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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Confederacy of Dunces: the influence of Canadian oil interests on U.S. politics

The next few posts are going to focus on greenhouse gas emissions, because their effects - climate change and ocean acidification - are projected to have substantial consequences for marine ecosystems. And because the fixes required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are largely political, these next few posts are going to delve into politics. Today, we'll briefly touch on the relationship between the Alberta tar sands and U.S. politics.

There will be no cute images to distract us.

Hot on the heels of Conservative senators' judge-jury-executioner treatment of Bill C-311 comes a new report from the Climate Action Network - of which Living Oceans Society is a member - that offers evidence that the the governments of Alberta and Canada are actively and consistently engaged in efforts to weaken or defeat measures that would discourage the use of tar sands oil in the United States and Europe. Some of the internal government communications are startling - check out this bit in the Vancouver Sun, which includes government e-mails and other communications obtained by the Climate Action Network via access-to-information requests. We've seen this before - in the past few years, industry lobbyists and Canadian government officials have intervened on behalf of the tar sands industry in order to weaken or kill several  U.S. efforts that were seen as threats to the industry.

But the tar sands' influence on American politics doesn't stop at mere lobbying. Charles and David Koch, who are among the wealthiest Americans and are likely the most powerful players in conservative politics today, have a substantial stake in the Canadian tar sands industry. The Koch brothers wield enormous political influence in the U.S., having spent years developing a complicated and thorough network of conservative think-tanks and other entities that allow them to further their political objectives at arm's length. Today, despite repeated denials, it is widely understood that the Koch empire has underwritten much of the Tea Party phenomenon, with the brothers keeping enough of a distance to keep their suits from being splattered. It was largely the Tea Party phenomenon that gave a common purpose to conservative voters' Obama-anxieties over the past two years, and it was this wave of Tea Party-style angst that swept many Democrats and moderate Republicans out of office in the recent midterm elections. As a result of the midterms, the U.S. is looking at a Republican-controlled House, a narrowly-Democrat Senate, and a politically weakened President.

And guess what? The Republicans who were swept into power on the Tea Party tide are a bit less likely to get hung up on that whole climate change thingy. If you ever harbored hope that the U.S. would lead the way on meaningful greenhouse gas reductions (and that Canada would follow suit), your hopes are officially foundering on the rocks. It appears that the U.S. is actually set to go backwards on climate action: whereas the overall government message before this election had been that anthropogenic climate change was real but the solutions were challenging, many of the newly empowered Republicans are, as a group, doubting that anthropogenic climate change is even occurring. For context: even George W. Bush, scion (see the second definition) of the Texas oil patch and darling of the right, conceded that anthropogenic climate change was occurring - way back in 2002. Now the state of the leadership is thus: the presumptive next Speaker of the House, one John Boehner, once famously dismissed climate change because he didn't think that carbon dioxide is a 'carcinogen'. A carcinogen. Apparently, the incoming leader of the U.S. House of Representatives doesn't know the difference between cancer and climate change.

So that's where we are. The dominant views of the current batch of Congressional Republicans are a stunning reversal and are disheartening to all who have a heart. However, if you have replaced your heart with a wallet and you routinely stuff that wallet full of tar sands cash, you're chortling all the way to Washington, D.C. It seems that the incoming Republican House leadership is presenting a more 'receptive' audience to tar sands oil, compared to their Democrat counterparts. Ya don't say.

Eh, who knows? Maybe there will be some benefit to their improved access. Maybe they can re-direct some of their lobbying money towards buying a few more devices to scare off ducks before they land on tailings ponds. It is bad optics, after all.

So that's that. But before we part ways for the day, readership, I want to leave on a good note: despite this gloom and doom, there is some good news to be found in a slightly unexpected place: the average American's views on climate change (and I am an average American myself). I'll get to that tomorrow, so stay tuned.


  1. To be a fly on the wall during a meeting between Mar and Boehner...would make me a very angry fly indeed.

  2. Which is precisely how I felt while writing this. Angry, but with the political clout of a fly.