AHEAD OF THE HEARD — In the wacky world of climate change dreams and schemes, government policy seems to drive ever more creative ways to spend taxpayer dollars for a dubious outcome. What has become clear over the past year in Alberta is that any idea associated with climate change ideology will get attention and usually taxpayer money from the provincial government. Their recent announcement of a $10 million grant program to encourage intensive agriculture operations to reduce their carbon footprint is an indication of their fixation on this politically correct issue. Much of that program and another similar previously announced initiative are designed to encourage farmers to acquire windmill and solar power technology and equipment. The idea is to reduce the use of fossil fuels and thereby save the planet. That’s an admirable goal but as usual it ignores the inconvenient truth that Canada produces less than 1.6 per cent of the world’s emissions. Of that miniscule amount only 8 per cent comes from the agriculture industry and only 33 per cent of that is from Alberta. Heck, in Alberta alone agriculture only generates 9 per cent of the province’s emissions, but why let the facts get in the way of saving the world.
One shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but this latest government emission reduction program may be just a case of trying to reduce the pain of the impending carbon tax on agriculture. That tax will compound itself as the ag supply chain will just take it all out of the hide of the primary producer – but that’s no surprise. The government spin is that if producers reduce their use of fossil fuels then they won’t be affected by the tax – the idea is that wind and solar energy are the answer to reducing those new costs. Except for one thing – it doesn’t put real money in the producer’s pocket – taxing you one day and then giving it back the next day seems pointless – of course one does get the reward of saving the planet. Now if the provincial government would exempt the entire agriculture industry and its supply and marketing chain from the carbon tax then this emission reducing scheme would actually put dollars in producers’ pockets.
One thing for sure is that this latest government scheme is contrary to its much touted enthusiasm for diversification and job creation to save our economy. Providing financial incentives to acquire windmill and solar equipment generally benefits only one economy – that being China where most of it is manufactured. But it gets worse – not only do these types of programs create jobs in China rather than Alberta, the equipment comes from Chinese factories that are powered by emission-belching coal-fired electric plants. I would suggest that many of those factories probably produce more emissions that can ever be saved by the so-called green equipment they manufacture. What would be even more perverse were if the coal burning in those Chinese plants was shipped to them from B.C. coal mines. It boggles the mind.
The Alberta government could provide a better approach to the carbon footprint issue by taking an honest look at carbon sequestering and storage and giving farmers and ranchers better credits and incentives for that development. True, there are carbon credit programs available to landowners, but they are generally not embraced with much enthusiasm by governments and green lobby groups. The problem in the eyes of urban-centric governments is that those programs are not very sexy and hard to use for visual propaganda. Such programs appear to the uninformed as paying landowners to watch grass grow. On the other, if a fair approach was taken by governments in examining the issue including no-till agronomy, yield implications, pasture carbon sinks and many other practices and then paying producers for them, the ag industry would probably feel they are part of the solution rather than the target. I guess we can always hope for government enlightenment.