Thursday, February 02, 2006

Environmental Scare-Mongering . . .

. . . from a Kyoto critic.

Licia Corbella's doom-and-gloom article appeared in the Calgary Sun on December 11, 2005. She stated that in order to meet our obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, Canada has to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 270 megatonnes (mt). She then reviewed figures from Environment Canada, presenting them as evidence that the target is impossible to reach.

In 2002, Canada's entire manufacturing sector spewed out 62.9 megatonnes.

Then comes the transportation sector, which includes all those planes, trains and automobiles, pipelines and Paul Martin's tax-exempt Canada Steamship Lines freighters.

Ground, park and dock them all and we would remove 190 mt of GHGs.

Combine those two sectors -- manufacturing and transportation -- and that adds up to 252.9 megatonnes, leaving us short by 17.1 megatonnes.

She goes on to raise the specter of billions of Canadian tax dollars flowing to Russia to buy emissions credits, because, she implies, it's obvious that we can't shut down our entire manufacturing and transportation sectors.

Let's back up to 1990. That's the base year for Canada's Kyoto commitment. Our target is to reduce our emissions to 6% below 1990 levels. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the way I remember it, Canada did have a manufacturing sector in 1990. Canada also had a transportation sector. If these sectors are the big baddies, obviously we shouldn't need to totally eliminate them to achieve a 6% reduction.

Check the Environment Canada figures for yourself, and see how cleverly Corbella has chosen her sectors. Obviously transportation has to be included, because everybody knows it's the other guy's SUV that's the problem. At 180 mt for 2002, transportation is a big part of the 719 mt total. A big part, yes, but where's the other 539 mt? Clearly it's not all in the manufacturing sector. But manufacturing is the perfect contentious target, vilified by those eager to assign blame for environmental problems, and defended by their opponents as the engine of our economy. Corbella knew exactly what she was doing.

She was scaring people into assuming that they must watch helplessly as government either turns Canada into a have-not country, or backs out of its Kyoto commitment.

In reality, where is the rest of the 539 mt total? For starters, it's in "Electricity and Heat Generation" at 129 mt. That refers to "thermal combustion-derived electricity" - such as the electricity that is powering my computer right now, that runs my refrigerator and my freezer and my washer and dryer and my Christmas lights and the lights that get left on when no-one is in the room. If I reduce my use of this electricity, it won't cripple the economy.

Where else? How about Residential [Energy Use], which refers to fuel combustion in homes, at 44 mt. Turn down your thermostat at night (I have to remember to put some slippers on when blogging after bedtime), invest in some weatherstripping and insulation, maybe upgrade some windows. How will that hurt the economy? Sure, if everybody did enough of it, maybe the demand for natural gas would level off. Drilling in southwest Saskatchewan might slow down a bit.

What about agriculture? We hear so much about belching cows. This appears in the table as "Enteric Fermentation," and it amounts to only 22 mt. Another 8 mt are attributed to "Manure Management." Meeting the targets doesn't mean giving up all our steak and milk. We might do well to look at our crop production practices, though. "Agricultural Soils" refers to emissions of nitrous oxide; this happens when nitrogen from fertilizers of various kinds goes partly into the air instead of the plants. The figures are estimated, with large uncertainties, but the value given is 29 mt. Then you have to consider emissions associated with fertilizer and pesticide production, and fuel combustion to run the tillage and harvest equipment; these figures are hidden in other categories, such as "Industrial Processes" and the already-mentioned "Transportation."

If you're running a total in your head, you know there's still a big chunk missing. The "Industrial Processes" that I just mentioned account for 51 mt. (How many of Corbella's readers would realize that there was an entire category separate from "Manufacturing," called "Industrial Processes"?) "Waste," mostly solid waste disposal on land, gives another 25 mt.

Of particular significance to southeast Saskatchewan, given our economic dependence on the oilfield and on coal-fired power generation, are the categories of "Fossil Fuel Industries" at 73 mt and "Fugitive Emissions" at 55 mt. Not only do we release GHGs when we generate power or drive our cars, we also release them when we produce the fuels in the first place. (In case you're wondering, "Fugitive Emissions" refers to things like spills, leaks, venting and flaring during oil and gas production, plus a much smaller amount of methane released from coal deposits during mining.)

I haven't covered all the categories. Most of the rest are relatively small; "Land Use, Land-Use Change" actually has a negative figure to allow for CO2 uptake during plant growth. As you can plainly see, there are a lot more areas to work on than just transportation and manufacturing. By choosing these two sectors, Corbella skilfully directed attention away from the areas where our own individual initiative could most quickly and painlessly make a difference. If we're merely trying to meet Kyoto targets, the picture is not nearly so bleak as Corbella paints it.

A much more serious criticism of the Kyoto Protocol is that it will merely slow the accumulation of greenhouse gases. Even if all the targets were met around the world, greenhouse gases would continue to rise. And even if we could somehow reverse that trend, and begin to reduce the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we would still have a long way to go just to bring them back within the range where these gases have fluctuated over the last 650,000 years. We have already drastically altered the chemistry of our atmosphere, and as I have noted previously, climate change may be the least of our problems.

2 comments:

madcapmum said...

Statistics are so easily manipulated. I've become a bit paranoid about anything I read anymore that quotes numbers, because it's so easy to omit and twist data to one's own purpose. I'm getting better at remembering to ask "Who benefits by this information being accepted?" I wonder how it profits Corbella to present the numbers this way?

Laura said...

Well, it gets her story picked up by the Reader's Digest. It gets her Reader's Digest article praised as "brilliant" by the MP for Medicine Hat.

She is telling certain people what they want to hear.