Sustainable what?!

A few days ago, I heard an item on CBC news which reminded listeners that British Columbia’s infamous “carbon tax” (thank you so much, Andrew Weaver) will be increased again on Canada Day (July 1). This supposedly “revenue neutral” tax was introduced some years ago – and has succeeded in making me wish I could have brought my car along to fill-up the tank each time I visit my family in Ontario! But I digress …

This news item also indicated that this increase will be the last – and that BC’s premier had announced that there will be a review of this tax which will be completed (if my memory serves me correctly) by August 31. When I went off in search of further details of this review, the first article I came across was from the Globe and Mail (which, in the now distant past, used to be a reputable newspaper.) Here’s what I found:

B.C. to raise carbon tax, price of gasoline July 1

British Columbia is set to boost its controversial carbon tax by $5 a tonne on July 1, further driving up the price of gasoline and other petroleum products as the province attempts to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020.

Environment groups have applauded the province’s carbon levy, which was offset by cuts to personal and corporate income taxes when it was introduced four years ago. The carbon tax has contributed to a 15 per cent drop in British Columbians’ use of petroleum-based fuels since it was introduced in 2008, said an Ottawa-based think tank, Sustainable Prosperity, in a report issued Wednesday.

B.C. motorists grumble that the tax has given the province some of the highest gasoline pump prices in the country. This week, the average pump price in Vancouver was $1.365 per litre, compared to a national average of $1.237. And as of Sunday, the province will increase the tax by 1 cent a litre.

But in its report on the levy, Sustainable Prosperity says it has led to substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that are linked to climate change, but has had no negative impact on economic growth, as some critics feared.
[...] [emphasis added -hro]

Sustainable Prosperity (SP) is a group that I’d never heard of before, so I went off in search of some background info on this evidently new kid on the green-growther block.

Their FAQ page tells us that:

Sustainable Prosperity is a charitable, non-partisan, multi-stakeholder initiative working to protect Canada’s environment and enhance our prosperity. Sustainable Prosperity provides credible research, robust policy proposals, and educational information on environmental pricing reform.

Have you ever known one of these think-tanks not to claim that they provide “credible research” or that they are “partisan”?! No? Me neither! And SP may be a “charitable … initiative” but – not unlike many “initiatives” which are beneficiaries of Tides Canada – SP is not a registered Canadian charity.

This suspiciously amazingly timely “Research Report” – “British Columbia’s Carbon Tax Shift: The first four years” – is available as a nice glossy 17 page pdf. The preface indicates that:

Sustainable Prosperity is a national policy and research network aimed at building a healthy environment and economy, by making markets work for the environment. Based at the University of Ottawa, it is a non-partisan, multi-stakeholder research and policy initiative that aims to build a greener and more prosperous economy for all Canadians.

© is University of Ottawa, which just happens to be the base of the:

Lead author and researcher, Professor Stewart Elgie, University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law and Institute of the Environment.

Evidently, “research assistance” was provided by two students at the U of O Faculty of Law and

Review and comment were provided by Nic Rivers (University of Ottawa), Nancy Olewiler (Simon Fraser University), and Alex Wood (Sustainable Prosperity).

For reasons perhaps best known only to the Lead Author, there was no mention made of the fact that Elgie is the founder and chair of SP (and also serves on the Research Network Committee, along with Olewiler, as “Co-Chair, Economy-Wide and Emerging Issues”). Rivers is also on this Research Network Committee where he serves as “Co-Chair, Low Carbon Economy”. And guess what, folks, Rivers’:

research involves the evaluation and analysis of environmental and energy policies … conducted using a variety of methods, including simulation models and econometric analysis [emphasis added -hro]

Their Press Release on this “Research Report” also indicates – by strange coincidence, I’m sure – that:

A study released this week by the Pembina Institute and Energy and Materials Research Group at Simon Fraser University, based on 39 interviews with B.C. businesses, non-governmental organizations, academics and community leaders, shows the majority of those surveyed think the carbon tax policy has been positive for the province. [emphasis added -hro]

It may or (may not) be worth noting that one of SP’s “Steering Committee” members is also on the Advisory Committee of the Pembina Institute. Quite convenient, eh?! But that aside …

I’m no statistician, but the sample in this “study” strikes me as being considerably less than, well, representative of the population of the province! A skeptical person might even suspect that the 39 who were interviewed might have been cherry-picked from their respective groups.

Here are some other interesting background details on Elgie:

Stewart Elgie is a professor of law and economics at the University of Ottawa, and director of the University’s interdisciplinary Environment Institute. He received his Masters of Law from Harvard, and his doctorate (J.S.D.) from Yale (thesis on forest carbon markets). He is also the founder and chair of Sustainable Prosperity, Canada’s major green economy think tank and policy-research network. His research involves many aspects of environmental and economic sustainability, with a particular focus in recent years on market-based approaches.

Elgie started his career as an environmental lawyer in Alaska, litigating over the Valdez oil spill. He returned to Canada and founded Ecojustice, now Canada’s largest non-profit environmental law organization. He was later hired by Pew Trusts as founding executive director of the multi-stakeholder Canadian Boreal Initiative. [...] He has served on or chaired many advisory bodies in the environment/sustainability area.

The Canadian Boreal Initiative connection is, well, interesting! One of their “Leadership Council” members is ForestEthics – which, of course, is a US organization of which ForestEthics Canada (the entity which so nobly decided to give up a status it never had, as I had posted in April) is administered by Tides Canada – an organization which, as Terence Corcoran observed a few days ago, has recently embarked on a rebranding exercise. But I digress …

SP does have an Annual Report (2010/2011) available for perusal.

There are (or at least there were at the time this Annual Report was written) 19 “Collaborating Academic Institutions”

University of Ottawa
University of Calgary
Simon Fraser University
Wilfrid Laurier University
University of Toronto
University of Western Ontario
University of Alberta
York University
University of British Columbia
Trent University
Carleton University
Queen’s University
Yale University
University College London
University of Waterloo
Lakehead University
University of Victoria
University of Guelph

I wonder how Yale University got into this (otherwise) all Canadian lineup?! Oh, well …

Included in this Annual Report is an unaudited Financial Statement for the year ended Mar. 31/2011. Of $1,444,434 in revenues, by far the lion’s share ($817,810) was generously granted by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. The University of Ottawa was very generous, too: they contributed $510,000 worth of “in kind contributions” – including $340,000 worth of “Office renovations”.

That must be some office, eh?!

One other interesting highlight I noticed in this Annual Report, is that in May 2010, SP “hosted” a three-city speaking tour by Pavan Sukhdev to:

meet with policy-makers, academics and experts in the lead up to the release of the global study – The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) – the largest, most comprehensive study on the economic importance of the world’s natural assets.

Sukhdev popped up more recently during the course of “Dialogue Days” – along with Maurice Strong and others – on the “innovative bridge” at Rio+20.

So it should come as no surprise that SP’s FAQ page also includes:

What is Environmental Pricing Reform (EPR)?

Environmental pricing reform (EPR), or “getting the prices right” is the process of adjusting market prices to include environmental costs and benefits. Where market prices omit environmental costs and benefits, rational economic decisions lead to environmental harm, as well as to economic distortions and inefficiencies. Getting the prices right can help to protect the environment and boost Canada’s prosperity.

And:

What kinds of changes does Sustainable Prosperity want?

We are seeking changes in policy – federally, provincially, and locally – to implement EPR across Canada. EPR means a change in the rules of the game, and a levelling of the playing field, so that cleaner goods and services become cheaper. EPR policies, also known as “market based instruments” (MBI) or “economic instruments,” include tax shifting, cap-and-trade emissions reductions, and developing markets for ecological services.

In light of all of the above, some might be inclined to conclude from the green-tinted findings in Sustainable Prosperity’s “Research Report” on BC’s carbon tax that “well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”.

In fact, when one considers the following from their Annual Report:

Media relations – which is critical to our short and long term goals – has been successful over the last year. Media coverage of SP research, events and activities increased substantially. A growing number of SP staff and network members have established themselves as “go-to” experts on greening the economy, urban sustainability, and environmental pricing reform.

one might be forgiven for wondering if this “Research Report” – far from being the product of “credible research” – is yet another well-co-ordinated propaganda exercise from academic-advocates dedicated to a “cause”.

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3 thoughts on “Sustainable what?!

  1. Oh, please, forward this to every MPP and newspaper in the Province. Not that there is much in the way of honest or sane opposition, but you (we) might get lucky …
    Maybe the Edmonton Sun, too, just so that you at least get one response and some coverage!!

  2. Pingback: Sustainable what?! « The View From Here | Global Warming Skeptics

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