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COMMENTARY: Vancouver’s attack on oil and gas companies reeks of hypocrisy and absurdity

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It seems strange that those who profess to be the most concerned about the consumption of fossil fuels seem to pay so little attention to the demand side.

Perhaps it’s easier to zero in on the supply side; pipelines and corporations are big, easy targets. Or perhaps there’s a naïve belief that somehow the supply is causing the demand, when of course it’s the other way around. So on a very important issue, far too many people are missing the point and ultimately are doing the cause a disservice.

Case in point is Vancouver city council, which has passed a motion demanding fossil fuel companies (specifically, the 20 with the “highest percentage of greenhouse gas emissions”) “pay their share of costs” related to climate change and climate change mitigation efforts. For example, the motion cites a B.C. report that estimates Vancouver could face mitigation costs this century of upwards of $1 billion.

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Mind you, climate change is a global problem. It’s not as though Canadian emissions are causing Canadian warming and American emissions are causing American warming and so on. So one obvious challenge then is to deduce exactly what the “share” of this is attributable to Canadian emissions and what share of that is attributable to these oil and gas companies and then how that should be spread out.

Moreover, what would these mitigation costs be then if these Canadian companies simply didn’t exist? Good luck figuring all of that out.

And why single out oil and gas companies, other than the fact that they happen to be based not in B.C.? Why, for example, is there not similar concern being raised about the massive amounts of coal (over 36-million tonnes in 2017) exported from Vancouver? Burning coal releases far more carbon dioxide than burning gasoline and those countries importing this coal aren’t just using it for decoration.

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“Fossil fuel companies” exist because there is a demand for their product. Vancouver’s approach is the same kind of discredited “war on drugs” mentality that leads people to think that if we just fill up the jails, people will stop using drugs.

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But unlike drugs, we’re talking about products here that — last I checked — are vital to both the B.C. economy and to B.C. society as a whole. Alberta could shut down its industry tomorrow and that would still be true — of course, Canada would be much poorer as a result.

Perhaps Vancouver city council should be demanding everyone who drives a vehicle or rides a ferry or heats a home pay their “share” of these costs. They should probably take it up with the tourism industry, too, because there’s a lot of people flying in and out of B.C. every year. Of course, that’s the whole point of carbon pricing — to incorporate the costs of emissions and to impact demand.

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And indeed, B.C. has a price on carbon as does the federal government. If Vancouver city council feels as though that approach isn’t aggressive enough or didn’t happen soon enough, then its beef is with other orders of government.

Furthermore, this approach completely ignores industry support for these initiatives. Shell, for example, is one of the companies singled out by numerous B.C. municipalities for its support of this initiative. But Shell was one of the companies that publicly supported the Climate Leadership Plan of the previous Alberta government — which included a carbon tax. More recently, Shell urged others in the industry to get on board with the idea of carbon pricing.

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Of course, when you’re hunting for scapegoats, it’s easy to overlook such facts.

It strikes me as far more productive to have industry and public buy-in on climate policy than to have municipal politicians engaging in absurd and hypocritical stunts that do nothing to advance any kind of meaningful policy. Grandstanding is nothing new in politics, I realize, but this is all especially counterproductive.

Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.