Monday 18 November 2013

New unabated coal is not compatible with keeping global warming below 2°C

I have written frequently to explain how dramatic expansion of unconventional oil like bitumen in Canada is found by all leading international analysts to be inconsistent with the 2 C limit our political leaders promise to strive for. The same is true for any expansion of coal-fired power plants. For this reason, I agreed to sign my name to this statement by leading researchers on the urgent need for no new coal plants, anywhere in the world, unless they capture and store the carbon pollution. We can no longer allow the construction of new, unabated coal plants. Our press release is below. Click here to see the full report.

Scientists expose coal industry’s false claims about "high efficiency" coal: No more room for new unabated coal

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.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

European fuel regulations and Canadian hypocrisy: My trip to Europe with Jim Hansen

Prime Minister Harper promised in 2006 to reduce Canadian emissions 20% by 2020 (in 2009 he changed it slightly to 17%). Only two policy approaches can achieve this: emissions pricing or regulations (or a combination). But he rejected emissions pricing, whether carbon tax or cap-and-trade. So this leaves regulations on technologies and fuels, which he promised. However, he has not implemented regulations to achieve his 2020 target, and, according to Canada’s Auditor General, even an immediate aggressive effort is unlikely to succeed – he only has 7 years left after doing virtually nothing since making the promise 7 years ago. In any case, he is instead promoting rapid expansion of the Alberta oil sands, which, according to Environment Canada, will leave Canadian emissions in 2020 at least 7% above rather than 17% below their 2006 level.

Tuesday 13 August 2013

The Doublespeak of the Dirty Carbon Economy

I wrote this piece which appeared as an Op-Ed in the Vancouver Sun and in the Huffington Post Canada edition via DeSmog Canada on August 13, 3012.

George Orwell used parody and caricature to expose the propaganda lies of the fascists and communists who threatened humanity in the mid-20th century. Today, his talents are badly needed to counter the propaganda of corporate executives who seek self-enrichment by accelerating the burning of the coal, oil and gas here and abroad.

Saturday 3 August 2013

The right use of carbon tax revenue? Sorry, there isn’t one

It never ceases to amaze me that some people can be so utterly certain about the right answer to questions that don’t have simple answers. The answer to “What is one plus one?” is simple. The answer to “How should we use carbon tax revenue?” is not. And for good reason.

To reduce carbon pollution we need to price it or regulate the technologies and fuels that cause it. We could just regulate. We could just price. But we know we have to do one or both to seriously reduce the pollution that causes global warming. After that, the certainty dissipates rapidly as each jurisdiction tries to mesh its carbon pollution policies with its other policy goals, the preferences of its voters, and the actions of its major trading partners.

Friday 26 July 2013

The National Energy Plan as Environmentalist Holy Grail

Every few years, some Canadian environmentalists campaign vigorously for a national energy plan in the mistaken belief that it is not only achievable, but will reduce carbon pollution. Since this pursuit deflects their focus from Canada’s ineffective climate policies, it is a welcome gift to carbon polluters and their political operatives. And, amazingly, decades of failure have failed to dampen enthusiasm for this Holy Grail quest.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

BC’s carbon tax after 5 years

In 5 years, debates about BC’s carbon tax have generated much heat and little light, but Stewart Elgie and Jessica McClay of the University of Ottawa have just released a good effort to rectify this situation. Comparing fuel consumption (gasoline, diesel, propane, fuel oil, etc.) in BC with the rest of Canada, before and after the imposition of the carbon tax, they detect a significant change. Prior to 2008, BC’s petroleum fuel use changed in lock-step with the rest of Canada. But afterwards it fell 17.4% per capita in BC while rising 1.5% in the rest of the country. They also noted that BC’s economy performed as well or better than other provincial economies, a partial response to the much-touted argument that BC’s economy would suffer terribly because of the tax. (Stephen Harper repeatedly claims that carbon taxes destroy economies, with zero evidence in support – which some people would call lying.)

Tuesday 16 July 2013

"The necessity of coal expansion" and other delusions

In my July 16, 2013 op-ed in the Vancouver Sun I counter arguments for rapid expansion of coal exports from North America by showing how these are based on self-serving arguments that ignore the resulting increase in carbon pollution – which scientists show we must do everything to decrease, not increase. Today, without regulations here and abroad requiring carbon capture and storage, expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure can only mean increasing carbon pollution and hence global warming. But it need not be so. Our only chance is if we refuse to expand coal mines and coal exports unless coal purchasers are not increasing carbon pollution. In the case of using coal to produce steel, we have the technologies today to capture and permanently store about 90% of the CO2 emitted from steel mills, and a range of industry, government and independent estimates suggest that this would gradually increase the cost of steel production by 10% over twenty years. Instead, those who would benefit by rapidly increasing carbon pollution offer countless rationales for starting this new coal mine, expanding that coal port, etc. 

In upcoming blogs and op-eds I will be writing more on what I call the “This particular fossil fuel development is necessary” delusion – a chapter in my draft manuscript, which currently has the working title “Deluding Ourselves.”

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Obama avoids the silly delusions of oil executives and the Canadian government

After months (years actually) of incessant delusional messaging from the oil industry and its political puppets about how expanding carbon polluting activities (production, pipelines, ports) won’t accelerate global warming, Obama’s speech today was much needed. In addition to directing the EPA to reduce carbon pollution from existing coal plants, he also said that Keystone XL won’t be approved if it leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course, he still is not quite asking the right question. Were he to ask “how do we decrease emissions here and abroad?” the obvious answer is “by doing everything we can to prevent new production facilities and delivery infrastructure here and abroad.”

Sunday 12 May 2013

Funding for the May 2013 Europe trip

During my career, I have been invited to speak on climate policy by an incredible diversity of social, cultural and political entities - providing advice to politicians across the ideological spectrum, corporations, industry associations, environmental groups, faith-based communities, and so on. Usually my travel costs are covered by those who invite me. On this particular trip to Europe, I have been invited by members of the European parliament. While here, I will also be speaking to various NGO's, including Friends of the Earth Europe and a group called Transport and the Environment. I am covering personally some of my travel costs and these groups are also providing some assistance with costs. My time is completely voluntary and there is no use of my academic research funds.

Saturday 11 May 2013

Correcting some misinformation out there: the facts on the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize

In order to discredit me, especially my arguments about the need for humanity to quickly reduce carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels, someone has accused me of falsely portraying myself as a Nobel laureate. I have never presented myself as a laureate. I was, indeed, a contributing author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, especially in the 1990s, and this organization was co-awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Al Gore in 2007.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

A letter to Minister Oliver from climate scientist and energy experts

On May 7th 2013, I was among twelve Canadian climate scientists and energy experts who sent a letter addressed to Natural Resources Minister the Hon. Joe Oliver.

As professionals who have devoted our careers to understanding the climate and energy systems, we are concerned that the Minister’s advocacy in support of new pipelines and expanded fossil fuel production is inconsistent with the imperative of addressing the climate change threat. We are going to have to wean ourselves off our addiction to fossil fuels. Thus our choices about fossil fuel infrastructure carry significant consequences for today’s and future generations.

Friday 26 April 2013

Alberta’s (Non)-Carbon Tax and Our Threatened Climate

Why is Alberta’s policy a regulation and not a tax?

Alberta’s government officially says it doesn’t have a carbon tax, and I agree. But if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone claim it does, I could buy a lot of anti-oil sands ads, and maybe a politician along the way.

I hear about Alberta’s so-called carbon tax from business people, politicians, journalists, environmentalists, sometimes even economists (who should know better). But the policy in question is, in fact, a “performance regulation,” that sets a maximum “emissions-intensity” for industries, and fines them $15 for each tonne of CO2 emissions in excess of that maximum.

Monday 22 April 2013

Good news for stopping carbon pollution in BC

Today, on Earth Day, the NDP under Adrian Dix made a convincing case for British Columbians' support in the upcoming provincial election by re-affirming its opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and stating its opposition to the proposed KinderMorgan expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. Our political leaders must have the honesty and courage to reject jobs that involve accelerating carbon pollution, yet the BC Liberals under Christy Clark have been completely silent on this ethical duty to our kids - in spite of claims to care about families. As an economist, I have seen strong evidence that we can create sustainable jobs to replace the earth-destroying jobs from expanding coal and oil production. In 2007 the BC government stopped two coal-fired and one natural gas-fired power plants and the replacement electricity from wood waste, small hydro, wind and other renewables created far more jobs according to independent analysis by leading accounting firms.

Friday 19 April 2013

We cannot expand carbon polluting infrastructure and meet targets

Here is a link to my interview with Bloomberg TV's Michael Crumpton on The Bottom Line, explaining that long-lived infrastructure to increase carbon pollution, like the Keystone XL pipeline, is inconsistent with political promises to do what is needed to avoid a greater than 2 C increase in global average temperatures - and explaining that where we shift away from carbon pollution we can create just as many jobs as has been occurring with good news stories around the world.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Crossing swords in US TV debate with KXL advocates

My whirlwind 2 days in DC April 10-11 included 3 hours of congressional testimony, meetings with EPA staff, a meeting with NGOs and media, and a debate on Keystone XL on the nationally televised TV show, The Hard Question. My co-panelists were people from the US oil industry, a representative of the Alberta government, and a former North Dakota senator. Fun. One thing that surprised me though, was that everyone agreed on the urgent need for global action on carbon pollution and strong domestic US policies to price or regulate carbon pollution. In other words, "Yes, we absolutely must act on this urgent global threat to us and our children. But, for now, let me and the people I represent get rich while making the problem worse and doing nothing about it."  There is also an abbreviated video showing highlights form the debate.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Asking the wrong question about Keystone XL

Oral Testimony to the US Congress Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing entitled
“H.R. 3, the Northern Route Approval Act.”

April 10, 2013

The State Department assumes that future production of the Alberta oil sands will be the same even if it denies construction of Keystone XL. Yet a great deal of evidence contradicts this assumption. Ironically, much of this evidence comes not from environmentalists, but from industry analysts, Canadian politicians, and even the oil sands producers themselves.

Webcast of Keystone XL Hearing in Washington: testimony now online

I was invited by Rep. Henry Waxman  (of the former Waxman-Markey bill) to speak as a witness at the Congressional Hearing on Keystone, the "Northern Route Approval Act,” Subcommittee (April 10, 2013) which discussed approval of the Keystone pipeline.  My testimony and that of the other witnesses is now available for viewing as a webcast.  If you just want to hear my 5 minute testimony, skip to minutes 31:11 - 36:40.  This is followed by a question period and statements from the members of the Congressional Subcommittee on Energy and Power.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

My written testimony to KXL Approval Congressional Hearing

On April 10, 2013 in Washington, DC I will present a 5 minute oral testimony.  I was also asked to prepare this more detailed written testimony before a congressional hearing on Keystone as a witness called by representative Henry Waxman of California (of the former Waxman-Markey bill). I will focus on exposing the delusion that each single infrastructure expansion like Keystone does not matter – even though of course they add up to climate calamity.

Thursday 28 March 2013

Why carbon neutrality is a delusion

Here is a link to my brief report written in 2011 entitled "BC’s Carbon Neutral Public Sector: Too Good to be True?"  explaining why carbon neutral government is a delusion and what to do about it. 

*Please note, this document takes between 10-20 seconds to load and you will first get a blank screen.  The file will then load to that screen.  Thanks for your patience! 

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Government directive to muzzle last words of NRTEE

Yesterday I received a bizarre letter sent to a list of undisclosed recipients - presumably people who had been members at some time, like me, of Canada's National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE). 

When Stephen Harper's government announced the upcoming closure of the NRTEE, Minister John Baird defended this by saying that the advisory body should stop calling for a carbon tax. (In fact, it called for cap-and-trade, like the Harper government at one point, but never for a carbon tax - I have read every one of its reports in this area and contributed to a few.)  So the Harper government's desire to kill this 25 year old advisory body, originally created by the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, is understandable - unconscionable, but understandable.

Now it seems they even want to prevent access to some of the final material produced by the NRTEE, in this case the reflections written by past chairs and a retrospective essay by Bob Page, the last chair. It's difficult to imagine a more controlling and mean-spirited attitude.

If you feel as I do, please let other people know about this.  Here is the letter:

Dear colleagues;

We are writing to follow up on our parting email of a couple of weeks ago. At that time we advised you of an initiative we had underway to transfer a legacy NRTEE website to Sustainable Prosperity, who were to host the site under an NRTEE domain name, in a static manner going forward, to ensure Canadians had ready web access to this valuable body of work.

This plan has now changed. We were directed in writing by the Minister on Friday March 22nd that we were not to proceed with the transfer of the NRTEE domain name to Sustainable Prosperity, but to transfer it to Environment Canada along with the contents of our external website. He advised us that Environment Canada then intends to make the information publicly available. At this time it is not clear how this will be accomplished in the very limited time remaining before we close our doors March 28th.

At the same time we were instructed that no new content was to be added to the website. In an email from Environment Canada’s legal services unit in advance of the formal notification from the Minister, it more specifically referred to not uploading the Reflections document (from past Chairs and CEO’s) onto the website. Neither the Reflections document nor the retrospective essay on the Round Table by Dr. Bob Page had been uploaded to the web at the time of the Minister’s notification, nor have they been since.

We cannot provide any explanation for this decision – none was provided in the letter or subsequent discussions with the Department.

We apologize for the fact this communiqué is in English only but the NRTEE is in the very final stages of preparing to close its doors and translation was not possible.

As we had made this undertaking to you all, we felt it important to clarify the change in circumstances and direction going forwards. As the NRTEE goes permanently off-line tomorrowmorning we will not be able to acknowledge any replies you might make to this email.

Once again, thank you for all your support over the years.

Sunday 24 March 2013

Media and climate delusion

In my March 15, 2013 op-ed in the Vancouver Sun I described how promoters of carbon polluting investments and their allies avoid mentioning global warming when trumpeting the benefits of their favorite new coal mine, oil pipeline, tar sands project, coal port expansion, shale gas development, or natural gas liquification plant. My suggestion was that a paper like the Sun should provide a public health disclaimer underneath such articles that says: “The author has declined to explain that, according to scientists, this project would contribute to a climate catastrophe for you and your children.”

I was going to say that surely this is what the paper would do when publishing an op-ed by a tobacco company executive who was encouraging children to smoke. But then I realized that the paper would simply refuse to publish such an article. It would claim that it was not in the business of helping people profit at the expense of public health, especially of the vulnerable.

Some day papers like the Sun will also take this approach to article submissions by promoters of carbon polluting projects. Unfortunately, it is likely to be much too late for a lot of people and other living things, especially the vulnerable – unless, that is, more of us start to demand more from the Sun and other mainstream media.

The Sun editorial of March 21 is a good place to start. In an article entitled “Open port crucial to a healthy economy,” the Sun’s editorial board chastises Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson for opposing expanding coal and oil exports from Vancouver’s harbor with the facile argument that this will hurt our economy. Note that they never ask what is being exported. All that seems to matter is the volume of exports. Presumably if the exports were cigarettes destined for children, or landmines, or heroin, or plutonium, or carbon-laced fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, it would not matter. In fact, never do the Sun’s editors even try to explain why Gregor Robertson might oppose coal and oil exports, except to ridicule him for promoting Vancouver as a green city. They avoid mentioning global warming, but make a big deal about Vancouver losing trade to other ports.

In my March 15 op-ed I deconstructed this “climate delusional” strategy, and this March 21 editorial provides a perfect illustration. No doubt there will be many more like it. But if you agree with me that this is an incredibly harmful and irresponsible bias of this newspaper, there are things you can do. For one thing, you can write a letter to the editor explaining that you will soon drop your subscription and will encourage others to do the same if the paper is unwilling to qualify its carbon pollution jingoism with an honest and consistent depiction of the scientifically-determined global health implications of continuing on this path. And you might ask for similar action from the people who are nearest and dearest to you – the very ones you would personally discourage from smoking.