Wednesday, 16 October 2013

It’s the climate, not the oil spill

Sorry, folks, but if you care about the environment – the planet for that matter – your strategy to stop oil pipelines is futile if its only focus is oil spills on land and sea. You may stop one or two poorly conceived projects, but you won’t stop industry expansion. There is too much money to be made in a world that allows carbon pollution to remain largely unpriced and unconstrained.

Difficult as it is to get the attention of enough people to influence our political process into acting on climate, there is unfortunately no other way to win this long-term battle than to focus on the fact that carbon pollution changes the climate – for the worse – and so we must stop the expanding extraction of fossil fuels from the earth’s crust. No expansion of oil sands. No new coal mines. No new delivery infrastructure like pipelines and coal ports. No aiding and abetting of the carbon pollution that will wreak havoc on the environment everywhere – not just the environment in the path of pipelines, tankers and trains.

Curiously, one environmental activist sort-of acknowledged this when she said to me, “We have to focus on local environmental impacts from oil spills because that’s all the public is interested in. But, yes, I don’t think we have slowed down fossil fuel expansion – if anything it is accelerating.” My response? “How can you expect enough people to talk about climate if even you aren’t talking about it?”

(Note that I keep saying “enough people.” We don’t need 50% of the population demanding action. If 10% really care and get vocal, then politicians, ever in pursuit of the swing-voter, have to pay attention – their survival instincts kick-in.)

While I have been saying this for a long time, the urgency of the message got stronger this past week with the launch of National Energy Board hearings into Enbridge’s proposed reversal of an oil pipeline (Line 9) to move more oil from Alberta’s oil sands east through Ontario and Quebec – again to aid and abet oil sands expansion. The NEB – and the government, and the oil industry – only wants to hear evidence and testimony about local impacts. They don’t want anyone mentioning the fact that the impacts of climate change are local – everywhere!

Forest Ethics and Donna Sinclair are challenging in court the rules that the NEB has for allowing evidence and testimony and asked me to provide an affidavit on the direct causal relationship between oil sands, pipelines, climate change and environmental impacts everywhere, which obviously includes people living near the pipeline – and far from the pipeline. In it I explain how all of the world’s leading, independent energy-economy modeling institutes show that the promise of Stephen Harper and other global leaders to not allow temperature increases greater than 2 C is completely inconsistent with expansion of oil sands, coal mines and other fossil fuel projects that lead to carbon pollution. Take a look and if you like it, please pass on to others.


  1. This is spot on. This is an argument that I find most environmentalists are afraid to make for fear of being tuned out. Yes, they may be, but unless we start normalizing the climate ethics discussion, we will not gain ground.

  2. Excellent article! For many people pipelines have been the foray into the energy debate but increasingly I am seeing the move to a conversation about climate. We will get there. Thanks for reminding us!

  3. I agree with you completely Mark, but as an intervenor in the recently completed Enbridge hearings, I quickly noticed that the only way to keep speaking was to "colour within the lines" and make no mention of the source, i.e. the oil sands and climate change- otherwise the panel would cut you off. So it has turned into a game of Whack-a Mole, in which any interested party is forced to battle each hare-brained pipeline proposal as it 'pops up' its ugly head.

  4. So the hunt is on for a systematically applied method of;
    - reducing fuel consumption say by 25% or more [keeping us within conventional oil production sources = no oil sands oil needed = no pipelines needed]
    - furthermore if this system would sequester the water soluble GHG's [along with the 1:1 of produced water vapor from combustion of a gallon of fuel] from the engines exhaust after being so equipped from conversion onward and,
    - the essentials of the design needs to be grounded in simple applied scientific principles which most anyone can understand and believe.
    Would you this has already been designed? With fundamental R&D also started.
    Ready for the final drive to completion.

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