When Peter Julian visited his in-laws in Shandong province in 2011, he was struck by skies which, depending on weather, either were grey, or grey and wet.
The New Democratic Party MP for Burnaby-New Westminster recalls, on sunny days, blue skies were absent with the sun appearing only faintly as a faint yellow blob behind thick haze.
As NDP energy and natural resources critic, Julian lately has been thinking a lot about greenhouse gas emissions.
He's a crusader against both the Northern Gateway pipeline and a tanker port on B.C.'s north coast.
Further, he and his party want the energy debate in this country shifted - away from how Canada can export oil-sands bitumen to China from a west coast port - to how this country can generate wealth by augmenting green energy investments and refining more of its petroleum.
Julian says the Harper government is too focused on maximizing profit from the oilsands, missing the boat on green job creation.
International tallies suggest he has a point. Conservatives have not enthusiastically embraced what many consider to be the next generation of jobs.
Those jobs include manufacturing, installing and operating renewable energy technologies like wind and solar power; running public transit systems; designing and constructing green buildings and retrofitting older structures.
Indeed, Conservatives in 2011 cancelled a popular eco-Energy Retrofit program that provided grants for making homes more energy efficient.
According to the Vienna-based International Energy Agency, the world relies on renewable sources for around 13 per cent of its total primary energy supply.
Canada's renewable energy sector generates 17 per cent of the country's primary energy supply, according to a federal website. But, of course, that figure is skewed upward by a domestic bounty of hydro power.
In a global list of top-10 renewable energy investors, Canada is absent, with China, the U.S. and Germany ranking as the world's green energy big shots.
The list was part of a European study that, even so, categorized Canada as "a significant investor," with $5 billion invested in 2011, ahead of Australia and New Zealand.
But in a report, titled Falling Behind, the Toronto-based Blue Green Canada environmental group reports, if Canada did no more than match U.S. per capita investment, "an additional $11 billion would have been earmarked by the Canadian government for clean energy."
The Alberta-based Pembina Institute says Canada's green entrepreneurs are being thwarted both by a lack of stable government policy and difficulty accessing cash.
While the renewable energy sector still has a fair share of detractors - folks turned off by giant wind turbines and companies that have gone belly up after gobbling government grants - Julian believes that renewables are an unstoppable and wholly viable trend for a world that badly needs to wean itself off fossil fuels.
The NDP, joined by Liberals and Greens, also wants more refining of oil within our borders.
The Alberta Federation of Labour asserts only half of bitumen harvested in the province is now being upgraded. In a report, titled The Bitumen Glut Has A Silver Lining, the federation argues, instead of exporting raw bitumen, it makes sense to capture greater value and jobs by refining and upgrading the product. A single upgrader, it says, employs 2,000 people.
Unquestionably, the oilsands are a giant asset for this country. They'll create 905,000 jobs across Canada by 2035, says the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
But, as the push for a greener world grows ever more intense, Canadians will want their governments to get creative. China's polluted skies are a potent harbinger.
The Windsor Star, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013
Byline: Barbara Yaffe