Do you ever feel like the mock-producer in “This is Spinal Tap”, engaged in a conversation with guitarist Nigel Tufnel, as Tufnel explains how his amps are special because they go to 11? The producer points out, yeah, but full volume is full volume, and you can call it whatever you want but it’s just full volume. Tufnel listens patiently then looks him dead in the eye and says, as if to an idiot, “These go to 11.”
We, the great masses of Canada, are trying to explain to a dogmatic minority that Canada’s status as a high per capita emitter is a nonsense number, but one that the media refuses to understand. Climate activists, without a trace of irony, channel their inner Tufnel in such a remarkably similar way that it’s spooky. “Canada’s environmental performance is abysmal because the country is a high per capita emitter.”
There is no reaching that minority; they are unable to hear certain frequencies in which real-world issues are discussed. They watch Quebec (and New York) in near-panic mode due to a loss of propane (and natural gas, respectively) supplies, which could be solved with, say, a pipeline, yet they focus solely on the evils of the very fuel whose absence will undoubtedly kill people. For the vast majority of the population who care neither about climate change (no matter what may come out of their mouths actions speak louder than words, and few will pay any material amount despite the “emergency” designation) nor about energy in general, but who may be susceptible to such faulty messaging because it is blared from loudspeakers at every intersection like a good old Soviet “education campaign”, it is worth debunking these myths that have thrived presumably by Catherine McKenna’s mantra of “if you repeat it, if you say it louder…people will totally believe it.” With regards to per capita emissions and Canada’s guilt thereof, don’t worry, it is a simple task as far as debunking goes.
Suppose our economic world consisted of only maybe a hundred people, and that each person represents a service or good that is critical to the others. Suppose that say 3 of the hundred were doctors, 3 were accountants, 3 were farmers, 3 were miners, 3 made clothes, 3 made transportation devices, 3 provided energy, 3 owned restaurants, etc. (You may adjust the numbers as you see fit, because the weightings are irrelevant, and you may also of course fill the comments section with derision to your heart’s content, because I don’t care.)
If each of those mini-sectors was in effect a country – say, farmers were one nation, doctors another, etc. – you would, from an emissions perspective, quickly see that some have far more emissions than others, because they provide the materials that other sectors use. The Doctor Nation may have almost no emissions, either absolutely or per capita, while the Mining Nation would have high per capita emissions on both counts. The same would hold true for any Nation that produces more than it consumes, and provides the excess for use to others.
We would quickly see that, while each Nation may use the services of the other, the environmental impact of these services is not comparable at all. This is true not just for emissions, but also, say, injuries. Any Nation that relies on a lot of machinery and moving pieces and foul-weather operations will have a far higher injury frequency than, say, Accounting Nation.
In the real world, Canada is one of the nations that provides the base building material for much of the rest of the world, and the cost of doing that is, to a certain extent, emissions. To measure these emissions simply by dividing it by the head count is nonsensical without considering the contributions of Canada’s output from its relatively small population. And those contributions are considerable indeed.
Canada is the 5th largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, largest exporter of flax, canola, and oats, and produces about 75 percent of the world’s maple syrup, which added approximately 1 billion inches to waistlines worldwide in 2018 (for full disclosure, one of these statistics may be considered speculative).
Canada is the 5th largest exporter of minerals such as potash, nickel, uranium and cobalt, and mines more than 60 metals and minerals.
Canada is one of the largest producers and exporters of softwood lumber.
Canada is the world’s 4th largest producer and exporter of crude oil. Canada produces about 5 percent of global oil production, and, for the record, the area covered by oil sands mining is about 900 square kilometres out of a total potentially mineable area of 4,800 square km out of a total oil sands area of 142,000 square km out of Canada’s boreal forest area of 2,700,000 square km out of Canada’s total area of 9,985,000 square km.
Note that these are just raw materials and food, and this discussion ignores trade in manufactured goods, which is a muddled mess. Canada exports a lot of finished good, and imports a lot as well. What is the footprint of a cell phone vs. a car? Does that sound like a dumb comparison? Well, a cell phone contains 75 elements out of the 118 in the periodic table. Most of those require a mine or manufacturing facility of some sort; each has to be discovered, mined, processed, manufactured, transported, etc. The web of each component is massive. An auto uses all of the above plus large quantities of raw materials like steel. Given the international nature of manufacturing, it is hard to trace the footprint of the various sources in the manufacturing world.
It is not hard at all though with the raw materials themselves. The point here is that Canada’s raw materials fuel the world’s economic engine, and are materially responsible for the world’s extremely high (and rising) standard of living. When Canada mines a ton of nickel and sends it abroad for another nation’s use, that footprint is quite clear, as is who benefits from the emissions Canada incurs to make it happen.
On top of this, Canada is a huge, cold country that allows remarkably open access to its resources.
Given the above, how could Canada possibly be a low per capita emitter? Should we look to expand to a billion people to put us on similar footing as China and India? And given the unsophisticated nature of these statistics, is it too much to ask for politicians to bear down and focus those adoration-seeking, addled brains in a sincere attempt to understand this concept?
Bizarrely, there is a non-theoretical instance where end users of something were held responsible for emissions back up the creation chain – that is, the impact of the emissions that go into a product’s creation, into its transportation, and through the emissions of the use of the final product were included in an environmental assessment. Maybe even Nigel Tufnel could appreciate the spectacular irony here: that inclusive emissions calculation was used, banana-republic style, to kill off the Energy East pipeline. Weird freaking world, hey?
Energy literacy is more critical than ever. Luckily, help is available! Pick up a copy of “The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity” at Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, or Indigo online. These Amazon reviews may be the wisest material you’ll find on the internet (except that one loser).