed by 2100 on a business-as-usual (not worst case) projection. Such a world is unlikely to be compatible with the continued existence of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, and their disintegration would contribute fourteen metres to global sea levels. Other widespread effects would also accompany such warming, some of which we can predict and some of which we cannot.

    More importantly, even if climate change were good for Canada, it would not give us the right to impose it on others. The changes humans are producing in the climate through deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels will affect people around the globe for thousands of years. Most of those people are defenceless inhabitants of future generations – vulnerable to the risks we impose on them, but unable to do anything to us. We don’t have the right to impose those risks and harms on them, even if it seems to be in our short-term economic interests to do so.

    ‘Climate Prosperity’ is a despicable attempt to convince Canadians to be inactive on the key issue of climate change mitigation. Rather than chasing after the last, dirtiest, and most dangerous fossil fuels left on Earth, we should be pushing aggressively to roll out sustainable zero-carbon technologies that can serve as the basis for human prosperity indefinitely.

    Would you consider raising a question about this campaign during Question Period? In addition to being deeply dubious in terms of logic, it seems inappropriate for the federal government to ally itself with an oil sands producer in order to encourage the continued devastation of Alberta’s boreal forest and the continued destabilization of the climate upon which all human prosperity depends.

    Sincerely yours,

    Milan Ilnyckyj

    Today, I got this response from his constituency office:

    Dear Milan,

    Thank you for writing Paul Dewar about the Climate Prosperity campaign by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE).

    You have raised some very important questions regarding Climate Prosperity which is, according to the NRTEE, a “policy research initiative to ensure Canada is well-prepared to adapt and prosper as part of the new reality of climate change.”

    It is egregious that a policy research initiative into adapting to the effects of climate change, which should really only supplement policy to combat global warming, is being funded by not only Suncor, but by the Royal Bank of Canada with its billions invested in the Tar Sands and Rio Tinto Alcan which is one of the largest mining companies in the world.

    Please be assured that Paul has been made aware of your concerns and he has instructed me to forward this information to the NDP Environment Critic Linda Duncan. This is certainly an issue we will follow-up and work with the NDP critics to address.

    Again, thank you for writing Paul and please don’t hesitate to contact him again over this or any other issue.

    All the best,

    James Crown

    Constituency Assistant

    Adjoint de Circonscription

    In retrospect – as my friend Lauren pointed out – my initial letter was not entirely appropriate. There is a distinction between NRTEE and the government itself, and the independence of the former ought to be respected. Also, the actual Climate Prosperity report doesn’t paint as rosy a picture as some of the media coverage about it suggests.

    Still, I think it is foolish to assert that the kind of warming that would arise from business-as-usual emissions (over 5ËšC) is likely to be good for Canada, or that Canada should only consider the effects within its own borders when deciding how it should participate in global mitigation efforts.

  7. .

    Climate change prosperity or disparity?

    Like notions of “economic success” that mask ecological destruction and widening chasms between the haves and have nots, notions of “prospering” in a time of climate change should give us pause.

    While the idea of prosperity might engage members of the business community who might otherwise be reluctant to take part in such debates, and while the full report catalogues some of the baleful effects of climate upheaval, the fact that this initiative lists among its sponsors the Suncor oil company might raise questions — if not hackles — among those concerned with our need to move away from fossil fuels to more sustainable energy sources.

  8. .

    Climate Prosperity Poster A Corruption of Facts

    OTTAWA – As world leaders and activists struggle at COP16 to come up with a meaningful action plan to deal with the climate crisis, Canadian schoolchildren are being subjected to propaganda suggesting that climate change will equal prosperity for Canada. “The rest of the world has acknowledged the terrible toll that climate change will take in terms of human lives and harm to ecosystems and biodiversity. The fact that our government is trying to teach the next generation that climate change will improve their lives is embarrassing, misleading and incredibly callous,” said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

    Green Party Leader Elizabeth May recently took some time to write a distressing and challenging letter to Dr. Robert Page, Chair of the National Round Table on Environment and Economy (NRTEE). “It was an incredibly difficult letter to write because I truly believed in the work of the National Round Table, having been involved in its conception and having served as a member and as Vice-Chair in the past. I know it had great potential to develop innovative policy solutions on a wide range of issues. But it has now been so downgraded and debased that its work is actually harmful,” said May.

    May is referring to the so-called “climate prosperity” poster released by NRTEE in conjunction with the Canadian Geographic Society and sponsored by Suncor.

    “First of all we were shocked to find there is no study behind this poster and many of the references are wrong or misquoted,” said May. “These posters are being sent to our schoolchildren who may not yet have the skills to realize what it means to have information about the silver linings of climate change sponsored by Canada’s largest oil company, much less to realize the multitude of scientific errors on the poster.”

    While, the NRTEE website claims that many scientists provided peer review for the poster, individual scientists were not asked to review the poster as a whole, nor did they sign off on the “don’t worry – be happy” messaging.

  9. .

    The Stakes

    First, climate change is real, and happening now. If the world continues emitting greenhouse gases (GHGs), like carbon dioxide, at current levels, average global temperatures could rise by up to 6°C by the end of this century (IPCC 2007. Fourth Assessment Report). The NRTEE’s recent report True North: Adapting Infrastructure to Climate Change in Northern Canada, documents the impacts of climate change on Canada’s North and what adaptation measures are necessary. Even with concerted action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by all countries, some climate change is inevitable. We need to establish what this means to Canada’s environment and economy. And we need to position ourselves to deal with it so that we can avoid future costs. Second, the world is already responding to climate change and is moving to a low-carbon emission future. This transition is already leading to investments in clean energy and new technologies. It will demand more emphasis on research and development and private sector innovation. It will require matching skills and training to new business and growth demands. It means ensuring that financing, trade, and investment instruments and pathways are aligned with future business opportunities and needs. And, it will require developing new governance mechanisms for strong public policy support.

    Canada is an open, trading economy. Much of our wealth and prosperity comes from global economic ties. So how other countries confront climate change and adapt their economies in response, affects us.

    Resilient through recession, we now need to be resilient through climate change. The traditional economic foundations and approach are not sufficient to sustain us as the world moves to a low-carbon emission global economy. Canada, along with our major trading partners, has signed on to the goal of achieving at least a 50-per cent reduction of global emissions by 2050 in order to keep the average global temperature rise to no more than 2° Celsius. Significant adjustments lie ahead. Being ahead of the climate change curve means considering what the economic risks and opportunities will be for our country’s prosperity and taking the steps to get in front so we gain the most.

  10. .

    “One thing was clear though, the country’s environmental regulator, Environment Canada, was the big loser. It saw its funding slashed by 6%. Many are also mourning the immediate loss of the National Round Table on the Environment and Economy (NRTEE), a ground breaking group of leading academics, economists, ecologists and policy-makers that advised the government. Biologist Jeffery Young and energy policy analyst Tyler Bryant at the David Suzuki Foundation in Vancouver said that NRTEE’s current Climate Prosperity initiative is among the most ambitious works in the world, demonstrating that deep reductions in carbon emissions are possible without significant economic sacrifices.

    Flaherty says the ‘one project, one review’ principle will encourage economic growth. But critics are wary of moves to ‘streamline’ the environmental review process. Controversial projects like the Northern Gateway oil pipeline, which would currently take up to six years to be approved, could now be pushed through in two years. Further tiers of legislation exist at the provincial government level, although these are inconsistent.

    However, some working in academia were frustrated at the way that C$37 million in funding was redirected towards industry-academic partnerships. ‘By linking research only to business interests, the government will stifle rather than promote growth and scientific advancement,’ said the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) president Jim Turk.”

  11. .

    One such attempt to study the interrelation between environment and economy is also on the federal chopping block. The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, which first met in 1989 and was legislated in 1993, was created to provide high-quality, evidence-based, long-term public policy advice to the federal government.

    It is true that the political prominence of the National Round Table has slipped in the past two decades (originally reporting to the prime minister, it now reports to the environment minister). Still, as a non-partisan body, it is able to make public policy recommendations beyond the short-term, four-year electoral political framework.

    While Environment Minister Peter Kent contends that we do not need such interdisciplinary venues in the age of the Internet, the value of a specially mandated multi-stakeholder group researching the impacts and relations between environment and economy cannot be undersold . . . especially in a changing and uncertain climate.

    Is it a coincidence that this announcement comes after the National Round Table released a 2011 report on the anticipated economic impacts of climate change? Findings on their website state that “ignoring climate change now will cost us more later.” It also notes that the costs of climate change will be unequal across the country.–environment-gets-the-austerity-treatment

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