Newly declassified documents suggest Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is taking climate change more seriously than many critics have alleged. However, environmental advocates say its approach remains troubling.
On June 5, 2012, then–Environment Canada deputy minister Paul Boothe convened a meeting to discuss geoengineering, according to documents posted online by Mike de Souza, a Postmedia national political reporter.
Geoengineering, which has been advocated by Straight columnist Gwynne Dyer in the past, was defined as "the intentional, large-scale intervention in Earth’s environmental systems". The list of invitees included the deputy minister of defence, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and the national security adviser to the prime minister.
Slides for the meeting acknowledge that the Earth’s climate is warming as a result of human activity, and warn that even a rapid implementation of emissions-reduction measures may not prevent a temperature rise of more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels by mid century. A graph projects a global mean temperature increase of 6° C by 2100, a change that scientists warn would likely be catastrophic.
Two classifications of geoengineering are presented as options to reduce future warming: carbon-dioxide removal (CDR) and solar-radiation management (SRM). CDR methods include afforestation, ocean fertilization, and the direct extraction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the slides explain. One example of an SRM approach is to install "space-based orbiting mirrors" that would "reduce solar input". Another is to continually inject sulphur aerosols into the atmosphere "to mimic the effect of volcanoes".
On the phone from Edmonton, Mike Hudema, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, told the Straight that it’s encouraging to see the Harper government acknowledge climate change as human-driven, but argued that the Conservatives have reached the wrong conclusion.
"If you admit that the climate crisis is happening and you agree with the scientific consensus that humans and greenhouse-gas emissions are the cause of it, then it is the government’s responsibility to reduce those emissions," he said.
Hudema called attention to Harper’s support for the development of the Alberta tar sands, which he noted is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country.
Kevin Washbrook, director of the Vancouver-based Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, similarly told the Straight that the government should be focusing on ways to reign in sources of pollution, such as the tar sands. "The core thing we need to do is reduce emissions, and there is nothing about that in there," he said.