Vancouver Sun Letter

LetterFor what is likely to be my last letter to the editor of 2016, see today’s Vancouver Sun (fourth letter from the top). The gist of my argument is that Kinder Morgan is bad.

Fun fact: this ain’t the first time I’ve responded to a pro-Kinder Morgan op-ed by former NDP Premier Dan Miller.

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Of Petrostates and Patriotism

Alison RedfordIf Alison Redford gets to define Canadian patriotism, then I don’t want to be patriotic.

The Alberta premier yesterday accused federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair of “a fundamental betrayal of Canada’s long-term economic interests” after the latter took a trip to DC in what is being widely interpreted as an effort to convince the Americans not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta.

Other Conservatives at the federal level have adopted the same rhetoric. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver — of “foreign-funded radicals” fame — implied that the Opposition leader was unfit to govern, stating, “Governing means standing up for Canada’s interests and Canada’s jobs.” Heritage Minister James Moore taunted, “It’d be nice for once if the NDP leader could put the country ahead of his own ambition.” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, meanwhile, went for the trifecta, accusing Mulcair of “bad mouthing Canada,” “trash talking Canada,” and “running down Canada.”

The message is clear: because he is not quite as keen on expanding the tar sands and exporting bitumen as the red-and-white Tories of Edmonton and Ottawa, Thomas Mulcair is nothing but a Canada-hating socialist antichrist.

Patriotism is usually defined as love of country, but fossil fuel enthusiasts prefer to conflate the notion with love of whatever the government happens to be doing on the international stage. This redefinition, historically, is a common one, eagerly leapt upon by all who agree with the government line and seek an easy way to demonize their opponents.

Others take a different approach, conceiving patriotism as something more akin to identification rather than unquestioning acceptance. A true patriot, in other words, identifies with her country to such a degree that she feels proud of its accomplishments and, equally, remorseful for its wrongdoings. A patriot believes he shares responsibility for all that his country does in his name. A patriot refuses to stay quiet when her government puts climate stability and the well-being of future generations at risk. By this definition, protest is patriotic. Critical thinking is patriotic. Dissent is patriotic. Under some circumstances, even civil disobedience is patriotic.

In the words of Ralph Nader, “A patriotism manipulated by the government asks only for a servile nod from its subjects. A new patriotism requires a thinking assent from its citizens.”

It is clear which kind of patriotism Alison Redford et al. stand for. How about you?

Andrew Weaver on the Tar Sands

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Last week, world-renowned University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver, lead author of several IPCC reports, shocked friends and enemies alike by publishing an article in Nature Climate Change in which he makes an unexpected claim. He and co-author Neil Swart (a UVIC PhD student) find that Alberta’s Athabasca tar sands have a surprisingly small impact on the Earth’s climate.

According to the numbers they provide, burning all the oil from the tar sands (or “oil sands” to be polite) would increase global temperatures by 0.36 degrees Celsius — hardly an insignificant amount. However, the more pertinent measurement is of economically viable tar sands oil, which would raise temperatures by only 0.03 degrees Celsius. By contrast, burning all the world’s coal would warm the planet by 14.8 degrees Celsius.

We have seen the true face of environmental villainy, crows Canada’s right-wing media echo chamber, and unconventional Albertan oil it ain’t!

Two points:

First, as Weaver says up front, these numbers take into consideration only the warming caused by burning tar sands oil, not that caused by the energy consumption needed to extract, transport, and refine it. This apparent oversight is actually a procedural necessity meant to avoid double-counting emissions, and is therefore fully defensible as a feature of the study.  However, the energy intensity of tar sands production is a large part of why the resource is considered “dirty.” If such considerations are included, says Weaver, the global warming effect of tar sands oil increases by 20 percent.

Second, why are we so surprised that the negative impact of one fossil fuel project in one province should pale in comparison to that of all the coal reserves in the world? The more appropriate comparison would be between the tar sands and another project of similar size.

To his great credit, Weaver has been hard at work trying to put his results in context. He emphasizes that the tar sands are Canada’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions growth, that they are a symptom of a much larger problem, and that it is urgently important for us to wean ourselves off of all fossil fuels. He also acknowledges the profound ecological damage, measured by more than just climate impact, that is caused by tar sands exploitation.

In the end, Weaver’s research represents all that is best in science — the unbiased pursuit of knowledge for its own sake regardless of what is uncovered. We should embrace his findings for what they are, and fight the attempts by fossil fuel apologists to twist them into something they’re not. If only polluters were to demonstrate so unshakable an allegiance to the truth as this, we would probably not find ourselves perched so close to the edge of ecological catastrophe in the first place.