Year 4, Month 1, Day 31: Don’t Mention The War!

The Toronto Star reflects on the Keystone XL:

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, joined by 10 U.S. governors, released a letter recently urging President Barack Obama to swiftly approve the Keystone XL pipeline project.

As always, the argument is simple, and narrowly framed: 1. Canada has a lot of oil and the U.S. needs oil. 2. We don’t have enough pipeline capacity to handle our ambition for unconstrained growth in oilsands production. 3. Building the pipeline will create jobs.

What could be simpler? Nothing — as long as you pretend climate change doesn’t exist and don’t make it part of the conversation.

Post-Hurricane Sandy and scorching heat waves in the mid-west, that’s becoming a less tenable argument, at least in the U.S. In his second inaugural address, Obama called attention to the need for action on climate change, calling for America to lead the transition to sustainable energy sources. It’s an important reminder that we need to look at the issue through a different frame, one that pipeline project proponents and many in government are trying hard to avoid.

Scientists are telling us that, to avoid the worst effects of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2017 and drop drastically by 2050. The International Energy Agency (IEA) — a leading voice on energy research and analysis of which Canada is a member — recently reported that unless we change course, by 2017 the energy infrastructure will be in place to produce the emissions that will take us across the 2°C warming threshold. The U.S. and Canada (under our current federal government), along with many other countries, have agreed to work to avoid crossing this threshold, the point at which our climate may become seriously destabilized. Furthermore, the IEA tells us that, to stay under 2°C warming, two-thirds of all known fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground.

Never mention the CC word. Ever. Sent January 24:

The economic arguments for exploiting the tar sands — oil is cheap; society needs that energy to continue economic growth — are analogous to the self-serving rationalizations of addicts everywhere.

Oil’s always been expensive; we’ve just left its significant costs for our descendants to pay. Neither post-extraction cleanup or public health impacts are usually included in our calculations — and, of course, the catastrophic consequences of accelerating climate change must never be mentioned or considered.

The economic growth argument is a failure both on intellectual (we live on a finite planet) and moral (recall Edward Abbey’s statement that growth for its own sake is “the ideology of the cancer cell”) grounds.

The Keystone pipeline’s not just a single disaster in the making, but multiple disasters on different scales of size and time. For the sake of our posterity, the Tar Sands oil must stay in the ground.

Warren Senders


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