Friday, November 11, 2011
Shutting Down the Tar Sands
We have no defensible choice but to end the development of the Athabasca Tar Sands.
The 'best case scenario' International Energy Agency analysis released a few days ago warns we're on course to exhaust our atmosphere's safe carbon-carrying capacity by 2017. After that, the report maintains, we will have foreclosed our last hope of avoiding cataclysmic global warming-driven climate change.
So what's wrong with Canada's position on the Tar Sands? Plenty.
We in the West are terrified of an emerging economic superpower such as India going full bore into fossil fuel energy, especially coal. India's per capita carbon footprint is minuscule compared to any Western nation's, especially if they're North American. An Indian carbon footprint approaching our own would unquestionably doom mankind. So we can't be having any of that. India will just have to forego its uppity aspirations.
The history of man-made atmospheric carbon contamination dates back to the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of cheap, abundant fossil fuel energy, primarily coal. Cheap fossil fuel energy has, over two centuries, underwritten the West's transformation from agrarian states into enormously wealthy industrial behemoths. During all but the past twenty years, little was understood of the link between industrial-scale carbon emissions and global warming, what is known as AGW or anthropogenic global warming. In the process, the West consumed well more than half our atmosphere's total carbon-carrying capacity.
We can say we didn't know any better but that doesn't sell very well in the emerging economies. They want the same opportunities or at least as much as they can achieve having arrived at the Prosperity Ballroom at last call. We know and they know that they can't repeat our 200-year long fossil fuel bacchanal. They're not northern countries like us. Mostly they're in tropical or sub-tropical zones that stand to be particularly hard hit by climate change.
So, for the sake of the future of our civilization, we want the emerging economies to show restraint when, from their perspective, they're only just getting started. This gives rise to an eminently sound argument that if the West wants them to show restraint, the West, which has had the benefits that flowed from creating this crisis, has to show even more restraint. Fair is fair. But how do we do that? There's only one way. We have to bring our carbon footprints into line with theirs. And we can't do that without breaking our fossil fuel addiction and, according to the IEA warning, in less than six years.
What do we do to show our good faith, our willingness to mend our destructive ways? We go to the tar pits to dig up bitumen, the dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet.
Now remember the Prosperity Ballroom, fossil fuel 'last call' argument? The emerging economies can't replicate the West's fossil fuel binge precisely because they showed up too late. The genie is out of the bottle. We know better now. Sorry, at this late stage, that can't be done.
Yet Canada thinks it's exempt from the last call business. Fossil fuel production, no matter how filthy the product, is somehow divorced from fossil fuel consumption. Really? What kind of twisted, sick mind can come up with that tortured logic? Surely that is a distinction without a difference. It's a gossamer-thin contrivance at best but, then again, it need only be enough to allow us to look the other way. And so we have.
Back in the days when we "didn't know any better" bitumen extraction and processing might have made sense. Only back then it couldn't compete in cost or quality with abundant reserves of conventional crude oil. Only now, at last call, is bitumen economically viable but only to those willing to write off its environmental costs. This is something you can't afford to do at last call.
Now, for a little levity, here's the Denial Tango: