Over five years ago now, March 11, 2013, I published this mayo615 blog post on the Alberta bitumen bubble, and the budgetary problems facing Alberta Premier Alison Redford, and the federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty at that time, both of whom were surprisingly candid about the prospect for ongoing long-term budgetary problems for both the Alberta and Canadian national economies. Fast forward five years to today and the situation has essentially worsened dramatically. The current Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is facing another massive budget deficit, just as Alison Redford predicted years ago, and was forced to call a new election. My most glaring observation is that despite years of rhetoric and arm-waving, almost nothing has changed. Meanwhile, the Canadian economy is on the precipice of a predicted global economic downturn which could easily become a global financial contagion.
As Fareed Zakaria has pointed out this week in the Washington Post and on CNN GPS, we now have a Trump foreign policy doctrine, and it is not reassuring for the World. Obviously heavily influenced by Bannon, who many had thought had been relegated to backseat status by McMaster, we have been fooled again. As Trump demonstrates his RealPolitik admiration for authoritarians like Putin, Xi Jinping, Erdogan, and Duterte, more sinister scenarios begin to crystallize. Trump’s speech justifying the withdrawal of the United States from the COP21 Paris Climate Change Agreement is a frightening exposition of this new Trump Doctrine. It is Trump thumbing his nose at the World. It is the United States against the World, led by a coterie of plutocrats and their money. The reality is that the evidence points to an ongoing seizure of executive power by Trump that destroys our Constitution in the name of our national security. The question is what we can do about it.
Following my recent blog posts on Reid Hoffman, COP21, and an apparent resurgence of Big Ideas in technology, a growing group of venture capitalists are resurrecting their original mission in industry and the economy. Paul Krugman of the New York Times has also noticed and offers his hope that this trend continues. Max Marmer, who wrote his now legendary 2012 Harvard Business Review article, “Reversing the Decline in Big Ideas,” has stimulated a broad rethinking on what we should be focusing. The successful landing of Space X’s Falcon 9 is a hopeful early indication that Elon Musk is one of those on the right track.
Le Bourget airport just north of Paris is the place where Charles Lindbergh landed the Spirit of St. Louis. That event 88 years ago could now be interpreted as foreshadowing the era of globalization. Tomorrow, the world’s nations will meet there under the banner of the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC). COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, will, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.
Underscoring Goldman Sachs forecast last week of oil prices at or below $50 per bbl until at least 2020, Bloomberg News is today reporting that Iraq is preparing to unleash a flood of new oil within the next few months. This is very bad news for the price of Western Canadian Select bitumen, and Alberta oil sands producers. Saudi Arabia’s strategy, together with OPEC, to squeeze high-cost oil producers of oil sands and shale seems to be working. More pessimistic forecasts of WCS at $25 for an extended period now appear more plausible.
The evidence of a Canadian economic train wreck just keep rolling in. This report from CNN Money mentions last week’s Bank of Canada dismal report on the Canadian economy, and goes on to add additional economic data and comment from respected investment banks around the World. The one glaring omission is any political discussion of how Canada got into this mess, and who is responsible for it.
Imagine if Canada was implementing environmental policies like those proposed by one of its own, author & filmmaker Naomi Klein. What if Canada were to restore its historical image as a progressive country leading the World with its policies? In the following video published on the UK Guardian website, Ms. Klein argues that making policy moves now to increase investment in renewable energy make sense, while oil prices are at very low levels, and likely to remain low for the longer term.
The University of British Columbia is following the lead of faculty and students at Harvard University, the University of California, Stanford University and many other universities across North America. Also of note, Norway’s sovereign investment fund, the largest in the World @ $1.3 Trillion, has already made the decision to divest. The current fossil fuel market collapse and likely long term instability is prima facie evidence of the need for divestment, and to prevent further increases in carbon emissions.
Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), worth $850bn (£556bn) and founded on the nation’s oil and gas wealth, revealed a total of 114 companies had been dumped on environmental and climate grounds in its first report on responsible investing, released on Thursday. The companies divested also include tar sands producers, cement makers and gold miners.
As part of a fast-growing campaign, over $50bn in fossil fuel company stocks have been divested by 180 organisations on the basis that their business models are incompatible with the pledge by the world’s governments to tackle global warming. But the GPFG is the highest profile institution to divest to date.
The growing downturn in the fossil fuels industry has extraordinary implications globally. While some are proposing theories that this downturn will be short-lived, there simply isn’t much evidence to support an optimistic forecast. Saudi Arabia is openly executing a long term strategy to squeeze “high cost oil producers,” using its unquestioned leverage and the lowest production costs in the World. Europe is facing potential deflation, and the current European recession is forcing the European Central Bank to begin “quantitative easing,” beginning this week, essentially printing money. The Russian economy is in shambles as the ruble weakens, something Putin did not plan on occurring. The Chinese economy has weakened sharply and will likely remain weak into the near foreseeable future. Meanwhile Canada is at the mercy of these global forces, with little in the way of economic reserves to defend its economy, having bet the entire Canadian economy on oil.