Central Canada's capacity for self-delusion
The National Post
Posted: December 15, 2009, 10:00 AM by NP Editor
As a born-and-bred central Canadian, I am well and truly fed up with my compatriots' mindless bashing of the oil sands in the run up to, and now during, the Copenhagen summit on climate change.
What has me ticked off isn't just the boundless capacity of fellow Torontonians to ignore basic facts about the oil sands. That they are responsible for only 5% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. That the C02 released per barrel extracted from the oil sands has fallen by a third since 1990. And, that fourth-fifths of the emissions caused by each of these barrels comes out of tailpipes — driving on Highway 401, for instance.
What leads me to despair about central Canadians is our wilful blindness to how the fundamentals of our own economy have caused the country's C02 emissions to soar in recent years, and will make any new reductions we pledge in Copenhagen extremely difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.
Consider: In much the same way that the oil sands fuel economic growth in Alberta, immigration drives the Ontario economy. The 150,000-plus newcomers who arrive in my province each year sustain our booming housing market, buoy consumer spending and fuel our service sector.
Immigration, or more precisely rapid population growth, has become a significant factor in Canada's surging C02 emissions. On a per-capita basis, we welcome more newcomers than any other nation — on average, 300,000 each year. Part of the rite of passage for each new arrival is to embrace the Canadian-born's super-sized energy lifestyle, and emit, on a per capita basis, somewhere in the order of 18 metric tonnes of carbon annually.
Given that Canada's population grew by a whopping six million people since 1990, almost all through immigration, it is no surprise that we failed miserably to meet our Kyoto Protocol obligations. Indeed, population growth alone is easily responsible for half of the 30% increase in Canada's annual C02 emissions today as compared to 1990 levels.
The fact is that rapid population growth in central Canada is a far greater challenge to meeting the kinds of future C02 reductions Canada will commit to in Copenhagen than emissions resulting from oil sands exploitation.
Consider that if Canada formally adopts the pledge it has floated to cut emissions by 20% over 2006 levels by 2020, we will need to take some 125-million metric tonnes of C02 out of “circulation.” Yet, between now and the end of the next decade, Canada's population will grow by 4 million people — again, almost all through immigration. Even if we achieve a 20% per capita reduction in carbon emissions, these folks will still be producing 14.4 metric tonnes of C02 each, or 58 million metric tonnes of additional emissions over the 2006 levels.
To make matters worse for planet Earth, the vast majority of the newcomers who will settle in Canada over the next decade come from countries with very low per capita emissions. Our top three source countries for new arrivals have average per capita C02 emissions of only 2.2 metric tonnes.
These facts bear repeating if only to point out the hypocrisy of much of central Canada's climate change-borne assault on the oil sands. One could only imagine the braying on Bay Street and among the construction unions if big cuts in immigration levels became part of a national C02 reduction plan.
Central Canada needs to take a long, hard look at its own economic drivers, including non-environmentally friendly population growth, and fess up to its role in pushing Canada's emissions ever higher, today and into the future.
– Rudyard Griffiths was the co-organizer of the recent Munk Debate on climate change in Toronto, and is the author of Who We Are: A Citizen's Manifesto.