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Canada Earth Science

The Problem With Carbon-Cutting Programs 219

Med-trump writes "Alberta's $60 million carbon-cutting program is failing, according to the latest report from the Canadian province's auditor-general, Merwan Saher. A news article in Nature adds: 'the province, despite earlier warnings, has not improved its regulatory structure — and calls the emissions estimates and the offsets themselves into question.'"
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The Problem With Carbon-Cutting Programs

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  • It's Alberta... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 27, 2011 @04:54PM (#38183924)

    What? Do you really think the tarsands province has an interest in putting carbon emissions on its beloved oil? Or that the federal Conservative government of the corporate elite wants them to either?

    • Re:It's Alberta... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by masternerdguy ( 2468142 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @04:56PM (#38183948)
      I'm not concerned. We're going to run out of fossil fuels eventually and then we'll be dragged kicking and screaming into the future.
      • Re:It's Alberta... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 27, 2011 @05:16PM (#38184104)

        Oh, we'll run out of fossil fuels but it won't be for a long time yet. Canada and the US both contain so much oil in the form of tar sands and oil shale that they could become the world's premier oil exporters. Techniques for extracting these reserves are being developed that would not require strip mining so you wouldn't even know there was an oil operation going on. Sorry, but the age of oil is not over yet unless you can find another source of energy and methods of storage and transportation that are as cheap, convenient and energy dense as plain old oil, gasoline or other hydrocarbon fuels.

        • Re:It's Alberta... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 27, 2011 @06:20PM (#38184520)

          "Techniques for extracting these reserves are being developed that ..."
          That just raises costs even more. Funny thing is, without those really really heavy subsidies fossil fuels wouldn't be so cheap as they are today. Think about it for a moment, when it was first used, the oil came from wells so close to the surface, that drilling was so simple and could be done with that "ancient" technology. Nowadays we have oil platforms, underwater pipes and transcontinental pipes, gargantuan ships travelling from one side of the globe to the other. Costs are incredibly higher now, than 100 years ago. Fossil fuels will stop being used long before we run out.

          You might argue that the technology doesn't exist. Well, you might find it shocking, but people don't invent things just because they "had an idea". There has to be a need for something, before it's invented. Oil is already becoming expensive, not expensive enough to ground aircraft and force ships to switch back to steam power, but enough to make people take another look at alternatives.

          • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

            oil subsidies? wtf? oil is fucking cheap. it's TAXED to a level where some other sources make seemingly sense if those are not taxed as highly.

            oil price is chosen(via natural selection) so that it's cheaper than processing liquid fuel from coal - and even doing that is actually pretty cheap if you have to. you know, there's profit still in oil, profit that you could skimp on if you're the oil provider. all those technical advancements, supertankers, platforms, pipelines etc are there to make oil _cheaper_,

            • Re:It's Alberta... (Score:4, Insightful)

              by russotto ( 537200 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:20PM (#38192140) Journal

              oil subsidies? wtf? oil is fucking cheap. it's TAXED to a level where some other sources make seemingly sense if those are not taxed as highly.

              For politically incorrect sources of energy, you take all the direct costs. Then you add in the costs of regulation (never mind that they're largely already included in the price). Then you add in some amount you made up to cover conventional pollution. Then you add a bunch more to cover CO2. Then you add in the cost of any military presence you can, by logic chains strong or tenuous, connect to oil. Then you add in the cost of road congestion, lung disease, oil worker pensions, and anything else you can come up with. Then you double all this to provide a margin of error.

              For politically correct sources of energy, you take the current costs (ignoring the huge direct subsidies and the fact that the providers are losing money anyway), and project them downward for technological improvement.

              And still it's a close call.

        • Now that the "Arab Spring" has installed puppet governments in most of the Middle East, America's oil problems should be settled for a good while. We should probably make friends with Brazil though, just to be safe. They've just discovered some offshore deposits that look to be huge, and they've got no use for it because they converted to alcohol years ago.
      • I invite you to read The Energy Trap [].
        Enjoy the other articles on that blog too.


      • Well, for some values of "evenutally," maybe. But we still have something like two-thirds of all discovered fossil fuels left to burn, and we've not begun to investigate the arctic circle, the antarctic basin, some deeper reservoirs, methane clathrates on the ocean floors, permafrost hydrocarbons, limestone catalysis, and some other things I forget. The future is quite far, but I'm OK with that. I kind of like our CO2 blanket and the end of the glaciation cycle it means to me.

        Unfortunately for Canada in

        • Re:It's Alberta... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Bob the Super Hamste ( 1152367 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @10:49AM (#38190412) Homepage

          Well, for some values of "evenutally," maybe. But we still have something like two-thirds of all discovered fossil fuels left to burn, and we've not begun to investigate the arctic circle, the antarctic basin, some deeper reservoirs, methane clathrates on the ocean floors, permafrost hydrocarbons, limestone catalysis, and some other things I forget.

          I was curious about this a while back and one of my wife's uncles worked in the oil industry for years as a geologist so I asked him shortly after he retired, about 10 year ago. At that time I got the following numbers as the best estimates of the total oil that the world held:
          6 trillion barrels as the estimated total oil the world ever held
          4 trillion barrels as the maximum recoverable amount of oil at any cost
          3 trillion barrels as the actual recoverable amount of oil at a profit
          1 trillion barrels as the total so far consumed of the initial 6 trillion, thus 2 trillion are still recoverable at a profit

          These number may vary but seem to be reasonable based off of things I have read in other sources

      • Re:It's Alberta... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SnarfQuest ( 469614 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @12:56AM (#38186870)

        There's only 20 years of fossil fuel left in the ground. At least, that's what we were told in the '70s, the 80's, and the 90's. With oil usage increasing as much as it has been lately, mostly because of China, I'd guess that we're now down to 20 years left.

  • by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @04:59PM (#38183966) Homepage Journal

    It's not much of a surprise. Kyoto was designed (intentionally or not) as a subsidy that would allow business as usual while just writing a check to Eastern Europe. The baseline CO2 levels were set at 1990 levels, which was right before the collapse of the USSR and the resultant massive decrease in their CO2 output levels. (Likewise, our CO2 production has decreased since 2007 since our economy has tanked.)

    The various carbon markets and carbon trading schemes have likewise been plagued with fraud. It comes as absolutely no surprise that Alberta's emissions trading scheme has run into identical problems.

    While carbon trading schemes are admirable in their attempt to internalize external costs, in practice they're just not a very good idea.

    • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @05:02PM (#38183992)

      The various carbon markets and carbon trading schemes have likewise been plagued with fraud

      Equally true statement for all other markets if you cut out the word "carbon"

      The various markets and trading schemes have likewise been plagued with fraud

      Its just another crooked tax and intermediary scheme to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. What a huge surprise.

    • by GoodNewsJimDotCom ( 2244874 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @05:15PM (#38184102)
      I wouldn't classify myself as a climate change denier, but I don't believe the world as we know it can get a political fix for it. In order for the world to terraform itself(Yes, the solution is a form of terraforming, and could be useful for Mars in hundreds of years), we must get enough of the countries agreeing with each other. Right now we have problems just agreeing not to kill each other. Even some of the best governments have corruption in them too. Do we want to go,"More power to the governments!"? To me it is no surprise that the guy who rose awareness to the issue is a politician himself because it is a power grab move.
    • by guises ( 2423402 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @05:49PM (#38184284)

      It's not much of a surprise. Kyoto was designed (intentionally or not) as a subsidy that would allow business as usual while just writing a check to Eastern Europe.

      Because Eastern European countries have such great international bargaining clout? Come on. It's not a subsidy, it's not a conspiracy, it's an effort to do something good about something bad. They picked a year with a target that they thought they could hit. Obviously some places would be effected by this to a greater degree than others.

      Doubtless there was some weedling and self-centered manipulation going on, so what? Whenever you have a broad and painful treaty like this there will always be someone hurting more than others - you make it as fair as you can and then you suck it up, because it has to be done regardless. My own country, the United States, pollutes far more by every metric than any of the signatories of the Kyoto treaty so we, to my chagrin, decided to take our ball and go home. Hopefully we'll step up and own to some of the problems that we've caused with the next one.

      • >>Because Eastern European countries have such great international bargaining clout?

        That's why I said, "intentional or not"... 1990 was a terrible year to pick. The worse bit is, even the wikipedia page for Kyoto has a graph labelled "what they promised and how they are doing" with all of the countries with, quote, large percentages achieved in CO2 reduction all Eastern Bloc Countries.

        In order:
        Czech Rep
        before getting to non-Eastern

  • Alberta tar sands (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @04:59PM (#38183968)
    Alberta is the home of the tar sands... the dirtiest source of petroleum. Do you actually think they are interested in cutting carbon emissions?
    • by JWW ( 79176 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @06:02PM (#38184394)

      Dirtiest source??! I'd say they'd have to work really hard to be dirtier than deep sea drilling has been.

    • "Alberta is the home of the tar sands... the dirtiest source of petroleum. Do you actually think they are interested in cutting carbon emissions?"

      I live in Alberta, I've flown over the oil sands, and I've seen the tailing ponds. Calling it the dirtiest source of petroleum is just stupid.

      If you don't think resarch is being done to reduce carbon emissions, then it's clear you haven't actually looked into the matter. All the major players are invested in it, often collaboratively. Same with research on
      • by mspohr ( 589790 )
        The tar sands are the dirtiest source of petroleum. It is true that coal is a bit dirtier than tar sands as a source of energy but for petroleum, tar sands are right up there at the top.

        It is good that some people are starting to realize that the toxic tailing ponds need to be cleaned up but it looks like this will be a huge problem. []

        And here's the current state of "cleanup":

        "The tar sands tailings ponds currently con

  • by compro01 ( 777531 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @05:01PM (#38183978)

    Like the Alberta government is going to do anything effective when almost their entire economy rides on the oil and gas industry. And like the Conservative Federal government is going to call their heartland to task.

  • by Goonie ( 8651 ) <> on Sunday November 27, 2011 @05:07PM (#38184032) Homepage
    For those that don't bother to read TFA, the one-sentence summary is that "offsets", where rather than paying the tax companies pay for credits obtained for emission-cutting programs in agriculture or in developing countries, are often dubious because the "offsets" are not properly audited and often just pay for activities that would have occurred anyway without the subsidy This is relatively easy to fix. Just tighten up the rules on offsets. It doesn't damn emissions trading in general.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by 0123456 ( 636235 )

      "Carbon offsets" are just more bullshit to funnel money from the poor to the bankers.

      But it's actually worse than that, because third-world governments are now evicting people from their land so they can plant trees to rake in some of that cash: []

      The Global Climate Warming Change scam spreads evil wherever it goes.

      • Agreed. We're supposed to reduce carbon output worldwide, and carbon trading doesn't do this. It just stops new carbon emitting economic development in poorer countries by allowing existing carbon emitting industries to emit more. I don't see how this is supposed to help reduce CO2 levels. It really is just another add on to the political bullshit machine.

        On the other hand, it could force poorer countries who have already traded their carbon output away to become experts in "green" technology. Eventually th

      • Blair's involved in similar jiggery-pokery in Rwanda - all above board, of course.
    • by SoftwareArtist ( 1472499 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @05:31PM (#38184196)
      Here is what the article actually says about it:

      What are the problems with the credit methods?

      Lax verification for carbon-offset projects has been a problem for several schemes. For the credit-creating projects to be effective at reducing overall greenhouse-gas emissions, the scheme operators are supposed to approve only projects that would otherwise not have gone ahead. The auditor-general criticized the Alberta Department of Environment and Water for allowing carbon credits for emissions-reducing activities that have become common practice.

      The Alberta report found a lack of standards for how agricultural credits were verified — not one of the credits the auditors checked could be confirmed. It also pointed out that there was no standardized, accurate method for measuring the emissions from oil-sands tailing ponds, which store contaminated water, clay, sand and bitumen from oil-sands processing.

      Many opponents of emissions trading programmes also argue that companies are likely to purchase carbon offsets instead of reducing emissions by adopting new technologies or changing their operating practices.

    • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

      just pay for activities that would have occurred anyway without the subsidy

      I don't see that as a problem. The goal is to reduce CO2 emissions on a global scale, which is what happens. Intentions are irrelevant, and impossible to know anyway.

      • But you get more bang for the buck if you can avoid rewarding "reductions" that would have happened anyway, and use the money instead to cause reductions that would not have happened on their own. I agree that the spin -- "oh, teh incompetent government and international global warming conspiracy" -- is wrong, but it would actually be better if we could audit these a little more stringently.

    • Actually, the real problem with emissions is that we really do not have any way to figure out how much CO2 emissions are being done. It is all guesswork. Yes, we put up some monitors around the world, but most of them are 'downwind' of the prevailing path from LARGE emitters. So, in EU and America (the most studied), we still have mostly guesswork on cars, Ag, etc. Then to make matters really bad, you have nations like China, that cheat like mad, and prevent real measures except under very controlled circum
      • We know very well how much coal, oil, natural gas etc is consumed in various countries. The IEA keeps pretty good accounts that you can download.

        • Actually, they do not. They only track it from nations that report it, which is likely just the western nations. In addition, the IEA is getting gross numbers, that is fossil fuel production as well as imported. They do not know exactly where it went, and for fuels, how efficiently it was used. China has some of the dirtiest coal going and does little to no cleaning. As such, it is pretty high emitters (one of the worst in fact). In addition, I believe that it keeps it quiet as to how much they actually d
    • Carbon offsets originated within the Reagan Administration, circa 1983, as just another scam, while today it is simply yet another extension of that overall global scam called, "shadow banking" --- easily explained by that GAO report a few years back, citing the carbon market in Europe as a colossal financial fraud scheme, doing absolutely nothing to cut down on emissions and pollution, which is exactly why that professional fraudster, Jeremy Rifkin, has been working over there pushing it for so long.


    • by Rary ( 566291 )

      This is relatively easy to fix. Just tighten up the rules on offsets.

      Relatively easy to fix, assuming the political will is there. But it's not. This is Alberta we're talking about. The province whose former Environment Minister said that it's not his job to protect the environment.

  • Some passionate NGO spokesperson comes up with a master plan to correct the problem they've achieved public passion for or recognition of, legislators pass legislation allowing a plan to be implemented. The actual implementation and regulations are then turned over to government employees. Per TFA:

    "In Alberta, the Department of Environment and Water requires facilities to have their emission estimates (and offset projects) independently verified. The department also uses another set of verifiers to con

  • by Tastecicles ( 1153671 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @05:29PM (#38184184)

    ...did that read weird to you? Never mind. What happens is highly industrialised states go cap in hand to developing states and buy carbon allowance off them - basically a license to carry on polluting at the rate they are yet still meet their obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.

  • Seriously. They have tied the emissions to a unit of production. That is just plain stupid. It is as worthless as tying emissions to another variable of PER CAPITA. Ppl move around all the time. In addition, gov. lie (China comes quickly to the forefront, but no nation is a saint). Basically, we need emission limits tied to PER SQ KM. Period. We need a fixed value to work from. Will a few nations like Canada, Australia and Russia look better Sure. So what. That is minor in the scope of things. By putting
  • First, there is a maximum of CO2 which earth can process, lets call that value X. Second, there are 7 billion people on earth. Logic and principals of the enlightenment allow us to conclude that every person has the same right and therefor the same share of that CO2. In recent years that value was calculated and the result was 1.5t CO2 per person. So if everyone gets a certificate over 1.5t CO2. The problem with that. Every Chinese is already at 2.5t, European are at 10t and the US with 19.78t CO2 per pers

    • Loads of problems with that.
      First, CO2 is far more tied to economics and ag than to ppl, so per capitia is not only unfair, it is just plain brain-dead.
      Secondly, nations will lie about population.
      Thirdly, this encourages ppl growth, not cutting them back. You actually REWARD a nation to have more ppl. Kind of a foolish concept.
      Fourth, US is already below 18 and probably closer to 15, while EU is climbing towards 15, unless you choose to ignore those nations with all of your growth. []
      Fifth, the idea of
      • by prefec2 ( 875483 )

        The primary idea is, that the people get the certificate not the state. So companies have to buy CO2 certificates from people. And as the CO2 amount of certificates is reduced every year, it will get more expensive for those polluting the most. For example, when the Chinese would increase their CO2 output they need more certificates making it for them more expensive. And in when the population growth in one country certainly that country's people get in total more certificates. However, the total number of

        • Here in the states, we have a number of old coal plants that are being shut down and converted to natural gas or 'cleaner coal'. For example, in Colorado, we are shutting down over 1.5 GW of coal plants from the 40's-60's, and they will be replaced by a smaller number of new high temp. natural gas plants and one shared high temp coal plant (which has the ability to convert to natural gas). In addition, since 2009, America has had growth, but most results show that emissions are still dropping. Finally, unli
        • Finally, the goal of 1.5t per person is a joke. The reason is that our population is still increasing and per capita has little correlation to CO2 emissions. Instead, economic output or better yet, a fixed item such as land mass, are much much better and fairer than per capita certificates.
    • Turn that into a slowly increasing carbon tax and you have the same effect with the benefit of improved state/federal finances.

  • You know, businesses don't seem to have a problem with fines and all manner of requirements. Why not simply REQUIRE the reductions where technically possible (forget about 'cost efficiency') and update the requirements as new technology arrives.

    They can and they will do it. They will scream about "lost jobs" and "cutting back" and crap like that, but it's a huge lie -- they know if they want to earn more, they have to product more. If there is additional overhead involved, they will eventually accept it

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by WindBourne ( 631190 )
      Until you require ALL nations to do this, then it will simply lead to businesses leaving a place that is fairly clean (read expensive) to places with high emissions and climbing. China is by far the worst example, but India, Brazil, etc will happily follow the path if it brings businesses their way and they have exceptions.
      • Then the next obvious answer becomes "tariffs and embargoes." The fact is, this is the planet we are talking about -- the only planet we have access to. We are seriously putting money before survival? We need a little more sanity.

        China will stop polluting when it becomes a requirement of doing business. The EU, I have little doubt, would follow the US if such trading requirements were made. After that, you would see some amazingly fast reform occur when China's best customers won't buy from them. And

        • Actually, tariffs and embargoes are the WORST way to go. It will lead to nations producing inefficiently. So, by nations putting taxes on ALL GOODS, they get themselves and the foreign nations to change their habits.

          As to China, it is already a requirement of doing business that they allow their money to float, stop subsidizing, stop dumping and even per the Japanese treaty, stop the heavy polluting. Yet, they simply ignore it and other nations allow it because businesses push this so that they can get
    • Corporations will just tell their employees (i.e. senators/representatives) to enact an exception for them. See Sears in Chicago.

    • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @08:38PM (#38185428) Journal

      Why not simply REQUIRE the reductions where technically possible (forget about 'cost efficiency') and update the requirements as new technology arrives.

      1. Because it is disconnected from the physical limits of the environment.
      2. Because it would require a myriad of standards, each one of which will be twisted by it's fight with industry. (ie: it makes "divide and conquer" an obvious strategy for industry)

      I'm not saying that standards enforced by law are a bad thing, I just don't think they're the best solution to such a broad problem. In the early 90's Reagan was proud to be a leading supporter of the international cap and trade treaty that is now in place for sulphur emission. As usual, economic alarmists of the day all started screaming about an economic apocalypse. The treaty was signed by most industrial nations, the economic apocalypse failed to materialise and acid rain has gone away as a major environmental problem. As you say this is how it always goes, at least it has been in the 50yrs I've been watching. Some other examples are, lead in petrol, asbestos, clean air act(s), DDT, tobacco health warnings, the list is long and the propaganda on every one of these issues from industry has been without exception utterly immoral.

      International cap and trade treaties are by far the best long term solution to AGW and many other tragedies of the commons (such as overfishing)...
      Cap - Because there is time dependent physical limit to the resource.
      Trade - Because capitalist markets are the most efficient way to distribute a finite resource.

      The size of the cap is the only detail that is rightfully determined by science, the rest of the detail is politics and accounting. Will greed and fraud occur? - Of course, it does everywhere else.

      • But you know, in many areas, we are ALREADY doing this. We stopped a huge amount of pollution which companies have been known for -- water, air and land. This is just another kind of pollution which needs to be controlled. It's a difficult one to be sure. But you know? There is great research being done in the area of small nuclear reactors which can go a long way to reduce the amount of carbon emitted either by using the power to capture the carbon or by using that instead of burning things.

  • by BigFire ( 13822 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @06:53PM (#38184750)

    When you can get your conscience clear by buying a couple of trillion carbon from [] ?

  • by Livius ( 318358 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @07:25PM (#38184950)

    The program may be failing...

    and that may mean the policy is succeeding.

  • It would be much simpler for each country to tax carbon, and redistribute the revenue equally among all citizens of that country. It would give everyone an incentive to conserve, without being a hardship on anyone.

    Markets work best when market failures, such as negative externalities, including carbon emissions, are corrected. If creating CO2 has a nonzero detrimental effect on the environment, then it just makes sense to internalize that cost into the price of, for example, gasoline.

  • The same massive industries that report that they make no taxable profits also report that they now run on unicorn burps and pixie sneezes? Gasps of amazement.

    If you make a box for it, they will check it.

  • It's all based on a LIE. And about 30% of people buy it. The percentage is quite high among /.ers so I will now be modded down. But who cares? SOMEONE has to speak the truth.

  • by dontmakemethink ( 1186169 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @07:17AM (#38188640)

    Canada is the third worst CO2 emitter per capita in the world behind the US and Australia. (Surprise! China is actually quite low per capita, lower than than any EU country.) At 40M tons of CO2 per year the tar sands oil production is the single largest emitter of CO2 in the world, but even if the oil sands shut down completely, Canada would still be #3 ahead of Saudi Arabia. The sad part is that only 10% of the tar sands can be made into marketable oil by current means, the other 90% requires more energy to process, which means emitting even more CO2 per barrel. Already the process requires half the energy the oil can release to process it. Even if it reaches 100% they'll still do it if it makes money. They're going to need several nuclear power plants to keep up with production targets.

    Granted, any country with long cold winters has a serious disadvantage. Air conditioning usually has to make a 15-30F difference to beat the heat, but in Canadian winters the furnace is called upon to make a 50-70F difference compared to outside temperatures. Up here, air conditioning is optional, heating is not. Many European countries employ district heating systems [] to provide more fuel-efficient heat, but the lack of population density makes it less feasible in Canada to the extent seen in Scandinavia for example.

    Here's a nifty gadget to check the CO2 emissions of any country [http]. I found Sweden to be interesting, they have roughly the same climate as Southern Ontario, the most populated area of Canada.

  • by DarthVain ( 724186 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @02:26PM (#38192888)

    Alberta is the on province in Canada without ANY sales tax. The reason for this is the oil companies pay enough to basically run government on those revenues.

    If you don't see a conflict of interest there, you are blind.

"This is lemma 1.1. We start a new chapter so the numbers all go back to one." -- Prof. Seager, C&O 351