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. Part 2 here
Few are aware Canada’s GDP shot up from an average of $600 billion per year in the 1990s to more than $1.7 trillion in 2012. This near tripling of the GDP is largely due to fossil fuel investments and exports.
However not many Canadians are three times wealthier. For one thing GDP is only a measure economic activity. The other reason is that little of this new wealth stayed in Canada. And what did stay went to a small percentage of the population, worsening the gap between rich and poor.
One of the hallmarks of a “petro-state” is that while a country’s energy industry generates fantastic amounts of money, the bulk of its citizens remain poor. Nigeria is a good example. Canada’s poverty rates have skyrocketed in step with the growth of the energy sector. One Canadian child in seven now lives in poverty, according to the Conference Board of Canada, the country’s foremost independent research organization.
Income inequality increased faster than the US, with the rich getting richer and poor and middle class losing grounds over the past 15 to 20 years, the Conference Board also reported January 2013.
“Most of Canada’s increase in wealth went to the big shareholders in the resource industries,” says Daniel Drache, a political scientist at Toronto’s York University. “It mainly went to the elites.”
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.”
[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 →
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 →
The tar sands in Alberta, Canada. Credit: howlmonteal/cc by 2.0
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 16 2013 (IPS)
The largest climate rally in U.S. history is expected Sunday in Washington DC with the aim of pressuring President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
Activists are calling Keystone “the line in the sand” regarding dangerous climate change, prompting the Sierra Club to suspend its 120-year ban on civil disobedience. The group’s executive director, Michael Brune, was arrested in front of the White House during a small protest against Keystone on Wednesday.
“The Keystone XL pipeline is part of the carbon infrastructure that will take us to dangerous levels of climate change,” said Simon Donner, a climate scientist at the University of British Columbia.
To permit the pipeline would represent a heartbreaking acquiescence to climate change on the part of President Obama and our national leaders.
“By itself, Keystone won’t have much of an impact on the climate, but it is not happening on its own,” Donner told IPS.
Carbon emissions are increasing elsewhere, and the International Energy Agency recently warned humanity is on a dangerous path to four degrees C of warming before the end of this century. Children born today will experience this. Preventing that dire future is inconsistent with expanding tar sands production, Donner said.
A new study released this week revealed that the volume of Arctic sea ice is declining rapidly. Ice volume has fallen 80 percent since 1980, according to the latest data from European Space Agency satellite, CryoSat-2. Summers with a sea ice-free Arctic are only a few years away, scientists now agree. This will have significant and permanent impacts on weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere.
“Keystone XL is the key to opening up the expansion of the tar sands industry,” said Jim Murphy, senior counsel with the National Wildlife Federation.
“By rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, we can keep this toxic oil in the ground,” Murphy said in a statement.
Re-engineering our societies to prosper on green alternatives is only option
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 4 2013 (IPS)
Around the world, 2012 was the year of extreme weather, when we unequivocally learned that the fossil fuel energy that powers our societies is destroying them. Accepting this reality is the biggest challenge of the brand new year.
Re-engineering our societies and lifestyles to prosper on green alternatives is the penultimate challenge of this decade.There is no more important task for all of us to engage in because climate change affects everything from food to water availability.
A number of scientific analyses have demonstrated we already have the technology to re-engineer our society to thrive on green alternative energy. The newest of these was published Wednesday in the prestigious journal Nature. It plainly states that politics is the real barrier, not technology nor cost. (It is far cheaper to act than not.)
Keeping global warming to less than two degrees C is mainly dependent on “when countries will begin to take serious action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”, according to the study “Probabilistic cost estimates for climate change mitigation”.
Climate change has already pushed global temperatures up 0.8 degrees C, with significant consequences. No climate scientist thinks two degrees C will be “safe”. Many countries, especially least-developed countries and small island states, want the global target to be less than 1.5C of heating. Even then large portions of the Arctic and Antarctic will continue to melt raising sea levels, albeit at a slower rate.
Delay in making the shift to non-fossil fuel energy sources will be very costly. Waiting until 2020 to curb global emissions will cost twice as much compared with peaking emissions by 2015, the Nature analysis shows.
“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.
“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.
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.”
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.
+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.