Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Our Comment in Nature calling for oil sands moratorium

Here is the press release for our Nature paper, released June 25, calling for a moratorium on oil sands expansion. This means no loss of current jobs in the oil sands. But it does mean a return to sanity from this selfish rush to accelerate global warming, ocean acidification and ecological destruction - events that will lead to huge economic and social costs according to a just-released study by the World Bank. It does mean that we should not build new pipelines like Keystone XL, Northern Gateway and others.

Press release:

Scientists call for a Halt to Oil Sands Expansion Until Policies Address True Costs and Global Impacts.

A Comment published today in the journal Nature calls for a moratorium on new oil sands projects in Alberta, Canada due to flaws in how oil sands decisions are made. The authors are a multidisciplinary group of economists, policy researchers, ecologists, and decision scientists. They argue that the controversy around individual pipelines like Keystone XL in the US or Northern Gateway in Canada overshadows deeper policy flaws, including a failure to adequately address carbon emissions or the cumulative effect of multiple projects. The authors point to the contradiction between the doubling of the rate of oil sands production over the past decade and international commitments made by Canada and the US to reduce carbon emissions. “The expansion of oil sands development sends a troubling message to other nations that sit atop large unconventional oil reserves,” said lead author Wendy Palen, Assistant Professor at Canada’s Simon Fraser University. “If Canada and the United States continue to move forward with rapid development of these reserves, both countries send a signal to other nations that they should disregard the looming climate crisis in favor of developing the most carbon-intensive fuels in the world.” The authors point out that oil sands development decisions (e.g. pipelines, railways, mines, refineries, ports) made in isolation artificially restrict public discussions. Debate in the news media and during hearings for individual projects are limited to evaluating the short-term costs and benefits to the local economy, jobs, environment and health, and do not account for the long-term and cumulative consequences of multiple projects or of global carbon pollution. Co-author Joseph Arvai, Professor and Research Chair in decision science at the University of Calgary, explained the problem. “Individual projects – a particular refinery or pipeline – may seem reasonable when evaluated in isolation, but the cumulative impacts of multiple projects create conflicts with our commitments to biodiversity, aboriginal rights, and controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Though we have the knowledge and the tools to do better – to more carefully analyze these tradeoffs and make smarter long-term choices – so far governments have not used them.” A moratorium would create the opportunity for Canada and the United States to develop a join North American road map for energy development that recognizes the true social and environmental costs of infrastructure projects as well as account for national and international commitments to reduce carbon emissions. Anything less “demonstrates flawed policies and failed leadership”, the authors state.


Wendy J. Palen
Department of Biological Sciences
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada

Thomas D. Sisk
Landscape Conservation Initiative
School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability
Northern Arizona University
Flagstaff, Arizona

Maureen Ryan
School of Resource and Environmental Management
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada

Joseph L. Árvai
Department of Geography
University of Calgary
Calgary, AB, Canada

Mark Jaccard 
School of Resource and Environmental Management
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada 

Anne Salomon
School of Resource and Environmental Management
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada

Thomas Homer-Dixon
Balsillie School of International Affairs
University of Waterloo
Waterloo, ON, Canada

Ken Lertzman
School of Resource and Environmental Management
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

My review in Science of Nordhaus' new book

Stay tuned for a link to soon appear (awaiting approval) of my just released review in Science of Bill Nordhaus’ new book, The Climate Casino.

Monday, 18 November 2013

New unabated coal is not compatible with keeping global warming below 2°C

I have written frequently to explain how dramatic expansion of unconventional oil like bitumen in Canada is found by all leading international analysts to be inconsistent with the 2 C limit our political leaders promise to strive for. The same is true for any expansion of coal-fired power plants. For this reason, I agreed to sign my name to this statement by leading researchers on the urgent need for no new coal plants, anywhere in the world, unless they capture and store the carbon pollution. We can no longer allow the construction of new, unabated coal plants. Our press release is below. Click here to see the full report.

Scientists expose coal industry’s false claims about "high efficiency" coal: No more room for new unabated coal

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

It’s the climate, not the oil spill

Sorry, folks, but if you care about the environment – the planet for that matter – your strategy to stop oil pipelines is futile if its only focus is oil spills on land and sea. You may stop one or two poorly conceived projects, but you won’t stop industry expansion. There is too much money to be made in a world that allows carbon pollution to remain largely unpriced and unconstrained.

Difficult as it is to get the attention of enough people to influence our political process into acting on climate, there is unfortunately no other way to win this long-term battle than to focus on the fact that carbon pollution changes the climate – for the worse – and so we must stop the expanding extraction of fossil fuels from the earth’s crust. No expansion of oil sands. No new coal mines. No new delivery infrastructure like pipelines and coal ports. No aiding and abetting of the carbon pollution that will wreak havoc on the environment everywhere – not just the environment in the path of pipelines, tankers and trains.

Curiously, one environmental activist sort-of acknowledged this when she said to me, “We have to focus on local environmental impacts from oil spills because that’s all the public is interested in. But, yes, I don’t think we have slowed down fossil fuel expansion – if anything it is accelerating.” My response? “How can you expect enough people to talk about climate if even you aren’t talking about it?”

(Note that I keep saying “enough people.” We don’t need 50% of the population demanding action. If 10% really care and get vocal, then politicians, ever in pursuit of the swing-voter, have to pay attention – their survival instincts kick-in.)

While I have been saying this for a long time, the urgency of the message got stronger this past week with the launch of National Energy Board hearings into Enbridge’s proposed reversal of an oil pipeline (Line 9) to move more oil from Alberta’s oil sands east through Ontario and Quebec – again to aid and abet oil sands expansion. The NEB – and the government, and the oil industry – only wants to hear evidence and testimony about local impacts. They don’t want anyone mentioning the fact that the impacts of climate change are local – everywhere!

Forest Ethics and Donna Sinclair are challenging in court the rules that the NEB has for allowing evidence and testimony and asked me to provide an affidavit on the direct causal relationship between oil sands, pipelines, climate change and environmental impacts everywhere, which obviously includes people living near the pipeline – and far from the pipeline. In it I explain how all of the world’s leading, independent energy-economy modeling institutes show that the promise of Stephen Harper and other global leaders to not allow temperature increases greater than 2 C is completely inconsistent with expansion of oil sands, coal mines and other fossil fuel projects that lead to carbon pollution. Take a look and if you like it, please pass on to others.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

European fuel regulations and Canadian hypocrisy: My trip to Europe with Jim Hansen

Prime Minister Harper promised in 2006 to reduce Canadian emissions 20% by 2020 (in 2009 he changed it slightly to 17%). Only two policy approaches can achieve this: emissions pricing or regulations (or a combination). But he rejected emissions pricing, whether carbon tax or cap-and-trade. So this leaves regulations on technologies and fuels, which he promised. However, he has not implemented regulations to achieve his 2020 target, and, according to Canada’s Auditor General, even an immediate aggressive effort is unlikely to succeed – he only has 7 years left after doing virtually nothing since making the promise 7 years ago. In any case, he is instead promoting rapid expansion of the Alberta oil sands, which, according to Environment Canada, will leave Canadian emissions in 2020 at least 7% above rather than 17% below their 2006 level.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The Doublespeak of the Dirty Carbon Economy

I wrote this piece which appeared as an Op-Ed in the Vancouver Sun and in the Huffington Post Canada edition via DeSmog Canada on August 13, 3012.

George Orwell used parody and caricature to expose the propaganda lies of the fascists and communists who threatened humanity in the mid-20th century. Today, his talents are badly needed to counter the propaganda of corporate executives who seek self-enrichment by accelerating the burning of the coal, oil and gas here and abroad.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The right use of carbon tax revenue? Sorry, there isn’t one

It never ceases to amaze me that some people can be so utterly certain about the right answer to questions that don’t have simple answers. The answer to “What is one plus one?” is simple. The answer to “How should we use carbon tax revenue?” is not. And for good reason.

To reduce carbon pollution we need to price it or regulate the technologies and fuels that cause it. We could just regulate. We could just price. But we know we have to do one or both to seriously reduce the pollution that causes global warming. After that, the certainty dissipates rapidly as each jurisdiction tries to mesh its carbon pollution policies with its other policy goals, the preferences of its voters, and the actions of its major trading partners.