Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Canadia, part deux

Posted by Rich Sweeney on November 15, 2007

I finally got around to reading last week’s New Yorker and Elizabeth Kolbert has a short piece on Alberta’s tar sands (abstract only online). If you can track down a copy its worth reading, at least for a layman’s description of the tar sand to crude process. Kolbert’s broader point is that as petroleum reserves decline, or at least as prices continue to increase, the world will eventually turn towards even dirtier sources of oil, like tar sands. Oddly though, the article makes no mention of the current push to cap or tax carbon emissions. Sure extracting crude from petro is a messy, energy intensive process. But if we attached a cost to each ton of carbon, the market would determine which sources of energy it can produce most efficiently.

Kolbert goes on to quote Alex Farrell of the Energy and Resources Group at Berkeley. Farrell does a good job of explaining just why unconventional oil is so bad for the environment. But then he says that he’s in favor of dealing with the problem by “imposing federal fuel standards, requiring oil companies to achieve a certain emissions target across all the products they sell.” Now I don’t want to sound like a broken record here, but I don’t see why this is necessary if we’re gonna cap or tax carbon.


On my previous Canadia post, noting how clean the country’s electricity generation mix was, Nick posed a very good question:

A logical question: so why, then, are our emissions per capita just as bad ) ?

I honestly didn’t know that at that time, but I checked, and Nick’s correct. My first thought was that there are two possible explanations: Canadians have cleaner electricity but use a lot more of it, or some other sector of the Canadian economy is much dirtier/ bigger than the US. My initial findings seem to indicate that it’s a bit of both. Surprisingly, Canada uses much more electricity per capita than the US. Possibly because all that hydro makes it cheaper?  Canadians also possibly use more heating oil and drive further than Americans. Finally, if you buy the tone of the article referenced above, it would appear that energy production activities are both dirtier and more economically important in Canada than in the US.

Anyone else know what’s going on in Canada?

One Response to “Canadia, part deux”

  1. Nick said

    I honestly didn’t know that at that time

    How little you know about us🙂

    Some helpful answers and insights are given here:
    (but you seem pretty close with your explanation above)

    Bataille et al. 2007 “How Malleable are the Greenhouse Gas Emission Intensities of the G7 Nations?” The Energy Journal v28,n1,pp 145-169.

    In general: Being big a cold hurts us a bit. Norway (even colder) is one of the few countries that use more Kwh/person.
    But, this is more than offset by our access to cheap clean hydro.

    The killer, however, is fossil fuel production & export.

    Keep up the good work here on the blog!


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