Conservative Party leadership hopeful Kevin O’Leary, the self-styled “Mr. Wonderful” of television fame, has been careful to strike a more reasoned and balanced approach since throwing his hat in the political ring. But the man some refer to as Canada’s answer to Donald Trump has a ways to go in matters of the environment, according to at least one UBC professor.
On Friday, O’Leary appeared at an event hosted by the UBC Conservative Club in Vancouver and gave a short speech. Today, the claims O’Leary made were fact-checked by writers Jack Hauen and Moira Wyton from campus newspaper The Ubyssey, who found varying levels of truth in them.
One of the assertions O’Leary, who stood on a small black riser and held a glass of white wine, made was deemed “almost definitely false” by Hauen and Wyton.
O’Leary told the crowd of students that Canada absorbs nearly four times the carbon it emits. The Ubyssey said it found “almost nothing” to back this statement up, and contacted Hadi Dowlatabadi, a professor at the UBC Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, who said O’Leary didn’t have his facts straight.
“The net CO2 emissions from forests, et cetera varies from year to year. In general, CO2 is about 80 per cent of our emissions and land use effects are less than plus or minus five per cent of the whole on a year to year basis,” he told Hauen and Wyton in an email.
The Ubyssey cited one op-ed that may have steered O’Leary’s thinking towards the number he came up with. In March of last year, F. Larry Martin, a retired politician from Saskatchewan, wrote a piece for the Financial Post in which he claimed that Canada may already be carbon neutral. Martin cited a 2014 report from the Global Carbon Project that said 27 per cent of all carbon emissions are absorbed by water and an additional 37 per cent are absorbed by land.
“A conservative estimate of Canada’s existing carbon-absorption capacity, based on land area and the global carbon-absorption average, indicates that Canada could already be absorbing 20 to 30 per cent more CO2 than we emit,” reasoned Martin, who deduction is clearly not supported by professor Dowlatabadi.
Martin’s logic also doesn’t pass muster with the Canadian Forest Service. Their data says that between 1990 and 2005 Canada’s forests, moved from being a forest “sink”, meaning we absorbed more C02 that we created, to a forest “source” meaning we produced more than could be absorbed by our forests. The Canada Forest Service’s 2007 report cited forest fires and the mountain pine beetle as a reason for a hindered ability to absorb C02.
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There’s another problem with both O’Leary’s and Martin’s assessment of Canada’s absorbtion capabilities. There is increasing evidence that C02 absorbed by our oceans is not a wash, and is in fact leading to ocean acidification that could have debilitating consequences. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that the world’s oceans have become about 30 per cent more acidic since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
What will happen to our ecosystems if oceans continue to become more acidic? It seems no one really knows.
“Scientific awareness of ocean acidification is relatively recent, and researchers are just beginning to study its effects on marine ecosystems,” says National Geographic. “But all signs indicate that unless humans are able to control and eventually eliminate our fossil fuel emissions, ocean organisms will find themselves under increasing pressure to adapt to their habitat’s changing chemistry or perish.”