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Alberta Government Declares War On Environmentalists

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DIMITRI LASCARIS This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News Network from Montreal, Canada. In April of this year, Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party won a majority of seats in Alberta's provincial election. Alberta is the largest producer of crude oil in Canada, accounting for over 80% of the country's total oil production. It is home to Canada's tar sands industry. As the new Premier of Canada's biggest oil producing province, Jason Kenney wasted no time in declaring war on environmentalists. Last month, Kenney announced the creation of a "war room" that would seek help from like-minded social media personalities with the mission of confronting environmentalists and silencing foes of the tar sands. In making the announcement, Jason Kenney lamented that Canada has not played a larger role in meeting increased global demand for oil. Let's hear what he had to say about that.

JASON KENNEY, PREMIER OF ALBERTA, CANADA The world needs more Canadian energy. In the last decade, global demand and consumption of oil, for example, has grown by 10 million barrels per day or over 10%. Sadly, almost all of that additional energy demand has been met by some of the world's worst regimes, rather than this great liberal democracy, Canada.

DIMITRI LASCARIS Mr. Kenny then described his new "war room" in the following terms.

JASON KENNEY, PREMIER OF ALBERTA, CANADA Its mandate will be to respond in real time with the truth about our energy sector through paid, earned, and social media. It will coordinate activities across the government, engaging ministers and other spokespeople to proactively communicate that message, and so there will be an app. There will be advertising campaigns. You know, there's an old saying that is misattributed to Mark Twain that "the truth can," sorry, "a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can strap its boots on." Well, we can't allow that to continue.

DIMITRI LASCARIS According to Premier Kenny, the war room will be funded with $30 million and will be given a high tolerance for risk. He did not elaborate on what he meant by a high tolerance for risk. Now here to discuss this with us is Tzeporah Berman. Tzeporah has been designing environmental campaigns and working on environmental policy in Canada and beyond for over 20 years. She is an adjunct professor of York University Faculty of Environmental Studies and works as a strategic advisor to a number of First Nations, environmental organizations, and philanthropic foundations on climate and energy issues. She is the former Co-director of Greenpeace International's Global Climate and Energy Program and Co-founder of Forest Ethics. She joins us today from Cortez Island in British Columbia. Thank you for coming back on The Real News, Tzeporah.

TZEPORAH BERMAN Thank you for having me.

DIMITRI LASCARIS Tzeporah, I'd like to begin with a big picture assessment of Jason Kenney's record on climate change. As we've all come to know, those of us who follow politics carefully, politicians reveal their beliefs to us not only by means of what they say, which can often be intentionally misleading, but even more importantly by what policies they implement and support. When you look at the totality of Jason Kenney's record on the climate file, would you say that he is in essence a climate change denialist?

TZEPORAH BERMAN I think there's no question that he's a climate change denier, whether when he was in the federal office and now in Alberta, he has done everything he can to ensure the growth of fossil fuels. This $30 million temper tantrum that he had right after becoming Premier of Alberta is just another example of that. Jason Kenney does not, clearly does not see that we should be doing everything we can to address climate change, and his goal is to dramatically expand the oil and gas industry in Alberta.

DIMITRI LASCARIS And, you know, he talked in that first clip that we played about the fact that increased global demand for oil has apparently been met by unsavory regimes. This is an argument that one often hears from pro-oil constituents in Canada, from the mainstream press, and so forth. You know, one might argue that the climate doesn't care whether greenhouse gas emissions are coming from an ethical state or an unethical state. Either way, the climate is going to be affected. How do you respond to this logic that we often hear in the Canadian mainstream, you know, that if we're going to consume oil, and it's inevitable that we're going to do that, we should get that oil from ethical countries?

TZEPORAH BERMAN First of all, the fact is we already have enough oil and gas either being produced globally or under construction to take us past two degrees, to take us past climate safe limits. And that's why the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, when it released its report last year, said that all countries and all industries must reduce emissions quickly if we're going to ensure climate safety. They also explicitly said that oil and gas will need to reduce production quickly. One of the problems that we're seeing right now is that supposedly climate leaders, countries like Canada, that are phasing out coal and even putting in place a carbon [pollution] price are saying we still have a right to produce oil and gas. The fact is that Canada can't even meet our weak targets right now, our global emissions reduction targets that we committed to in Paris, because now the fastest growing source of Canada's emissions are oil and gas. The largest source of Canada's emissions are oil and gas, and that's not from the burning of oil and gas; it's simply from the production. If every country says, we have a right to produce, then we know that the world will be on a trajectory for a four to six degree warming. And that's not good enough.

DIMITRI LASCARIS What do you make of Mr. Kenney's statement that his new war room will have a "high tolerance for risk?"

TZEPORAH BERMAN I think Premier Kenney is wasting precious time. The fact is that that's not good obviously for the climate, but it's also not good for the economy of Alberta or of Canada. Canada's oil is high-cost, it's high-carbon, and it's quickly being priced out of the market. While Premier Kenney is right, demand has been increasing. It's also increasingly soft. And that's because many countries around the world have now set dates for which they're going to ban the fossil fuel car. We're seeing quick changes around the world the drop in price of renewable energy, the increased take up of electrification, and breakthroughs in battery storage. That means that the highest-cost and highest-carbon oil is the first to be taken out of the market, and that's why we've seen major oil companies, international oil companies, leave the oil sands in the last two years Total, Shell, Statoil.

It's also why we've seen HSBC and other major banks saying that they will no longer invest in the oil sands. And just three days ago, Zurich Insurance became one of the first large insurance companies in the world to say they will no longer insure companies who have more than 30% oil sands in their portfolio, they will no longer insure oil sands infrastructure-like pipelines because of climate change. The world is changing and Premier Kenney attacking those who are critical of Alberta's practices and of the expansion of the oil sands just holds Canada back from investing in a cleaner economy, and we need to be doing that quickly.

DIMITRI LASCARIS Let's look at the picture nationally in Canada. As you I'm sure will note, Justin Trudeau's federal government just supported a parliamentary declaration of a climate emergency. But on the very next day, his government approved the expansion of the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline. We have, in addition, the government of Mr. Kenney coming into power and replacing Rachel Notley's government, who at least would have prepared to support some level of a carbon tax. We have Doug Ford, his right-wing government, coming to power in Ontario last year and he has aggressively campaigned against the federal carbon tax. Do these electoral results and the policies that are flowing from these victories of pro-oil parties, do they suggest to you that Canadians, ordinary Canadians, at a grassroots level are turning away from the urgency of the climate crisis? Or do you think there is a very considerable divide between the beliefs and views of ordinary Canadians and those of persons who are in positions of power? And if you think there is such a divide, how do you account for that?

TZEPORAH BERMAN I think the polls show that Canadians believe that we should be building a low-carbon economy, even that we should be moving away from the production of oil and gas the question is when and how fast? And the Trudeau government has created a theory that we can have our cake and eat it too, that we can move towards a low-carbon economy, that we can ban coal, that we can put in place a climate plan, but we can also increase the oil and gas industry and it's just one pipeline. The problem is you don't build a $10 billion piece of infrastructure for 10 years. You build it for 40 or 50 years, and the infrastructure that we build today will decide what our pollution levels are in the future. So if we're serious about fighting climate change and doing our part as a wealthy nation with a relatively stable democracy, then we can't be building more fossil fuel infrastructure.

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