In Premier Rachel Notley’s keynote speech to the Alberta Chambers of Commerce in September, she emphasized the importance of Alberta improving its environmental record. To support her argument that such an initiative is in fact worthwhile both economically and for the Alberta population’s health, Notley used the recent findings from the Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards (CAAQS) report as evidence. Additionally, the rhetoric that her government uses clearly assumes that there is in fact man manipulated climate change afoot in this world. End of discussion.
Notley was quoted that evening saying “Albertans feel strongly, as do many business leaders across the province, including the energy industry, that it is long past due for Alberta to clean up its environmental act.” Furthermore, “the poor quality of air in this province, as an example, is a direct threat to the health of our children and our seniors, and we need to do something about that.”
Notley’s push to improve what she feels is a dismal Alberta environmental record comes now as no surprise. Her platform for the May election maintained that “[the Alberta NDP] will phase out coal-fired electricity generation to reduce smog and greenhouse gas emissions, and expand cleaner, greener sources, including wind and solar, and more industrial co-generation in the oilsands, all of which will improve both the environment and the health of Albertans.”
Notley’s statements come in the wake of comments made by environment minister Shannon Phillips. Earlier in September, Phillips made the alarming claim (based on the CAAQS report results) that “Alberta is on track for the worst air quality in Canada.” Phillips further added that “failing to address air pollution will cost every Albertan more, regardless of where they live. These costs show up in our emergency rooms and in our workplaces in the form of lost productivity.”
The response to the Phillips remarks was immediate. Wildrose critic Leela Aheer was skeptical of both the findings and the timing of the report. “They’re saying Red Deer has Alberta’s dirtiest air,” Aheer noted. “Based on what? There’s no corroborative evidence provided.” Aheer said Phillips’ claim that Alberta will have the worst air quality in the country within five years sounded “far-fetched.” She further noted that “there’s a very little amount of information to make such an unbelievably strong opinion, and I think personally they are ramping up for the upcoming (climate change) summit in Paris.”
Veteran conservative political journalist, Lorne Gunter, pointed out that the CAAQS report timing and findings conveniently support the preconceived NDP agenda. Gunter commented, “studies like this are often hijacked by activists masquerading as government scientists or bureaucrats. So it’s wise to wade into the CAAQS results with a healthy dose of skepticism.”
Gunter added “the curious thing is that the CAAQS results were collected in each province by that province’s own environmental department. Yet Alberta Environment’s own Air Quality Health Index shows that nowhere in Alberta is the air quality even moderately threatening. Both sets of numbers come from the same provincial department. Yet both show somewhat conflicting results.”
There is, however, a difference between the data set that informs the CAAQS report and the numbers readily seen on Alberta’s Air Quality Health Index. The data used for the CAAQS report uses averages on fine particulate matter and ozone parts per billion (ppb) collected over a three year period from 2011 to 2013. Conversely, the Alberta Air Quality Health Index uses data that is “automatically polled every hour from Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development and Airshed monitoring stations…and has not undergone QA/QC procedures and may contain errors,” according the website.
Choosing the correct data, however varying it is, becomes that much easier when pre-conceived agenda’s come into play.
The CAAQS findings are serious because air pollution, especially fine particulate matter (suspended particles), can be a real threat to human health. Whereas a human hair is 70 micrometres in diameter, fine particulate matter is less than 2.5 micrometres – so tiny it can easily penetrate vulnerable lung tissue.
So the question ultimately becomes whether or not the data being used to inform NDP environmental policy, is in fact reliable and should be trusted.
If it is assumed that the primary data set the government is using to influence their decision making are the CAAQS report numbers, logically one may wonder how these numbers came to be and why the government places so much trust in them. Lets not forget that the the CAAQS report findings have major implications when it comes to action plan the government chooses to improve what they see as a poor environmental record. Implications include, among others, the potential cancellation of the several 10-year operating licences of many coal-fired power plants that are currently up for renewal – essentially the shutting down of Alberta’s coal industry.
But a larger point to question (outside of the whether the right sets of data are being used), rather, is the veracity with which the NDP government chooses to believe in the existence of climate change.
At this point among world leaders, it seems that it is all but assumed climate change is happening as a result of human intervention. What is largely ignored however, and as is typically the case in science, is that consensus has been far from met on the climate change’s validity and ubiquity.
There are convincing arguments on either side of the debate. And the arguments on the anti-climate change side should not be ignored until 100% consensus is achieved. There are scientists in all corners of the globe that disagree with the general assumptions about climate change that governments like Rachel Notley’s are making. As renowned American meteorologist Roy Spencer wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “rigorous international surveys conducted by German scientists Dennis Bray and Hans von Storch—most recently published in Environmental Science & Policy in 2010—have found that most climate scientists disagree with the consensus on key issues such as the reliability of climate data and computer models.”
And even in other Western governments, the other side of the debate seems to be heard. In Australia, Maurice Newman (Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council) made it clear in an op ed that “95 per cent of the climate models we are told prove the link between human CO2 emissions and catastrophic global warming have been found, after nearly two decades of temperature stasis, to be in error. It’s not surprising.”
Agree or disagree, the important point is that in certain parts of the world, the debate is still open.
If one were to listen to the Alberta NDP discuss climate change, it is abundantly clear which side of the debate they are on. Would it not be refreshing for Alberta’s NDP government to openly question the underpinning arguments to their own climate change opinions? Would it not be nice to have a government that openly initiates a more collaborate discussion with the electorate on such issues? After all, the stakes for Albertan livelihoods are large. Notley, with her climate change agenda in tow, is apparently more than willing to shut down an entire industry (coal fired electricity) and tax and impose more government red tape (carbon taxes, GHG emission caps) on another industry – Alberta’s entire petroleum industry.