Skip to main content

When Kyoto was slapped on the table back in 1997, there was much debate in oil patch circles about how best to head off ratification of the questionable agreement.

There were two options: galvanize opposition around the potential economic threat or debunk the science of global warming. Based on the assumption that the average Joe was going to be far more interested in the economic downside than an arcane scientific debate, the decision was made to attack the issue on that front.

But as the deadline for ratification draws nearer, it's becoming increasingly clear that the oil patch made the wrong choice. It should have made this a debate about the science.

And, rightly or wrongly, many fingers are pointing at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Given that it's the mouthpiece for the oil patch -- which could wind up as Kyoto's biggest loser -- funding a group of scientists in 1997 to get some clarity on the science of global warming would have made ample sense.

But back then, there was a school of thought that a study commissioned by CAPP would be viewed as too self-serving -- who would trust the fox to pronounce on the henhouse? On the other hand, because the oil patch is primarily in Alberta, where the government makes decisions based on cost without due consideration to intellectual and philosophical arguments, the default position was that the cost side of the equation would be the most effective in garnering support against Kyoto. The fact is, Canadians deserved both scientific and cost analyses.

There are a good number of prominent folk in the oil patch who have questioned the science cited in support of Kyoto. Among them is Talisman chief executive officer Jim Buckee. But his exhortations have largely fallen on deaf ears.

Although his bias is obvious, the fact is Talisman has negligible exposure to the oil sands projects, the area expected to be hardest hit by Kyoto. Already, hundreds of millions of dollars have been shaved off spending plans in the oil sands.

The science, according to Mr. Buckee -- the only CEO of a Canadian oil company to legitimately lay claim to the title of rocket scientist because he holds a doctorate in astrophysics from Oxford University -- is hogwash.

He cites, for example, the fact that water vapour accounts for 98 per cent of greenhouse gases, with villainous carbon dioxide making up only a small part of the other 2 per cent. He points to research that shows temperatures dropped in fact between 1940 and 1970, despite an exponential increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and says the question rightfully arises as to whether it is, in fact, carbon dioxide that is the true culprit of climate change.

Add to that temperature logs taken in Saskatchewan that show a warming trend between 1820 and the present, with most of the warming taking place before 1900 -- well before the buildup of greenhouse gases through the 20th century.

Then there is the issue of temperature measurement.

Mr. Buckee and Kerry Mullis, the Nobel Prize winner for chemistry in 1993, point out that temperatures indeed have been rising and falling over the centuries. But Mr. Mullis also observes that much of the temperature increases are happening at the minimum end of the scale, that is, at night. And that's because buildings, asphalt and concrete retain heat. The fact that satellite and balloon temperature measurements over the past 23 years show little evidence of warming supports that view.

Mr. Mullis also disputes the argument that greenhouse gases are destroying the ozone layer because ultraviolet light reacting with oxygen molecules creates ozone, with neither factor in that equation in short supply.

The laundry list for and against global warming obviously extends well beyond the above examples, which is why making an informed decision in the absence of all the facts makes no sense.

Although some may say that Canada's move to ratify Kyoto is grounded in a desire to show leadership on the world stage, a better legacy would have been the undertaking of a definitive study on the science of climate change.

In this case, CAPP gambled and lost when it opted to sound the Kyoto alarm bells on the basis of cost.

Armed with the facts on global warming, the economic costs would be better quantified and perhaps the federal government might have thought twice about proceeding with ratification.

Instead, Kyoto will go through, come hell or high water, with the economic costs borne by industry and consumer alike and the oil patch bearing a disproportionate share.

Not that Ottawa cares much about the folk in Alberta -- we simply don't have enough seats to make a difference. In the end, the beneficiaries will be the countries from which Canada will have to buy emissions credits at an as yet unknown cost in order to meet the phantom targets.

Interact with The Globe