Rethinking the Kyoto Accord

By Murray Birt

>”We’re Albertans… of course we care about the environment.” Or so goes Alberta’s Kyoto advertising campaign. So what is it all about? Are economics and ecology forever doomed to be at loggerheads?

This PIRG column aims to “percolate” ideas about social justice and the environment into the campus community. While some might think that makes us Kyoto extremists, I study economics–and do not ignore the reality of “tradeoffs.”

The choice between economics and ecology seems a frustrating one, but it is more fruitful to look through the lens of ecological economics. Ecology and economics have the Greek root word “oikos,” meaning management of the household. Our house is the planet and we must manage our impact on jobs and pollution with equal priority.

One of the first diagrams of first-year macroeconomics is a simple model of the economy. Households provide labour to firms in exchange for wages, firms supply products to consumers and receive investments from households. Under such a view of the economy, Kyoto does appear to be a threat as prices and taxes could rise, and employment could fall.

However, through the glasses of ecological economics, one should draw a box around the economy that represents the finite limits of ecology. Kyoto is an attempt to place a box around the economy. We must manage the affairs of the economy as best we can within the limits of this metaphorical environmental box.

Some may say that Kyoto will not stop global warming, but as last week’s lecturer, Dr. Page of Transalta pointed out, Kyoto is a means, not an end. We are heading for a carbon-constrained future, and Kyoto is a multilateral approach to humanity’s common future.

Alberta has some valid concerns but it is not the fear mongering that Klein makes it out to be. Alberta’s “Made in Canada” approach was analyzed by the Pembina Institute (, which investigates issues in an unbiased manner. The report finds that the Alberta plan will in fact significantly increase emissions and that few of its actions have a chance of directly decreasing pollution.

By making Kyoto an all or nothing game, a competition between Klein and Chretien, our ecological-economics glasses become obscured. The devil is in the details of implementation, and the interests of all are best served through negotiation and open discussion, not PR campaigns. The federal government should be more open about its plan, but Alberta’s “Made in Canada” solution is not the way forward.

Send a message to Klein and Chretien. Canadians need to speak up:,

Murray Birt is a member of the Calgary Public Interest Research Group.