Subsidizing Oil and Mining is Austerity for Future Generations
Tar sands, leading climate scientist James Hansen famously said, equal "game over" for the climate. "To leave our children with a manageable situation," he said, "we need to leave the unconventional fuel in the ground". Canada's ministers, he added, were "acting as salesmen for those people who will gain from the profits of that industry." "But I don't think they are looking after the rights and wellbeing of the population as a whole."1
Tar sands: subsidized by austerity.
You won't hear many Canadian climate scientists saying that. It may be because they face harsh reprimands if they speak to the media without ministerial permission.2
Harper's Conservatives have sought to systematically weaken environmental regulations, but he has also moved to limit our access to reality. While scientists are prevented from speaking to the press on climate change, the government has spent tens of millions on pro-industry advertising3. Meanwhile, seven environmental groups have faced politically-motivated audits.4
The austerity agenda seeks to subsidize industry profits with the destruction of habitat and the costs of cleanup and lost species offloaded onto future generations.
Pristine rivers and lakes have lost legal protection that mandated no net fish habitat loss. Canada pulled out of Kyoto and balked on its climate commitments. Cuts to water protection, wildlife and biodiversity programs are ongoing; the most drastic reductions will see the climate change and clean air budget more than halved by 2017.5 An estimated 1,600 positions will be cut from environment-related agencies.6
The regulations those agencies enforce have been significantly weakened. Changes to the Fisheries Act removed protections for red-listed species of fish, presenting new threats to fish habitat.7 Stephen Harper pulled Canada out of Kyoto, and the Clean Air Act passed in 2006 made good with industry without fixing hard targets for climate reduction.8
First Nations are stymied at every turn when they attempt to protect their lands and waters. Harper's Omnibus bills degraded environmental protections and weakened environmental assessment processes, prompting legal and political action by Indigenous groups.9
Cuts to the federal parks system have reduced the number of staff and the services available, and fee hikes for park use are currently under consideration.10 The number of Environment Canada employees has been clawed year after year. The (formerly) prestigious ozone monitoring network has been reduced to a staff of one.11
As soon as the subject turns to the oil industry, the logic of belt tightening vanishes and lavish subsidies become available. Provincial and federal governments hand oil companies billions in subsidies. Low royalty rates, tax break and lax regulations led the IMF to estimate that fossil fuels receive $34 billion per year. The oil industry's direct incentives are estimated at $840 million, more than half of the $1.3 billion the sector pays in taxes.12
Scientists say we're heading for global catastrophe if we continue to emit CO2 at the current rate. Ecological disasters like hurricanes, typhoons and floods, as well as extreme weather events are just the beginning if emissions are not drastically reduced.13
Why this matters:
Ottawa's full-scale assault on the environment has been justified by appeals to balancing the budget and creating jobs. The reasoning is flimsy. Despite the advantages enjoyed by oil companies, 2014 was the first year that the clean energy sector accounted for more jobs than Alberta's tar sands. 14 It's not surprising: A recent US study shows for every million invested in green energy, 17 jobs are created, compared to 5 in nuclear and fossil fuels.15
Groups across the country are engaged in struggles to protect the planet. But instead of being hailed as national heroes, land defenders have been criminalized, and subject to violence, harassment and police infiltration. Groups who back urban protests and mount legal challenges in an attempt to stem damaging industrial growth have been targeted with costly tax audits.
Harper's anti-environment agenda is one part of an austerity agenda supported by powerful corporations. Through the lens of austerity, public services and stewardship programs are seen as impediments to corporate profit. Meanwhile, our governments spend billions to subsidize the most destructive activities.
It's time to reverse the direction of Canada's environmental policies. If we unite against austerity, we are powerful enough to stop environmental destruction and climate catastrophe, and build an equitable and sustainable society. Sign the petition to take one step toward a new direction on the environment, and learn more about other ways to fight back.
- "To leave our children with a manageable situation, we need to leave the unconventional fuel in the ground," he said. … "The thing we are facing overall is that the fossil fuel industry has so much money that they are buying off governments," Hansen said. "Our democracies are seriously handicapped by the money that is driving decisions in Washington and other capitals." –The Guardian, 2013
- "Soon after arriving at his offices, the scientist was called before his regional director and given a formal verbal reprimand: talk to the media again without the explicit permission of the minister's office, he was warned, and there would be serious consequences—like a suspension without pay, or even dismissal." –Maclean's, 2013
- "Natural Resources Canada is planning to spend at least $16.5-million on advertising this year, including $12-million in new cash requested last week for its ongoing 'responsible resource development' campaign." –Postmedia News, 2013
- "Finance Minister Jim Flaherty signalled clearly in his budget of 2012 that political activity of these groups would be closely monitored and he allocated $8 million to the effort. The environmental organizations believe they have been targeted with the goal of silencing their criticism." –CBC, 2014
- "Budget cuts will affect the government's three top priority areas for Environment Canada, including the conservation and restoration of landscapes, water and wildlife; information on changing weather patterns and minimizing threats from pollution." –The Tyee, 2014
- "The Harper government's 2012 budget called for substantial cuts to federal spending on the environment: $83.3 million in 2012-13, $117.9 million in 2013-14 and, starting in 2014-15, $180.5 million per year on an ongoing basis." –PSAC National Capital Region, 2013
- "[C]hanges to Canada's oldest environmental legislation 'erases 40 years of enlightened and responsible legislation and diminishes Canada's ability to fulfill its national and international obligations to protect, conserve, and sustainably use aquatic biodiversity.'" –The Tyee, 2014
- "Call me a naive optimist, but I really hoped the federal government's vaunted Clean Air Act might actually do what the name implies — clean the air. Boy, was I wrong." –David Suzuki, 2006
- E.g. Mikisew Cree, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Beaver Lake Cree
- "In an effort to boost revenues and offset rising operating costs, Parks Canada is eyeing a 5% hike to user fees, along with implementing a number of new charges." –Calgary Sun, 2013
- "Canada was the pioneer in ozone monitoring, developing the first accurate ozone measuring tool that led to the discovery that the world's ozone layer was dangerously thinning in the 1970s, which in turn led to the successful Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances." –Guardian, 2011
- "The International Monetary Fund estimates that energy subsidies in Canada top an incredible $34 billion each year in direct support to producers and uncollected tax on externalized costs." –The Tyee, 2014 "
- t's possible that the amount of revenue the government foregoes through these subsidies, plus the direct support measures it provides, now exceeds the federal income taxes being paid by the sector." –Pembina Institute, 2014
- "Humans have never lived on a planet with temperatures 3.5 degrees Celsius above baseline, and many scientists believe it would be impossible to do so. An increasing number of climate change scientists now fear that our situation is already so serious, and so many self-reinforcing feedback loops are already in play, that we are in the process of causing our own extinction." –Dahr Jamail, 2014-15. See also: Degrees of Disaster, Dominion, 2011
- "That means the 23,700 people who work in green energy organizations outnumber the 22,340 whose work relates to the oil sands, the report says" –Globe and Mail, 2014
- "When we invest, say, $1 million in building the green economy, this creates about 17 jobs within the United States. By comparison, if we continue to spend as we do on fossil fuels and nuclear energy, you create only about 5 jobs per $1 million in spending… 300 percent more jobs." Clean Technica, 2013
Send a message:
We value the ecological systems that make life possible on our shared planet. Canada is home to 20% of the world's fresh water, fragile arctic lands, and vast forests. Short term gains and corporate greed should not dictate how we treat our environment. Canada's natural areas are part of a shared resource which must be protected for present and future generations.