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Jason Kenney fiddles (with climate policy) while Alberta burns

A wildfire at Loon Lake on the Ashcroft First Nation Reserves in British Columbia in 2017. Photo: Shawn Cahill/Creative Commons

It is an irony, though not a particularly satisfying one to observe, that while Premier Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party government moves swiftly to repeal Alberta's carbon tax, the province is aflame, with more than 5,000 Albertans required to leave homes and communities in imminent danger of destruction.

It is only May. The leaves on most of the elm trees on my street in St. Albert have not even appeared yet. In other words, it's barely spring. God only knows what things will be like around here by midsummer. Smoky, I imagine.

Well, get used to it. It gets harder by the day to deny the reality of global climate change. One of the effects of this inconvenient fact on Alberta's part of our planet is that there are going to be more frequent and more severe forest fires -- the kind that destroyed large swaths of the town of Slave Lake in 2011, Fort McMurray in 2016, and which are now threatening High Level.

"Fire driven weather is 'new reality' for Canada and elsewhere, expert cautions," said the headline on the news summary of an episode yesterday of The Current, CBC Radio's daily news analysis program hosted by Anna Maria Tremonti.

Tremonti's interview with Ed Struzik, author of Firestorm: How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future and a fellow of the Queen's Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy, was playing on the car radio as I drove to work. Fire-caused weather that results in dynamic, fast moving fires is "the new reality," Struzik was saying. "We saw it in B.C. in the last two years, and Alberta the year before, Waterton National Park. Ontario got hit hard last year. I think this is what we're going to be seeing more of every summer."

Pine beetle infestations that have killed vast swaths of trees in this region, another manifestation of global warming, have left explosively dry dead forests in their wake, compounding the problem.

Kenney's response to this situation is to pretend it isn't happening. Oh, sure, he and members of his government make pro forma acknowledgements of global climate change from time to time, but their actions and intentions belie them.

This includes, of course, their Trump-like efforts to dismantle all of the inadequate measures taken by the previous NDP government to reduce Alberta's massive carbon footprint. Alberta oilsands extraction operations alone add more carbon pollution to the atmosphere than the entire economies of British Columbia and Quebec combined.

Bill 1, An Act to Repeal the Carbon Tax, was introduced in the provincial legislature on Wednesday and will take effect on May 30. A federal carbon tax will likely replace it, although Kenney has vowed to fight that in the courts. The position of this bill atop of the government's radical agenda is intentionally symbolic and tells you everything you need to know about where Kenney really stands on climate change.

Premier Kenney also intends to fight measures to ameliorate climate change in the court of public opinion. In the fall he plans to travel to his native Ontario to campaign against the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and try to install another climate-change denying Conservative government in the nation's capital.

Conveniently for Kenney, the federal Elections Act doesn't prevent provincial governments from intervening in a federal campaign, although he claims he won't use Alberta government resources to campaign against the Liberals. This much is possible, of course, since Kenney is widely thought to have his eye on Trudeau's job himself, and it might make sense for him to let federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer lose in 2019.

Scheer, whose energy policies are drawn from the same playbook as Kenney's and Ontario Premier Doug Ford's, has his own answer to stories like the CBC's interview with Struzik. Back in 2016, he promised that if he became prime minister, he'd shut down the CBC's news division. Easy-peasy, that solves the problem of stories about global warming!

Writing in the Guardian on Wednesday, the 84-year-old American journalist and commentator Bill Moyers lamented the shameful job U.S. news organizations do covering global climate change, the greatest crisis of our age.

"The Goliaths of the U.S. news media, those with the biggest amplifiers -- the corporate broadcast networks -- have been shamelessly AWOL, despite their extraordinary profits," wrote Moyers, who was press secretary to U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s. "The combined coverage of climate change by the three major networks and Fox fell from just 260 minutes in 2017 to a mere 142 minutes in 2018 -- a drop of 45 per cent. …"

He compared that unfavourably to the efforts of "Edward R. Murrow and the young men, none of them yet famous, Murrow hired to staff CBS Radio in Europe on the eve of the Second World War."

"These reporters spread across Europe as the 'phony war' of 1939–40 played out, much like the slow-motion catastrophe of global warming plays out in our time," Moyers wrote. "They saw the threat posed by the Nazis, and they struggled to get the attention of an American public back home exhausted and drained by the Great Depression."

Well, there's no danger of anything like that happening in Alberta.

"Alberta's public sector unions back doomsday anti-oil campaign," screeched former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith in a column typical of the drivel published on this topic by Postmedia, the U.S.-controlled corporation that dominates media in Alberta.

"It simply doesn't follow that catastrophe awaits humanity with an additional 1.5 degrees more," insisted Smith, who nowadays hosts a right-wing talk radio show. "The record shows that humanity has proven remarkably resilient and adaptable to climate change. There’s no reason to believe that will stop."

Think of climate obstructionism in Alberta today as a three-legged stool. Postmedia and commentators like Smith are one leg, the Kenney government is another, and fossil fuel industry lobby groups are the third.

Like the wildfires in northwest Alberta, expect their denialism to grow more fierce and dangerous as the crisis becomes more obvious.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: Shawn Cahill/Creative Commons ​

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