Friday, November 23, 2012
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"Each person, group or organization working towards a different goal may seem powerless and insignificant – but all of them together add up to a force that can become irresistible."
~ David Suzuki
In this issue:
- Planning for a Future Without Tar Sands Oil
- Environmentalists Ask JRP to Turn Down Jackpine Proposal
- Clean Energy Better Strategy for Creating Jobs
- Corporations Just Say No to Tar Sands Crude
- Dirty Oil Orgy Blockades Energy Roundtable
- Pipeline Opposition Snakes its Way Across the Continent
- Pipeline Would Increase Tar Sands Impacts on Caribou
There’s plenty of discussion, even heated arguments, about the future tar sands development, but recent reports from the World Bank and the International Energy Agency (IEA) raise alarming questions about how long it should continue.
A recent column by Jeff Gailus, author of Little Black Lies: Corporate and Political Spin in the Global War for Oil, makes it clear that development eventually needs to be capped and phased out, and the profits used to transition Canada to a clean energy economy.
According to the IEA, the energy policies and market conditions necessary to keep Alberta’s dirty oil economically viable (i.e. business as usual) would only make the world more reliant on hydrocarbons and result in global warming of between 3.6 and six degrees Celsius – well above the two degree threshold that would give us a 50-50 chance to avoid severe impacts of climate change.
Such an increase in average global temperature would impact the lives of millions of people worldwide and cost untold billions of dollars to deal with. In Turning Down the Heat, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim writes that, “the 4 C scenarios are devastating: the inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems.”
You’d think that the sober conclusions of these rather conservative institutions would be getting through to even the most ardent fossil fuel cheerleaders, but the reality is rather different. Take Richard Kinder, CEO of Kinder Morgan, which hopes to twin its Transmountain Pipeline to take tar sands oil to the West Coast. Kinder told Forbes Magazine recently, “I think that for any of our lifetimes fossil fuels are going to be the primary source of energy in this world. When you talk the shale plays, we have at least 100 years of supply. I’m a huge believer in the genius of mankind, and I think we’ll continue to find new ways to utilize, explore for and produce more and more fossil fuels.”
If there is genius in mankind, it is manifested not in the aging men who line their pockets by running the world’s most powerful energy companies, but in the bright young minds of the growing movement to put Big Oil on the backburner and build a clean energy economy that won’t cook the planet.
And as this issue of The Dirt attests, the movement – and the genius – is just getting started.
CLEANING UP DIRTY OIL
The two perspectives couldn’t be more different.
On the one hand, Shell Canada tried to convince the Joint Review Panel (JRP) that will decide the fate of its proposed expansion of the Jackpine Mine that the project “overwhelmingly in the public interest,” despite an environmental assessment that predicts significant environmental impacts on wildlife habitat and air quality. It would “enhance Canada’s energy security,” said Shell lawyer Shaun Denstedt, adding that Shell could take steps to mitigate any environment damage the project might cause through monitoring.
Denstedt urged the review panel not to consider cumulative effects when looking at the Jackpine project, and only focus on the impacts of the mine expansion itself. Denstedt also accused water expert David Schindler, who has been highly critical of the pace and mismanagement of tar sands development, of misleading the panel about water quality.
A couple of days later, Schindler had an opportunity to clarify his thinking on tar sands development. In a post on DeSmog Blog, he said that he did not believe that industry and government decisions were based on sound science. Instead, he said, “Both background studies and environmental impact assessments have been shoddy, and could not really even be called science. This must change.”
The Oilsands Environmental Coalition presented its final arguments on Wednesday, arguing that the ERCB should not approve the project, or to at least delay it until some key provincial planning documents are put in place to set thresholds for habitat destruction.
A new report by Blue Green Canada confirms what the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy has already made clear: Canada is not taking advantage of the benefits of the booming clean energy economy, and we’ll be the poorer for it in the long term.
More Bang for the Buck: How Canada Can Create More Jobs and Less Pollution concludes that Canada’s increasing reliance on the tar sands is not the best strategy for either the economy or our environment. The analysis indicates that if Canadians invested the $1.3 billion it gives the oil and gas sector in government subsidies in renewable energy and energy efficiency, Canada would create 18,000 more jobs. Every dollar spent subsidizing the oil and gas industry creates two new jobs, while the clean energy sector (solar, wind, hydro and biomass) creates 15.
Add to that the fact more than 500,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost since 2006 due to a strong Canadian dollar linked to tar sands development, and the employment benefits of an oil-driven economy fall off the table. “Workers are being really left out of the national discussion,” Dave Coles, national president of the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union, told the Toronto Star. “It’s about profits and the economy, but there really hasn’t been any discussion around workers and jobs and this is problematic.”
“The current strategy of focusing on oil as our only economic driver, that’s where the federal government is wrong-headed,” said Gillian McEachern of Environmental Defense. “We have opportunity to create jobs on other industries.”
“Yes, we’re going to continue to use oil for some time, but it’s the wrong direction to double down and invest in a rapid expansion in one industry, when instead we could be shifting to cleaner, less polluting sources.”
Economist Paul Boothe, professor and director of the Lawrence National Centre for Policy and Management at The University of Western Ontario’s Ivey Business School, also urges caution, warning Canadians not to rely on hydrocarbons for their economic well-being. “We can choose not to put all of our economic eggs in the natural resource basket. We can stop listening to those who proclaim the promise of the current boom and ignore the volatility that is part and parcel of staking our future primarily on natural resources. Developing our natural resources in an environmentally and socially sustainable way makes good sense. A balanced approach to economic growth includes less thrilling, but also less volatile activities such as manufacturing to underpin the stability of our economy. Strong, stable economies don’t just magically appear on the local fair grounds; they are the product of good public policy and hard work by businesses in all sectors. Perhaps this time, some Canadians will choose to keep both feet on the ground and pass on the roller coaster ride.”
Blue Green Canada is an alliance between Canadian labour unions, and environmental and civil society organizations to advocate for working people and the environment. The alliance is based upon the realization that a sustainable economy must provide good jobs and protect the environment, not one or the other.
The list of corporations who don’t want anything to do with tar sands oil continues to grow. Patagonia and eBay are the latest in a growing list of companies who are encouraging a transition to cleaner energy sources by eschewing the dirty oil from Alberta.
eBay is looking into alternatives to tar sands-based fuels that make business sense for eBay, including checking with fuel providers to see if they have any commitments or intentions to avoid refineries that take tar sands inputs.
Patagonia is collaborating with UC Santa Barbara on a research project to determine if it is feasible for Patagonia to avoid using tar sands fuel in its transportation systems, as well as how best to integrate low-carbon fuels and, thus, reduce carbon emissions. In addition, Patagonia is supporting environmental groups taking action on the tar sands issue with a grants program and various communication channels to inform customers about the devastation caused by tar sands extraction and distribution.
These commitments, and others like them, are the result of ForestEthics’ Market Solutions Campaign, to help businesses distinguish themselves as environmental leaders, and develop leading market standards and metrics.
Why not send eBay and Patagonia a note thanking them for their leadership?
One good orgy deserves another. As Canadian politicians and senior officials from oil industry heavyweights Shell, Total and Enbridge prepared to a get together to promote tar sands in Europe, a feisty group of protestors barred the way with an “oil orgy performance protest” in front of Canada House, in London.
The tar sands oilfest was part of the annual Canada Europe Energy Summit, hosted by Canadian High Commissioner Gordon Campbell and Canadian Energy and Climate Minister John Hayes, who was in the media recently for an alleged plot to promote the anti-wind farm agenda. Discussions included how to deal with “public policy risks” like the impending European transport legislation, which would discourage imports of highly-polluting fuels like tar sands into the European market.
“Tar sands extraction is devastating ecosystems and trampling on Indigenous rights. Worryingly, London has become a hotbed of collusion for the Canadian Government’s ‘dirty diplomats’ to schmooze with oil giants and promote tar sands in Europe,” said Suzanne Dhaliwal, from the UK Tar Sands Network that organized the event. “With Europe negotiating new climate legislation which would threaten the highly carbon-intensive tar sands industry, Canada’s lobbying has become increasingly aggressive.”
The protest came the day after London’s Financial Times published a “Canadian Energy Special Report” that focused largely on the challenges and opportunities surrounding tar sands development. “There can be no denying that the effort to raise awareness about the problems of the oil sands has been highly successful,” wrote Ed Crooks in “Environmental concerns come head-to-head with economics.” “Governments in Europe and California, investors in the US and UK, and even some fuel customers, have turned against buying or investing in oil from the region.”
Crooks blames economics, not politics, for the 16 tar sands projects that were suspended or cancelled in 2008-09, but there is no doubt that the power of the people, and growing concern about the incredible environmental and social costs of developing and burning such dirty forms of energy.
And the battle is far from over.
CLEANING UP DIRTY PIPELINES
On the other side of the pond, anti-tar sands protests focused largely on the pipelines that would carry dirty oil to the U.S. and beyond reached fever pitch. According to Inside Climate News, Karen Bagdes-Canning felt a sense of déjà vu when she marched past the White House on Sunday, November 18, holding a sign with the words "Oil Sands" crossed out. It was the second time she had protested against dirty oil at the Nation’s Capital. She was also one of about 10,000 people that ringed the White House last year to persuade President Obama to veto the Keystone XL pipeline.
"I had to come down again. I'm worried about climate change and rejecting this pipeline is one of the biggest things President Obama can do," said Bagdes-Canning, who traveled from the town of Cherry Valley, Pa., outside Pittsburgh, for the protest.
The protest brought 3,000 people from as far away as Michigan and California, according to organizers at 350.org. Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and a professor at Middlebury College, took time out from his "Do The Math" tour, which builds on an article he wrote for Rolling Stone Magazine that uses simple math to explain why the world must ditch Keystone XL and the tar sands, and begin transitioning to clean energy.
Sierra Club president Alice Chin used the rally to mark the start of a "major climate agenda," announcing that her group will help host a climate change rally on Feb. 18, President's Day weekend. McKibben said it was "politically significant" that the more established Sierra Club is taking the protest mantle from 350.org, which was founded in 2008 and largely relies on young members. "It's no longer just the amateur hour show with me and whoever," McKibben said. "Sierra Club is saying this is our issue and they’re going to lead the organizing on it."
They aren’t the only ones protesting the tar sands. In Ontario, Louisette Lanteigne, a Waterloo, Ontario activist who has spoken against the proposal to reverse the flow of Line 9 through Ontario and Quebec so it can carry tar sands crude, is organizing a protest on Monday evening in Waterloo’s Town Square to draw attention to the project. “This pipeline was created before we understood hydrology, or sediment or climate change variances. There’s a whole slew of issues the pipeline was never designed to address,” she said.
Environmentalists are calling on Ontario to conduct its own review of the proposed oil pipeline project, as their neighbours in Quebec soil are doing. “They have quite a few different options for getting involved and making sure the project is safe for Ontario residents,” said Adam Scott, climate and energy program manager at Environmental Defence.
In Nacogdoches, Texas, police turned up the heat against landowners and climate justice organizers protesting the construction of the southern leg of the Keystone XL, which already has been approved. More than 100 people rallied from across the Nacogdoches community, including four people who locked themselves to machinery and three others who climbed trees in the pipeline right-of-way, to help shut down two Keystone XL construction sites for the day.
Protestors claim the police used “brutal police repression,” including physical violence and pepper spray, to disband the action. Eleven people were arrested and charged, some with felonies, and held on a combined bail of $132,250.
“The outrageous escalation of violence against and endangerment of the lives of peaceful protesters has appalled the greater Nacogdoches community. In response, we remain resolved to stopping construction of TransCanada’s toxic tar sands pipeline while continuing to support our friends and loved ones in Cherokee County Jail,” explained Kim Huynh, a Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson. “Standing up for private property rights and access to clean water, land, and air through peaceful protest does not warrant such violent repression. TransCanada’s continued transgressions against our friends and families only strengthens our resolve to be visible and prominent in our calls for justice. The pipeline must not be built.”
As if tar sands development weren’t already a big enough threat to Canada’s threatened caribou populations. An article in The Globe and Mail indicates that caribou along the proposed route of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline are in deep trouble, and the construction of the pipeline could push them over the edge if it is built.
Elena Jones, a biologist who has been studying five caribou herds in northeast B.C. for the past decade, said they will soon vanish from the landscape unless something is done to save them. “The populations are declining quite dramatically and if those trends continue I would expect those herds . . . to be locally extirpated within five to 10 years,” she said. “I feel really that my job at present is almost documenting the decline of caribou as opposed to being able to actually study caribou or make any difference.”
The Dirt is a weekly round-up of the latest news, events and commentary from tar sands and pipeline campaigns aimed at creating a clean energy future.