Federal gov’t is making bad decisions, environmental economist argues
ORLANDO — While farm organizations are “making nice” with the federal government on climate change policies, some outspoken academics and scientists are arguing that Canadian agriculture will be punished for it.
University of Guelph environmental economics professor Ross McKitrick, is one of the most outspoken and is highly critical of the federal government’s shift that he calls a “destructive agenda of removing fertilizer use.”
The federal government has called for a net-zero production of some greenhouse gas emissions (the government excludes the most common: water vapour) by 2050 and has recast the role of agricultural scientists to set climate change as their priority.
“I think it’s totally inappropriate for Agriculture Canada to change its focus away from helping farmers increase their productivity,” McKitrick said. “We already have controls on nitrogen emissions and most conservation areas have long been working with farmers with nutrient flows into rivers, so it’s not like this work wasn’t happening. But this new push to remove fertilizer use is frightening and the fact that there is so little analysis, this is typical across the board right now with this federal government.”
He noted that previous governments have all worked with independent modelling groups within the government to discern the effects of policy and work with economic analysts outside the government as well. “And that is all gone. None of that happens now,” he lamented.
“I have been hearing this over and over in all kinds of different policy settings. The government is just flying blind. They are driven by ideology and they don’t do any analysis of the costs of these policies. To the extent that there are people still in the government doing them, they won’t release any results. Things like the regulatory impact analysis statements that come out, there’s nothing in it. They are just empty assertions that this won’t hurt a bit and they are just going to go ahead and impose policies” that will especially hurt agriculture.
He cautioned farm groups to strengthen their message and push back or they will get burned.
“If they think that by making nice with the government over the net-zero agenda is going to make them friends with environmental groups or is somehow going to get the government to leave them alone, they are sadly mistaken,” he said. “The energy sector in Canada did that for years. They said we’re totally on board with your climate agenda. They used to say – ‘We’d rather be at the table than the meal on the table’ — and guess what happened? The problem is if you endorse the government’s alarmist rhetoric and endorse their agenda they will turn on you and say, ‘now that you agree that you are the problem, now we have to eliminate your nitrogen fertilizers. Now we have to eliminate the fossil fuels that you use on your farm.’
“At that point, you might say, now we’re going to fight against that agenda. But you can’t because you’ve already endorsed all the thinking behind that agenda. So, I would say to the farm groups: don’t make the mistake the energy sector did. Look at how that worked for the energy sector.”
He agreed that many people will not speak up on the drastic changes in government direction. “I can stand up and point this out but there are a lot of people in the government and in other areas of academia who would like to point this out but who don’t because of the risk of repercussions.”
McKitrick also told Farmers Forum that if some global warming occurs, it is good for Canada and even the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) agrees.
“Most of the studies — Canadian academic studies but also IPCC reports — have said that if climate change happens the way the models say it will happen, regions like Canada will actually be benefitting from it. It will be a net benefit for agriculture. Farmers have to adapt to changing expectations just from one year to the next in terms of crop management and everything you do to deal with weather patterns each season. So, small changes that might trend over 50 or a 100 year time span, you can’t expect to be a big problem for farmers who already deal with natural weather variability.”
McKitrick also noted that Canada is working from a worst-case scenario of the future based on one of the models designed by the IPCC that even it says is too drastic to be considered realistic. “The IPCC has a long history of using very extreme emissions scenarios to project exceptionally high amounts of warming,” McKitrick said, adding that hundreds of studies now show that the extreme temperature scenarios are just not going to happen.