Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Alberta and the "Green Shift"

Following up on my earlier post, it's worth noting that the Prairie provinces are particularly at risk from climate change. Four Strong Winds summarizes the problem pretty well:

First, let's look at the Columbia Icefields – the source of the North Saskatchewan and Athabasca rivers (you
remember that last one, it's the one the Oil/Tar Sands need to produce all that
oil that's 'driving' our economy). The Athabasca glacier has lost half of its
volume in the last 125 years, and continues to lose 16,000,000 cubic
meters of ice a year
. Further south, the summer flows of the North and South
Saskatchewan Rivers are at 66.6% and 53.8% of what they were in 1910
. These
rivers (and their related systems) don't just provide drinking water for cities
like Edmonton and Calgary, but are the backbone of our farming, ranching, and
tourism industries. In 2003, the Bow was listed as one of Canada's most
endangered rivers. Sadly, you can't drink oil.

That 2-4 degree increase in temperature doesn't just mean less glaciers; it means less rainfall, and more
evaporation. It means the shifting of the climate found in the extreme southeast
of the province as far north as Calgary or even Red Deer. The effect this type
of a shift on our rural economies will not be minor by any stretch of the

For all the handwringing over carbon taxes and what they would do to Alberta's oil economy, it does not seem to be a province that could easily weather the effects of global warming.

In any case, I think Alberta can handle some extra taxes. It's become an economic powerhouse, with oil prices through the roof, a per capita GDP 50% higher than the national average, and people making $15/hour at Tim Hortons.

I don't know how it's polling out west, but a large majority of Canadians are in favor of strong action on the environment, which gives, at least implicity, some kind of a mandate to Dion and the Liberals.

The Liberal Green Shift isn't a perfect plan, but it's a little depressing that Harper would rather duck the debate altogether, given how important this issue is, not only for his home province of Alberta, but for all of Canada. Also depressing that it's inevitably going to be cast in terms of the traditional East-West divide in federal politics. This shouldn't be about that; it's about how we as a nation are going to deal with climate change.

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