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

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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.

(13) Comments

Forward Thinker January 18th 2013 | 8:08 AM
As I read your article, I was imagining what the proponents might say. They would call you a left wing, pot smoking hippy who has no job and lives on the dole. Alternatively, they would demand to know why you had a plastic bag and drive to the picnic area in your "gas guzzeling SUV". They would say these things because they cannot refute what you are saying so the best course would be to try to paint you as a crazy extremest or hypocrite. They would be wrong to do this but, as you say, there is no convincing people of truth when they are invested in denying it (paraphrazing you). As I have watched this hearing process, I have become convinced that this panel is biased to the point that they will no hear the factsbecause they are invested in approvong this pipeline. Harper and the Federal government have made up thier mind. The oil industry is too heavily invested in this pipeline to admit what you say is true. This leaves us....the citizens .... to do what we can. Thank you for your efforts and your thoughtful article.
Justin Freed January 18th 2013 | 9:09 AM

It is not just Enbridge who is money blind enough to not care...it is all of us ( I am in Seattle) who live in our modern fossil fueled world. Guaranteed if you were to propose the total cost of converting our oil energy usage to a green alternative (and not sure what that would be) vs. building this pipeline and using the tar sands oil, the economics (notwithstanding the GHG costs) would win hands down simply because the vast majority of people "don't care" enough (as in, not willing to pay so much for the alternative).

As for the internalizing costs of carbon, it most likely will be at some future point in time (even here in the US Obama would really like to set up some sort of "cap and trade" mechanism) but don't ever think those costs won't eventually be borne by us, the consumer. As with any other cost, it will be passed on.

meme mine January 18th 2013 | 10:10 AM

You can't have a "little" climate crisis outside of Harry Potter movies. Either it's an unstoppable warming crisis or not.

Not one single IPCC warning of "crisis" says it "WILL" happen, only might and could happen. And this is a crisis? Science only agrees it is "real" but not a real "crisis". And it's been 27 years of research!

Science must be clear NOW before they lead us to the point of no return from unstoppable warming. Help my house could be on fire ................maybe?

 

amyhuva January 18th 2013 | 10:10 AM

Bravo Carrie!

Thank you for finally mentioning the climate elephant in the room. Better spill clean up methods and costs and safety standards won't make a difference if we don't stop burning carbon to begin with.

Climate change has to be the priority. Everything else is nit-picking.

Rick McCosh January 18th 2013 | 1:13 PM

I always find articles like yours interesting.   The truth is that by far the "lion's share" of CO2 contributions to the atmosphere is NOT the CO2 generated in the production of oil products BUT rather in their consumption.  When are people going to realize that they are the problem not the oil companies.   How many of those in opposition to oil development have given up driving around their own vehicles and started using something a bit more environmentally sensitive.   The hypocrisy of those opposing oil development is overwhelming in my mind.  Stop the insanity.  Stop complaining and start cleaning up the real problem...YOU and your addicition to using oil.

kwilhye January 21st 2013 | 1:13 PM

Northern Gateway "What have we: any person who has presented a question to you Northern Gateway or to the Joint Review Panel know, about the projects potential hazard That we have not asked? and that you know what that question(s) is. Tell us now for the record and minutes; so in the future you cannot say we did not ask" tell us what you know that we need to know."

judycross January 21st 2013 | 1:13 PM

The warming stopped almost 17 years ago and even Saint James Hansen admits to no warming in 10 years.  In the meantime CO2 levels continued to rise.

http://notrickszone.com/2013/01/19/spiegel-ends-europes-climate-denialis...

kwilhye January 21st 2013 | 1:13 PM

Northern Gateway or the Joint Review Panel - "Where is your supporter Elmer Derrick?" and "is he (Elmer) still on your buy out payroll?)

I think that peoples asking questions need to be repetitative on identifaction or Northern Gateway, Joint Review Panel or their lawyers will say - What or who are you talking about.

luc February 26th 2013 | 6:18 PM

This kind of breathless "reporting" is the result of under education,(only has one feild of study) and the demand of the masses for entertainment. There has never been a shortage of doomsday prophets, and with millions of climate "guru's" competeing for jobs, it's no wonder the media can find stories like this to publish.Just as the oil companies only care about business, so do the media only care about selling papers.The more drama the better. I wonder if she ever worked for the National Enquirer?

luc February 26th 2013 | 6:18 PM

RUNAWAY,CATASTROPHIC, WOW WHAT AN EYE CATCHING HEADLINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   DRAMA SELLS, AM I RIGHT?  DEATH,DESTRUCTION,ROASTING AND TOASTING,BURNING AND CHURNING.STORMS AND TSUNAMI'S,HAIL AND BRIMSTONE WITH SATAN DRIVING IT ALL.LOOK OUT YOU EVIL OIL BARONS,THE EARTH WILL EXACT REVENGE ON YOUR CHILDRENS CHILDREN.THUNDER CLOUDS AND LGHTNING, COMING SOON, FOLLOWED BY FLOODS AND VALCANOES.BUILD YEE AN ARK, AND PREPARE FOR THE END FOOLS.

Lee L. May 31st 2013 | 7:19 PM

It was around 1998 or so that the idea of 'runaway global warming' was selected as a headline by an ignorant media.

There had been some warming prior to 98, and the enviro alarmists jumped on the concept with a shrill fervour.  James Hansen was and continues to be a key driver of these ideas.

Unfortunately, it is now clear that for the entire time that the repetitious drumbeat of enviro activists has been pounding out the message of future doom due to 'runaway warming' and 'accelerating warming', that there actually has been no global warming.  That is not to say there WASNT some warming.   But it does make the shrill seem less convincing when you realize that there ISNT warming at present.

This was  unexpected.  Hansen and Trenberth muse about 'missing heat' and move on to 'climate dice'.  Nonetheless, the warming is on hiatus while emissions, especially from China and soon India, continue to skyrocket.

That's about the only thing I see that is 'accelerating'.

Jeffrey Simpson August 21st 2013 | 10:10 AM

I love reading the climate deniers musings. They remind me of Christie Clark when asked about this or that or the other, she always replied with "The economy is our chief concern...", every time. Same with climate deniers. They complain that scientists will not say something will definitely happen in the future. True enough, but scientists will say that there is a high probability of something happening. If you doubt that climate change is happening, follow what the USA military does. For example, the massive naval base in Norfolk, Virginia, the largest naval base in the USA, has spent hundreds of millions raising all their piers to accommodate sea level rise. Vancouver, are you listening. Evidently we are one of the 20 cities in the world most at risk of drastic flooding from sea level rise. The new convention centre in downtown Vancouver will not be around for decades as planned. There is a high probability it will be underwater before us taxpayers have finished paying for it!