Saskatchewan’s new Climate Strategy maintains old positions: No to carbon tax, yes to Carbon Capture and Storage

Prairie Resilience: A Made-in-Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy was released by the government of Saskatchewan on December 4,  maintaining the province’s  position outside the Pan-Canadian Framework  agreement  with this introductory statement:    “A federal carbon tax is ineffective and will impair Saskatchewan’s ability to respond to climate change.”  A summary of all the strategy commitments appears as  a “Backgrounder” from this link.  An Opinion column in the Regina Leader Post newspaper summarizes it as  a “repackaging” of past policies, and “oil over the environment”.

The provincial government defends their plan as “broader and bolder than a single policy such as a carbon tax and will achieve better and more meaningful outcomes over the long term” by encouraging innovation and investment – and yes, that Prairie spirit of independent resilience.  The strategy includes provisions re protecting communities through physical infrastructure investment,  water system management, energy efficiency for buildings and freight, and disaster management.   It commits to “maintain and enhance partnerships with First Nations and Métis communities to address and adapt to a changing climate through actions that are guided by traditional ecological knowledge.”   In the electricity sector, which at 19% is the third largest source of emissions, it proposes  to introduce regulations governing emissions from electricity generation by SaskPower and Independent Power Producers; meet a previous commitment of up to 50 per cent electricity capacity from renewables; and “determine the viability of extending carbon capture use and storage technology to remaining coal power plants while continuing to work with partners on the potential application for  CCUS technology globally.”    The Strategy is still open to consultation on the regulatory standards and implementation details, with a goal of implementation on January 1, 2019.  Consultation is likely to reflect the state of public opinion on climate change issues as revealed by the Corporate Mapping Project  in Climate Politics in the Patch: Engaging Saskatchewan’s Oil-Producing Communities on Climate Change Issues. The participants in that  study “were largely dismissive over concerns about climate change, were antagonistic towards people they understood as urban environmentalists and Eastern politicians, and believed that the oil industry was already a leader in terms of adopting environmentally sound practices.”      The oil and gas industry is Saskatchewan’s largest emitter, at 32% of emissions in 2015.  For an informed reaction, see Brett Dolter’s article in Policy Options, “How Saskatchewan’s Climate Change Strategy falls short”  (December 11).

sask-power-boundary-damOn the issue of carbon capture and storage:  The Climate Strategy document released on December 4 states a commitment to:  “determine the viability of extending carbon capture use and storage technology to remaining coal power plants while continuing to work with partners on the potential application for  CCUS technology globally.” On December 1, CBC reported that Saskatchewan had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming  to “share knowledge, policy and regulatory expertise in carbon dioxide capture, transportation, storage and applications such as enhanced oil recovery.”  By late 2017 or early 2018, SaskPower is required to make its recommendation on whether  two units at the Boundary Dam will be retired, or retrofitted to capture carbon and storage (CCS) by 2020.  As reported by the CBC , the research of economist Brett Dolter at the University of Regina has found  that conversion to natural gas power generation would cost about 16% of the cost of continuing with CCS ($2.7 billion to replace all remaining coal-fired plants with natural gas plants, compared to  $17 billion to retrofit all coal-fired plants with carbon capture and storage.)  The final decision will need to  consider the economic implications for approximately 1,100 Saskatchewan coal workers, and isn’t expected until a replacement for Premier Brad Wall  has been chosen after his retirement in late January 2018.

For more details:  “Saskatchewan, 3 U.S. states sign agreement on carbon capture, storage” at CBC News (Dec. 1) ; “SaskPower’s carbon capture future hangs in the balance” at CBC News (Nov 23)  , and  “Saskatchewan Faces Tough Decision on Costly Boundary Dam CCS Plant” in The Energy Mix (Nov. 28).

Environmental Psychology: Motivating behaviour change and coping with the fear of climate change

A new environmental psychology study released in December concludes that the most effective programs to encourage climate-friendly behaviour such as reducing energy consumption are those in which financial incentives (rebates, or cheaper prices) are paired with appeals to personal identity and values.  The authors of  Social Mobilization: How to Encourage Action on Climate Change  review  four decades of  psychological research and find  strong empirical support for employing a number of strategies : providing tailored information, soliciting commitment (e.g. pledges), recruiting leaders from within social networks, giving feedback,  and using a variety of other social influence strategies .  This report highlights several successful large-scale programs as models – mostly by utility companies in the United States .  The study was financed and published by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS), University of Victoria.  A related, longer report by one of the authors, Reuven Sussman, was  published in October 2016 by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.  Behavior change programs: Status and impact  is here  (registration required, free).

Another recent study of found that the moral values of compassion and fairness influenced an individual’s willingness to take personal action to mitigate the effects of climate change.  The authors, from Cornell University, showed that participants who were younger, more liberal, and reported greater belief in climate change, also showed increased willingness to act on climate change.  Ingroup loyalty and authority were not supported as important predictor variables. However, the authors state  :   “Our finding that willingness to take action on climate change was related to moral values embraced by both liberals and conservatives suggests that it is too simplistic to use political ideology alone to predict support for climate change action. ”  The full article, “Which Moral Foundations Predict Willingness to Make Lifestyle Changes to Avert Climate Change in the USA?”  appeared in  PLOSOne in October 2016, and was summarized by the Huffington Post in “ Why some people take action on climate change – and others don’t” (November).

Environmental psychology is also turning attention to the growing mental health issues caused by climate change.  The  first-ever International Conference on Building Personal and Psychosocial Resilience for Climate Change was held on November 3-4, 2016 in Washington D.C.  .  Climate Progress reports on the conference  in  “How to stay sane in the face of climate change” ,   and quotes psychiatrist Lise van Susteren: “before people let their fear turn to hopelessness …  it’s critical to tell them that there are actionable things they can do, in their everyday life …. — measuring your own carbon footprint, putting solar panels on your own home, or paying for carbon offsets to counteract your own travel — can help a person take their fear and transfer that energy into positive action.  And that in turn can help mitigate the mental trauma of the reality of climate change.”   Climate Progress also quotes consultant Bob Doppelt, who told the conference  “Psychological traumas of more frequent storms, floods, and fires associated with climate change, as well as toxic stresses — long term heat waves and droughts, food shortages, involuntary migration, loss of community and breakdown of culture — are eroding personal protective systems, amplifying preexisting mental health problems and creating new mental health issues.” Doppelt has recently published Transformational Resilience: How Building Human Resilience to Climate Disruption Can Safeguard Society and Increase Wellbeing .

Workers Acting in Climate-Friendly Ways: A Study of Union members, Synthesis of Academic Literature, and a Case Study of Pilots

A post in  Portside on May 23  summarizes the research of Jeremy Brecher (of Labor Network for Sustainability) and Todd Vachon, which uses data from 2  national surveys in the U.S. to conclude that: “Union members, far from being only concerned with their immediate self-interest at the expense of a broader common interest in environmental protection, are often more concerned about the environment and more willing to act on that concern than either the public at large or non-union workers”.   A fuller report,   “Are Union Members More or Less Likely to Be Environmentalists? Some Evidence from Two National Surveys” was published as an article in Labor Studies Journal  in April (access restricted).  The article also provides examples from the historical record of labour and environmental issues, with the goal of contributing to the development of labour-community and blue-green coalitions to work for social change.

Another study  appeared in Nature Climate Change in June, regarding the determinants of translating climate change beliefs into actions .  “Meta-analyses of the determinants and outcomes of belief in climate change”  analyzed  27 variables,  drawn from  25 polls and 171 academic studies from 56 nations  (including 7 from Canada).  The authors, from the University of Queensland in Australia, concluded that  variables such as education, sex, subjective knowledge, and experience of extreme weather events were not as important in predicting behaviours as the variables of  values, ideologies, worldviews and political orientation. Surprisingly, the study also concludes “ belief in climate change has a solid relationship with the extent to which people aspire to behave in climate-friendly ways, but a small-to-moderate relationship with the extent to which people `walk the talk’.”

Finally, a practical example:  As reported in the Washington Post  on June 22, and by the Company in a detailed case study , Virgin Atlantic Airways conducted a large-scale experiment  to try to influence its pilots to use less fuel and reduce GhG emissions.  This was a controlled study, overseen by economists from the University of Chicago and London School of Economics, in which  different  behavioural interventions were used, including providing monthly feedback, setting targets, and setting targets plus making corporate charitable donations when targets were met. All pilots reduced their fuel consumption, and  those that received targeted goals, or that received these goals plus charitable donations made, performed the best of all.  The academic report of the study appears in A New Approach to an Age-Old Problem: Solving Externalities by Incenting Workers Directly , a working paper of the National Bureau of Economics (NBER), published in June.

What’s the best way to Motivate Action about Climate Change?

News Media and Climate Politics: Civic Engagement and Political Efficacy in a Climate of Reluctant Cynicism was released by the B.C. Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in September 2015. It reports the results of seven focus groups from Vancouver who were selected for high levels of awareness about climate change but relatively low levels of political engagement. The responses indicate that positive, optimistic attitudes result from news of success stories, especially concrete examples which illustrate the connection between individual and collective actions. Local information is more engaging; description is more powerful than prescription; and providing information about how to engage politically is just as important as motivating the desire to do so. In addition to the empirical results, this report provides valuable context about other climate change communications research, especially the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. For an easy-to-read summary of some of Yale’s insights, see the September interview of the Director, Anthony Leiserowitz, in Grist “What’s the Best way to communicate about Climate Change: This Expert offers some Answers”.