Author Archives

Andrew Roman

There is so much misinformation, narrowly biased coverage and raw emotion online that concern me about our society's ability to think critically about the important issues of the day. I want to provoke a deeper level of thought by offering an explanation of issues as I see them. You may agree or disagree, but hopefully you will at least think about the issues.

I am a retired litigation lawyer with over 40 years of experience in environmental, electricity, competition, and constitutional issues. I have appeared at all levels of court including the Supreme Court of Canada, and in every province of Canada. I have been invited as a guest lecturer at almost all of the law schools in this country. I am also the author of over 100 legal articles and a law book, and have been an adjunct faculty member at four Canadian law schools.

Canada’s Carbon Tax: Saving the Planet or Killing our Economy?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada must fight climate change with a rising carbon tax. But several provincial premiers have attacked the federal carbon tax in court as an unconstitutional “tax grab” that will severely harm Canada’s economy. Saskatchewan has lost its case, as has Ontario.

A tax of the planned $50/tonne, with most of the revenue rebated, is unlikely to be either seriously harmful or seriously effective at this rate. But if it continues to increase, and is supplemented by policies that massively subsidize or otherwise compel greatly expanded solar and wind generation, the economy will be harmed. Premature, politically determined investments in the wrong green technologies will leave many Canadian families freezing in the dark.

The evil Dogbert mocks the current green technology:

dt_c110329

DILBERT © Scott Adams. Used By permission of ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION. All rights reserved.

To achieve Canada’s promised 30% emissions reduction by 2030 with current technology would be enormously costly. That cost can only be raised through much higher taxes (whether on income, sales or CO2), without rebates. No country can afford to get it wrong and blow a bundle on something that doesn’t significantly reduce CO2 emissions, then raise taxes even more to try plan B and then plan C, etc.

If our government decides to invest heavily now in the currently available technology, as was done in Germany, it can lead to stratospheric electricity prices and an unreliable electricity supply. In Germany, taxes, levies, and surcharges in 2019 account for nearly 53 percent of a total household power price of 44 cents Canadian per kilowatt hour, among the highest in Europe [cleanenergywire]. In Canada, the price in Montreal is 8.2 cents, and Toronto, 15.11 cents [nrcan]. And Germany has had to build new coal plants to restore the reliability of its electricity grid when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. Any Canadian government that gives us German electricity prices will be destined for electoral  defeat.

Lower and even middle income Canadians would find it increasingly difficult to pay for the very expensive electricity to heat their homes and cook their food electrically (no more gas furnaces or stoves) and keep the lights and appliances on, as well as the very expensive gasoline to drive to work.  During Canada’s National Energy Program (1980-1985), which was much hated in Alberta, there were many Alberta bumper stickers saying “Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark.” If our energy transition is rushed with technology that isn’t yet up to the task, many Canadians all across the country will freeze in the dark.

Continue reading “Canada’s Carbon Tax: Saving the Planet or Killing our Economy?”

THE ‘CLIMATE CRISIS’: DON’T PANIC, IT’S NOT THE TITANIC! Part 2 of 2

Chimneys

The above photo is typically what we see in articles urging us to save the planet from an imminent climate crisis by quickly ending “carbon pollution” from fossil fuels. Such photos of chimneys belching large clouds are misleading because carbon dioxide is invisible. But showing chimneys emitting an invisible gas would not be scary. And scary sells.

A Canadian tax on carbon dioxide emissions is highly controversial among politicians, but less so among economists. My review of the applicable tax legislation showed me that it is a well drafted law. At the current tax level a fully rebated tax may be justified as a step in the right direction because that will help Canada to meet its Paris Agreement commitments. But our government’s justifying its carbon dioxide tax on the “polluter pay principle” are both misleading and confusing.

Calling CO2 a Pollutant is Misleading

It is misleading because CO2 is not “pollution” in the normal way that word has usually been used, for example, by the World Health Organization [WHO. ] The WHO reports that annually some 4.2 million people die from outdoor air pollution and 3.8 million from household air pollution (total of 8 million). Most of the developing world breathes polluted air, especially indoor air, polluted by burning animal dung, wood and charcoal for cooking and heating. WHO lists the outdoor and indoor air pollutants that represent the greatest threat, but CO2 is not on that list. Typical pollutants are, e.g. lead, particulate matter, ground level ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Unlike toxic pollutants in the air in developing countries, 100% of the people in the world breathe air with carbon dioxide in it. None of us get sick or die from breathing the CO2 in the air. CO2 is found in every soft drink and beer. I would hate to think that when I drink my glass of soda water or my beer, I am drinking toxic pollution.

Continue reading “THE ‘CLIMATE CRISIS’: DON’T PANIC, IT’S NOT THE TITANIC! Part 2 of 2”

THE ‘CLIMATE CRISIS’: DON’T PANIC, IT’S NOT THE TITANIC! Part 1 of 2

During my 45 year legal career I had direct experience in environmental hearings with numerous scientists from various disciplines, both in the preparation and the presentation of their evidence. If they could survive my pre-hearing preparatory “cross-examination” they were likely to do well at the hearing. I wrote and edited a manual for First Nations on how to present their case in an environmental hearing, one of the first such books translated into Cree and Ojibway. I was legal counsel to Canada’s first federal environmental assessment process, assessing two major projects, during which I retained several environmental scientists for the hearing panels and cross-examined others. I also advised Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization in the early stages of its formation.

In the last year I have spent many hundreds of hours reading texts, scientific publications and journalists’ articles about climate change, and I continue to do so daily.

I am not qualified to judge the mathematics used in scientific debates, but I am fully qualified to judge whether there is such a debate. I am also qualified to judge the logic scientists use in justifying their arguments. And finally, I am as well qualified as anyone to judge whether much of what we read in online publications by journalists, or in sponsored posts in social media, purporting to represent “the science” actually does.

It is striking to me how much of what is presented in the popular press is collective misinformation, a journalists’ opinion piece about what that non-scientist writer thinks are some scientists’ opinions about the future, presented as indisputable fact. For example, some journalists’ descriptions of the 2015 Paris Agreement demonstrate that they have never read either the Agreement itself or what various countries have promised to do under that Agreement. They merely repeat the misinformed opinions of others.

Even worse, there is a failure to ask the obvious questions one should ask about shocking and frightening statements: is it too bad to be true? Are my emotions being manipulated? For example, when I read that last summer was the hottest “on record” if I was cross-examining that author I would ask: how far back, in what “record” did you look; and how was the global temperature measured then and now? In some cases the “record” was opened a decade or two after much higher earlier temperatures. By excluding these earlier temperatures from the record recent temperatures were made to appear the hottest in that purposely selected time period.

However, in a selected longer record including many more years or even centuries, the temperatures in the earlier years were not taken from accurate thermometer measurements of that time because no accurate, complete and globally widespread measurements existed. Rather, temperatures from earlier years were estimated, and then compared to observed temperatures in more recent years. By estimating earlier years to have been colder than was likely and making judgmental adjustments to the temperature records of the recent past (e.g., to compensate for possible sampling error), the result may be to increase the slope of the temperature graph to overstate the rate and extent of recent warming.

Even the scientists’ description of the level of confidence they have in these judgments (e.g. “high confidence”), or their probability of being right, is subjective – tantamount to saying “I have high confidence in my own unverifiable opinions.” Yet the “warmest on record” estimates are presented as “fact” in the media even though it is mostly subjective judgment.

But subjective judgments go both ways. In other cases scientists look at the “paleoclimate” in geologic history going back millions of years, perhaps even before homo sapiens, or in the earliest days of humanity (when humanity was small groups of nomads), concluding that if extreme hot or cold temperatures occurred then there can be no problem today (when humanity is 7+ billion people in fixed settlements).

The time period selected and the data adjustments made to historic and recent temperatures largely determines the conclusions. And there is no single “right” time period or “right” adjustments; some just appear more reasonable than others.

I am fully aware that the only totally open mind is a totally empty mind. That is not me or you. So all I can do is try my best to be as objective and impersonal about the evidence as I can. Let me say at the outset that I do not believe in conspiracy theories; or evil scientists fraudulently altering data to create fake science. I assume that everyone is acting with the best of intentions, whether or not I might agree with their methods or conclusions.

I am also unpersuaded by the now common articles that claim to be “debunking” a list of “10 myths” or inconvenient truths presented by someone they disagree with. The myths attacked are usually an oversimplified ‘straw man’ argument, and the debunking often includes personal attacks, as in: she went to a 3rd rate university and didn’t get a PhD in climate science; or: he got his funding from the evil X (whether the oil industry or a foreign billionaire’s charitable foundation). And therefore what they say is just a myth. Working scientists and journalists all have to get their funding from somewhere. I don’t care where.

In today’s polarized times, it is a lot easier to get funded and published in peer reviewed journals when presenting a commonly held viewpoint than a skeptical or even contrarian one. Unfortunately, peer review is no longer the powerful tool it once was if all your peers think the way you do, but reject anyone who doesn’t. For these reasons I don’t look only at the author’s credentials, peer review or alleged sources of funding, but try to judge the presentation on the merits of the evidence and arguments presented.

My interest has been to look behind the headlines to form my own tentative and evolving conclusions. In retirement, I have the time and experience to ask the difficult and sometimes embarrassing questions without needing funding or peer review from anyone. Some of my conclusions will be presented in blog posts here. Keep reading.

Continue reading “THE ‘CLIMATE CRISIS’: DON’T PANIC, IT’S NOT THE TITANIC! Part 1 of 2”

Did Our Prime Minister Violate the Conflict of Interest Act?

Background

Canada’s Parliamentary Ethics Commissioner (EC), Mario Dion, released his bombshell report on August 14 [EC Report]. He found that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had violated section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act by attempting to pressure former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould (JWR) to terminate the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for his own political benefit. Errol Mendes, a well-regarded constitutional law professor, has criticized the EC’s report, arguing that Dion misinterpreted his own act and exceeded his jurisdiction [ Mendes Opinion ]. However, in my view, Dion got it right, and Mendes got it wrong. Here’s why.

If it was ethical for a PM to try to end a criminal prosecution for political benefit to himself and his party it would also be ethical to try to start a prosecution for political benefit. Neither type of political interference is consistent with the rule of law in a democracy.

 

Continue reading “Did Our Prime Minister Violate the Conflict of Interest Act?”

Confirmation Hearings for Canadian Appeal Court Nominees

It is not every day that I have, respectfully, to disagree with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC), but today is that day.

The Globe and Mail newspaper this morning quoted SCC Chief Justice Richard Wagner saying that he would like to see public nomination hearings for appeal court judges, much like the ones held for the SCC.  Such hearings for SCC nominees are largely a waste of time. Why expand an essentially useless and potentially harmful process?

Chief Justice Wagner was quoted as saying that explanations are necessary “Because people need and deserve the information. There is no reason we should not give it to them. We have nothing to hide.” I agree with those sentiments as far as they go, but all the relevant information can be provided in a printed bio or CV or by reading Wikipedia. The questions politicians really want answered have nothing to do with information. Rather, it is about the nominees’ views on politically controversial issues. Yet these views are almost never obtained on questioning.

Continue reading “Confirmation Hearings for Canadian Appeal Court Nominees”

The Vice-Admiral Norman Case: A Prosecution Without Political Interference?

“Even a fish wouldn’t get into trouble if it kept its mouth shut.” Korean proverb.

Introduction:

As most Canadians who follow the news will know, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, the Vice-Chief of Canada’s Defence Staff was suspended from his position in 2016 and subsequently prosecuted for the alleged criminal offence of breach of trust. He was accused of having leaked secret Canadian government information about a Navy shipbuilding contract. On May 8, 2019 the prosecutor stayed the charges against him and the judge told him that he was free to go.

But that has not ended the controversy about the prosecution. There has been extensive speculation about political interference from the Prime Minister’s office.  That speculation may have gained some support from the evidence of Mr. Norman’s superior, Chief of the Defence Staff General Jon Vance, that Vance had discussed the matter with Mr. Trudeau and his top advisors, including then-principal secretary Gerald Butts and chief of staff Katie Telford. The Prime Minister has denied any political interference and to date no one has produced any evidence of it. I am inclined to believe the Prime Minister. However, the absence of direct interference by elected politicians is not the same as lack of political considerations in the prosecution.

As events have unfolded, the prosecutor, the RCMP and the Prime Minister all look bad.

 

Continue reading “The Vice-Admiral Norman Case: A Prosecution Without Political Interference?”

The Last Straw and the Pipeline

Governments have often made decisions based on impulse rather than reason. A classic example is the fallacy of “the last straw” – the straw that broke the camel’s back. Similar impulsive decisions are now being made in the assessment of a pipeline’s effects. Let’s think about that.

If a camel’s back can hold, let’s say, 1000 straws, and if one more straw will break its back, it is illogical to believe that it was only the last straw that broke its back. Each of the 1001 straws has weight. All of them together create load on the camel’s back. The first straw is no better than the last straw. They are all load. If you don’t believe me, just ask the camel!

THE LAST STRAW DIDN’T BREAK THE CAMEL’S BACK

If you remove one or more of the 1000 loaded straws, then adding that proverbial “last straw” will be harmless. The false assumption is that all of the old load is okay, but new load is not. This leads us to the wrong decision: to ban new load while preserving old load. The right question is not “Which load is good load?” but rather, “How should Canada decide who is allowed to add straws onto the camel’s back (up to the maximum load)?” The task is to allocate space rationally on the limited capacity of the camel’s back.

Canada is facing two pipeline-related issues similar to the camel’s back. The first of these is CO2 emissions, the second, underwater noise caused by increased tanker traffic.

Continue reading “The Last Straw and the Pipeline”