Category Archives: Carbon taxes

Alberta Canada: Don’t cheer the new premier yet. Demand she break the oil barons’ vice-grip

Repost from The Guardian
[Editor:  Significant quote: “…investment in oil and gas creates fewer jobs than practically any other industry. Investment in the clean energy sector, on the other hand, creates 7 to 8 times more work. The oil barons aren’t essential “job creators”; they’re economic suppressers.”  – RS

Don’t cheer Alberta’s premier yet. Demand she break the oil barons’ vice-grip

Alberta’s climate plan falls far short of what’s possible: unleashing a green economy that creates hundreds of thousands of jobs and transitions off the tar sands

By Martin Lukacs, 24 November 2015 14.12 EST, updated 25 November 2015 10.28 EST
The Syncrude Oil Sands site near to Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Alberta’s new climate plan is drawing praise from sources that have rarely got on with the oil-exporter – Al Gore, labour unions and some of North America’s biggest green groups. At first glance, it’s not hard to see why: Alberta is promising an accelerated phase-out of coal, increased funds for renewable energy and impacted workers, and a price on carbon. It’s a major step hard to imagine scarcely a year ago, when the province was still under a multi-decade Conservative reign.

So why then are the oil barons celebrating? Beaming with pride, the heads of Canada’s biggest tar sands companies flanked Premier Rachel Notley during Sunday’s announcement.

Their hope: that Alberta’s globally tarred reputation will suddenly be scrubbed clean. Despite the lofty rhetoric, the government has committed only to bringing emissions below today’s levels by 2030 – making it even less ambitious than what Stephen Harper’s federal petro-state offered. This might be what the Premier meant when she promised that new pipelines – which companies desperately need to export tar sands – would soon benefit from “creative lobbying and advocacy efforts.”

The tar sands now has a glossy new sheen. Alberta’s plan sets a cap on their emissions – an acknowledgement that tar sands will no longer grow infinitely. Except it’s so high as to allow a staggering forty percent increase over the next fifteen years. And if a Conservative government returns to power, could it abandon the policy and ensure nothing is accomplished? In other words, this is a cap big enough to drive a three-story tar sands truck through.

Here’s the other reason the oil barons are cheering: they know they could be getting squeezed a hell of a lot more. After all, Alberta’s New Democratic Party got elected with a mandate for bold change. Albertans were tired of oil-soaked politicians who let companies vacuum up billions in profit amidst skyrocketing inequality and deteriorating public services. And the oil price crash made clearer than ever before the cost of a boom-and-bust economy built on a single volatile commodity.

Climate science backs that mandate for rapidly transforming our economy: it tells us that since we’ve delayed for so long, small reforms will no longer suffice. And Albertans understand the scientific reports that the vast majority of fossil fuels need to stay in the ground to avert dangerous climate change – the impacts of which they’ve already experienced in flooded Calgary and a drought-parched countryside. But while good times fueled denial, the ecologically suicidal politics of the establishment could be ignored. When the oil shock hit, they also started looking economically reckless.

As the oil barons thrash about in a self-induced crisis, this should be the time to part ways with them. Exxon is being investigated in the United States for having discovered the lethal consequences of climate change in the 1970s, then lied about it for decades while doing everything to make this catastrophe a reality. Low oil prices – which don’t look to be going away – have already forced the cancellation of extraction projects and created a thaw in investment throughout Alberta’s oil patch. The cost of renewable energy has dropped at incredible and unexpected speed. And just weeks ago, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. It was not, as Premier Notley put it, a “kick in [Alberta’s] teeth.” But you couldn’t pick a better moment to kick the oil barons to the curb.

None other than the Economist – not exactly a radical menace to big business – has argued that the oil price collapse offers a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to transform a dysfunctional energy system.

The Alberta government could start by vanquishing the myth that the oil barons are economically indispensable. As the oil industry has thrown almost forty thousand people out of work, they have proved their interests never aligned with Albertans. The facts always told a different story: investment in oil and gas creates fewer jobs than practically any other industry. Investment in the clean energy sector, on the other hand, creates 7 to 8 times more work. The oil barons aren’t essential “job creators”; they’re economic suppressers.

So why – and this applies equally to Prime Minister Trudeau – fixate on building cross-country pipelines, when you could create more jobs in clean energy? Tackling climate change could be not just a public relations strategy to finesse the exporting of Alberta’s bitumen. It could be a chance to massively boost and transform the economy – making it more healthy, just and humane.

Look at what Germany – a similar, industrialized nation – has accomplished. In just over a decade, Germany has generated 30 percent of their electricity through renewables and created 400,000 good jobs in clean energy, much of it community-controlled and run by energy cooperatives. Using the right policies, Alberta could make this transition happen even more quickly, with greater benefits for First Nations, workers, and those getting the worst deal in the current economy.

It’s not too late to seize the historic opportunity. The NDP could still put forward a plan to create 200,000 good, green jobs over the next several years. Reports have laid out how this could happen with targeted investment: in accessible public transit, in energy-saving housing retrofits, in eco-system restoration, and by taking advantage of Alberta’s incredible potential for renewable energy. Nature didn’t make Alberta an oil province. Erect new signs: welcome to solar, wind and geothermal country.

How should Alberta pay for this transition? By putting their hands on the enormous profits of the industry that created the crisis in the first place. The new carbon tax – and the royalty hike the government must vigorously pursue – should be raised to send a stronger message to the market to jump-start a transition off oil.

Economists have shown a fair and effective tax would look more like $200 a tonne. $20 or $30 a tonne will not cut it – especially when half of the revenue generated will return as subsidies to oil and gas companies and dirty electricity generators. At this rate, most oil companies will be spending barely $1 more per barrel of oil. Polluters should be paying, not being paid off. The only message this will send the market is to “dig, baby, dig.”

Rolling out a plan to create a new, cleaner economy that’s more just and prosperous would convince voters there is an alternative to the oil economy. At that point the NDP could initiate a debate on a moratorium on tar sands development that has been called for by a hundred of North America’s top scientists. Scientific studies show we could get all of our electricity from renewables by 2030, not just 30 percent as Alberta now promises; and an economy entirely run by renewables by 2050. When popular movements can build pressure for such a transition, one thing will be sure: oil barons won’t be hand-clasping on the stage – they’ll be howling from the sidelines.

These movements, with Indigenous communities leading the way, have pushed the Alberta government this far. Now they must push them farther, and faster. It’s not time yet to cheer Alberta’s premier. Demand instead she break the oil barons’ vice-grip on our future.

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    SF Chronicle editorial: A climate pilgrimage

    Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle
    [Editor:  The San Francisco Chronicle ran three (!) stories on the Vatican Conference on climate change, including two rather stiff challenges to California Governor Jerry Brown.  See below for one.  See also: As California pumps out oil, Gov. Brown says world must cut back … and SF Mayor touts green vehicles at Vatican conference.  – RS]

    Climate change road trip for Jerry Brown and Ed Lee

    Editorial, The San Francisco Chronicle, July 21, 2015 5:16pm

    California is taking its climate change ambitions on a pilgrimage to Rome. The mission amplifies the major steps that have put this state out front in reshaping energy use and also taps into a sweeping papal message on reining in environmental damage.

    Leading the tour is Gov. Jerry Brown, joined by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee among some 60 global mayors. The Vatican gathering, which will also touch on human trafficking, intends to build on Pope Francis’ encyclical denouncing the toll from climate change and puts pressure on world leaders to take action at a U.N. summit in Paris in December.

    Former Jesuit seminarian Brown put himself in tune with Francis by talking up the “moral dimension” of human-caused problems such as erratic weather, rising seas and dirty air. But he also struck a more earthly note, lashing out at “troglodyte” skeptics who deny the science behind rising temperatures and shifting climates.

    California is already a leader in reducing tailpipe emissions, cutting fossil fuel use and increasing energy efficiency, going well beyond national standards. In the next 15 years, Brown wants to kick up the pace: Half of California’s electricity will come from renewables such as solar, wind or biofuels, and gas pump use will drop by half as well.

    He told his audience of clerics and politicians that such goals sound “unimaginable” but are needed. Brown lashed out at “fierce opposition and blind inertia” from doubtful lawmakers and dug-in business interests. Brown himself is no stranger to these pressures, giving his blessing to fracking for oil and gas, widely opposed by environmentalists. In his encyclical, Francis also criticized cap-and-trade regulations as too lax, though the carbon-tax mechanism is a bedrock feature of the governor’s energy plans.

    The gathering is also chance for other leaders to showcase policies. Lee unwrapped a plan to phase out petroleum in favor of renewable diesel fuels for the municipal fleet by the end of the year. It’s a another step in clearing the air of damaging greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

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      Why U.S. oil companies clash with EU peers on global warming

      Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle

      Why U.S. oil companies clash with EU peers on global warming

      By David R. Baker, Sunday, June 7, 2015 11:37 am
      John Watson, CEO of the Chevron Corporation, speaks during an energy summit in Washington, D.C., in 2011. Photo: Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images
      John Watson, CEO of the Chevron Corporation, speaks during an energy summit in Washington, D.C., in 2011. Photo: Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images

      The fight against climate change has opened a trans-Atlantic rift in an industry often seen as a monolith — Big Oil.

      Unwilling to sit on the sidelines of climate negotiations, Europe’s largest oil companies last month issued a joint statement calling for a worldwide price on the greenhouse gas emissions that come from burning their products. Such a price, they said, would help the global economy transition to cleaner sources of energy.

      The CEOs of BP, Eni, Royal Dutch Shell, Statoil and Total all signed the statement.

      None of their American counterparts did.

      Chevron Corp. CEO John Watson argued that his European colleagues are pushing a policy that consumers would never embrace. Focus instead on developing nuclear plants and natural gas reserves to fight global warming, he said.

      “It’s not a policy that is going to be effective, because customers want affordable energy,” Watson said last week, at an OPEC seminar in Vienna. “They want low energy prices, not high energy prices.”

      The split, analysts say, reflects the stark divide between climate politics in Europe and the United States.

      Europe already has a cap-and-trade system for setting a price on greenhouse gas emissions. Public debate over global warming revolves around how best to fight it, not whether it exists.

      In the United States, many conservatives still insist that warming is either a natural phenomenon or an outright hoax perpetrated by scientists, environmentalists and their political allies. Pricing carbon is a nonstarter for most Republicans in Washington, who are trying to block President Obama’s climate regulations. An effort to create a nationwide cap-and-trade system died in 2010, in part due to opposition from oil- and coal-producing states.

      “The domestic politics for the U.S. companies is different from what it is for the Europeans,” said Raymond Kopp, a senior fellow with the Resources for the Future think tank. “Right now, this is a difficult conversation for them to have domestically.”

      And that’s assuming they want to have it all.

      Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson has expressed support for a tax on greenhouse gas emissions but hasn’t pushed for it. The company formerly supported groups that questioned the scientific consensus on warming. Billionaires Charles and David Koch, whose wealth comes largely from oil and gas, have poured money into the campaigns of political candidates who oppose action on climate change. The Koch brothers have announced plans to spend $889 million during the 2016 election cycle.

      California policies

      And while Chevron’s home base lies in the only U.S. state with a full-scale cap-and-trade program — California — the company has often criticized the state’s climate-change policies, warning they could push energy prices higher.

      Last month’s statement from the European oil CEOs, in contrast, brands climate change “a critical challenge for our world” that must be tackled immediately. The executives urge governments that haven’t already done so to start putting a price on carbon.

      The statement, issued as an open letter to two top international climate negotiators, is notably silent on whether the companies prefer a tax on greenhouse gas emissions or a cap-and-trade system. Such systems — including California’s, which began in 2012 — force businesses to buy credits for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit.

      The CEOs make clear, however, that they eventually want a worldwide price.

      “Pricing carbon obviously adds a cost to our production and our products,” they write. “But carbon pricing policy frameworks will contribute to provide our businesses and their many stakeholders with a clear roadmap for future investment, a level playing field for all energy sources across geographies and a clear role in securing a more sustainable future.”

      Natural gas strategy

      The CEOs also hint at how their companies could thrive in such a future, by producing more natural gas and investing in renewable technology. Indeed, the companies already have extensive natural gas holdings, analysts noted.

      “If you’re on the board of directors of an oil company, you have to be asking yourself, ‘What’s our future in a low-carbon world?’ And with this letter, I think you see these companies trying to figure it out,” said Ralph Cavanagh, energy program co-director for the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group.

      Chevron and Exxon have also invested heavily in natural gas, which when burned in power plants produces roughly half the greenhouse gas emissions of coal. Regulations limiting emissions, including the Obama administration’s effort to cut emissions from power plants, could help them.

      “I can’t imagine that Exxon or Chevron, which are companies that would benefit from a shift to natural gas, would be privately opposed to the Clean Power Plan,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, director of the energy and sustainability program at UC Davis.

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