Academy Newsletter

1. Le bien-fondé économique de la production de pétrole au Québec: Jean-Thomas Bernard, MSRC

2. Climate Change as a Public Policy Challenge: Susan McDaniel, FRSC

3. #Networked: The New Social Operating System: Barry Wellman, FRSC

 

Le bien-fondé économique de la production de pétrole au Québec: Jean-Thomas Bernard, MSRC

Jean-Thomas BernardIntroduction
En annonçant une évaluation environnementale stratégique pour toute la filière des hydrocarbures lors du discours inaugural de la 41ème législature le 21 mai 2014, le premier ministre, Philippe Couillard, a ouvert la porte à l’exploration et la production de pétrole.  Les activités antérieures d’exploration  au Québec   ont eu des résultats décevants et une quantité infime de pétrole a été extraite.  Cependant, le prix mondial du pétrole est très élevé puisqu’il a excédé régulièrement le seuil de $100/baril depuis plus de deux ans et les prévisions indiquent qu’il devrait croitre encore davantage.  De plus des nouvelles techniques d’exploration et de production comme le forage horizontal et la fracturation hydraulique, ont rendu possible l’extraction de pétrole et de gaz naturel dans de nouvelles zones.  Il y a donc un regain d’intérêt pour trois sites québécois en particulier : la Péninsule de la Gaspésie pour le pétrole conventionnel, l’Ile d’Anticosti pour le pétrole de schiste et Old Harry, un site localisé à la frontière du Québec et Terre-Neuve et Labrador dans le Golfe Saint-Laurent, pour le pétrole et le gaz naturel.  Junex et Pétrolia, deux compagnies pétrolières juniors du Québec, ont annoncé leur intention de forer cinq puits d’exploration  à un coût unitaire d’environ 4 millions $ au cours des prochains mois.

Compte tenu des enjeux environnementaux associés à la production éventuelle de pétrole sur les sites visés, est-ce que ça vaut la peine pour la société québécoise, c’est-à-dire, est-ce que les prix attendus  pourront couvrir non seulement les coûts encourus par les producteurs mais aussi ceux reliés aux impacts environnementaux dans des milieux particulièrement sensibles? L’écart entre prix et coûts détermine la rente d’une ressource non-renouvelable comme le pétrole; cette rente est la contribution que ces ressources pourraient apporter à l’augmentation des revenus des Québécois et  elle est aussi le montant maximum que le gouvernement pourrait en tirer à titre de propriétaire.  Tout l’intérêt économique de développer les ressources pétrolières réside dans  l’importance de cette rente.

En utilisant le concept de rente, je vais démontrer la non pertinence des deux arguments, l’un favorable et l’autre défavorable, invoqués pour supporter ou non le développement  des ressources pétrolières du Québec, soit l’importation de tout le pétrole actuellement consommé dans cette province et la politique de réduction des émissions de gaz à effet de serre (GES).

1- Les importations de pétrole par le Québec
A l’exception du métro de Montréal qui opère à l’électricité, tous les modes québécois  de transport dépendent totalement des produits pétroliers.  Puisqu’il n’y a pas d’extraction de pétrole brut sur le territoire québécois, ces besoins sont satisfaits à partir de pétrole brut importé et transformé à la raffinerie de Suncor à Montréal (160,000 barils/jour) et d’Ultramar à Lévis (265,000 barils/jour).  La facture annuelle de ces importations s’élève à plus ou moins 11 milliards $.  C’est beaucoup d’argent.  Est-ce que le fait d’importer du pétrole brut constitue un incitatif à en développer au Québec?  La réponse est négative puisque d’une part, le prix du pétrole est déterminé à l’échelle mondiale et que le Québec est un joueur trop petit pour en influencer le cours et que d’autre part, les coûts de production dépendent des conditions géologiques.  C’est l’excédent du prix par rapport au coût qui justifie le développement des champs pétroliers et non la substitution de produits importés par la production locale. Le fait d’importer ou d’exporter n’entre pas dans la définition de la rente et  ne joue pas de rôle dans l’analyse de la mise en valeur de ces ressources pour le bénéfice de l’ensemble de la société.

Un corollaire à cette proposition est que la production éventuelle de pétrole au Québec n’influencerait pas les prix payés à la pompe car le prix du pétrole brut continuera d’être déterminé par le marché international et la production québécoise serait trop marginale pour en influencer le cours.

2- La réduction des gaz à effet de serre
Le gouvernement québécois a pour objectif de réduire  les émissions de GES de 25% en 2020 par rapport à leur niveau en 1990.  Le défi est  majeur puisque la production de l’électricité au Québec émet peu de GES à cause de l’apport de l’hydroélectricité.  La baisse des émissions de GES proviendra des autres secteurs comme le transport et l’industrie qui en subiront les coûts.  Le Québec participe à l’initiative de la Californie pour créer un marché d’échange de permis d’émissions de GES; c’est d’ailleurs le seul autre membre à part entière.

Il semble exister une incohérence entre la politique visant à réduire les émissions de GES et l’ouverture du territoire québécois à la production de pétrole.  Comme cette production éventuelle  n’influencerait pas le prix à la pompe, la consommation de carburant ne serait pas modifiée et il n’y aurait pas de changement des émissions de GES à ce niveau; il y aurait simplement substitution de pétrole produit à l’extérieur par du pétrole fourni localement.  Même si le Québec émettait plus de GES sur son territoire, il y aurait peu de modifications dans le bilan des émissions à l’échelle planétaire.  Or le problème du réchauffement climatique est un problème planétaire.  Les politiques de réduction des émissions de GES doivent porter sur la consommation des hydrocarbures et non sur leur production.

Compte tenu de l’objectif actuel du Québec à l’égard des émissions de GES, l’internalisation du coût de ces émissions  dans les coûts de production au Québec pourrait rendre non rentable le développement de certains dépôts.  Très peu de pays producteurs de pétrole ont mis en place des mécanismes pour internaliser le coût des émissions de GES.  Le développement au Québec s’en trouverait pénalisé sans pour autant générer un quelconque bénéfice pour l’ensemble de la planète.  Un problème planétaire requiert une solution planétaire.

Conclusion
La rente de la ressource pétrolière repose sur deux éléments : le prix de la ressource et son coût de développement. Ce prix est actuellement élevé; la demande mondiale croissante et l’épuisement graduel de la ressource devraient le faire augmenter encore davantage. Peu d’information est disponible sur l’état de cette ressource au Québec puisqu’il n’y a pas eu d’exploitation : état des réserves, production potentielle, infrastructures requises, impacts environnementaux, etc.  A cette étape-ci, ce ne sont pas tant les opinions des experts et des consultants qui comptent, mais les décisions des investisseurs prêts à débourser les millions de dollars requis pour générer ces informations dans l’espoir d’en tirer un bénéfice futur. Il n’y a pas foule à cet égard; ceci nous invite à modérer les attentes quant à la rente future qui pourrait découler de la production  de pétrole au Québec.


Climate Change as a Public Policy Challenge: Susan McDaniel, FRSC

Susan McDanielIn a forthcoming book, States and Markets: Sociology of Public Policy (Oxford University Press), Susan McDaniel, along with co-author Seonggee Um, contemplate several overarching  challenges facing public policy in Canada and elsewhere. This short piece discusses climate change.

Public policies and challenges to them, as seen by sociology, exist in macro-level contexts. Globalization, changes in economies and labour markets, demographic shifts, migration, as well as trends in diversity all shape and pose challenges to public policy. Climate change increasingly poses a significant challenge, one some view as intractable. Here, we  reflect on climate change as a policy challenge and offer some flavour of the complexities involved. We note a growing disconnect between public policy development and evidence, despite rhetoric about evidence-based policy. Examples of choices, twists, turns and interconnections are offerred.

Climate change is a compelling illustrative challenge to public policy, to both states and markets. Challenges extend  beyond the borders of states’ jurisdiction -- emissions never respect borders -- yet is up to states collectively to address. Additionally, markets/ private corporations  play a role since it is they who contribute both to the problems and to the potential solutions. This theme of beyond border jurisdictional challenges and contestation between states and markets is a recurrent public policy challenge, and like the policy challenge of socio-economic inequalities (Elliott-Buckley, 2014; OECD, 2014), involves twists and complexities.

In June 2014, the Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, expressed a strong view on what needs to be done, and done immediately, to address climate change (CBC, 2014).  Lagarde urges central bankers not to wait for a new international round of discussions. The costs of climate change, she argues, must be built into their economic systems and projections immediately. All countries, she suggests, need to put in place mechanisms to pay for the effects of pollution and emissions. Importantly, Lagarde adds that “...externalities such as wastage of water, congestion on the roads, additional risks to mortality and so on, need to be included in the thinking process that applies to policies encouraging the use of one or another form of energy” (CBC, 2014). We cannot pay lip service, she says, any more. We owe it to future generations.

Her statement is important for two reasons. First, the IMF which she leads, is one of only a very few supranational/ supra-state bodies. As such, it transcends borders and works transnationally. Second, by it’s very name, it is apparent that the focus of the work of the IMF is on economics, on finance. By speaking out, she is linking climate change with the economies of states.

The IMF is thus connecting the dots of economics and state financial systems with energy use and emissions, as well as with generational change and responsibilities to the future. A similar call is made in a commentary in Nature, by a group of eight Canadian academics from diverse disciplines (Pallen et al., 2014).  Incremental decision-making about energy projects creates the belief that expansion of one energy source is inevitable. It also constrains the field so that either/or scenarios emerge – either the enviroment or jobs for example. This, Pallen and colleagues suggest, means that states “...have allowed corporations to profit from one-off policy decisions, leading to a doubling of oil-sands production in Alberta in the past decade” (Palen et al., 2014: 466). “The collective result of these decisions  is unnecessarily high social, economic and environmental costs” (Palen et al., 2014: 466).

Linking levels and domains of public policy with states and markets is emerging as crucial to beginning to address global public challenges like climate change. It involves more than petitioning nation-states or making the evidence of the crisis clear to the public or state representatives, as many natural scientists argue.  “Our only chance at giving everyone on earth a decent life within the bounds of what the planet can provide is to totally transform the way we develop [italics in original]” (Lee and Yang, 2014:26).   “...[I]t is on the territory of social science that the key battles of sustainability will be waged” (Lee and Yang, 2014: 27). The transformation of dreams, of values, behaviours and social institutions is needed to address climate change. Technology or knowledge of the dimensions of the problem, or even political action, are insufficient.

It is time for fresh thinking on the global challenge of climate change, thinking that moves beyond the dichotomies of states and markets, environment or jobs, us and them. The solutions on the table involve new partnerships, new alliances of states and markets, and new visions of what is possible in approaches to  immense public challenges such as climate change. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results solves nothing.

 Public policy is about collective dreams and shared aspirations. We all need to think deeply not only about what kind of country and world we have, but what we may wish both to be for our collective children, their children and their children’s children. It is so very easy to get trapped in the web of the immediate, the pressing demands or political debates of any given day, and not to think of what we are creating for the future.

References:

CBC. 2014. “IMF Head Says World Must Come to Grips with Climate Change Costs,” http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/imf-head-says-world-must-come-to-grips-with-climate-change-costs-1.2670936  [accessed 24-06-14]
Elliott-Buckley, Stephen. 2014. “Canada Seeks the OECD Record for Income Inequality,” http://politicsrespun.org/2014/03/canadas-seeks-the-oecd-record-for-income-inequality/#sthash.kQbkqSSJ.dpbs [accessed 24-06-14]
Lee, Yuan Tseh and Andrew Wei-Chih Yang. 2014. “Transforming Human Development,” Global Dialogue 4(2): 26-27.
OECD. 2014. “Rising Inequality: Youth and Poor Fall Further Behind,” Paris: OECD. http://www.oecd.org/els/soc/OECD2014-Income-Inequality-Update.pdf [accessed 19-06-14]
Palen, Wendy J. and colleagues. 2014. “Energy: Consider the Global Impacts of Pipelines,” Comment in Nature, 25 June 2014: 465467. http://www.nature.com/news/energy-consider-the-global-impacts-of-oil-pipelines-1.15434 [accessed 25-06-14]

#Networked: The New Social Operating System: Barry Wellman, FRSC

Barry WellmanPeople trudge in textual trances, seemingly oblivious to the world around them. Scholars get sucked into “black holes” (my wife’s term) as they email, surf, and write. Yet, despite this apparent cocooning, our NetLab’s research has found that invisible networks link almost all of us in-person and digitally.

Like my fellow scholars, I have sat at keyboards and screens for decades writing oodles of papers. Recently, it seemed time to lean back and integrate the significance of what we have found. Consequently, my colleague Lee Rainie and I wrote Networked, in which we argue that the quiet cascade of a “triple revolution” is transforming our connections with family, friends, and coworkers.

The first revolution is the turn away from a society organized in terms of often-hierarchical bounded groups to one organized around loosely-bounded multiple networks. Social ties and events are now organized around the individual rather than a social unit such as a family, neighborhood, school, or organization. The person has become the individual unit of social connectivity and not the place or group, so people have to be active networkers to survive and thrive.

Why the turn to networks, starting in the 1960s? The wind down of the Cold War, colonial binaries, and legal racism and discrimination led to an opening toward a more pluralistic world. In this changing milieu, women needing or wanting to do paid work crossed the home-work divide, cheaper telecommunication and auto/plane travel enabled individualized connections across long distances, and reduced interstate conflicts and within-Europe barriers afforded personal mobility. Consequently, people became partially involved in multiple social networks instead of being embedded in densely knit and tightly bounded families, neighbourhoods, and work groups.

Second, although the turn to networks happened well before the widespread advent of the internet in the 1980s, the internet’s revolutionary proliferation and development has vastly increased the range, volume, and velocity of information and communication opportunities that are more personalized and less constrained by distance. People log in rather than pick up the home or office phone that all can observe, and they can contact or view what they personally want.

Since the 1990s, the third revolution has been the rapid development of mobile phones into personal devices that have become our third skins. Information and communication are available to us anywhere—and we are always accessible to our entire networks. One consequence is that information and communication often merge. For example, Twitter is my preferred source of fast-breaking (mis-)information, but it is also a way for me to keep in touch with a large circle of 442 acquaintances whom I follow, make new acquaintances (rarely), and broadcast my thoughts and media-gleanings to my 4,631 followers—less than Justin Bieber but many times more than my class size. For example, as I wrote this, I questioned my initial clause, “the silent tsunami of the triple revolution” and asked for help on Twitter: @mariacatharinaa suggested “quiet cascade”.

How is the triple revolution playing out in everyday life? Tracy Kennedy and I found that mobile devices keep families connected.  At home, parents and children show and share what they have found online.

As for communities, they have become networks and not neighbourhoods—a process that started decades before the coming of the internet. Connected Lives/Networked Individuals research by Kristen Berg, Jeffrey Boase, Bernie Hogan, Scot Wortley and I show that people integrate online and offline contact in specialized relations: Those we get emotional support from (sisters) are rarely those we get financial help from (parents). Rather than relying on a single group of kin or friends, each person must calculate where they can obtain different kinds of sociability and support from their many hundreds of diverse ties. Moreover, Keith Hampton and I have shown that the internet helps “glocalized” residents integrate neighbourhoods as well as encouraging global connectivity.

Networked work is expanding as the triple revolution has allowed people to work in multiple teams and multiple locations. Wenhong Chen and I have shown how digital media and low-cost air travel has enabled Chinese-Canadians to work trans-pacifically.  In our scholarly profession, Dima Dimitrova, Anatoliy Gruzd, Zack Hayat, Guang-Ying Mo and I have found that despite the use of digital media, two kinds of proximity continue to foster stronger, more productive research ties: being in the same university and in the same discipline.

Do networked scholars resemble other networked workers? We need to look further at how networked work functions inside big organizations, in small businesses, and among free agents. At present, there is not even a census of such work—is it ten or fifty percent?

Some readers may wonder if NetLab’s findings fly in the face of well-publicized assertions that people are alienated and disconnected, with superficial relationships on digital media taking the place of rich, meaningful in-person contacts. For example, Sherry Turkle’s best-selling book asserted we are “alone together,” and Robert Putnam lamented that people are “bowling alone” and not in groups. They scarcely noticed networks. Such oy gevalt assertions fit long-term pronouncements that things are falling apart: Each generation has looked back nostalgically to the previous one, since Thomas Jefferson’s 1784 “Notes on the State of Virginia” .

Yet, our research keeps showing that it is time to get rid of the myth that digital media are disconnecting us. After all, what are those texters, emailers, and Facebookers doing? They are communicating with each other: digital communication online is an extension of in-person communication. Even when people first connect online, they meet in person at the earliest opportunity. In short, despite what we see, we are more connected—and more flexibly connected—than ever.