Alex Binkley on cabinet shuffle

Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst, whose website is Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. This week in ...

The Binkley Report

'Clueless Joe', Minister for Oil:

A starting point for a cabinet shuffle would be Joe Oliver

who has become a national embarrassment bowing to big oil
By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective
Joe Oliver, photo by Mark Blinch , REUTERS  
Clueless Joe Oliver: Canada's Minister for Oil

When Prime Minister Harper juggles his cabinet this summer, he should start with Resources Minister Joe Oliver.

Oliver has become a national embarrassment through his complete capitulation to the oil industry and his groveling requests to the Obama Administration to approve the XL Pipeline.

Oliver’s whinnying hit rock bottom during a recent visit to Washington when he attacked prominent American scientist Joseph Hansen for making exaggerated claims about the impact of climate change. Specifically he accused Hansen of speaking nonsense.

The nonsense isn’t coming from Hansen, a highly-respect scientist who retired from NASA earlier this year to speak up for the environment. He has long warned about the threat of climate change and the failure to take any action to mitigate its impact. He’s been particularly critical of the development of the Alberta tar sands as “game over for the climate.”

A dozen prominent scientists write letter to Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver
By Max Paris, CBC Environment Unit
CBC News
8 May 2013 — A group of 12 prominent Canadian climate scientists called out the federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver on his support for the expansion of oil infrastructure in a letter released today.
The scientists wrote that building pipelines and developing fossil fuel production delays the transition to an economy that relies less on oil and gas.
The scientists urged Oliver to move away from the high-carbon approach that will lead to climate warming of more than 2 C.
"If we invest in expanding fossil fuel production, we risk locking ourselves into a high-carbon pathway that increases greenhouse gas emissions for years and decades to come," wrote the group that includes Mark Jaccard of B.C.'s Simon Fraser University, Gordon McBean of the Centre for Environment and Sustainability at Western University in London, Ont., and David Keith, a Canadian who is teaching public policy and engineering at Harvard University.
The group went on to say that if Canada wants to avoid dangerous climate change it "will require significantly reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and making a transition to cleaner energy." (More.)

As John Bennett, Executive Director of the Sierra Club Canada has noted, it is embarrassing that a member of cabinet would “attack an accomplished and distinguished scientist while representing us in another country. I'm also embarrassed he would put his lack of understanding of basic science on display for all Americans to see.”

The irony in Oliver’s attack was that the next day Hansen received the Ridenhour Courage Prize, which is "presented to an individual in recognition of his or her courageous and life-long defense of the public interest and passionate commitment to social justice."

Bennett points out that Hansen told Congress 25 years ago that “The global warming now is large enough that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause-and-effect relationship to the greenhouse effect. … It was the first high-profile public statement by a U.S. government scientist alerting Congress and the world to the grave threat of climate change.

What irked Oliver, and most likely the rest of the Harper gang, is Hansen's comments in the New York Times. Notice he more correctly calls them tar sands, not oil sands.

“Canada's tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50% of the planet's species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk."

Meanwhile Oliver keeps up the mindless mantra of jobs, jobs, jobs.

The British newspaper The Guardian calls him Canada’s Oil Minister.

Bennett calls him Clueless Joe Oliver. “You may recall he's the same minister who calls people radicals, puppets for "foreign interests" and un-Canadian for speaking out against the fossil fuel industry. The same minister who believes scientists aren't concerned about climate change any more.”

The same guy that says Canada doesn’t need to change anything about Canada’s environmental protections to win approval for the pipeline.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sees it otherwise and says needs to get serious about curbing oil and gas emissions.

Clare Demerse, director of federal policy for the Pembina Institute think-tank in Calgary says Canada’s laggard approach to emissions “has not made it easy for Washington to say yes to the pipeline.

So far, the federal and provincial governments have only implemented enough emissions-reducing measures to take Canada halfway towards meeting its modest 2020 targets.

Tzeporah Berman, an environmental author and co-founder of ForestEthics, says Oliver’s understanding of climate change feels “like being told that two plus two equals five.”

Oliver’s unabashed support for the Enbridge Gateway “a fossil fuel-driven national energy strategy based on data that would vastly increase emissions and contribute dramatically to rising atmospheric temperatures.

“It was Oliver who claimed that the massive and growing toxic tailings ponds will be so clean ‘you’ll be able to drink from them,’ while more secret documents recently released confirmed they are currently leaking more and more toxins into the Alberta environment every day.”

Berman notes that “Every independent study, including one from the US Department of Energy, has found that the oil sands are one of the world’s dirtiest forms of oil, producing three times more emissions per barrel produced and 22% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil.

“The oil is getting dirtier due to an increasing focus on deep oil sands development using steam, which causes more greenhouse-gas emissions,” he continues.

Meanwhile Environment Canada says Canada will not meet its climate-pollution targets because of oil sands expansion. In fact, climate pollution from the oil sands has doubled in the last decade and is predicted to double again in the next decade if all the new development is allowed to go ahead.”

Even Oliver’s claim that the tarsands are a small part of global emissions comes up short. “Climate pollution from oil sands expansion is projected to hit 104 megatonne equivalents of C02 by 2020. That’s like putting an additional 20 million cars on the road in North America. That exceeds the combined emissions from 85 nations,” Berman pointed out.

The Harper government’s response is “to muzzle scientists who might introduce facts inconvenient to ideology, MPs are given no choice but to get out there day after day and make false allegations about their opponents, and reporters become so cynical about the whole ‘game’ that they too infect the public with lower expectations for those we send to Ottawa,” he explains.

The result is that many now tolerate a minister’s Orwellian statements as normal while the rest of us are left to wonder when we will come to our senses and return to the conversation about how we make the necessary rapid transition to clean energy and an innovation economy in Canada, taking advantage of the huge resources we have to do that.”

Sad but true.