By Mark Jaccard
Originally published in The Hill on March 13, 2013
As a Canadian energy and climate economist, I have first-hand experience with the magician-like techniques of the Canadian government and petroleum industry as they try to double the output of our highly polluting tar sands. Politicians in Washington should be wary, especially if they are sincere in wanting to spare us and our children from an increasing barrage of Katrinas, Sandys and droughts.
Magicians use slight-of-hand to distract us from what they are really doing. The fossil fuel industry and its allies have spent a lot of money to bombard us with messages about the jobs and tax benefits of increasing carbon pollution via this or that fossil fuel project. Count how many times they explain how this carbon pollution is consistent with what scientists say and politicians promise in terms of avoiding devastating climate change. Of course, they don’t explain. That is the art of deception on which magic is based: to get you looking the wrong way. If you were to look the right way, you would see that we cannot be expanding fossil fuel infrastructure today and keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius (3.7 Fahrenheit). That infrastructure – all of it – must be stable or contracting.
But my Canadian government and the tar sands industries who want Keystone argue that somehow, miraculously, increasing carbon polluting infrastructure will not increase carbon pollution. (George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth has nothing on these guys.) They argue that even without Keystone Alberta tar sands would be developed to the same extent. So you might as well approve Keystone – so the argument goes.
But this is simply not true. Tar sands production is currently about 2 million barrels per day. At this level it already has trouble getting to market, which is why tar sands producers must accept a lower price for their oil – which is good news for U.S. gasoline purchasers, but not for investors hoping to expand tar sands.
Keystone would help tar sands producers expand output by 50 to 100 percent. Without it, output would stay constant. But this is where the magicians offer their next deception. They claim that even without Keystone tar sands production would increase because the oil would simply be shipped to China via a Northern Gateway pipeline through British Columbia. You might as well build Keystone and keep the oil from going to China, so the magicians argue.
In fact, the likelihood of this is slim – and getting slimmer every day. The reason is British Columbia. My province is the Canadian, and perhaps the North American, epicenter of two important social movements – environmentalism and rights activism by aboriginal peoples.
British Columbia has North America’s only real carbon tax, with all of its revenues returned as income and corporate tax cuts. And our electricity policy is the toughest in North America, allowing no fossil fuel power without carbon capture and storage. It is no surprise that polls consistently show that a majority of British Columbians oppose Northern Gateway.
Our provincial election is in May, and the opposition party, which is well ahead in the polls, has promised to prevent the project if it forms the next government.
British Columbia’s aboriginal peoples are proud, organized and active in defending their land and coast. Court rulings have made it extremely difficult to develop resource and infrastructure projects without their support, and almost all the tribes along the proposed pipeline route and on the coast are adamantly opposed to Northern Gateway. They have promised lengthy court battles and even civil disobedience should anyone try to build it.
The odds against Northern Gateway are huge. Without it and Keystone, there is no tar sands expansion, no increase in carbon pollution. Stopping Keystone will hinder tar sands expansion; believing otherwise is nothing more than a magician’s delusion.
If U.S. policy makers don’t want to lock-in a Sandy-Katrina future for our children, rejecting Keystone is one of the most obvious and easiest steps.
(Link to original article)