We have to choose - will it be the survival of mankind or will it be whatever wealth we can extract from the Athabasca Tar Sands? It seems to be an "either-or" proposition, at least according to a leading voice on global warming, the NASA Goddard Space Laboratory director James Hansen.
Hansen's warning, in a letter he wrote in June, is about as stark as it gets:
...exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts. The tar sands are estimated (e.g., see IPCC AR4 WG3 report) to contain at least 400 GtC (equivalent to about 200 ppm CO2).
Easily available reserves of conventional oil and gas are enough to take atmospheric CO2
well above 400 ppm. However, if emissions from coal are phased out over the next few decades
and if unconventional fossil fuels are left in the ground, it is conceivable to stabilize climate.
Phase out of emissions from coal is itself an enormous challenge. However, if the tar
sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over. There is no practical way to capture
the CO2 emitted while burning oil, which is used principally in vehicles.
Governments are acting as if they are oblivious to the fact that there is a limit on how
much fossil fuel carbon we can put into the air. Fossil fuel carbon injected into the atmosphere
will stay in surface reservoirs for millennia.
...prior government targets for limiting human-made global warming are now known to be
inadequate. Specifically, the target to limit global warming to 2°C, rather than being a safe
"guardrail", is actually a recipe for global climate disasters.
When will Bob Rae and whoever is leading the NDP next week stand up and say that Athabasca has to be stopped? Yes, that would have significant impacts on Alberta's economy and the federal government's larder but that pales into irrelevance when contrasted with the toll that Tar Sands emissions will exact on the people of our planet, especially those who are already reeling from climate change effects caused by global warming. Others pay for our windfall with their lives. By what moral right can we demand they forfeit their future, their very lives? Just what sort of creatures have we Canadians become?
Bill McKibbon asked that very question last month in The Globe & Mail. How did Canadians allow themselves to become defined by the bitumen pits of Fort Mac? Why have we chosen to become indifferent to the point of catatonic? How did we come to turn our backs on our own future generations and mankind itself?