Public opinion polls: on carbon tax, pipelines, and a growing fear of climate change around the world

On February 8, Clean Energy Canada released results from an online survey of 2,500 Canadian adults, conducted by Abacus Data. Across Canada, 35% support a federal carbon tax, 37% say they are open to considering it, and 28% oppose it  – with the highest opposition from Alberta (41%). When told that revenues would be rebated to households (the ford and carbon tax infographicCarbon Incentive Plan),  support climbed by 9 points – and even more in Alberta. Asked if they agreed with  Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s statement that a carbon tax will bring a recession, 64% of Canadians  and 63% of Ontarians disagreed – and when asked a follow-up question asserting that many economists disagree with Premier Ford, 74% of Canadians and 73% of Ontarians stated they would trust the economists over the Premier.

The Angus Reid Institute  has tracked opinion about a carbon tax in Canada since April 2015, and are due to release new survey results in winter 2019 . Their online survey conducted in October 2018 (just after the announcement of the federal Carbon Incentive plan), showed that support for a carbon tax had increased nationally  from 43% in July 2018 to 54% in October.  The leading cause of opposition to the carbon plan is the sense that it is a “tax grab”, followed by the opinion that it will not help reduce emissions. Also notably, “six-in-ten Canadians say they do not trust information about climate change from their provincial government – with  only 24% of Manitobans  trusting their government.  Who do Canadians trust on this issue?  78% trust university scientists; 56% trust “international organizations doing work in this field”.

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From Angus Reid Institute, “Duelling realities” poll

Other recent Angus Reid analysis of Canadians’ overall attitudes on climate change was released on November 30 in “Dueling realities? Age, political ideology divide Canadians over cause & threat of climate change”.   Only 9% of Canadians do NOT perceive climate change as a threat, with 55% of 18 to 34-year-olds  said they believe climate change to be a very serious threat.  Yet  a survey  released in January 2019, “Six-in-ten Canadians say lack of new pipeline capacity represents a crisis in this country” details the polarized opinions about oil pipelines, showing that 53% of Canadians surveyed support both the Energy East and TransMountain pipeline projects, and  six-in-ten say the lack of new pipeline capacity constitutes a “crisis”. Opinions are divided by region, ranging from 87% in Alberta and 74% in Saskatchewan seeing a crisis, versus 40% in Quebec.

Opinion in the United States:  Results from the December 2018 national survey, Climate Change in the American Mind ,  reveal that 46% of Americans polled have personally experienced the effects of global warming, and a majority are worried about harm from extreme events in their local area –  including extreme heat (61%), flooding (61%), droughts (58%), and/or water shortages (51%).  This longstanding survey (since 2013) is conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. It also updates the results in the series, “Global Warming’s Six Americas” , which categorizes attitudes from  “Alarmed”, to “Concerned”, all the way to “Doubtful” and “Dismissive” –  showing that in December 2018, the “Alarmed” segment is at an all-time high of 29% , while the “Dismissive” and “Doubtful” responses have declined to only 9%.  The full report   also includes responses concerning emotional responses to global warming, perceived risks, and personal and  social engagement – which includes such questions as “How much of an effort do your family and friends make to reduce global warming?”

Australian women are re-considering having children:  A survey released in February by the Australian Conservation Foundation and the  1 Million Women organization reports on climate change attitudes of Australian women, in the lead-up to the country’s federal election in 2019.  Of the 6514 Australian women who responded to the survey between September – October 2018, nearly 90% are extremely concerned about climate change.  Again, concern is highest in the under-30 bracket, where  one in three are so worried about what global warming that they are reconsidering having children.  A four page summary of survey results is here 

Finally, international attitudes are reflected in a survey published in February by Pew Research Center:  “Climate Change Still Seen as the Top Global Threat, but Cyberattacks a Rising Concern”.   This top-level survey of 26 countries shows that climate change was perceived as the most important threat in 13 countries:  including Canada,   Germany, Greece, Hungary, Spain, Sweden, U.K., Australia, South Korea, Kenya, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.  In the U.S., the top threat was seen to be cyberattacks from other countries (74%), followed by attacks from ISIS (62%). Global climate change was the third-ranked threat at 59% .

The latest analysis: What does Canada gain from the Trans Mountain Pipeline purchase?

pbologoInto Canada’s highly sensitive and highly political debate over pipelines comes the report on January 31 from the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) :  Canada’s purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline – Financial and Economic Considerations . The report provides an overview and timeline of the negotiations and federal government purchase of the pipeline and its assets from Kinder Morgan, in August 2018 . The PBO financial analysis estimates that the $4.4 billion  price paid by the government  was at the high end of the value, and calculates the effects of construction delays or higher construction costs on the price that the Government could negotiate for its re-sale –for example, a one year delay would result in a loss of value $693 million. The report finds that the economic benefits relate to the pre-construction and construction periods: impact on GDP is estimated to peak at 0.11 per cent in 2020; impact on employment is estimated at  7,900 in 2020, with both declining thereafter.

“The main benefit of the TMEP would arise from the increased capacity of Canadian producers to sell oil to export markets, which could lead to a reduction in the differential between Western Canadian Select (WCS) grade of crude oil and other grades, most notably West Texas Intermediate (WTI).”  Stating “It is difficult to determine the impact of the TMEP on the price differential between WTI and WCS grades”, the report refers to estimates in its December 2018 report to Parliamentarians, and flags the other factor which might affect the economic impact, which is “increasing transportation capacity.”

Coinciding with the PBO report, the National Observer has brought an article out of its archives, which critiques the economic arguments used by supporters of the Trans Mountain purchase. “False oil price narrative used to scare Canadians into accepting Trans Mountain pipeline expansion” was written by Robyn Allen, and was originally published in November 2018.  More recently, she has also written,  “What Bill Morneau didn’t tell Canadians about the Trans Mountain Purchase” (Dec. 5 2018)  and an Opinion piece “Trudeau’s oilsands supply outlook reflects a future that doesn’t exist” (Jan. 25 2019)  , which concludes: “It is madness pretending that Trans Mountain’s expansion is financially or economically viable. A return to sanity begins with getting realistic about the supply of heavy oil in a world that knows — even if Trudeau won’t take his head out of the oilsands — that neither the economic system nor the ecosystem can, or will, support rapid oilsands growth.”

orcasagainstvancouverskylineFor coverage of both the economic and environmental aspects, follow the National Observer Special Reports on Trans Mountain.  An up-to-date review of the  environmental arguments by experts Marc Jaccard and Kirsten Zickfeld  appears there in “IPCC authors urge NEB to consider climate impacts of Trans Mountain pipeline expansion” (Jan. 21).

The National Energy Board documentation about all stages of the Trans Mountain Expansion project is here (and  here for French documentation).  Information about the current Reconsideration process is here   (and here in French); the deadline for the Reconsideration report to the government is February 22, 2019.

Review of Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan and carbon levy; updates on renewables and methane regulations

env defence carbon-pricing-alberta-fbEnvironmental Defence released a report in December 2018, Carbon Pricing in Alberta: A review of its success and impacts  . According to the report, Alberta’s carbon levy, introduced in 2017 as part of the broader Climate Leadership Plan, has had no detrimental effect on the economy, and in fact, all key economic indicators (weekly consumer spending, consumer price index,and gross domestic product) improved in 2017. The report also documents how the carbon levy revenues have been invested: for example, over $1 billion used to fund consumer rebates and popular energy efficiency initiatives in 2017; support for Indigenous communities, including employment programs; a 500% growth in solar installations; funding for an expansion of light rail transit systems in Calgary and Edmonton; and prevention of an estimated 20,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution. The conclusion: the Climate Leadership Plan and its carbon levy is off to a good start, but improvement is needed on promised methane reduction regulations , and the regulations to enforce the legislated cap on oil sands emissions need to be released.

Methane Regulations:    The Alberta Environmental Law Centre published a report in 2017 evaluating the province’s methane emissions regulations. On December 13, the government released new, final regulations governing methane. On December 19, the Alberta Environmental Law Centre published a summary of the new Regulations here  

Since the Environmental Defence study, on December 17, the government announced  agreement on five new wind projects funded by Carbon Leadership revenues, through the  Renewable Electricity Program. Three of the five projects are private-sector partnerships with First Nations, and include a minimum 25 per cent Indigenous equity component to stimulate jobs, skills training and other  economic benefits. The government claims that all five projects will generate 1000 jobs.

On  December 19 the government also  announced   new funding of  $50 million from Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan for the existing  Sector-specific Industrial Energy Efficiency Program , to support technology improvements in the  trade-exposed industries of pulp and paper, chemical, fertilizer, minerals and metals facilities.

Balanced against this, a December 31 government press release summarized how its “Made in Alberta ” policies have supported the oil and gas industry: including doubling of support for petrochemical upgrading to $2.1 billion; creation of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) investment team to work directly with industry to expedite fossil fuel projects; political fights for new pipelines (claiming that “Premier Notley’s advocacy was instrumental in the federal government’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain Pipeline”), and the ubiquitous Keep Canada Working  advertisements promoting the keepcanada workingbenefits of the Trans Mountain pipeline . The press release also references the November announcement that the province will buy rail cars  to ship oil in the medium term,  and the December 11 press release announcing that the province is  exploring  private-sector interest in building a new oil refinery .

Canadian press coverage of pipelines lacks workers’ voices

ccpa-bc_jobsvsenvironment whose voices are missingJobs vs the Environment? Mainstream and alternative media coverage of pipeline controversies  examines how the press—classified into corporate and alternative outlets —treats the relationship between jobs and the environment, and how frequent and influential are the voices of workers and labour unions. The report uses two sophisticated methods of communications analysis – content analysis and critical discourse analysis – to examine two samples:  The first sample comprises 129 articles about Canadian pipeline projects from the Vancouver Sun, the Edmonton Journal  and the Toronto  Globe and Mail  representing corporate media; articles from Ricochet, The Tyee, and the National Observer  represent alternative media.  The second examination was slightly different, made up of 170 articles about the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion which appeared in the Vancouver Sun and two commuter tabloids in Vancouver, and including Rabble.ca  to the previously examined alternative sources of  Ricochet, The Tyee, and National Observer.

The analysis is detailed and makes many interesting observations. Briefly, the authors conclude from these samples that both  mainstream and alternative media frequently reinforce the assumption that there is a trade-off between environmental protection and job creation. Though alternative media are more critical  of pipeline projects and provide more of the  perspectives of Indigenous people and environmentalists, the authors conclude that  “neither corporate nor alternative media gave much voice to the perspectives of workers and their unions.” And  “while job creation is often touted as a rationale for pipeline projects, the actual workers and their unions—the presumed beneficiaries of fossil fuel expansion—appear to be largely missing from news reportage.”

To sum up, they write that : “… alternative media provide analyses and sources that help counterbalance the apparent extractivist orientation of the corporate press. They make a valuable contribution to well-rounded public discussion and offer perspectives on energy, climate and economic policies that are evidently under-represented in the corporate press.

The authors briefly discuss the labour press – mentioning Rank and File.ca  specifically, and see a role for the labour media in the climate and energy debate. They state: “….. labour’s voice in the media system is muted. There are many reasons why a movement for a just transition has not gained greater traction. Governments have not sufficiently committed to retraining and other supportive measures, and thus there are few working examples for just transition advocates to highlight. But part of the problem lies in the lack of public arenas for exploring the common ground between workers and environmentalists regarding a low-carbon economy. Engaging the public imagination about such a necessary transition would be a valuable goal for corporate and alternative media, as well as media produced by the labour movement itself.”

The authors are Robert A. Hackett, a professor emeritus, and  Philippa R. Adams, a PhD student, both from the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.  The publisher is the Corporate Mapping Project, a research and public engagement initiative investigating the power of the fossil fuel industry,  jointly led by the University of Victoria, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ BC and Saskatchewan Offices and the Parkland Institute.

Return of oil and gas jobs? New pipelines and new technology are essential conditions

The headline of a Calgary Herald story on March 30 warns: “ Another 8,700 oil jobs are at risk if prices drop below US$50 for a sustained period, according to new study” .  Based on a labour market study by Enform consultancy,  the Herald states that this possible job loss would follow the loss of 52,500 direct jobs between 2015 and 2016, without even taking into account the job turmoil caused by the 2017 mergers and acquisitions in the Canadian oil sands: Canadian Natural Resources and Shell  ; Cenovus Energy and Conoco Phillips; and most recently, Enbridge and Spectra Energy  .

oil sandsThe original Enform study on which the newspaper article is based provides much more detail.  Labour Market Outlook 2017 to 2021 for Canada’s Oil and Gas Industry  was prepared by PetroLMI, a Division of Enform, and was partly funded by Canada’s Sectoral Initiatives program.  It reports that the oil and gas industry directly employed an estimated 174,000 workers at the end of 2016, (down by 25 per cent from the industry peak of over 226,000 in 2014). It forecasts job growth for two different scenarios – oil prices well above or well below  US$50 per barrel from  2017- 2021 .  The “modest recovery” scenario, (prices above US $50) ìs forecast to support an annual average of 554,000 direct and indirect jobs in the next five years; the “Delayed Recovery” is forecast to support 508,000 jobs.  The report provides detailed statistics by subsectors, occupations, and regions.  The report also notes the shrinking labour pool, as workers are discouraged from remaining or entering the sector, and as older workers retire.  Although the forecast expects limited job recovery in the next two years, it concludes that the peak employment levels will not return.  “Heading towards 2021 and beyond, accessing world markets via new pipelines will be critical for full job recovery. Equally important will be investing in technology, innovation and a highly-skilled and technical workforce to sustain the productivity and efficiency gains achieved in the last few years. These things will be critical if the industry is to compete globally and make a transition through carbon regulations.”  See the full suite of forecasts for the oil and gas industry, including the LNG industry, here .