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Climate Hustle

The Editor-in-Chief of Science Magazine is wrong to endorse Keystone XL

Posted on 3 March 2014 by Andy Skuce

An editorial by the Editor-in-Chief of Science Magazine, Marcia McNutt, conditionally endorses the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline. Her argument is that:

  • the absence of the pipeline has not stopped oil sands development and the building of the pipeline will not accelerate oil sands development;
  • President Obama can extract concessions from the Canadians to reduce emissions and upgrade the bitumen in Canada.

Both of these arguments are wrong; let me explain why.

Pipelines promote production

The Mildred Lake oil-sands plant in Alberta. Note the tailings pond behind the huge yellow piles of sulphur, a by-product of bitumen upgrading. The sulphur may come in handy later for use in solar radiation management. Photo Wikipedia

It should be obvious from the intense lobbying and advertising efforts of Canada's Federal Government, the Alberta Provincial Government and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers that the KXL pipeline is a very big deal indeed for those with a stake in expanding oil sands production. Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver accuses his domestic political opponents of putting tens of thousands of Canadian jobs at risk by urging Washington not to approve KXL. At least on this matter, he is right; without new transportation infrastructure, the massive investments that result in growth in oil sands production will be postponed or cancelled. But that's the message provided to a Canadian audience.

Yes, there are transportation alternatives to pipelines, but they are not at all favoured by the industry. Rail is, for one thing, more expensive, by perhaps $10 per barrel, which, even if that is not enough to make an oil sands project uneconomic, it does take a bite out of profits. It also reduces the margin of economic safety that producers would like to have as they look into the future at uncertain commodity prices and product discounts. There also needs to be massive investment in the oil-tanker rolling stock. The Lac-Mégantic tragedy brought home the danger of rail transportation and exposed the inadequacies of the DOT-111 tank cars, which make up the majority of the US and Canadian rail tanker fleet. According to this report, the shops that refit these tankers to safer standards are already at full capacity. Canadian railway companies CN and CP are adding a risk surcharge for shipping oil on these old, unsafe cars that will add $0.50 per barrel to transport costs.

As a result, some shippers fear the charges may erode the economics of shipping Canadian crude by rail, making it a less attractive option even as mid-stream companies invest billions of dollars to build more than 1 million barrels per day (bpd) worth of terminal and loading facilities in Western Canada.

Ceci n'est pas une pipe.

A DOT-111 tank car, which holds about 700 barrels.  Wikipedia

Meanwhile, there are reports of huge delays in passenger rail services due to oil shipments in North Dakota. No doubt, as oil sands products start to ship in greater quantities, the strain on the rail network and the disruption of other transportation will only get worse.

Of course, blocking or slowing the approval of specific bitumen transportation options is not going to prevent transportation by other means; by alternative pipelines, by rail, truck, ship or barge. But McNutt is wrong to assert that the pipeline will make no difference. For example, Brian Ferguson, the CEO of Cenovus Energy Inc, a major oil sands producer, said:

If there were no more pipeline expansions, I would have to slow down

The Final State Department Environmental Impact Statement argues that rail transport capacity can be scaled up quickly enough and, in some scenarios, the price difference between rail and pipelines is small (see page 1.4-90). But the oil men still don't want to ship their product by rail. They want a pipe and badly, one that ships 24/7, that isn't stopped by strikes or derailments, a system where they can make steady deliveries at fixed prices to the refineries on the Gulf Coast. It's about building a piece of infrastructure that will last decades and is dedicated to one purpose only, providing the certainty of delivering their product to market.

Admittedly, blocking the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure is an imperfect way of keeping carbon in the ground. Far better would be to reduce demand. McNutt claims that the delay in approving KXL has not stopped development in the oil sands; she's right, it has not stopped, but if we are to believe Canadian politicians and oilmen, restricting new transportation infrastructure does at least slow upstream development. 

Pipelines, political pressure and paralysis

McNutt argues, citing an article by Michael McElroy, that:

For example, President Obama, who has yet to decide on the pipeline, could put conditions on approval that require Canadian authorities to reduce the carbon intensity of extracting the tar from the oil sands and processing it into a liquid petroleum product.

It seems that President Obama has already been privately sending a message to Canadian leaders to take some action on reducing emissions in the oil and gas industry. Jeffrey Simpson writes in the Globe and Mail:

The [Canadian] government, as part of its fidelity to the interests of the bitumen industry, has pulled out all the stops. Mr. Harper and his ministers have visited the United States to give speeches and hold meetings. Money has been spent on advertising. The full diplomatic capabilities of the Canadian embassy and consulates have been pressed into action. By his own account, the Prime Minister has often raised the issue mano a mano with U.S. President Barack Obama.

Nothing has yet moved the U.S. administration, which in turn has sent repeated messages – some publicly, many more privately – that it would like (or need) some additional action on GHG reduction from Canada, including draft regulations on the oil-and-gas industry, to give Canada the answer it wants on Keystone.

The counter-offer from Canada is, nothing. Simpson continues:

And yet, despite these signals, months and then years have slipped by, with the Harper government, the Alberta government and the oil industry refusing to move on regulations promised more than seven years ago.

A classic rule of statesmanship is to listen to what your interlocutor needs to give you the answer you seek. But then this government, at home and abroad, does prefer lecturing to listening.

In an interview on CBC Radio on November 2nd, 2013, Alberta Premier Alison Redford is quoted as saying:

In Alberta, we’re not looking to increase our price on carbon unless there’s going to be a move from the United States. There has to be a quid pro quo.

McNutt is correct to say that that the decision on the pipeline gives President Obama leverage. But it hasn't worked, because Canadian politics is currently immovable on climate policy no matter how long the lever. Perhaps what is needed is not continued nudging, but a shock to the system by disallowing the pipeline altogether.

The Harper government has for years mocked its political opponents for their "job-killing carbon taxes" and, recently, PM Harper expressly congratulated Australian PM Tony Abbott for repealing his country's carbon tax. In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird angrily responded to a question from the Liberal Party:

“Why should taxpayers have to pay for more than 10 reports promoting a carbon tax, something that the people of Canada have repeatedly rejected?” he begged. “That is a message the Liberal Party just will not accept. It should agree with Canadians. It should agree with the government. No discussion of a carbon tax that would kill and hurt Canadian families.”

A Freudian slip, in the last sentence, probably. According to the scripted talking points he almost certainly meant to say "kill jobs and hurt Canadian families". Of course, one province in Canada does already have a popular and effective economy-wide carbon tax of $30/tonne of CO2e, British Columbia, where the economy is doing a little better than the Canadian average. Stephen Harper is an economist by training and must know that a carbon tax like BC's would be the most efficient way of reducing emissions. But he is a politician first and he cannot risk alienating his base in the Canadian Prairies and his backers in Canada's energy industry. He has dug himself a hole and there is no hope of constructive policies that would reduce emissions in the oil and gas sector as long as he is in office.

The situation in Alberta Government is, if anything, worse. Firstly, it should be acknowledged that Premier Alison Redford, like PM Harper, is not a climate-science denier. In fact, she won an election against her more conservative opponent Danielle Smith, because Smith said that she was unconvinced about the reality of climate change (Smith has since accepted reality). The problem in Alberta is that the government there sees no other option to balance its budget except by increasing bitumen royalties. Graham Thompson, in an excellent piece in the Edmonton Journal describes how it is that Canada's richest province, with a booming economy and full employment, can still barely manage to balance its books.

The problem, in a nutshell, is those fracking Americans. Because of the shale gas boom and falling prices, Alberta has seen a $12 billion per year income from natural gas royalties and lease sales in 2005 fall to about one-fifth of that in 2012. At the same time, bitumen royalties have stalled at around $3 billion, due partly to a glut in oil supply in the US mid-west, thanks to growing shale oil production in N Dakota and Texas, which has reduced the price captured by bitumen on US markets. Along with this, a booming provincial economy and a rising population is placing demands on government infrastructure spending. Redford is politically unable to raise income taxes or to impose a provincial sales tax, Alberta being the only Canadian province without one. 

The logic, if we can call it that, is that the only way out of this fiscal mess for Alberta is by increasing bitumen production and by narrowing the price gap between bitumen and other oil benchmarks through delivering the product to refineries in Texas and Asia. Upgrading the bitumen in Alberta is not economic (see here for further discussion and links) and would require government subsidies, which would not be not forthcoming from the small-government conservatives in power in Edmonton, even if the money were available. The Alberta government and the oil industry know that the most profitable strategy is to ship the product to existing heavy oil refineries with spare capacity in Texas. This is the fundamental business model behind Keystone XL and no amount of nudging from American politicians is likely to change this, despite what Marcia McNutt and Michael McElroy seem to think.

Technical options

McNutt claims that that "President Obama, who has yet to decide on the pipeline, could put conditions on approval that require Canadian authorities to reduce the carbon intensity of extracting the tar from the oil sands". Note the careful use of "carbon intensity" (emissions per barrel) rather than net emissions, which will surely rise on the current pathway, despite efficiency improvements. 

28-Oct-13 10-11-54 PM
In-situ oil sands operations are the fastest growing source of emissions in Canada. Canada’s Emissions Trends, Environment Canada, October 2013. Highlight added.

There are several options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands operations, particularly in the emissions-intense and rapidly growing in-situ methods, which use steam to heat up the bitumen in the reservoir in order to make it flow. The steam is currently produced by heating water with (currently cheap) natural gas. It might be possible to supplement or replace the natural gas with solar and wind power, geothermal energy or even nuclear energy. Cogenerating electricity in the steam plants could provide power to the grid to offset emissions from Alberta's coal-fired electricity. McElroy goes even further than McNutt: "With options like these [renewables, cogeneration], the president could stipulate that the well-to-wheel emissions associated with the tar-sands resource should not exceed the average emissions associated with current use of liquid fuels for transportation in the United States". This would amount, in practice, to telling Canadians to shut their industry down until a technological miracle occurs.

The most highly-touted solution to oil sands emissions is carbon capture and storage (CCS), in which the Alberta Government has invested large amounts of cash plus wads of hope and hype. Raphael Lopuchkine has just published two articles at DeSmog Canada: Alberta’s Carbon Capture and Storage Plans Stagnate as Carbon Price Lags and Government Subsidies Keep Alberta’s CCS Pipe Dream Afloat. He shows how Alberta's plans to reduce emissions through CCS are falling far behind schedule.

The fundamental problem, of course, is not that emissions cannot ever be reduced; it is that there are insufficient financial incentives for anyone to get serious about investing in the research and capital investment necessary. Alberta's existing carbon tax is very light, just $1.80/tonne on average and $15/tonne at the margin. As the Pembina Institute shows:

28-Oct-13 9-41-46 PM

The 40/40 proposal has been put on hold until the USA brings in a comparable tax, according to Premier Redford. Capturing and storing CO2 and making money doing it will require a carbon price of more than $50 per tonne.

McNutt and McElroy seem to imagine that their President can cajole a sovereign country to introduce taxes and emissions standards that he would be politically unable to effect in his own country. The fact is, the current Federal and Alberta governments are immovable on carbon pricing, at least until the US introduces its own. Until then, Obama should just say no to the Keystone XL pipeline.

A "no" to KXL would also send a strong message to the decision-makers in the oil companies. As they contemplate making huge long-term investments—investments so large that they have the potential to make or break their companies—they do not just consider the numbers calculated by their engineers and economists. They also have to weigh the unquantifiable uncertainties in an industry where business models frequently and rapidly get turned upside-down by unforeseeable changes in markets, technology or in the regulatory climate. A message from their biggest and, currently, only foreign customer that they don't need their bitumen will ring loudly in the Calgary boardrooms. There is nothing inevitable about growing investment in the oil sands. The money can go elsewhere, perhaps as dividends to shareholders or to investment in cleaner energy projects.

I drive a Prius and have solar panels on my house, but...

I drive a hybrid car and set my thermostat at 80°F in the Washington, DC, summer. I use public transportation to commute to my office, located in a building given “platinum” design status by the U.S. Green Building Council. The electric meter on my house runs backward most months of the year, thanks to a large installation of solar panels. I am committed to doing my part to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and minimize global warming.  Marcia McNutt

The Editor-in-Chief of the one of the world's most prestigious science journals should know that doing her part for minimizing global warming requires more than a few gestures which, although they set a good example, are inconsequential in terms of solving the problem. The science is quite clear: to limit global average surface warming to 2°C will require drastic and urgent changes to our energy systems along the lines of the RCP2.6 model. Other pathways, sticking closer to a business-as-usual trajectory, cross the 2°C threshold around 2050, at which time the KXL pipeline would only be halfway through its planned lifetime.

From the IPCC AR5 Summary for Policy Makers. Full size image with caption here.

It is so easy to get disoriented in discussing the minutiae: rail car specifications; different mixes of heavy oils; carbon offsets; cap-and-trade versus fee-and-dividend and so on, while losing sight of the overarching goal, which is not difficult to articulate: we have to leave most of the fossil fuel reserves in the ground. This means that, at the very least, especially in rich countries that already use more than their fair share of carbon, we should not be allowing the construction of infrastructure that facilitates—and locks in for decades—the production of new fossil fuel resources, particularly the especially dirty ones like the oil sands.

This probably sounds simplistic, even naïve and radical to people who have been successful in making their way through academic and government bureaucracies, where prudence, respectability and moderation are prized above all other traits. Paul Krugman calls such establishment figures, with irony, Very Serious People.

I recall watching a documentary, If a Tree Falls, about activists protesting and sabotaging the logging of the last old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. A logger and environmental activist, Bob Barton, observed:

The industry tends to call the environmentalists 'radical' but the reality is that 95% of the standing native forests in the United States have been cut down. It's not 'radical' to try and save the last five percent. What's 'radical' is logging 99 percent.

What is happening in the exploitation of the Alberta oil sands is not reasonable, it's radical. But it is not radical to say "enough"; it is actually prudent, respectable and moderate. Moreover, it is a position backed by science, but, sadly, not by Science.

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Comments

Comments 1 to 22:

  1. I think Andy Skuce has the politics backwards. If Obama says he'll approve the pipeline if Canada agrees to X, and Canada says no to X, then the pipeline won't be built and the blame will shift to the Canadaian government. 

    But more importantly, this is just the wrong battle. If you are opposing jobs, profits and market forces generally, you are more likely than not to lose. Skuce acknowledges that "blocking the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure is an imperfect way of keeping carbon in the ground." This should be central stategic point, not just a tangental remark. We need a price on GHG emissions, and that should be our central focus. Obama could say to the House GOP that he will support Keystone if they lower carporate taxes and add a carbon tax. This starts to shift the focus of the debate. 

    See, for example: 

    http://www.npr.org/2014/02/11/271537401/economist-says-best-climate-fix-a-tough-sell-but-worth-it 

    http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/699c1f18-8d79-11e2-a0fd-00144feabdc0.html

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  2. Thanks for this, from a Canadian and Albertan -- an excellent summation, revealling just how untenable our national and provincial position has become.  As one of the wealthiest nations and regions in the world, we must become part of the solution, not a determined outpost of bitterly destructive and short-sighted policies.  Our governments' utter determination to serve the interests of one industry to the exclusion of any other considerations will not be changed from inside Canada (opposition parties across the board support pipelines and continued development of the tar sands).  Those  of us  who see the endgame a little more clearly know that the sooner long-term economic and trade consequences of this obsession become clear, the better the chance that we and the world will manage to change direction and avoid catastrophic consequences.  

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  3. The US is increasing its own oil production faster than at any time in its history.  (See:  WSJ article).  The increased production is due to implementation of new techniques, i.e. horizontal drilling and fracking. 

    In this context, its hard to see how US political activists can single out Canadian tar sand oil production as something that, if expanded, means it is "game over" for the climate, while they remain basically silent about their own soaring oil and gas production. 

    Stopping Keystone XL can be seen as a trade issue, i.e. the US is attempting to limit the ability of Canada to trade in a commodity the US is expanding its own production of. 

    The Keystone XL campaign seems to have originated in the ideas of Jim Hansen, who came up with the its "game over" slogan.  In "Thoughts on Keystone XL", I wrote an analysis of Hansen's political ideas, by comparing the Hansen position to that of Stephen Chu.  Chu, when he was head of the US DOE supported Keystone. 

    In "Rethinking Keystone XL" I argued that Obama was actually looking for something significant and meaningful to do when he raised the topic of climate change in his 2nd Inaugural Address.  I suggested that the "movement" could, and should, tell him what that something is.  

    US activists could call on Obama, who still claims he is very interested in leaving a meaningful legacy on the climate issue, to implement regulation that would affect the price of all activities that emit carbon to the atmosphere that are engaged in on US soil. 

    PS.  In "Keystone XL, One Head of the Hydra" I attempted to show how the pipeline industry can work around a cancellation of the part of the Keystone XL activists are calling on Obama to stop.  It is a very flexible and fast moving industry. 

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  4. I agree that Ms McNutt drew the wrong conclusion, but I think that saying:

    "The Editor-in-Chief of the one of the world's most prestigious science journals should know that doing her part for minimizing global warming requires more than a few gestures which, although they set a good example, are inconsequential in terms of solving the problem.."

    is also an incorrect and/or gratuitous statement. 

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  5. As much as I agree with many points in this article, I think this is ultimately a meaningless battle to fight. Whether or not the Keystone XL pipeline is built will not significantly affect how much oil is taken out of the ground and produced worldwide. It will just mean some other oil company in some other country will pick up the slack. Your argument that if Obama says no to the Keystone XL it will send a strong message to oil companies.. well I'm not so sure about that when simultaneously U.S. oil and gas production has skyrocketed from the U.S.'s speedy adoption of fracking. Symbolic victories bedamned, what matters is the impact we have on saving our environment and I'm totally unconvinced this will keep any oil from being burned in the end

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  6. Nice summary, Andy.

    That "Summary for Policy Makers" chart really needs more airtime. It clearly shows how it is only a question of when, not if, there will be very serious global effects of our addiction to CO2 from any source, unless we can halt the climb by following something like RCP2.6. (Yeah, right.) 

    Unfortunately the biggest uncertainty about climate change is merely which generation will get the really short straw.

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  7. Mike@1 I agree that carbon pricing is the best solution, however it is off the table, politically speaking, in the US and Canada. Using KXL approval as a bribe to get the approval of the Republican Party or Canada's Conservatives for carbon pricing does not seem feasible to me. I would love to be persuaded that I am wrong on this.  

    Perhaps I should have emphasized carbon pricing more here, but, in my defence, I have written SkS articles on carbon taxes, in which I did not mention pipelines at all. 

    As for the idea that arguing against is a distraction from campaigning for carbon taxes or against coal, I would counter that with the observation that two of the most vocal campaigners against KXL, James Hansen and Bill McKibben, are hardly slouches when it comes to arguing for new policies or for the pressing need to stop burning coal. If only those who worry about activists being distracted did half as much as them. 

    davidnewell@4. Perhaps "inconsequential" was too strong, but I do object to somebody claiming that making a few relatively painless gestures means that they are doing their part, as if no more were required. When they then go on to shrug off the climate consequences of building a big new piece of fossil fuel infrastructure, the contrast is worth noting, I think. If anything is gratuitous, it is in starting out an editorial in a science journal by giving yourself a big, green pat on the back, as Marcia McNutt did. 

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  8. These 'discussions', 'debates' or 'arguments' cannot be allowed to occur without ensuring it is understood that developing a sustainable economy is essential and is fundamentally threatened by people getting away with benefiting from unsustainable and damaging activities.

    When you evaluate the merit of this pipeline from a perspective of sustaining the economy any clear thinking person concerned about developing sustained economic growth would quickly conclude that burning fossil fuels is a threat because it is a fundamentally unsustainable activity. All of humanity cannot develop to benefit from it. And even just a few most fortunate humans would not be able to continue to benefit from it for very much of the hundreds of millions of years humanity should be developing toward enjoying on this amazing planet. Its prevalence and persistence in the economy would clearly be seen as a problem. And the popularity and profitability of it would be seen as clear indications of fatal flaws in the way societies and economies have been set up by humans. It would become clear that people who only care about their own maximum short term benefit any way they can get away with have been winning and creating damaging desires among the population to be like them. And that desire leads to horrible conflicts between the undeserving rich and power over the limited opportunity they all want the most benefit form. And like the way they became rich and powerful they personally suffer very little in their battles. Others suffer the consequences, including future generations. And it would be clear that much of the current population is not clear thinking, but has the cloudy mind of the deluded, a mind that is unwilling to better understand what contradicts the delusion they are immersed in, unwilling to realize how harmful and unsustainable the activity they desire to benefit form really is.

    When you add to that clear reality the clear understanding of all the different damage caused by the unsustainable actions related to burning fossil fuels, not just the consequences of excess CO2, the unacceptability of prolonging the burning of fossil fuels for any purpose other than the rapid development of truly sustainable activity becomes crystal clear.

    And that clear headed caring and considerate understanding cannot be denied once it is realized. And it is a massive reality. The truth is most of the current rich and powerful do not deserve the wealth and power they have, and they are not interested in rapidly developing a sustainable better future for all. The reality is they will fight viciously to maintain the delusion among the population that protects them. They do not want it understood that 'their wealth' is undeserved.

    That leads to the clear understanding that this is not a debate about a pipeline. It needs to be approached as a fight to create clear thinking minds in as many people as possible, because the undeservingly wealthy are fighting to maintain the popular beliefs that are so profitable for them. And their actions ware clear in the Bush Presidency and the Harper days in Canada. When the Conservative Movement are able to get control of government they shut down any research that would contradict their interests and silence any reporting of government research that contradicts their interest and promote the desire among the population for 'a job, any job'.

    This is not a debate about a pipeline. It needs to be seen as a battle in the war for the future of humanity, because that is what it really is. Those fighting for the development of caring and considerate civil society, and protection of consumers from harmful pursuits of profit, and all others fighting for environmental protection are fighting the same war. The delusion that the focus on the pursuit of personal benefit will actually result in any meaningful legitimate benefit for humanity must end.

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  9. As a follow-up. The attitude of 'pursuing the best way to help others, particularly future generations', needs to be more popular than 'the pursuit of personal benefit'. There should be competition but it should be restricted to the development of the best understanding of what is going on and the most rapid development of a sustainable better future for all. Any unsustainable or damaging activity should only be allowed if it is clearly only an emergency short-term use with all benefit clearly going toward the development of a sustainable better future for all. And enjoying life and having fun is important, but it should never be done in a way that harms others (or the environment), or is done in a way that everyone else, especially all future generations, could not also do if they wished to.

    Anyone who does not share that attitude should only have one clear choice, changing their mind.

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  10. LINK

    Land Use Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Conventional Oil Production and Oil Sands

    Environ. Sci. Technol. 2010, 44, 8766–8772

    energy source ------------net carbon/GHG changes (year 1 to 150)
    ------------------------------------(tonne CO2e/ha)
    oil sands - mining---------------------3596 (953-6201)
    % of total fuel life cycle emissions----------4 (.9-11)

    Data used in Congressional Research Analysis of Canadian Tar Sands
    http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42537.pdf

     

     



     

    oil sands - miningc,d,e,f

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    Moderator Response:

    [RH] Hotlinked URL.

  11. Good summary of a complex topic. It seems Science was not sufficiently castigated a) for getting the net effect of the science and economics wrong, b) for taking a political stand if not for the purpose of correct scientific consideration. If you are going to take a position representing science, it better be overwhelmingly correct. 

    On the other hand it seems that science, and the scientific mind are less than perfect. It seems a lot of the traditions of science are myopic in the effort to remain disciplined. It is easy to be disciplined if one stays in an scientifically intellectual rut. That is the situation of the environmental mentality. It seems the "can do" attitude is missing. Yes, the title and objective of this website is to be skeptical, but does that mean completely blind to alternate solutions?

    Sadly it seems to be. I am so frustrated that a genuine (hypothetical) solution like Pluvinergy have received so little support, or even consideration from this community. The real objective of correcting the denialist community should be to offer real solutions, not just preventing them from denying reality. The way to fight is defend, run, or attack. We need to attack. Wind and PV are not real alternatives. Effeciency can go a heck of a long way to slove the problem, but it is not the solution either. Having an economics background, I full favor a strong carbon tax, but that is just a good start. The reason we are developing the tar-sands despite their awful economics and environmental effects is that wind and PV are not that much better. Check the numbers. This is why they need subsidy. The rest of the solutions are also imptent, we must lowe the price of energy by orders of magnitude, while repairing the biosphere at the same time. We can do it, if we try.

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  12. Marcie McNutt.  Talk about nominative determinism.  I can't count the number of people I know that are named Fisser, Fisher, Pike and so forth who are in fisheries research.  Must be something in it.

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  13. Marcia McNutt's attempt to paint herself as a champion of reduced emissions is certainly pathetic. She explicitly ("I drive a Prius") acknowledges that she supports a society and civilisation that is ruining the life of future generations (and probably existing ones). I strongly suspect that most of her lifestyle choices negate the small things she thinks she's doing to contribute to a reasonable response the crisis of our time.
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  14. Andy,

    I'm in basic agreement with Mike@1 and David@3 on this. I too tried to post comment yesterday pointing out that a carbon tax is the key. Somehow, when I hit submit, it disappeared into the planetary ether.

    My basic problem with the way some--including you and Hansen--are laying out the debate is that your approach creates an argument against the XL Pipeline based on the Either-Or fallacy: Either we stop the XL Pipeline from being built, Or it is game over for the planet.

    I see now that you've at least conceded that you didn't make a strong enough case for a carbon tax, and I think I will begin with it. Here is what you say:

    "I agree that carbon pricing is the best solution, however it is off the table, politically speaking, in the US and Canada. Using KXL approval as a bribe to get the approval of the Republican Party or Canada's Conservatives for carbon pricing does not seem feasible to me. I would love to be persuaded that I am wrong on this."

    In fact, I would argue that a carbon tax, or, if you prefer, "carbon pricing" is not just the best solution, it is really the only holistic solution. Stopping the XL Pipeline is not a solution. It would merely be a kind of battlefield victory ion a much longer war, and I suspect winning this particular battle could well turn out to be a devastatingly pyrrhic victory, most obviously since stopping the pipeline would absolutely not guarantee the bitumen remained locked in the oil sands, but more insidiously because the semblance of a great victory would arguably both enrage the pro-carbon types and at the same time appease many regular Americans who don't really have a very good grasp of the scale of the problem. To me, this is the essential political calculus we have to make.

    Look at it this way: By arguing that building the pipeline would be a complete disaster, or a game-over moment, or whatever hyperbolic statement you like, that argument is going to look to many average Americans who lack a strong grasp of the subject like an argument that says stopping the pipeline equates to victory over climate change.

    Certainly, you can bet the oil, gas, and coal lobby would spin it that way to gain another few years to delay and obfuscate.

    So, if we do stop the pipeline, where would we be? I think I can tell you: We would be forced into the position of saying, "Well, stopping the pipeline is great, and an important first step, but we have a lot more to do before we can say we've won the war."

    How well do you think that argument will fly with Republicans? How well will it fly with regular Americans, who will probably be thinking that the defeat of the pipeline means they can relax?

    I'll tell you how I think it will fly: it will crash. It will crash, because we will still have to come back and argue that a carbon tax is needed to really solve the problem, and the GOP will be incensed and claim they've given us everything we asked for, and now we are asking for more, and many regular Americans will agree with them.

    My advice to you, if you wish to be convinced that I am right about this and your approach is wrong, is to put yourself in the shoes of the deniers and the skeptics and the general and generally ignorant public and play through in your mind how a rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline would appear to them. Don't think about how a defeat of the pipeline would appear to you: You are not Them. Alternatively, imagine how you would react if the pipeline were approved. Would you really give up at that point? If you would, then I guess you really do believe in the Either-Or fallacy, but if not ... Just think it all the way through.

    Regarding your belief that a carbon tax or carbon pricing is off the table in the US and Canada at the present time, I say, "all the more reason Skeptical Science should be pushing it as the necessary first step to get carbon emissions under control." A comprehensive carbon tax will have to show up on the table soon, and will have to be put into effect, before we really are on our collective way to averting disaster. That is why I believe Skeptical Science needs to seriously consider widening this front in the war. I don't see anywhere near enough thoughtful analysis here or elsewhere regarding how carbon taxes can work.

    For example, I believe that a global effort to combat global warming is so crucial that if the US enacted a carbon tax that impacted its fossil fuels and manufactured goods prices, it would have a right and in fact a duty to see to it that countries and international companies that don't take similar steps should not be allowed to export their products into the US without being charged a tax. I don't know enough about international trade law to speak on this idea with any authority, but it is clear to me that without the ability to level the playing field in this way, national carbon taxes would be a recipe for cheating on a massive scale.

    So, where are we? Well, without a comprehensive approach--which a well-designed carbon tax is a necessary part of--all we are really doing is putting costly bandages on flesh wounds. It may make us feel better to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline in such a world, but stopping the pipeline would in effect exhaust our bank account of public willingness to act where action is much more effective for some time to come.

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  15. Don9000, the same problem with losing a long comment just happened to me. I think there is a time-out problem. Luckily, I kept a copy.

    Thanks for a thoughtful comment.

    You say: My basic problem with the way some--including you and Hansen--are laying out the debate is that your approach creates an argument against the XL Pipeline based on the Either-Or fallacy: Either we stop the XL Pipeline from being built, Or it is game over for the planet.

    I do not believe in the "game over" framing and I have critcized James Hansen for exaggerating the potential of the oil sands to change the climate. Please read my post Alberta’s bitumen sands: “negligible” climate effects, or the “biggest carbon bomb on the planet”?  I wrote:


    James Hansen, in a Huffington Post article, cites the IPCC AR4 WGIII report (page 268), which says that Canada’s bitumen resources represent at least 400Gt of “stored carbon” (the reference for this number is not clear). This implies an in-place mass some 68% higher than the ERCB’s in-place estimate and more than nine times the ERCB ultimate recoverable potential resource. The WGIII report states that 310Gbbl (~41GtC) of the bitumen resources are recoverable, a figure close to that of the latest ERCB number of 315Gbbl.


    I also point out that Alberta's coal resource contains more carbon than its bitumen resource. I don't downplay the overwhelming relative importance of coal.

    Here is a figure from that post where I compared the contribution of aggressive oil sands development with extrapolations of current consumption of other fossil fuels to the end of the century.

    Quite clearly, my message is that bitumen exploitation is a step in the wrong direction, but it is clearly not the main cause of the climate problem, either now or in the future. And no, I will not give up hope if any more fossil fuel infrastructure is built.

    Don9000 said : That is why I believe Skeptical Science needs to seriously consider widening this front in the war. I don't see anywhere near enough thoughtful analysis here or elsewhere regarding how carbon taxes can work.

    I agree, we should do more of this and we will. However, we have already made some effort in this direction. I have written two pieces;

    BC’s revenue-neutral carbon tax experiment, four years on: It’s working

    Update on BC’s Effective and Popular Carbon Tax

    and Dana Nuccitelli has written about carbon pricing and carbon taxes both here and in The Guardian:

    Citizens Climate Lobby - Pushing for a US Carbon Fee and Dividend

    True Cost of Coal Power - Muller, Mendelsohn, and Nordhaus

    Can a carbon tax work without hurting the economy? Ask British Columbia

    Citizens Climate Lobby pushes for a carbon tax and dividend

    I think that a global carbon tax is the most important single step towards mitigating the climate crisis. It likely won't be enough, we will need additional regulations, government investment in R&D and infrastructure and a cultural change in our attitudes to emissions of long-lived greenhouse gases. And some luck with climate sensitivity, carbon cycle feedbacks and new technologies.

    I agree, there is a risk that if the pipeline is not approved, some people may think that the climate problem is then solved. But many people already seem to think that buying a hybrid car or installing energy-efficient lightbulbs is sufficient. We will have to do our best to remind people that one or two small steps are not enough. The solution involves transforming the economy.

    I don't claim to understand the mentality of the Republican Party, but I don't think that approving the pipeline will really make them more open to the idea of compromise on carbon pricing. It is an article of faith among most of those people that climate change is not a serious threat or is even a hoax perpetrated by extremists. As Roy Spencer recently wrote:


    I’m now going to start calling these people “global warming Nazis”.
    The pseudo-scientific ramblings by their leaders have falsely warned of mass starvation, ecological collapse, agricultural collapse, overpopulation…all so that the masses would support their radical policies. Policies that would not voluntarily be supported by a majority of freedom-loving people.

    They are just as guilty as the person who cries “fire!” in a crowded theater when no fire exists. Except they threaten the lives of millions of people in the process.


    I doubt that Spencer would interpret the approval of Keystone XL as a sign of reconciliation or as a good moment to start talking seriously about a global carbon tax. Perhaps he is not typical of people on the US right, I don't know, I am not an American.

    The main reason that I am motivated to lobby against new pipelines is because this may have some effect. Yes, the effect will be small, yes it may be fleeting and only partially effective, but it is possible. In contrast, making progess on effective national-level carbon pricing policies in N America is still a few election cycles away. progress on a global carbon tax may be a generation of more away. I wish it were not so and I have vowed never to vote for any party that is not committed to introducing a carbon tax of some kind.

    As David Roberts put it on Twitter, asking activists to butt out of the pipeline issue and focus exclusively on carbon pricing is to demand that they “drop achievable campaign, switch to something impossible”.

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  16. Paul Ryan stuns CNN host: Keystone pipeline will solve Russia’s Ukraine invasion

    When Ryan was asked what the US Congress should do about Ukraine:

    “I think we should approve an LNG terminal in the east coast to go to Europe. I think we should approve the Keystone Pipeline. And I think we should show that the U.S. is going to be moving forward on becoming energy independent.”

    “Moving forward with the Keystone pipeline!” Bolduan [the CNN interviewer] exclaimed. “That development would take years, though, to actually make that happen.”

    Ryan argued that the controversial pipeline would be a “signal” to Russia.

    From this we learn that:

    • Paul Ryan believes that the pipeline is needed to get the the bitumen to market.
    • He thinks that the Russians believe this too.
    • The fact of the KXL approval will be a "signal".
    • He implies that importing Canadian bitumen will help make the US energy independent; forgetting that Canada is a separate country from the USA, as Ukraine is from Russia.
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  17. Andy @ 16,

    Paul Ryan and so many others continue to try to claim that actions related to the continued burning of fossil fuels are helpful, or solutions.

    Prolonging unsustainable activity, particularly the harmful ones like burning fossil fuels, is not a solution to anything other than satisfying the desire of a few already fortunate people to get more benefit for themselves in their moment. The only potential redeeming value of such an activity would be to ensure that all benefits are effectively dedicated to the rapid sustainable improvement of conditions for the least fortunate. No one who is already fairly fortunate should benefit in any way. The fortunate should already be only acting and benefiting in truly sustainable ways and be competing to develop even better sustainable ways of enjoying their moment of life on this amazing planet.

    The essential need for the rapid development of a sustainable better future for everyone and all other life needs to always be the context of any of these discussions. If an action isn't leading to that required rapid development it is just entertainment, and as such it better not risk harm to any life, other that the risk-taker fully aware of the potential consequences of the risk they choose to take and certain that only they would suffer any consequences.

    The battle over control of Ukraine is just like all the other major conflicts. People with attitudes other than the desire to rapidly develop a sustainable better future for all are fighting each other to gain control everywhere that there are opportunities to obtain momentary wealth from an unsustainable and damaging extraction or consumption of limited non-renewable resources. And they also collectively fight against their biggest threat, a growing better understanding of how unacceptable their unsustainable and damaging desires are.

    The greatest threats to the global economy, and any part of the global economy, and humanity, are those who want to pursue benefit from unsustainable and damaging activities. It is as simple as that.

    That clear irrefutable fact needs to be kept ion the forefront of any discussion. And when you try to do that you will clearly see how vicious and irrational many people are. The desire to get more for themselves any way they can get away with makes them what Albert Camus referred to when he said "A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world".

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  18. There is already about 650,000 barrels per day of rail-loading capacity for oil in western Canada. That's scheduled to grow to over 1,000,000 barrels per day by the end of this year. The additional cost of shipping by rail doesn't mean much either because the supply costs for Alberta bitumen are actually pretty competetive compared to world prices (contrary to what's typically perceived, Alberta bitumen is no longer a marginally economic source of hydrocarbons, but a relatively low cost one, competetive with alot  of U.S. tight oi). In other words, making it ship by rail isn't going to change its economics very much.

    So, that bitumen is going to get to market via pipe or rail as long as there is a market asking for it. Kill demand, either through a carbon tax or much stricter emissions regs, and you'll do a far better job at solving your carbon problem rather than picking on one particular source of supply.

    I haven't even gotten into America's "carbon bomb" of its own, tight oil, whose resource potential might be up there with bitumen's.

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  19. I see no comment regarding the benefits to America of this pipeline. From all I've read, the dilbit goes to to our southern ports where it is refined and then sold to the highest bidder - which, with our current oil and gas boom won't be America.

    The Congressional Budget office says that besides refineries, there will be 3,200 permanent jobs - a drop in our employment bucket. Given the northern part of the pipelines have already had, I think, 11 spills and the company continues to do nothing to improve pipeline safety, we can look forward to many more spills.

     

    So how does this make any kind of economic sense for America? Canadians and Koch brothers make billions of dollars profit and we get to clean up their spills and the oil goes to other countries.

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  20. Brooks, your sentiment is correct, but your number is not.  Keystone will yield only 35 permanent jobs.  Yes, 35.  Not 3,500.  Not 350.  35.  Really.  The reason the oil industry likes pipelines is that they are cheap.  "Cheap" largely due to the low need for labor.  The cheapness is the reason industry wants the pipeline.  If industry and Marcia McNutt were correct that the cost of the tar sands oil does not depend on whether it is transported by pipeline or rail/truck, then industry would not be fighting for the pipeline.  Instead, the industry's fight for the pipeline is unequivocal evidence that the pipeline will reduce the cost of the oil and therefore speed the production and use of the oil.

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  21. Brooks, Tom:

    Although it is now a post that is two years old, To Infinity and Beyond (over at Desmogblog.com) links to an interested video produced by Media Matters, indicating how job numbers for Keystone XL have been inflated in the media.

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  22. There's a good piece in the Vancouver Observer today that skewers the logic of the people who claim that, since we can't stop the expansion of the oil sands, we may as well appear reasonable by approving the construction of massive new bitumen transportation infrastructure.

    As the author, Barry Saxifrage, points out, the argument only makes sense once you concede that all of the Copenhagen targets will be missed and that we stay on a business-as usual emissions trajectory. This is self-fulfilling defeatism. Since "future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled." (that's the IMF speaking, not some crazed environmentalist), a single pipeline won't make much difference, surely? 

     

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