Opinion

At the Limits of the Market Part 2: Why Capitalism Hasn't Solved Climate Change

climate change, capitalism, environmental issues in Canada

Read At the Limits of the Market: Why Capitalism Won't Solve Climate Change, Part 1.

One answer to the question of why free market capitalism has failed to generate technological solutions to the crisis of climate change is that green innovation simply isn’t as profitable as speculation. In an era when financial markets generate record profits and investment banks are too big to fail, the long work of investment, research and construction of new energy infrastructure simply isn’t attractive to profit-seeking corporations.

Faced with the clear failure of the free market to respond to the approaching dangers of climate change, politicians have reacted by attempting to coax corporations into serving the needs of people as well as the bottom line. This is typically referred to as finding “market-based solutions.” It sounds good at first: we’ll harness the best minds in the private sector to develop new technology, create new jobs and solve climate change in the process.

But all too often the phrase “market-based solutions” works as a kind of coded communication. In effect, it signals to corporations that the government will not take any measures that could interfere with their business model. Rather than impose meaningful restrictions on emissions or the extraction of fossil fuels, market-based solutions focus on changing behavior by creating the right set of incentives.  

At the Limits of the Market: Why Capitalism Won't Solve Climate Change, Part 1

climate change, capitalism, environmental issues in Canada

One of the great mysteries of contemporary capitalism is the fact that as a system it appears absolutely incapable of responding to the crisis of climate change. Why can’t a system that made the automobile into an accessible mass consumer good provide us with clean and efficient mass transit, or at the very least electric cars? Why are we still burning coal, the energy source that drove the Industrial Revolution over 200 years ago? Where are all the new green enterprises leading the way into a low-carbon future?

From Joseph Schumpeter’s description of “creative destruction” to the fabled entrepreneurial powers of innovators like Steve Jobs, we’re accustomed to thinking that capitalism provides the social and economic framework that best nurtures human creativity and fosters technological innovation.

But with atmospheric concentrations of CO2 sailing past 400ppm and scientists warning of a global environmental catastrophe caused by the breaching of the nine planetary boundaries, the forces of the market are curiously silent.

Corporate Counterfeit Science – Both Wrong and Dangerous

Asbestos Mine in Canada on DeSmog Canada

This is a guest post by Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). It originally appeared on the UCS blog The Equation.

Asbestos can kill you. We’ve all been warned about the dangers of breathing it in. That is why we test buildings for it and have rules to protect construction workers from exposure to it. But how do we know asbestos is harmful? Because scientists have done studies of the dangers it poses to our health. And I’m glad they have so we can avoid these threats.

Tampering with science behind the health effects of asbestos

For decades, however, some companies have fought efforts to regulate asbestos, even tampering with the science behind our understanding of its health effects. And, sadly, a recent court ruling indicates that the tampering may have been more widespread than anyone previously knew.

Recently, a New York Appeals Court ruled unanimously that that Georgia Pacific, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, must hand over internal documents pertaining to the publication of 11 studies published in reputable scientific journals between 2008 and 2012. At issue in the case: whether the firm can be held accountable for engaging in a “crime-fraud” by planting misinformation in these journals intending to show that the so-called chrysotile asbestos in its widely used joint compound doesn’t cause cancer.

Greenwashing the Tar Sands, Part 3: Wherein money trumps fact every time

This is last installment of a three-part series on greenwashing and the tar sands. Be sure to read Part 1, A Short History of Greenwashing the Tar Sands, and Part 2, Do As I Say, Not As I Do.

Recently, Canadian Oil Sands Chief Executive Officer Marcel Coutu explained to Bloomberg why he and other big shot oil executives have been lobbying U.S. politicians so hard for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would ferry more than 800,000 barrels of tar sands crude to the Gulf Coast. Coutu had participated in a Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) lobbying junket in February, and another trip is being planned for this month.

The first reason is money. The Keystone XL pipeline is a vital component of the tar sands industry’s plans. Without it, it will be hard for Big Oil to double production of tar sands crude by 2020. With no way to transport the extra crude to markets in the U.S. and beyond, there would be no point in spending all that money to turn bitumen into a crude form of oil. This, Coutu said, has had a chilling effect on investment and share prices.

Canadian Oil Sands shares have risen just two per cent this year, while Cenovus’ have fallen seven percent and Imperial Oil’s are down 6.2 percent. Keystone XL, says Todd Kepler, a Calgary-based oil and gas analyst at Cormark Securities, would increase share prices for oil producers by as much as 20 per cent.

That's a big deal worth millions of dollars.

Could NAFTA Force Keystone XL On United States?

As the public anxiously awaits the U.S. State Department’s final decision on the fate of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the discussion has largely ignored the elephant in the room: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA.)

Thanks to NAFTA, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the State Department will likely be able to do little more than stall the pipeline’s construction. In its simplest form, NAFTA removes barriers for North American countries wishing to do business in or through other North American countries, including environmental barriers. The goal of the agreement was to promote intra-continental commerce and help the economies of all involved in the agreement.

America's First Climate Refugees

The Guardian news outlet is running a series this week on the small Alaskan town of Newtok that is slowly being wiped off the map as the waters rise around it.

The Army Corp of Engineers predicts that the highest point in Newtok could be under water by as early as 2017. This is irrefutable evidence that climate change is here now, and the sea level rises are no longer a prediction by scientists, but happening as we speak.

Guardian journalist Suzanne Goldenberg writes,

These villages, whose residents are nearly all native Alaskans, are already experiencing the flooding and erosion that are the signature effects of climate change in Alaska. The residents of a number of villages – including Newtok – are now actively working to leave their homes and the lands they have occupied for centuries and move to safer locations.

Once upon a time, it was considered politically savvy in some quarters to downplay or outright deny the realities of climate change. But now, with communities in exile from the impacts, denying climate change seems to me to be borderline negligent.

Greenwashing the Tar Sands, Part 2: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Last week, I wrote a short history of the greenwashing campaign being waged by tar sands promoters, including (and especially) the Canadian and Alberta governments. It’s clear that as the battle over the future of tar sands development has intensified, so has the greenwashing necessary to promote it in the age of climate change and increasing environmental literacy. The more people know about the dangerous costs and risks associated with tar sands development, the more time, effort and money its promoters must invest in the alchemy of disingenuous propaganda.

The frustrating part for Canadians concerned with this egregious abuse and misuse of language is that there doesn’t appear to be any recourse. Tar sands supporters seem to disseminate their little black lies with impunity, and there is no way, in a democracy where free speech is sacrosanct, to stop the flood of tar sands bullshit sullying the airwaves.

A Short History of Greenwashing the Tar Sands, Part 1

This is Part One of a three-part series on the political greenwashing of the tar sands in Canada.

When I hatched the idea to write a book about the use of spin and propaganda in the battle over the tar sands, a close friend of mine suggested I avoid the term “tar sands.” His logic was simple: using this term, which has become a pejorative, would turn some people off, people who might benefit, he said, from reading my book.

His recommendation was meant to be helpful, but it speaks to the power of manipulating language to make people believe something appears to be something that it is not. “Greenwashing” refers to the strategy of intentionally exaggerating a product’s environmental credentials in order to sell it, and nowhere has greenwashing been more generously used than in the promotion of the tar sands and the new and bigger pipelines that proponents hope will carry it around the world.

Greenwashing is fairly recent phenomenon—it was only added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1999—but it has become commonplace as public concern has grown over the spate of environmental problems we now face, and as consumers demand “greener” products as a means of solving them. The most recent analysis by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing found that although the number of green products is growing, the marketing of more than 95 per cent of them still commits one the seven sins of greenwashing.

Parsing Redford’s Little Black Lies, Part 3

This is the third post in a three-part series. For Part 1 of Parsing Redford's Little Black Lies, click here. For Part 2, How Redford Can Walk the Walk, click here.

ON March 1, the U.S. State Department released its draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would increase the flow of Alberta’s tar sands oil to the U.S. by an estimated 510,000 barrels per day. It’s a big deal, both for those who support additional tar sands development and for those who want to limit the pace and scale of the world’s most controversial energy development.

For the latter, the draft SEIS was a disappointment. Like the original Environmental Impact Statement, the SEIS does not adequately account for the pipeline’s impact on water and climate. In particular, the SEIS ignored evidence that Keystone XL would contribute significantly to the escalation of the already rapid expansion of the tar sands, one of the world’s dirtiest forms of energy, and the resulting increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Not surprisingly, this suited Alberta Premier Alison Redford just fine. Redford had just returned from a “mission” to Washington, D.C., where she played fast and loose with the facts as she tried to convince American politicians that Keystone was an integral part of what she likes to call responsible energy development. For her, the draft SEIS was the long-overdue next step in the approval process, and she used the opportunity to exaggerate and mischaracterize Alberta’s environmental record.

How Redford Can Walk the Walk, Part 2

This is the second post in a three-part series. For Part 1, Parsing Redford's Little Black Lies, click here.

As Alberta Premier Alison Redford tries her best to hoodwink American politicians into believing Alberta is leading the way on climate change, it’s worth considering where the problems lie and how they might be addressed. The solutions, of course, have nothing to do with more and better public relations, just a commitment to environmental stewardship that Alberta has yet to embrace.

As I wrote in the first part of this column, Redford’s claims about “responsible oil sands development” in her recent USA Today column are patently false. This is because Alberta has failed to implement its own climate change strategy, allowing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the province to grow significantly over the last 20 years despite a commitment to steep reductions.

There are three reasons for this failure. The first is the rampant expansion of Alberta’s tar sands development, which is the fastest growing source of GHG emissions in Canada. GHG emissions from the tar sands more than doubled over the last 20 years, and planned growth under current provincial and federal policies indicates they will double yet again between 2009 and 2020, from 45 megatonnes in 2009 to 92 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2020. Environment Canada knows full well that tar sands production, which is expected to double between 2008 and 2015, “will put a strong upward pressure on emissions.”

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