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  November 28, 2009

Obama, Harper and Copenhagen Pt.2


Berman: States and provinces are way in front of federal governments in environmental legislation
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biography

Tzeporah Berman is the Executive Director and one of the Co-founders of PowerUp Canada. Tzeporah is also known for her work in the early nineties coordinating the largest civil disobedience protest in Canada’s history in Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.


transcript

.PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network for our next segment of our interview with Tzeporah Berman. She's the executive director of PowerUP Canada. She blogs at ZeroCarbonCanada.ca. Thanks for joining us again.

TZEPORAH BERMAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, POWERUP CANADA: Thanks for having me.

JAY: So we're talking about—days away from Copenhagen—the Canadian politics of climate change. And an interesting thing has been happening in Canada, somewhat mirroring some of what happened in the United States, where during the time of the Bush administration you had states like California way out ahead of the federal government. You seem to be having something similar happening in Canada. So tell us what's going on.

BERMAN: No question. On both sides of the country what we're seeing is we have both municipal and provincial leaders who are way out in front of the Harper government. And not only that, but as the heat is on in the run-up to Copenhagen, we've seen, just in the past two days, Premier McGinty here in Ontario, Premier Charest in Quebec, out-and-out criticizing the Harper government for taking Canada into Copenhagen with such a bad position.

JAY: And just to be clear so people know, if I—let me see if I get this right. Right now, Canada is on track, based on Conservative government policy, that in 2020 we will get to a 3 percent reduction of 1990 levels, when I think we're supposed to be hitting something like at least 20 percent. Am I in the ballpark here?

BERMAN: You're in the ballpark. But I would say there's one thing different in what you said than is what is actually happening: those are their targets. They will not even meet those weak targets, because there is not a single policy in place in this country to reduce carbon and to reduce global warming [inaudible]

JAY: At the federal level.

BERMAN: At the federal level. And so even these weak targets—which are, quite frankly, given that Canada signed Kyoto, you know, embarrassing to walk into Copenhagen with these incredibly weak targets—we're not even on track to meet those, because this government has yet to put in place any of the initiatives that they promised.

JAY: So let's talk about what's happening at the provincial level. Now, you yourself are based in British Columbia.

BERMAN: That's right.

JAY: Which is one of the provinces that seems to be out ahead of this. So what's going on there?

BERMAN: One of the most exciting things in British Columbia is that we are the only jurisdiction in North America with an economy-wide carbon tax that applies to all industry. And this was put in place—it started a couple of years ago. And the government has not only committed to this but committed to ramping up the price of carbon as we move forward. And that's already having an impact. We're seeing major factories decide to switch and get onto the grid, and the majority of the grid in British Columbia is hydro. So we're seeing fuel-switching. We're seeing major institutions, like the University of British Columbia, invest heavily in renewables. So we're seeing changes, quick changes, on the ground. But the government has not only put a price on carbon, but they've also scaled up the development and investment into clean energy. And so, you know, they're supporting the dramatic investment into renewable energy.

JAY: Now, let's go back to Obama again just for a second. Jim Hansen, who's the chief climatologist for NASA, has said that Cap-and-trade is worse than not having anything, that cap-and-trade allows so much manipulation that you wind up with the illusion of a carbon emission policy, but you wind up effectively with nothing. And that is what's coming from the Obama administration is cap-and-trade. They don't want to go with a carbon tax, even though British Columbia seems to be showing it can work.

BERMAN: It's true. And in some ways it may be because it's called a tax. You know, show me a politician that wants to campaign, you know, other than perhaps [Stéphane] Dion, on a tax. But the fact is there's no question that a carbon tax is simpler, it's easier, it's quicker to put in place. But I would disagree with Hansen in that we need whatever policy measures we can get right now to reduce global warming pollution as quickly as possible. And it's true that cap-and-trade systems, you know, are more complicated and there's more room for gerrymander-—you know, than any [inaudible] other place.

JAY: Okay. Really fast, 'cause I think most of our audience knows, but let me try to do it in 25 seconds, the difference, and tell me when I'm wrong, okay? Alright. So, as far as I understand it, cap-and-trade is you put on a binding cap to [inaudible] industrial sector, but you can meet the cap on how much carbon you can emit through trading. So if you're a coal-generating electrical station and you want to make a deal with someone who's going to plant some trees in the Amazon, you're going to be able to make that trade. And that's what they're saying is so potentially fraudulent about it, that it winds up become like a Wall Street derivatives kind of scheme.

BERMAN: Right. Well, and how much is going to [be] allowed to be traded versus actual reductions is a big question. Whether or not the permits are going to be auctioned off in order to generate revenue, or whether they're just going to be given out, which is really a gift to the fossil-fuel industries, those are all big questions in the design of a cap-and-trade system.

JAY: So let's go back to a model that's more positive. British Columbia, you say, is working. So tell us more about what's working in British Columbia.

BERMAN: It's a very simple and elegant system. They put a price on carbon. They put a tax in place. And the result is that we're very quickly seeing that there is an economic advantage.

JAY: So not all the companies left British Columbia. The economy hasn't collapsed.

BERMAN: No. And, in fact, I believe that the government is going to be releasing, in the run-up to Copenhagen, some of the actual data that we're seeing in British Columbia. But I have seen tangible examples at the University of British Columbia, at specific factories, where they've said to me, "Makes sense for me to get on the grid now." You know, it's "I'm going to save money now," and the carbon tax is that incentive. And that's essentially what we want to do. We want to make it cost more to pollute, and we want to stimulate new clean innovations and clean tech. And that's what the carbon tax is doing. So, also interesting in Canada, just yesterday the premier of Quebec, Premier Charest, announced that new targets for Quebec, that they're going to meet 20 percent, by 2020, below 1990 levels. So aggressive, aggressive targets for emissions reductions. You know, Quebecers should be proud for what the premier is doing there. And it was a direct challenge to Prime Minister Harper.

JAY: Alright. Again, for our American audience, who may not know, but the provinces you're talking about are not Saskatchewan and Alberta, where we have most of our oil, most of our coal, and not only is also the roots of the Conservative Party, which used to be the Reform Party, and Alberta's sort of their spiritual homeland. So what about tar sands? And how is Canada going to deal with this issue of our biggest natural resource is also our biggest source of pollution?

BERMAN: There's no question that for Canada the tar sands is the big elephant in the room on climate policy. This is the single largest fossil-fuel development on Earth, it's the single largest growing source of Canada's global warming pollution, and it's also an enormous hog in terms of using fresh water and destroying biodiversity—some of the most important landscapes of intact forest that are left on the planet. And the Harper government's policies so far have been to protect the development of the oil sands at all costs. You know, they have had intensity-based emissions targets, so the oil sands are allowed to increase the amount of oil and development every day. And, you know, one barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times as much greenhouse gas emissions as conventional oil. This is dirty oil, and it's being pumped into the United States at incredible rates. You know, Canada is now the single largest exporter of oil to the United States.

JAY: I was about to turn to our American audience to say this. One of the reasons this matters to you other than climate change is Canada is the biggest supplier of oil to the United States.

BERMAN: And not only that, but because this is such a dirty oil, there is new infrastructure being built in the United States and new refinery upgrades that leave an incredible toxic imprint on communities across the United States.

JAY: Okay. So there's one underlying great scientific question which hasn't been answered, as far as I know, but all the policy's heading in this direction anyway. Obama says there is such a thing as clean coal, and Harper says there is such a thing as clean tar sands. So is either of that true?

BERMAN: Not in the short term. You know, no one has proven that we can do carbon capture and storage safely at the scale that they're talking about. And I think it's a mistake for governments to be throwing public money after it in the way they're doing and not putting that money into cleaner technologies and renewables. If the oil industry and the coal industry want to prove that it's possible, then we should be forcing them by making it more expensive to pollute. If we really want to escalate that innovation and we want to give them the opportunity to develop those new technologies for the future, then they will do that if they're forced to by how much it costs to pollute. And so, again, it's a carbon tax or a Cap-and-trade program in order to make sure that they scale up that innovation. It will become more cost-effective for them to do that themselves. But I don't believe that that should be where public money is being poured into, and there is no reason to believe that right now it's viable.

JAY: Where is the science right now on the tar sands? Harper government is, as you say, putting public money into developing the technology of carbon capture. Is there any evidence of success or not?

BERMAN: This is the unicorn of the fossil fuel industry. Right now it is more of a PR tool for Alberta and the Harper government to say that they're working on clean technologies, they're working on carbon capture and storage (CCS), even though they have no proof right now that it's viable. What we need to be doing is slowing down the development of the tar sands. We need an immediate moratorium on new permits. We need to be figuring out whether or not it's possible to, at the very least, clean up the leakage of the toxins. The tar sands today, every day, pumps out 1.8 billion liters of toxic water into open-pit lakes. Canada has the largest open-pit toxic lakes of any place in the world. You can see them on Google Earth. So to be saying that we're investing in CCS and therefore that's a solution to the tar sands, while having some of the weakest policies, walking into Copenhagen, in order to protect that oil sands development in the climate era, is not only the wrong environmental policy, but I would offer that it's immoral and it's underestimating the capacity of Canadians to address this challenge.

JAY: Okay. In the next segment of the interview, which will be short 'cause I know you have to run, what are your hopes concretely for Copenhagen? What are you going to be doing there? And also we're going to let people know you're going to be reporting during Copenhagen.

BERMAN: I will be.

JAY: [inaudible] able to see. So please join us for the next segment of our interview with Tzeporah Berman.

DISCLAIMER:

Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.



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