Experts call Canada's climate bluff

Canadian politicians may want the world to believe the country has a clean climate record, but environmental experts say nothing could be further from the truth. Prominent Canadian and U.S. climate scientists and activists said in a press call moderated by renown environmentalist Tzeporah Berman that the Canada-US Keystone XL pipeline would lock Canada into oil sands production at a rate that could destroy the planet. 

Pressure to build the pipeline has been mounting, with Washington-based Canadian ambassador Gary Doer telling Postmedia news today that the "silent majority" of American citizens does want the Keystone XL pipeline to happen. But author and founder Bill McKibben asserts that opposition toward the pipeline is deeper than politicians realize.

"Because there's been such widespread resistance from civil society to public opposition against Keystone and Enbridge Northern Gateway, the Canadian government is come up with a mathematical formula that somehow makes it alright to do something that [nearly] every scientist says makes no sense, and that is to expand the tar sands of Alberta," McKibben said.
 In a story that went viral last year in Rolling Stone magazine, McKibben explained the numbers that were necessary to keep in mind as the world's temperature continues to rise, causing abnormal weather and disruption of ecosystems. 
One of those numbers, he noted, was two degrees Celsius: the world needs to somehow find a way to remain below the two degree limit to prevent catastrophic drought, extreme weather and rising sea levels. 
"When you're in a hole, the first rule of holes is stop digging. In this case, literally stop digging in the tar sands because there's simply too much carbon up there to jive with what physics tells us we have to do," he said. 
Dr. John Abraham,  a scientist at University of St. Thomas School of Engineering, warned that putting in infrastructure such as the Keystone XL pipeline would "lock" the world into going 

"Even tar sands that some people say aren't recoverable now could be in the future," he said, noting that Alberta had huge oil reserves surpassing those of the world's largest oil-exporting country, Saudi Arabia.

"Keystone XL would lock us into a long-term commitment of emitting CO2, burning just about the dirtiest of the a time when we should be looking at expanding renewable energy." 

As for the argument that there was an economic cost to rejecting Keystone XL, Abraham argued that there were further costs to approving the pipeline.
"We have $100 billion in combined impacts of superstorm Sandy and the droughts this past year," he said. "The tar sands is the worst of the worst. If we can't say no to this, then what can say not to?"

Berman, meanwhile, responded to The Vancouver Observer's question about the international interests in Alberta's oil sands, particularly in the context of the proposed China-Canada Foreign Investment Protection Act (FIPA). Berman said the agreement itself was undemocratic and that Canadians have been shut out of the discussion about a deal that could enable Chinese oil companies to sue Canada for millions of dollars if a project such as Enbridge Northern Gateway were to be struck down. 

On the topic of cleaner oil sands, which she discussed in a previous Globe and Mail column, Berman noted: 

A cleaner oil sands in and of itself is not enough. We need to cap it, clean it up and transition out of dirty oil and to a cleaner economy.  
"This will take time an in the meantime it is a scandal that the government doesn't even require the oil companies to use beat existing technology reduce emissions and toxic sludge."

More in Earth Matters

What to do when the IPCC gets you down

There's only so much end of the world you can take. Here's what you can do about it.

Learning the language of climate solutions

If someone had told me how hard learning another language was I wouldn't have tried.

Failure not an option for climate movement

Saying the climate movement is a failure and we should give up is not an option.
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.