Last Tuesday, the air quality in Calgary hit a level in the range hazardous to human health. According to meteorologist Jaclyn Whittal, Alberta had the “worst air quality in the entire world.” The villain of course was smoke from the wildfires raging across the province.

And who were the villains who caused the fires? One was the usual suspect, Mother Nature and her lightening strikes aided by drought. Others were humans careless with their campfires and other recklessness.

And there is another very important agent whose villainy is increasingly becoming understood. According to an article in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the emissions of the world’s largest 88 carbon producers contributed to “37 percent of the burned area in the forested lands of western U.S. and southwestern Canada since 1986.” The infamous 88 include the major fossil fuel producers and cement manufacturers.

Another study, reported on the One Earth website, calculated the amount owed by the top twenty-one fossil fuel companies for causing wildfires and other destructive events. Sociologists Marco Grasso and Richard Heede surveyed over 700 climate economists to gain data about the financial costs associated with global warming. They estimated that the companies should pay reparations of $5.4 trillion US over the years 2025 to 2050.

The authors based the reparations on the companies’ operational and product-related emissions from 1988, the year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established, to 2022. Companies in poor countries would be exempt.

The biggest debtor was, not surprisingly, Saudi Aramco, whose annual payment over the 50-year period would average $43 billion, next was Russian’s Gazprom at $20 billion and then ExxonMobil at $18 billion. All payments would start high and decline to zero by 2050.

The authors view is that, “Fossil fuel companies have a moral responsibility to affected parties for climate harm and have a duty to rectify such harm. Moral theory and common sense—as well as international environmental agreements through the polluter pays principle embodied in article 16 of the 1992 Rio Declaration, which calls for the ‘internalization of environmental costs’—demand that historical wrongdoing must be rectified.”

The justice in their argument is irresistible, but the possibility of actually establishing an international accord for reparations is remote. Nonetheless their work may provide powerful arguments for the increasing number of court cases the fossil fuel companies are facing.

Here in Alberta we entertain an interesting irony. As the pollution province in one of the leading countries of greenhouse gas production, we are a major climate villain. And with our raging wildfires caused largely by emissions, we would seem to also be a climate victim. Do our own companies pay us reparations? Maybe royalties aren’t enough.

2 thoughts on “About reparations”
  1. Too true Bill. Altho not the subject of this item, I also read of alarming cancellation by present UCP govt of firefighting measures in place for detection, watch and preparedness.

  2. It’s a matter of mathematical certainty, Bill. We know that, at today’s emissions rate, we can continue for another 8 years before we trigger catastrophic or runaway climate change. We also know that, based on proven fossil fuel reserves, 80 per cent must be left in the ground to avoid climate catastrophe. Now those fossil reserves comprise a variety of fuels that vary widely. Some are very high-carbon, low-value fuels, namely coal and bitumen. Saudi sweet crude, by contrast, needs minimal refining. Some, it’s claimed, could be pumped directly into the crank case of your pickup.
    I came across a report today predicting that “oilsands” production will increase from today’s 3.2 million barrels per day to 3.7 million barrels daily by 2030. That’s a 15 per cent increase in production by 2030 even as the largely unfunded cleanup cost for tar sands remediation has reached a staggering $130 billion.
    When it comes to carbon emissions and climate change, Canada is a pariah.
    We know that with every tanker load of bitumen, every freighter full of coal, there’s a price to be paid – in lives and human suffering just not here, not yet. So much for Canada the “good guy.”
    For years after it was widely banned, including in our country, Canada continued to export asbestos wherever a market for it could be found. It took decades for Ottawa to be shamed into shutting it down.
    It’s funny how we look the other way. Little brown people of no clout, people who don’t vote here, fall victim to our petro-policies.

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