Is Manitoba’s Green Fading?

Media Appearances, Environment, Frontier Centre

Despite its reputation as a national leader in environmental initiatives, some find fault with Manitoba’s green practices.

“We are green… But there’s smart green, and there’s politically fashionable green,” said Peter Holle, president of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

At a Jan. 8 talk before the St. Boniface branch of the Rotary Club, Holle presented the Frontier Centre for Public Policy’s ideas about the three “green train-wrecks of Manitoba.”

Holle believes Manitoba’s programs are wrongly planned and focused, concentrating on a problem that is blown out of proportion.

“It’s a man-made climate change theory,” said Holle. “There is no relation between CO2 and temperature.”

According to Holle, rising temperatures on the face of the earth are caused by increased solar activity and the measuring of temperature in urban centres with increased activity.

“When people make statements like this individual, they clearly haven’t been kept abreast of all that’s going on,” said Richard Westwood, a professor at the U of W’s environmental and urban studies department.

“The overwhelming evidence is hugely on the side of human civilization causing changes in the atmosphere,” he said.

Holle criticizes some of Manitoba’s most valued environmental policies. The first on his list is ethanol, which Holle believes brings more trouble than it’s worth.

Marketed as the solution to greenhouse gas emissions, ethanol was widely embraced by the Province of Manitoba in January of 2007. The province developed several initiatives to encourage widespread use of ethanol.

A $2,000 tax credit for the purchase of new hybrid cars was implemented in the fall of 2006, legislation requiring card manufacturers to improve fuel efficiency was put in place and testing began on plug-in hybrid cars.

“The Government of Manitoba is moving in all three directions: fuel switching, energy efficiency and energy conservation,” said Shaun Loney, director of energy policy for the Government of Manitoba.

Holle claims ethanol is a less efficient form of fuel: at only 85 per cent of the energy efficiency of gasoline, ethanol can reduce the miles per hour a car can travel.

According to Loney, this problem was taken into account in the 10 per cent ethanol and gasoline blends sold in Manitoba.

“There’s less energy in a litre of pure ethanol than in a liter of gas, that’s true,” said Loney, “but ethanol burns more efficiently… in 10 per cent blends, the increased efficiency offsets almost exactly the energy loss.”

Ethanol is produced from grain, with corn or wheat being the popular choices. Increased ethanol production around the world has recently caused corn shortages in Mexico and Mauritania, a fact Holle is quick to point out. He also claims ethanol decreases the supply of livestock feed for Manitoba’s successful hog industry.

As Manitoba’s ethanol is produced from specially-planted winter wheat, the concern for food shortages decreases. This uniquely timed crop requires fewer inputs, has higher yields per acre and is higher in starch content, the part of the grain necessary for ethanol production. The protein in the grain, left over after the process, goes right back into the making of livestock feed.

“Much of the critique you hear is in the U.S. context. Our program is very moderate,” said Loney.

Holle also raised concerns about the green policies surrounding Lake Winnipeg. He is critical of Manitoba’s increased attempts to limit the flow of nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, into the province’s waterways in attempt to reduce the growth of algae blooms.

When they exceed normal amounts algae blooms can block sunlight, reducing oxygen levels in the water and harming fish and shellfish. They can also cause organisms that usually thrive under decreased amounts of oxygen to produce more methane and other toxic gases.

Manitoba has several policies and recommendations in place to target the problem. In 2007 it placed restrictions on the application of nutrients and cosmetically-targeted fertilizers in certain areas and on the use of phosphorus in laundry detergents.

“Lake Winnipeg is extremely important to us,” said Dwight Williamson, director of the water science and management branch with the Manitoba Water Stewardship department.

But Eva Pip, a biology professor who specializes in water quality, thinks government action is too late coming and too targeted. If asked to grade the province, she stated Manitoba’s Lake Winnipeg policies would not garner more than a C.

“We are so backwards in this province… there are too many political interferences,” she said. “The problems we see now in Lake Winnipeg, we could see 25 years ago.”

Holle claims scientific evidence only links phosphorus, and not nitrogen, with reducing algae in freshwater. With only a quarter of the nutrient load coming from Manitoba sources, and nine per cent from Winnipeg and other municipalities, Holle believes we should be looking elsewhere for answers.

“A lot of this problem is beyond our control, we’re really just a small part of a bigger problem,” he said.

Pip and Williamson refute these claims, saying that recent data has proven beyond doubt the effect nitrogen has on toxic algae levels, and Holle’s stance is a common misconception.

Williamson said that partnerships to reduce the problem exist with the four other provinces and the four American states whose water flows into Lake Winnipeg.

“Our goal is to turn back the clock on the changes we’ve done since the 70s,” said Williamson.

Holle does not stop here. He is also critical of Manitoba’s widespread use and production of electricity, one of the greenest energy types, claiming Manitoba Hydro is mismanaged as a crown corporation, with its decreased electricity prices increasing dependency and overuse of energy.

“This is a have-not province with very un-green policies,” said Holle. “A lot of money is spent with very little bang for the buck.”