Canada’s Plan to Get Rich by Trashing the Climate

Canada's fossil fuel electricity has highest carbon emissions

By Stephen Leahy

Blame Canada is a four part series revealing how Canada has become a wealthy, fossil-fuelled energy superpower and an international climate pariah. For Part 1, click here.

Like every other country in the world, Canada has promised to help keep global warming to less than 2 degrees C. However Canada’s political and corporate leadership are committed to turning the country into a fossil-fuelled “energy superpower.”

With a drug lord’s just-providing-a-service hypocrisy Canada has openly declared it’s future is tied to the profits from dumping hundreds of millions of tonnes of climate-heating carbon into the atmosphere every year.

And the world’s new energy superpower plans to grow those annual emissions to 1.5 billion tonnes by 2020 giving one of the least populated countries a gigantic carbon bootprint.

Most of this climate-wrecking carbon energy will come from Canada’s tar sands located just underneath the pristine boreal forest and wetlands of northern Alberta. The oil industry likes to call them “oil sands,” although there is no liquid oil only a tarry bitumen mixed deep in the sandy soil.

With an estimated 170 billion barrels, the tar sands are the third largest crude oil reserves. Extraordinary efforts involving colossal amounts of water, heat, chemicals and machinery are needed to get the bitumen out of the ground and into pipelines. This the world’s largest industrial project with more than $300 billion invested since 2001 by the oil industry.

Nowhere has fossil energy expansion or investment been faster or larger. Environmental activists call it “Canada’s Mordor.”

Canada and US Spending Billions to Create Climate Chaos

tar sands pipeline protest signs

Welcome to Bizarro World

[This is a 2011 repost about Keystone XL and expansion of fossil fuel production while world’s nations are supposed to be reducing climate-wrecking emissions of carbon. — Stephen] 

Analysis by Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Aug 10, 2011 (IPS)

Canada and the United States are now the centre of Bizarro World. This is where leaders promise to reduce carbon emissions but ensure a new, supersized oil pipeline called Keystone XL is built, guaranteeing further expansion of the Alberta tar sands that produce the world’s most carbon-laden oil.

“It’s imperative that we move quickly to alternate forms of energy – and that we leave the tar sands in the ground,” the U.S.’s leading climate scientists urged President Barack Obama in an open letter Aug. 3.

“As scientists… we can say categorically that it’s [the Keystone XL pipeline] not only not in the national interest, it’s also not in the planet’s best interest.”

The letter was signed by 20 world-renowned scientists, including NASA’s James Hansen, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution, Ralph Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and George Woodwell, founder of the Woods Hole Research Center Continue reading

Killer Heat Waves and Floods Linked to Climate Change

More than 5 million affected by flooding in Pakistan Sept 2011 - a repeat of 2010.
More than 5 million affected by flooding in Pakistan Sept 2011 – a repeat of 2010.

“The first law of humanity is not to kill your children.”

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 27 2013 (IPS)

Killer heat waves, floods and storms are increasingly caused by climate change, new research reveals.

Scientists in Germany say they have found how greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels are helping to trap the jet stream, resulting in extraordinary weather such as the 2010 Pakistan flood and the 2011 heat wave in the United States.

Human-driven climate change repeatedly disturbs the flow of atmospheric waves around the globe’s Northern hemisphere, said lead author Vladimir Petoukhov of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany.rossby.waves1_

Giant atmospheric waves called Rossby waves are meanders in the strong, high-altitude winds known as jet streams and have a major influence on weather. These wave movements are caused by the difference in temperatures between the cold air from the Arctic and hot air from the tropics.

When the waves shift north, they suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the U.S., and when they swing down, they do the same thing with cold air from the Arctic, said Petoukhov.

“During several recent extreme weather events, these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks,” he said. “So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays.”

This unnatural pattern is due to human heating of the climate through emissions of greenhouse gases that result from burning fossil fuels, according to the study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

However, this heating of the atmosphere is wildly uneven. The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the global temperature rise of 0.8C and that affects the Rossby waves and is slowing the jet stream.

“(Our research) complements previous research that already linked such phenomena to climate change,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a co-author of the study. Continue reading

Jail Before Climate-Wrecking Tar Sands, Canadians Say

Tar sands protest Sept 2011, Ottawa Pic by R Leahy
Tar sands protest Sept 2011, Ottawa Pic by R Leahy

[Repost: After the rally against Keystone XL in Washington last Sunday, a reminder that Canadians are willing to be arrested to stop growth of climate-destroying tar sands. — Stephen ]

By Stephen Leahy

OTTAWA, Sep 27, 2011 (IPS)

More than 200 Canadians engaged in civil disobedience, with 117 arrested in Canada’s quiet capital city on Monday. The reason? To protest the Stephen Harper right-wing government’s open support for the oil industry and expanding production in the climate-disrupting tar sands.

The normally placid and polite Canadians shouted, waved banners and demanded the closure of the multi-billion-dollar tar sands oil extraction projects in northern Alberta to protect the global climate and the health of local people and environment.

“People are here because they know that if we don’t turn away from the tar sands and fossil fuels soon it will be too late,” Peter McHugh, a spokesperson for Greenpeace Canada, told IPS.

“The tar sands are unsustainable. Canadians are willing to shift away from fossil fuels but our government isn’t,” Gabby Ackett a university student and protester, told IPS as she stood in front of a long line of police.

In what was proudly touted as “civil” civil disobedience, protesters aged 19 to 84 were arrested for using a step-stool to climb a low barrier separating them from the House of Commons, the seat of Canadian government. The police were friendly and accommodating because the organisers had promised there would be no violence.

“We live downstream and see the affects of tar sands pollution on the fish and the birds,” said George Poitras, a former chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation in northern Alberta.

“Some our young people have rare forms of cancer,” Poitras told more than 500 protesters.

“Expanding the tar sands is not the way to go in a world struggling with climate change,” he said. Continue reading

America Bears Risks of Keystone XL – Canada Gets Dirty Oil Profits

Canada’s Alberta Tar Sands Mining Pits

“The only way Keystone XL could be considered in the national interest is if you equate that with profits for the oil industry”

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 2, 2011 (IPS)

With four times as many oil rigs pumping domestic oil today than eight years ago and declining domestic demand, the United States is awash in oil.

The country’s oil industry is primarily interested in who will pay the most on the global marketplace. They call that “energy security” when it suits, but in reality it is “oil company security” through maximising profits, say energy experts like Steve Kretzman of Oil Change International, an NGO that researches the links between oil, gas and coal companies and governments.

The only reason U.S. citizens may be forced to endure a risky, Canadian-owned oil pipeline called Keystone XL is so oil companies with billion-dollar profits can get the dirty oil from Canada’s tar sands down to the Gulf of Mexico to export to Europe, Latin America or Asia, according to a new report by Oil Change International released Wednesday.

“Keystone XL will not lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil, but rather transport Canadian oil to American refineries for export to overseas markets,” concludes the report, titled “Exporting Energy Security“.

Little of the 700,000 to 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil pumped through the 2,400-kilometre, seven-billion-dollar Keystone XL will end up in U.S. gas tanks because the refineries on the Gulf Coast are all about expanding export markets. One huge refinery operator called Valero has been touting the potential export revenues of tar sands oil to investors, the report found.

Because Keystone XL crosses national borders, President Barack Obama has to issue a permit declaring the pipeline serves the “national interest” in order to be approved.

“The only way Keystone XL could be considered in the national interest is if you equate that with profits for the oil industry,” said Kretzman, who wrote the report.

Canada’s huge tar sands deposits, located mainly in the far north of the province of Alberta, are the world’s second largest oil reserves, but they are landlocked. It’s the industry’s biggest worry and also Alberta Energy Minister Ron Lieper’s biggest concern.

Lieper recently said that without new pipelines “our greatest risk in Alberta is that by 2020 we will be landlocked in bitumen”. Bitumen is thick tarry oil from the tar sands that needs lots of high-energy and chemical processing to be useable – one reason it’s widely considered the world’s dirtiest oil.

The shortest route to the big Asian markets is through the Rocky Mountains to Canada’s west coast via the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. However, Canadian native people live on some of the land and are staunchly opposed, so the industry thought it would be easier to put an export pipeline right through the U.S. heartland, said Kretzman.

“The oil industry would have done the Northern Gateway first but gambled that resistance to the pipeline would be far weaker in the mid-west,” he told IPS.

They were wrong.

Thousands of people, including landowners and religious leaders, have gone to Washington DC in the past two weeks to tell President Obama to reject Keystone. Nearly 850 people have been arrested for standing on the sidewalk in front of the White House in what protesters call the largest civil disobedience in the history of the U.S. climate movement.

“It’s remarkable, a very dignified and moving protest much like the civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s,” said Maude Barlow, chairperson of the Council of Canadians, a large environmental NGO.

“This is about the rights of the environment and future generations. It is the blossoming of a new movement,” Barlow told IPS from Washington.

Other massive pipelines are being planned, including ones bringing tar sands crude to New England and the Great Lakes, she said. “Keystone is just the beginning. Once these are built they will have to put something in them.”

Infrastructure dictates policy, she stressed. Once pipelines, refineries or power plants are built, it is nearly impossible for governments to shut them down.

Last year, scientists writing in the journal Science concluded there is already enough fossil fuel burning capacity to raise global temperatures by 1.5 degrees C by 2060. Any additional power plants, vehicles, or other fossil fuel burning equipment built from 2011 onward puts humanity at ever greater risk of catastrophic climate change.

Carbon overload - have to stop expanding
Carbon overload – have to stop expanding

“We conclude that sources of the most threatening emissions have yet to built,” the scientists wrote.

The Obama administration knows this but the powerful oil lobby can use its unlimited funds to attack Democratic officials during the next election cycle if they don’t approve the pipeline, says Kretzman.

Changes to U.S. law in 2010 allow corporations to spend as much as they want on elections, and there is no sector with more money than the oil industry.

“That scares the hell out of the Obama administration,” he said.

It’s never been clearer that corporations wield the real power in the United States and Canada, activists say.

“This is the beginning of a very big fight for the future,” Barlow told IPS.

Originally published as U.S. Awash in Oil and Lies, Report Charges – IPS ipsnews.net.

Hurricane Sandy a Taste of More Extreme Weather to Come

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 2 2012 (IPS)

Killing nearly 200 people in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean and crippling much of New York City and surrounding areas earlier this week, Hurricane Sandy was the kind of extreme weather event scientists have long predicted will occur with global warming.

“Climate change is a reality,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo after Sandy swept through his state.

Sandy was twice the size of an average hurricane, and it hit the eastern coast of the United States, where sea levels have been rising the fastest, said Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Researchin Boulder, Colorado.

“All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be,” Trenberth, an expert on extreme events, told IPS.

Whether climate change caused Hurricane Sandy is the wrong question to ask, added Trenberth. He explained that climate change helped make Hurricane Sandy more destructive than it otherwise would have been.

“This is the new normal,” Trenberth said. “It doesn’t make sense to rebuild in some regions – they’ll just be swept away again.”

Sandy Says: “Bigger Superstorms Coming Unless Dial Down Thermostat”

Alaska temps in degrees F

I was born just over a week ago and more than 100 people have died in the US and Caribbean region as a result. For the rest of today please take care as I will continue to bring strong winds, heavy rains and snowfall from North Carolina to well into Canada. Some of the worst flooding hit Haiti in the hours after I’d passed by.

Read full post at Hurricane Sandy Speaks (crosspost)

Standing Up for the Planet and the Future: Time to Stop Using Fossil Fuels

Coal power plant – Alberta

+15,000 temperature records already broken in the US this year 

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 4, 2012 (IPS)

What are you doing on Saturday? Peter Nix, a retiree, will be standing on a railway track on Canada’s west coast blocking a coal train destined to ship U.S. and Canadian coal to Asia.

Nix will be joined by dozens of people near White Rock, British Columbia on May 5. They will be in good company as tens of thousands of people around the world participate in global day of action to “connect the dots” between climate change and extreme weather.

“There will be at least 1,200 actions in more than 100 countries,” says Jamie Henn, communications director for 350.org, a U.S.-based environmental group.

Please throw something in the tip jar before reading on. This is how I make my living.
There’s been a general perception that climate change is a future problem but with all the extreme weather disasters and weather records the public is being to realise that climate change is here, says Henn.

“Recent opinion surveys show the more than 60 percent of the U.S. public are connecting extreme weather to climate change,” Henn told IPS.

The U.S. public is not wrong, say scientists. 

“All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be,” Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, told IPS previously.  Continue reading

Thought Bubbles: Who Will Stand Up For Our Future on 5th of May?

Here’s a thoughtful article written by my son who is working on a farm in Tasmania. Normally he is a historical tour guide in Europe. He’s not part of any organization but just decided to take action for sake of his generation’s future.  It is amazing what he and his friends are up to. — Stephen 

By Derek Leahy

FRANKLIN, TASMANIA

I sat down in a café in Franklin, Tasmania the other day trying to sort out all that has transpired these past few weeks. You see, May 5thcould very well become a massive day of action. A lot of people from all over the world want to make their voices heard the week of May 5thInternational Stop the Tar Sands Day’s circle of friends just got bigger.

Anyway, I sat down in an practically empty café (Franklin is a pretty small town), opened up my journal to a blank page and took out a pencil. With the pencil I drew four separate thought bubbles on the page for four different campaigns or movements or whatever you want to call them.

The first was for 350.org’s Climate Impacts Day, which will take place the exact same day as ISTSDay; May 5th. The second thought bubble was for the Occupy Movement because members of Occupy in Canada and the UK have stepped up recently to help us out.

The last two bubbles were for International Stop the Tar Sands Day and for Ecocide. I threw in Ecocide because of an email I had received earlier in the day (thank you Kirstie for the inspiration!).  We have not talked to these guys about working together on May 5th. Yet.

Continue reading

Canada’s Harper Government Guts Environment, Science and Monitoring Programs

Man w picture of grandchild was arrested for protesting against tar sands expansion, Sept 2011 Ottawa, Canada - Pix by R Leahy

Environment budget slashed while PM Harper’s office places a gag order on government scientists. (And a $60 billion order for military equipment)

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 9, 2011 (IPS)

Canada’s Stephen Harper government is spending more than 60 billion dollars on new military jets and warships while slashing more than 200 million dollars in funding for research and monitoring of the environment.

Amongst the programmes now crippled is Canada’s internationally renowned ozone monitoring network, which was instrumental in the discovery of the first-ever ozone hole over Canada last spring. Loss of ozone has been previously linked to increases in skin cancer.

“The proposed cuts go so far the network won’t be able to do serious science,” said Thomas Duck, an atmospheric scientist at Halifax’s Dalhousie University.

Canada was the pioneer in ozone monitoring, developing the first accurate ozone measuring tool that led to the discovery that the world’s ozone layer was dangerously thinning in the 1970s, which in turn led to the successful Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances.

Canada has about one-third of the ozone monitoring stations in the Arctic region. It also hosts the world archive of ozone data, which is heavily relied on by scientists around the world.

“There’s only one guy running the entire archive, and he’s received a lay-off notice letter,” Duck told IPS.

Ozone monitoring and research is part of Environment Canada, the government department charged with protecting the environment, conservation and providing weather and meteorological information.

“Canada can’t afford to pay scientists but we can line the pockets of big oil?

That is totally backwards.”

Continue reading