Polluting the market, marketing politics

January 28th, 2008
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It should come as little surprise that the global warming/carbon dioxide/energy use debate would degenerate into a morass of euphemism, obfuscation, conflation and reversal of meaning. When you combine tendentious zealotry, a weak scientific case and an allegedly defeated but unapologetic ideological movement at loose ends following the end of the Cold War, the result is predictable.

Alert reader Marvin S. pointed DrJandMrK.com to several recent related instances. (As an aside, I have to say we’re always grateful for Marvin’s tips and insights. He appears to be evolving into the Bob Holtby of 2008. Could guest-blogging be all that far off?)

These are featuring prominently in the current phase of the Homerically long global warming struggle. One element of the current phase is the concerted attempt to discredit Alberta’s energy production among U.S. consumers and decision-makers.

First is the activists’ and news media’s constant equating of carbon dioxide with “pollution”. As Dr. J. and many others have written in the past, it’s virtually impossible to make an honest case that a naturally occurring atmospheric (and oceanic) gas that is one of the key constituents of life on Earth can be defined as pollution or a pollutant. It’s still not part of the U.S. EPA’s list of official air pollutants. And why should it be?

Having too much carbon dioxide can be damaging – but so can too much water rushing forth onto cultivated fields from a burst dam. That doesn’t make water a pollutant.

The resulting confusion has diverted resources and public attention from fighting actual air pollution like nitrous oxides, sulphur dioxide and particulates. But this irony is just collateral damage in the quest of the global warming movement to demonize carbon dioxide.

And that brings us to Alberta, which is now being demonized for producing energy in an allegedly too “carbon-intensive” manner. In fact, as Marvin points out, the carbon “footprint” of oil sands products is only somewhat higher than much conventional oil production – and lower than certain other heavy oils, particularly as produced in mismanaged Third World fields like Venezuela’s.

A recent Globe and Mail article, as Marvin pointed out, described oil sands production as, “an outstandingly dirty source of energy when measured in greenhouse-gas emissions”. But it can only be viewed as such if carbon dioxide itself is now considered “dirty”. This is borderline madness. Even if regarded as a pollutant, its alleged evil lies in promoting higher atmospheric temperature. That may be bad – but not “dirty”.

Finally we come to the object of the exercise: using the “pollution” caused by “dirty” carbon dioxide (aka “plant food”) to roll back energy consumption and production.

Here we must express sympathy and solidarity with Premier Ed Stelmach, who’s currently enduring an almost daily torrent of abuse from environmental activists attempting to bully Alberta into forcing greenhouse gas emissions reductions by scaling back energy production.

Step forward Politically Useful Euphemism #387: the “market mechanism” (or “market-based” approach).

In a related, years-long process of sloppy thinking and slippery communication, the global warming movement has developed clever mechanisms of its own in attempting to sell its vision of centrally planned energy production and consumption. So, valid (and ominous) descriptors like “regulation”, “bureaucracy”, “external control” and “curbs on freedom and mobility” give way to such pleasant-sounding ideas as “market mechanisms” that benevolently enable greenhouse gas emitters to “trade” the “right” to “pollute”.

How? Through “market signals”. As in, if we don’t do what the California state government directs (in its current push for allegedly clean fuels with an allegedly low carbon content) it will shut its borders to Alberta’s oil.

Some signal. Some market. Doesn’t government fiat motivated by political pressure pretty much define the opposite of a market? A market being a place (physical or conceptual) that brings together willing buyers and willing sellers to negotiate exchanges according to their best interests, free of external pressure, control or manipulation.

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