I love Canada, but screw Stephen Harper: stop Keystone XL
Canada is a magnificent, beautiful nation. I loved it up there when I visited. But I strongly disapprove of the Conservative government in Ottawa, which is trying to bring an ecological disaster to our planet.
Tens of thousands of people rallied in Washington, DC, last Sunday. The main theme of the rally was to stop the construction of the “Keystone XL” pipeline.
The proposed northern extension of the nearly 2,000-mile Keystone XL pipeline would connect Canada’s oil sands to refineries around Houston and the Gulf of Mexico, replacing Venezuelan heavy crude with similar Canadian grades.
There were Canadians, not just among the protesters, but speakers.
“The Yinka Dene Alliance of British Columbia is seeing the harm from climate change to our peoples and our waters,” said Chief Jacqueline Thomas, immediate past Chief of the Saik’uz First Nation in British Columbia and co-founder Yinka Dene Alliance (“People of the Earth”). “We see the threat of taking tar sands out of the Earth and bringing it through our territories and over our rivers. The harm being done to people in the tar sands region can no longer be Canada’s dirty secret. We don’t have the billions of dollars that industry has. But we do have our faith that people will do the right thing to protect Mother Earth. The Forward on Climate Rally shows that we are not alone in the fight to stop tar sands expansion and tackle climate change.”
What is the status of this project?
The State Department appeared poised to approve the pipeline in 2011, but Mr. Obama delayed a decision based on concerns about its route through vulnerable grasslands in Nebraska. The pipeline company, TransCanada, submitted a revised route, and the governor of Nebraska approved the plan last month, sending the final decision to Washington.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s first meeting with a foreign leader was with Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird, on Feb. 8. They discussed the Keystone pipeline project, among other subjects, and Mr. Kerry promised a fair, transparent and prompt decision. He did not indicate what recommendation he would make to the president.
Why is it crucial that this project be stopped?
The Canadian tar sands are substantially dirtier than conventional oil as the chart above shows (longer analysis here). They may contain enough carbon-intensive fuel to make stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at non-catastrophic levels all but impossible.
And that is the point of Dr. James Hansen in a must-read essay on the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline to bring that dirty fuel into this country, “Silence Is Deadly: I’m Speaking Out Against Canada-U.S. Tar Sands Pipeline.”
Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has been right longer about the climate than just about anyone else (see “Right for 27 years: 1981 Hansen study finds warming trend that could raise sea levels“). So he deserves to be heard.
And this is the main reason Hansen is against the project:
An overwhelming objection is that exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts. The tar sands are estimated (e.g., see IPCC Fourth Assessment Report) to contain at least 400 GtC (equivalent to about 200 ppm CO2). Easily available reserves of conventional oil and gas are enough to take atmospheric CO2 well above 400 ppm, which is unsafe for life on earth. However, if emissions from coal are phased out over the next few decades and if unconventional fossil fuels including tar sands are left in the ground, it is conceivable to stabilize earth’s climate.
Phase out of emissions from coal is itself an enormous challenge. However, if the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over. There is no practical way to capture the CO2 emitted while burning oil, which is used principally in vehicles.
Governments are acting as if they are oblivious to the fact that there is a limit on how much fossil fuel carbon we can put into the air. Fossil fuel carbon injected into the atmosphere will stay in surface reservoirs for millennia. We can extract a fraction of the excess CO2 via improved agricultural and forestry practices, but we cannot get back to a safe CO2 level if all coal is used without carbon capture or if unconventional fossil fuels, like tar sands are exploited.
(Hansen has endured arrest protesting Keystone XL. So in fact, he is putting his money where his mouth is.)
But despite overwhelming evidence indicating the catastrophic consequences of building the pipeline, the Obama administration could cave in, under pressure from Canada.
Canada, the United States’ most important trading partner and a close ally on Iran and Afghanistan, is counting on the pipeline to propel more growth in its oil patch, a vital engine for its economy. Its leaders have made it clear that an American rejection would be viewed as an unneighborly act and could bring retaliation.
The Keystone pipeline is treated mainly as a domestic issue in Washington. But for Canada’s Conservative government, which has its power base in the oil-rich province of Alberta, it represents a crucial moment in Canada’s relationship with its most vital foreign partner even if the oil sands are also a divisive issue within Canada. Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are not close, and the two make a portrait of contrasts in style and substance.
Cananadin leaders are cautious not to threaten the Obama administration directly, but they suggest that if the pipeline is not permitted, the close relationship between the countries will be damaged and Canada forced to look elsewhere, particularly to China, for new energy markets.
“Sometimes the call comes from a U.S. president to a Canadian prime minister, and sometimes it comes the other way,” he said. “So the decision has to be made on merit and not noise. And if people in Canada perceive that the decision is made on noise, there will be extreme disappointment.”
Now, for once, I would like to see the blustery conservatives and the “patriotic” Fox “News” anchors speak out against pressure on the US by a foreign government. Will they do it? I am not holding my breath.