"Runaway catastrophic climate change" and the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal

My name is Carrie Saxifrage. I am a reporter for the Vancouver Observer which has extensively covered the pipeline proposal on its news website and recently produced the book Extract, Volume 1, Enbridge. The facts I rely on come mostly from this reporting, but I am testifying in my individual capacity.

My objection to the Northern Gateway pipeline is that it externalizes the risks and costs of the project. Enbridge and the corporations it contracts with would receive huge profit from the project. The BC public and future generations would pay the unbearable costs of the project.

Democracy and the free market tell us that we should not be forced to pay the costs of private corporations. Fairness dictates that those who profit pay the costs. Those costs should be included in it the price of the product.

In the technical hearings under questioning by the Province of BC, Enbridgestated that it would not consider a commitment to guarantee 100% of cost of an oil spill clean up. It will insure $280 million for a 20,000 barrel spill. That’s the size of the spill in Kalamazoo which has already cost close to three times that amount.

Enbridge refuses to assume its own costs because they are so enormous. It wants to impose them on us.

That isn’t democratic and it isn’t fair.

Not all costs of an oil spill that can be monetized. For example, after the Exxon Valdez spill, Alaskan Native communities were severely disrupted and many experienced high levels of depression from the trauma of seeing so many animals die, the stress of loss of subsistence livelihood from the sea, and the influx of clean-up money. No one knows how many animals died outright from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The carcasses of more than 35,000 birds and 1,000 sea otters were found after the spill, but since most carcasses sink, this is considered to be a small fraction of the actual death toll. The best estimates are: 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, up to 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring eggs.

Twenty three years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, nine species are not fully recovered and some species such as herring and pigeon guillemots may never recover. One of the two orca pods in the area is slowly dying out. An estimated 21,000 gallons of oil remain and oil has been found in the coastal substrate up to 450 miles away.

An even bigger cost that Enbridge would externalize is the cost of climate change.

At the Smithers JRP intervenor hearing, I had the opportunity to ask Paul Stanway what he thought of the International Energy Agency’s 2011 report that states with new infrastructure we will lose forever the chance to prevent the two degree increase in temperature that means catastrophic costs for us all.

I taped Stanway’s response: “I’m not familiar with that report” he said.

Upton Sinclair noted that it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

But when that something includes include making the planet uninhabitable for humans and other species, not understanding it is unconscionable. Enbridge has put itself in a very questionable position.

“Making the planet uninhabitable for humans” – That strong statement might seem overblown. Enbridge might call it a myth stridently stated by an environmental activist. Minister Oliver might call it the statement of someone who wants to block Canada’s opportunity to diversify trade.

But I want Canada to diversify trade. I want it to be a world leader in renewable energy technology. It’s in a perfect position to do so, with good education, plenty of resources and a history of helping when the world needs help, which it certainly does now. Enbridge has a wind power portfolio. I could support the expansion of that. If this debate is really about jobs, renewable energy creates 3 to 34 times the number of jobs for investment than oil infrastructure.

Back to keeping the planet habitable, Enbridge doesn’t seem to know about the immense body of research on the consequences of new fossil fuel infrastructure. That research states that warming of 6 degrees means mass extinction, which may include humanity. We will come close to six degrees by 2100 if we follow our current trajectory of rapidly expanding our fossil fuel infrastructure without any regard to climate pollution.

Enbridge may be money blind enough to bet against the world saving itself, but the government of Canada, must not make this bet.

Here’s a sampling of what the world’s most knowledgeable scientists and leading institutions are saying:

MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, calculates that current emissions will push us toward 5.5 C by 2100. It called for “rapid and massive” action to avoid this and warned that “there’s no way the world can or should take these risks.” It also produced research showing that the expansion of the oil sands is not economically viable under any scenario in which the world takes effective action against climate change.

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