Opinion | The unjust ‘just transition’ and the media’s energy bias

By Joseph Quesnel. Joseph Quesnel is a policy commentator and Thought Leader for the Modern Miracle Network.

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The central problem with the federal government’s so-called “Just Transition” is it is based on false dilemmas. Furthermore, it ignores practical steps we can take achieve the desired policy outcomes without massive societal upheaval.

The dilemma could be clearly seen in the discussions during the election campaign around energy and the environment. During the first French-language debate in the environment portion, for example, one of the debate commentator’s remarks set up a false choice.

“This is the great Canadian dilemma. We are an oil-producing nation that also wants to be green. Over the last 25 years we’ve realized that this cannot be reconciled,” said Patrice Roy, a prominent Quebec television news anchor.

This was presented as a fact by the commentator, and it was not contested by the candidates. Although Erin O’Toole stated that carbon emissions can be reduced while creating jobs. But the central premise was not challenged leaving viewers to interpret the offered policy solutions through that false dichotomy.

This assumption that being an energy-producing nation and being green are somehow irreconcilable is an unquestioned premise that has been discredited by the research and facts. Through technological innovation, energy production has clearly reduced its carbon footprint over the last few decades. Carbon pricing and other policy instruments have and will continue to reduce them as well. Our energy sector is transforming before our eyes and Patrice Roy’s questions ask us to ignore that.

The government’s “Just Transition” is based on the idea that our energy economy and our green impulses are irreconcilable and from there jumps to the conclusion that we need to “transition” right now. But this faulty logic will seriously diminish our standard of living.

The energy sector has contributed immensely to Canada, both in overall wealth and jobs. Canada is an export-based resource economy – it always has been. When Canadians think about the energy sector, they should think beyond just drilling rigs to the vast supply chain network spread out across Canada.

“Transitioning” away from our energy economy will be felt across the country in a very big way. In other words, shutting down our energy industry will be felt in Ontario, Quebec and in Atlantic Canada, not just on the Prairies. Tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs in every province of the country depend on our natural resource sector.

Most Canadians agree we need to reduce carbon emissions, but is a transition away from such a significant national industry the way to do that? The “Just Transition” sounds like a case of too much pain for too little gain. After all, Canada accounts for just 1.6 per cent of GHG emissions in the entire world, while producing 10% of global oil supply. Do we need to destroy an entire sector of our economy and reduce our standard of living for something that doesn’t solve anything? Viewed in a global context, energy not produced in Canada will be produced elsewhere in a much less environmentally sustainable way.

So, shutting down our best-in-the-world oil and gas sector will not solve the climate issue; it will likely make it worse. Public policy solutions need to be judged by their outcomes, not intentions.

This “Just Transition” approach presumes reducing emissions and transitioning out of the energy economy are the only approaches available. It ignores the potential of carbon removal. About 20 per cent of our emissions can be captured naturally – like in forests and wetlands. The rest must be removed through human-made means, like reducing emissions through technology and carbon capture.

Now that carbon pricing is here to stay, this will further incentivize the developments of these technologies. However, there is no mention of carbon removal in the federal government’s “Just Transition” discussion paper. This suggests the government has only one policy option in mind – shutting down the oil and gas industry and throwing hundreds of thousands of people out of work.

Election campaigns are not often friendly to reason. They are times of high emotion and politicians pandering to specific regions and voters. Not to mention journalists who disguise this ideology as a question. Canadians from all regions need to demand that politicians and policymakers rethink the faulty logic and reckless notion of a “Just Transition.” It’s likely a neighbour’s job depends on it.

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