The New Bad Boys - Population Growth and Immigration Fuel Canada's Carbon Emissions Pollution

By John Erik Meyer
Volume 20, Number 1 (Fall 2009)
Issue theme: "Immigration and population growth"

Population Growth and Immigration Fuel Canada's Carbon Emissions Pollution

Canadians like to be liked. We enjoy our reputation in the world as active nice guys working towards the goals of human betterment and world peace from a base of a just and progressive society.

But Canada’s status is due for a massive downgrade. In the next 10 years we will become the industrialized world’s number one carbon emissions offender.

Whereas our Kyoto commitment was to reduce emissions to 560 megatonnes — 6 percent under the 1990 levels — by 2012, they will actually have increased by 35 percent.

While many European nations expect to achieve 40 percent cuts by 2020 even as they shutter nuclear plants, Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will continue to soar far above the 1990 level. Canada cannot possibly meet its 2012 target of 540 megatonnes as it is currently at 700 megatonnes and headed higher.

Our abysmal emissions record is well known in scientific and technocrat circles. William Ruddiman, author of Plows, Plagues and Petroleum, jokingly referred to Canada’s carbon track record by saying “….yea, and you are the new bad boys.” Unfortunately it is no longer a laughing matter. In a far less affable critique, Yvon de Boer, the head of the UN’s climate change agency, blasted Canada’s double speak. In 2008, Al Gore ripped Canada’s carbon performance as “pure fraud”.

As comparison of the carbon reduction performance of countries becomes more commonplace, Canada will be the developed nation appearing as the number one offender. We currently rank 56th (just ahead of Saudi Arabia) on a list of 57 developed nations in carbon emissions reduction performance.

If the carbon tipping point becomes a clear reality lending extreme urgency to carbon reduction, being the worst carbon emitter in the West will give us a hugely negative profile for activists and political leaders around the world.

Where is the growth in emissions coming from? The two main drivers are mass immigration and the Alberta tar sands. In the period 1990–2012 the tar sands are a rapidly growing but still minor (5 percent) contributor of national emissions compared to the 25 percent increase in population (7 million people) for which immigration is largely responsible. To this point in 2009, immigration is responsible for 3 to 4 times more of our Kyoto overshoot than the tar sands.

With a policy of balanced immigration (same number arriving as leaving), Canada’s population would have stabilized at around 27 million in 2020, whereas the current policy of growth forever is using mass immigration to push the population to close to 50 million from the current 33 million by 2050.

Per capita carbon emissions have been almost stable over the past 20 years, although this does not allow for the move offshore of all of the energy intensive manufactured goods we consume. Including this transfer would boost our carbon emissions in the neighborhood of 10 percent.

Canada’s carbon emissions overshoot from 1990 to 2008 has been fueled almost exclusively by population growth driven by mass immigration. In the next 20 years, the emissions growth driven by immigration will almost be matched by growth in emissions from the tar sands but from 2050 on as tar sands production levels off, immigration will once again assume the dubious mantel of being the undisputed champion of carbon emissions growth.

The tar sands are one of the dirtiest oil sources on earth (about the same as “clean coal”) and gas made from it effectively negates the benefits of the new U.S. CAFE fuel economy standards.

Tar sands oil is likely to find itself on the hit lists of an increasing number of governments as they adopt California-like standards on the carbon intensity of fuels measured from the ground to the tailpipe.

Once we become known for dirty oil, how long will it be before our number one carbon emitter status pins “dirty products” on everything we export?

The March, 2009 issue of the National Geographic featured a visually arresting and well-researched expose of the tar sands. The article illustrated the energy intensive processes and the 120 sq km of tailing ponds growing by millions of liters daily.

It is easy to capture the environmental problems of the tar sands in photos. It is indeed the looming environmental disaster it appears to be.

With scores of square kilometers of open pit mines and tailing ponds, the tar sands have greater visual impact than the suburbs, offices and malls spawned by the immigrant influx but carbon emissions from these population growth sources are both greater in magnitude and harder to minimize due to their multiplicity.

Unfortunately, National Geographic has published no such sensational expose of the impact of immigration. Despite the fact that mass immigration has effectively generated three Torontos of urban sprawl (four times the area of the tar sands), it isn’t easy to visually represent this as an environmental catastrophe to our twentieth century western brains.

And this sprawl has taken place on Canada’s best agricultural land, not in remote northern boreal forest.

We are trained to see shopping malls and subdivisions as signs of progress but seen through an environmental filter, they are even uglier than strip mines and tailing ponds because they are huge resource consumers for their entire lives.

Environmentally, if not visually, the road to hell is paved with asphalt and lined with shopping malls and subdivisions.

Mass immigration creates more energy overhead and reduces the environmental base both in total and per capita terms when we should be cutting overhead, conserving resources, and expanding green energy production.

No conserver society can accommodate population growth, but mass immigration (Canada has the highest rate of immigration in the world, even including U.S. illegals) and ever higher consumption are the core of Canada’s simple growth mantra. This growth ethic swamps conservation measures. The carbon savings of the largest Canadian solar project, years in the making, will be eaten up by just 4 weeks of immigration.

Canada has minimal conservation strategies in its policy of business as usual and is depending on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) plus more nuclear power plants to reduce carbon emissions.

Change won’t come anytime soon. While the tar sands issue is out in the open, the powerful immigration lobby has succeeded in preventing any discussion of immigration as Canada’s primary carbon emissions growth driver.

In Canada, from the smallest chamber of commerce to the editorial board of the largest media corporation, simple growth is Motherhood, Queen, and Country. The annual immigration target is 1 percent of the population, which means an official policy of a continuously growing population forever.

In some municipalities, politicians get up to 85 percent of their funding from property developers who are almost certainly the biggest single source of revenue for the Canadian print media industry.

While the conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has taken a huge amount of criticism for its failure to endorse or move towards the Kyoto agreement and its targets, the other four parties, Liberal, Bloc Quebecois, New Democratic, and Green, have put forward absolutely no strategy which would meet the Kyoto targets they all claim to endorse. Immigration is that toxic an issue. As a result of the immigration no-go zone, our national policy formation process has, for decades, been unable to deal effectively with a host of issues from child poverty to productivity to land use to income polarization. And now immigration is short- circuiting carbon emissions planning.

In the face of the climate change threat and legally binding international standards, the Conservative government still talks of a “made in Canada” emissions plan. But it is at odds with the carbon-reducing nations in two major areas: math and timing.

With population demand growing by over 60 percent from 1990, the Canadian government is claiming it will match the carbon reductions of stable population countries by 2050. Impressive, until one realizes that other countries are measuring their cuts from the base year of 1990 and Canada is measuring its cuts from a business as usual projection of consumption in 2050.

Conservative policy not only rejects Kyoto targets but also delays the timing of reductions. By 2050, Canada should have been at the 200MT level had we followed the Kyoto track, but we are planning on 3 times that level.

Scientists feel strong action by 2020 is critical to limit warming to 2 degrees C to avoid passing the tipping point beyond which the devastating effects of global warming will spiral out of control. Canada is actually planning on showing up for human society’s pivotal environmental Battle of Britain 30 years late and 400 megatonnes heavy.

And we’ll be alone. Canadian politicians can no longer hide in the American shadow uttering Bushisms on the sanctity of the economy and rote liberal phrases about multiculturalism and growth because Obama is planning to cut back to 1990 levels by 2020. Australia’s Prime Minister Rudd has re-affirmed that country’s commitment to their Kyoto targets.

Furthermore, in a stunning revelation, CBC news recently reported CCS will not work on the tar sands as promised. The CCS process requires high concentrations of carbon to be effective, and apparently those from the tar sands are too diffuse to allow efficient removal.

This has been known in government circles for a year, yet Prime Minister Harper has made statements clearly championing CCS as Canada’s carbon emissions salvation. This deception all but guarantees our fall from nice guy to shady dealer.

With its new math and reliance on heavily promoted, thinly researched, and theoretical future technologies, Canada is making up its own rules.

How this is received by those nations currently making deep, substantial changes remains to be seen. But certainly it is being seen and will not be ignored.

All of the attention may be focused for now on the carbon emissions poster pariah, the tar sands, but if real solutions are to be put forward, the cloak of invisibility will have to be pulled from immigration.

In the future, Canada will undoubtedly come under increasingly severe criticism for its appalling carbon emissions record. Hopefully this will result in focusing the proper amount of blame and corrective actions on all causes, including the major one: mass immigration. ■

About the author

John Erik Meyer, past president of Zero Population Growth Canada, has written on population, environment, and economic issues over the past 30 years and has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and the Financial Post.