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

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Bob Ward, from the London School of Economics comments:  

" As the IEA points out, we have little chance [of avoiding the point of no return] if we continue to lock-in fossil fuel sources of energy today … the window of opportunity for action has almost closed."

And, of course, the world’s most important climate scientist, James Hansen of NASA, said that the plan by private oil corporations to radically expand extraction of climate damage out of the tar sands will mean “game over” for our climate. 

Here is a rough estimate of the climate damage the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline would enable. It can viewed either as the costs which Enbridge proposes to externalize, or it can be seen as how the project is no longer economically viable if those costs are internalized through a price of carbon.

The new flow of tar sands oil through this pipeline would result in the release of around 150 million tons of CO2 per year. That is nearly triple all the climate pollution emitted by people of BC from all their fossil fuel burning. Nearly triple. Over thirty years, the proposed pipeline would enable more than four billion tonnes of CO2.

Several reports, including those from the federal government, the BC provincial government and energy economists conclude that a carbon price of between $100 to $200 will be needed by 2020 to meet our climate commitments. Using $100 as a very conservative estimate of the damages caused by climate pollution over the next 30 years, we can estimate over $400 billion of climate damages enabled by this pipeline if built. I would likely be glad to support Enbridge infrastructure choices if the climate costs were internalized with a carbon tax of $150 per ton. But $400 billion of climate damages must not be foisted onto the public.

Let’s look at where we are now:

  • Records show that extreme summer temperatures are 50 times more frequent now.

  • Global food prices are teetering at record levels because of extreme weather events around the world.

  • Hurricane Katrina smashed into a coastal city causing more than $100 billion in damages the most costly weather event in history and Hurricane Sandy brought over $60 billion in damages to NY and NJ.

  • The sea ice in the arctic is collapsing at breathtaking speed and the spring snow cover in Canada, USA and Russia is disappearing.

  • These two events are driving increased global warming beyond our direct control.

  • Warmer winters are releasing pine beetles into vast tracks of our forests. Half the pines in BC are dead and the western boreal is dying faster than it is growing back. Continued warming will release pine beetles into the boreal at which point they will eat our Canadian forests from coast to coast.

I could go on for hours about clear and present climate dangers, but you get the picture that Northern Gateway would help paint: runaway catastrophic climate change with massive death, destruction and extinction. Again and again climate change is out-racing worst case scenarios and costing humans billions of dollars in BC and around the globe.

Enbridge might be money-blind enough to not care, although if they love their kids, and I’m sure they do, they might want to think things through in a different way.

But the Government of Canada can’t expect us, our children, their future, and the incredible biological diversity of the world to pay Enbridge’s tab of hundreds of billions of dollars.

It’s just wrong.

In a best case scenario, the world will put a price on carbon, oil sands expansion will become unprofitable and the Northern Gateway Pipeline would be a huge investment loss and a stranded asset.

In the worst case scenario, the Northern Gateway pipeline hastens the end of the world as we know it.

Either way, it is against the national interest and morally wrong.

Over the holiday, I picknicked with my extended family on a beach. A seagull grabbed a plastic bag smeared with peanut butter from my backpack and I thought to myself, there is no way that a plastic bag that originated in my kitchen is going to end up in the ocean. So I chased the seagull up and down the beach for about ten minutes, not knowing what good it would do but knowing that I had to do what I could. After ten minutes of chasing, the sea gull landed next to another group of picknickers for protection. Four other seagulls landed next to my seagull and caused it to drop the plastic bag. A little boy who had watched me chase the seagull for so long, grabbed the plastic bag and ran down the beach to give it to me.

This event reminded me that sometimes you just have to do what you can to prevent harm even if you aren’t sure how it can help, and that can create the opportunity for good things to happen.

I’m determined to prevent the harm of the Enbridge pipeline from occurring and will not be surprised if the JRP’s report provides the opportunity for good things to happen for Canada, like investment in renewable energy infrastructure.

Thank you for your public service.  

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