On Earthgauge radio this week, we’ll be talking about the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. Hearings of the National Energy Board looking into the pipeline proposal got underway in B.C. this month with over 4000 people scheduled to speak as intervenors. The oil industry in Canada and the federal government are pushing hard to see that the pipeline is built, yet opposition to the project, particularly among First Nations communities along the proposed pipeline route, is fierce. We take a look at the potential environmental impacts of the pipeline, the strategic energy security implications of liquidating tar sands oil, the economics of the project and the political context. Right click here to download the entire show.
We have 3 interviews on our special show today:
- Emma Gilchrist, Communications Director for the Dogwood Initiative
- Energy analyst and geoscientist, David Hughes
- Author and journalist, Murray Dobbin
If constructed, the Northern Gateway pipeline would transport heavy bitumen oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta to the north coast of BC. Although the National Energy Board hearings have just begun, already the federal government has weighed in before the environmental panel has even had a chance to do its work and make a recommendation on whether or not to proceed with the project. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already said the pipeline is in the national interest and must proceed while federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has labelled those opposed to the project, which includes environmentalists, fishermen, ranchers, ordinary citizens and First Nations, as foreign-funded radicals.
So what is this project all about? Well, basically the company Enbridge wants to build two 1200km pipelines – one would take 500,000 barrels a day of tar sands crude across the Rockies to Kitimat on the B.C. coast, where over 200 supertankers a year would take the oil for export to the U.S. and Asia. A second pipeline in the other direction would take a natural gas condensate back to the tar sands, which helps the oil flow through the pipe.
The pipelines would cross hundreds of rivers and streams and pass through a region renowned for its salmon, wolves, bears and other wildlife. It would also help to triple the production of tar sands crude, which is among the dirtiest and most destructive forms of energy, thereby greatly increasing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Not surprisingly, the proposed project has sparked an eruption of opposition among those who see the possibility of an oil spill as a critical threat to the environment and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people. Northern Gateway would have to cross the lands and waters of many BC First Nations, the vast majority of whom are opposed to the project, some maintaining that it must be stopped at almost any cost. In December, 130 aboriginal groups in B.C. said they were joining forces to use “whatever means necessary” to stop the project.
Meanwhile, industry and the Harper government say exploiting Canada’s abundant tar sands is vital for prosperity, particularly in light of a recent decision of US president Barack Obama to delay approval of the equally controversial Keystone XL pipeline which would transport tar sands crude to the Gulf of Mexico. Given this delay, Harper said recently that, “it is particularly essential for this country that we have the capacity to sell our energy products into the growing markets of Asia.”
One thing is for sure – a long and bitter fight lies ahead with some calling it the most significant environmental battle in Canadian history.
We’re taking a hard look at this project on Earthgauge today. First we hear from Emma Gilchrist of the organization Dogwood Initiative who talks about some of the possible environmental impacts of the project and updates us on the progress of the NEB hearings. Then we hear from the respected geologist David Hughes who discusses whether there is even a need for the project from the perspective of Canada’s strategic energy reserves. And finally for the political perspective I speak with the journalist Murray Dobbin who fills us in on how the federal government is manoeuvring to ensure that the project be approved despite all the opposition to it.
We also have our usual segment with Kathy of Ecology Ottawa who updates us on local environmental events and campaigns. I’ve listed a few of the upcoming events below and you can click here to see a complete list with full details.
Contact us at earthgaugeradio ‘at’ gmail.com. Please do get in touch if you have story ideas, a comment on something you’ve heard or want to get involved or contribute to the show. You can also download our podcasts on iTunes. Just type “earthgauge” into the search bar and you’ll find us.
January 31, 2012
City Council Meeting – Environment Committee
When: January 31, 9:30 to 11:30 am
Where: City Hall, Andrew S. Haydon Hall, 110 Laurier Avenue West
February 1, 2012
City Council Meeting – Transportation Committee
When: February 1, 9:30 to 11:30 am
Where: Champlain room, Ottawa City Hall
Phone: 613-580- 2424 ext. 21624
February 1, 2012
The World We Want – An evening with Francis Moore Lappé
USC Canada presents an inspiring evening with the visionary author of the groundbreaking Diet for a Small Planet (1971), Frances Moore Lappé. Based on her new book, EcoMind, Lappé confronts our current myths about markets, food, and environmental issues, challenging us to change the way we think so we can create the world we want.
When: February 1, 7:30 to 9:00 pm
Where: St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts, 310 St. Patrick Street
Wednesday February 1 and 8, 2012
Weekly environmental choir rehearsals
Just Voices is Ottawa’s only environmental and social-justice theme choir. They have been singing at events around the capital since 2003. They welcome new members at any time, and prior musical experience is not necessary. For more information, visit http://www.justvoices.ca.
When: February 1, 7:00 to 9:00 pm
Where: The Bronson Centre, 211 Bronson Ave
February 6, 2012
City Council Meeting – Roads and Cycling Advisory Committee
When: February 6, 7:00 to 9:00 pm
Where: City Hall, Honeywell Room
February 9, 2012
City Council Meeting – Environmental Advisory Committee
When: February 9, 6:30 – 8:30 pm
Where: City Hall, Andrew S. Haydon Hall
February 9, 2012
Green Drinks Ottawa
Green Drinks is an open invitation to anyone interested/working/studying all things environmental. Come and join us for interesting, and inspiring conversation. We’re an informal, self-organizing network and meet every second Thursday of the month. For more information, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
When: February 9, 5:30 to 7:30 pm
Where: Fox and Feather Pub & Grill, 283 Elgin street
It seems that cutting 700 jobs from the payroll of Environment Canada back in August was not enough for the anti-environment ideologues of the Canada’s Conservative government. Today, the Canadian Environmental Network (RCEN), one of Canada’s oldest, largest, and most well-respected democratic institutions serving the environmental concerns of all Canadians, was forced to lay off its staff and is on the verge of closing its doors and those of its 11 regional offices.
Why you ask? Well, because the Conservative government under Stephen Harper, with one day prior notice, apparently decided to cancel funding that had been promised the organization.
In its letter to the Canadian Environmental Network, made public yesterday, the federal Department of the Environment said it was not renewing financial support for the Network because of a broader shift away from “core organizational funding.”
In true Orwellian fashion, the letter went on to say that Environment Canada is seeking, “to allocate its resources in the most efficient and cost effective manner to ensure a safe, clean and sustainable environment for Canadians.” I see. Eliminating funding to environmental organizations helps to ensure better environmental protection. Makes perfect sense to me.
According to Larry McDermott, Aboriginal Representative and Director of the RCEN, the organization consists of “over 640 highly diverse large and small, rural and urban organizations from coast to coast to coast.” The Network is now demanding to know why it is being shut out of communications with Environment Canada regarding the promised funding for fiscal year 2011-2012.
“The Canadian Environmental Network received a letter from Environment Canada in May this year stating their intent to continue core funding in the amount of $547,000 for the current fiscal year. In keeping with our over three decades-long partnership, we ask that EC honour this letter,” said Olivier Kolmel, Chair of the RCEN.
Meanwhile, the government also announced that the “Canada School of Energy and Environment,” based in Calgary, will receive $15 million from the federal government. Sounds good at first glance; however, according to Postmedia News, one of this organization’s primary goals is “to clean up the dirty oil image of Canada’s oil sands and provide the public with a more balanced view of its environmental performance.”
What is going on here? Well, it seems to be yet another clear indication of this government’s priorities. According to journalist Karl Nerenberg, Canada’s government (elected to a majority rule with just 39.6% of the popular vote) “believes that the very profitable oil and gas industry needs taxpayer money to help it promote its own interests, while scientists and advocates for the environment can look after themselves.”
Nerenberg also points out that “The argument of those ideologues of the political right was pretty simple. If we stop funding groups that disagree with us, they said, those groups will, for the most part, disappear, and our side will have greater control over national debates. That is why the government de-funded the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, the Canadian Council on Social Development and the Canadian Policy Research Networks, just to name three.
“The message is: if you want to advocate, criticize, share information at variance with government policy (even if scientifically based), or establish grass roots networks, that’s up to you. Just don’t expect government money to do so.”
We are only 6 months into a 4-year Conservative mandate and evidence of what their priorities will be continues to mount on an almost daily basis. As a bumper sticker I read recently stated quite aptly, “at least the war on the environment is going well.”
Video interviews from Parliament Hill #tarsands protest September 26: George Poitras and Clayton Thomas-Muller
I attended the tar sands/Keystone XL protests in Ottawa on September 26 at which roughly 125 people were arrested. The protest was the embodiment of civil disobedience and was carried out in an extremely peaceful manner. Big thumbs up to the organizers and the hundreds who attended. Let’s hope this is the beginning of something.
During the protest, I had the opportunity to speak briefly with George Poitras, former Chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation in northern Alberta and with Clayton Thomas-Muller who is a tar sands campaigner with the Indigenous Environmental Network, an activist for indigenous self-determination and environmental justice and a member of the Mathais Colomb Cree Nation (Pukatawagan) in Northern Manitoba. Check out the video links below.
Interview with Danielle Droitsch of the Pembina Institute
It’s good to know our tax dollars are paying Canadian diplomats to fight the good fight in Washington on behalf of those hard-luck oil companies working in Alberta’s tar sands. Postmedia news is reporting that our diplomats have quietly asked oil-industry players such as Exxon Mobil and BP to help “kill” U.S. global-warming policies in order to ensure that “the oil keeps a-flowing” from Alberta into the U.S. marketplace.
Apparently unaware of either the climate change crisis or the exceedingly high levels of greenhouse gases emanating from the tar sands, the officials proposed instead to “kill any interpretation” of American energy legislation that would apply to the tar sands industry. “We hope that we can find a solution to ensure that the oil keeps a-flowing,” wrote Jason Tolland, from the Canadian Embassy in an exchange of emails with government trade lawyers Feb. 8, 2008.
The correspondence reveals that the Canadian diplomats had contacted officials from the American Petroleum Institute – an industry association – as well as from Exxon Mobil Corp., BP, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, Encana Corp. and Marathon Oil Corp. One email sent by Paul Connors, who at the time was an energy counsellor at the embassy, encouraged an official with Exxon Mobil to get involved in the political debate against the legislation.
The correspondence was released to the Pembina Institute who obtained it through an access-to-information request.
To find out more about this, I spoke with Danielle Droitsch, the Director of U.S. policy for the Pembina Institute, a Canadian not-for-profit think tank focused on developing innovative sustainable energy solutions. We also discussed the shifting political ground in the United States. With the Republican Party taking control of the House of Representatives this week, what does this mean for climate change policy in North America?
In his first two years on the job, President Obama has thus far failed to pass cap-and-trade legislation. Now his administration wants to introduce regulations to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Upon taking office, Obama directed the Department of Transportation to issue regulations that will raise Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for passenger cars and light-duty trucks to 35-miles per gallon by 2020 (6.7 litres per 100 km) from the current 27-mpg standard. Last year, Canada followed suit, issuing guidelines for 2011 model year vehicles that are identical to the U.S. CAFE standards.
And just this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new rules requiring all new industrial plants or major expansions to acquire permits for emitting carbon dioxide and other GHGs. The Obama administration has also announced plans to impose new emission rules on power plants and refineries.
Back here in Canada, the former Environment Minister, John Baird, indicated this week that Canada would not adopt a similar approach but will broadly match the U.S. regulatory approach. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has long indicated that Canada would harmonize emissions reductions efforts with the U.S. Now that the Obama administration is taking measures to regulate industrial emissions, what will the Harper government do? Was all the talk of harmonization simply empty rhetoric or will we see some action at long last? Time will tell.
And will Obama even be able to push through the proposed new regulations? The new Republican House Speaker John Boehner has already indicated that one of his party’s top priorities for the coming session will be to block the new EPA regulations however they can.
In my interview with Danielle Droitsch, she discusses what lies ahead for U.S. and Canadian climate policy given the recent political shifts.
A good article by Rafe Mair of the Common Sense Canadian to start 2011. It is always interesting to read comments such as the following from a former member of the B.C. Legislative Assembly (as Mair was under the conservative-leaning Social Credit government).
“…with our governments money talks and big time money talks big time. It must be remembered that corporations don’t give a rat’s ass about the environment. They would pollute all water, destroy wildlife, and desecrate the environment generally. Every tiny bit of environmental restraint has been and always will be imposed by government and it will be resisted and ignored by the corporate world.”
Cheerful words to brighten your new year! Worth a read. Happy 2011!
As we continue to hear nightmare weather stories about travel chaos in the UK, record cold and snow across Europe, heavy rainstorms and flooding in Atlantic Canada and blinding snowstorms in southern Ontario, I once again wonder how much of this can be attributed to climate change?
Most scientists say that no single weather event can be attributed to climate change but, at the same time, these kinds of extreme weather events are precisely consistent with the scenarios that climate forecasters have long predicted. Even though we tend to associate climate change with global warming, rather than snow and cold, scientific models have long-predicted exactly this kind of variability: more hot and cold extremes, more precipitation in some areas, more drought in others, and so on. So in fact, the recent cold temperatures in Europe and the snowstorms in the UK are exactly consistent with climate change modeling and may even make a stronger case for the reality of anthropogenic climate change.
And as the weather woes worsen, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere continue to rise. The New York Times published a lengthy article today, which focuses on Charles David Keeling, the first person in the world to develop an accurate technique for measuring carbon dioxide in the air. This article provides an excellent overview of how the international community’s failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has led us to the point in which we now find ourselves confronting a climate crisis that is becoming more and more serious with each passing year. It is a detailed and sobering exposé, the likes of which would almost certainly never appear in the pages of any of Canada’s major daily newspapers. Highly worth a read.
Well, not quite. If only it were so simple. Still, it’s a start. Friday’s Washington Post features a remarkable op-ed by former House Science Committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert, a Republican who represented New York’s 24th congressional district for over two decades before retiring in 2007. In the article he states:
Why do so many Republican senators and representatives think they are right and the world’s top scientific academies and scientists are wrong? I would like to be able to chalk it up to lack of information or misinformation.
In a trio of reports released in May, the prestigious and nonpartisan National Academy concluded that “a strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.” Our nation’s most authoritative and respected scientific body couldn’t make it any clearer or more conclusive.
Boehlert’s op-ed piece ran the same week Rep. Bob Inglis, a S. Carolina Republican defeated in his party’s primary earlier this year by a Tea Party candidate, criticized fellow GOPers for doubting climate change science.
“Tom Friedman gave me this great analogy yesterday,” Inglis said. “Your child is sick. Ninety-eight doctors say ‘treat him this way.’ Two say ‘no, this other [way] is the way to go.’ I’ll go with the two. You’re taking a big risk with those kids. Because 98 of the doctors say, ‘do this thing,’ two say, ‘do the other.’”
I’m not holding my breath that other members of his party will also come to their senses but at least we know that two Republicans are not in total denial when it comes to the reality of human-caused climate change.
Meanwhile, US climate scientists are fighting back after a difficult year of (mostly unfounded) attacks on climate science and the scientists themselves. Today a new web site was launched called the Climate Science Rapid Response that aims to close the gap between scientific knowledge and public understanding of global warming. Already, Grist is reporting that they tried out the new web site to question claims that infamous climate skeptic Bjorn Lomborg had made downplaying (once again) the significance of climate change impacts.
The scientists who responded to Grist’s inquiry – the Carnegie Institution Department of Global Ecology’s Ken Caldeira, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Josh Willis, and Rutgers University’s Alan Robock – independently confirmed that Lomborg had misrepresented the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report. They also found that he had mischaracterized the work of the world scientific community when he argued that those who call for the immediate reduction of global warming pollution are relying on “fears of a supposedly imminent apocalypse.”
All in all, a pretty good day for climate science.
This won’t make big news but it is quite astonishing all the same. For the first time in 70 years, Canada’s Senate (which is unelected) has killed a bill without debate that was passed by the elected representatives of the House of Commons. The Climate Change Accountability Act, or Bill C-311 as it is known, was a private member’s bill that had been introduced by the New Democratic Party. It is now officially dead.
Since taking power in 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has tilted the membership of the Senate in favour of his Conservative Party so that they now have a majority of votes (this despite the fact that the Conservatives received the support of a mere 36% of voters in the last federal election and their polling numbers haven’t budged since). Harper has made no secret of his disdain for Bill C-311 and it seems the Senate’s Conservative members were well aware of his antipathy. They acted accordingly.
Canada’s former Minster of the Environment, Jim Prentice, recently resigned his post. Now, with international climate change negotiations in Cancun just two weeks away, Canada’s delegation is set to arrive with a stand-in environment minister and absolutely no plan for climate change mitigation. In the wake of Canada’s rejected bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, is there any wonder why Canada’s reputation around the world is plummeting?
I had the privilege of speaking with the well-known scientist and broadcaster Dr David Suzuki when he was in Montreal last week to give a speech at McGill University to promote his latest book called ‘The Legacy: An Elder’s Vision for Our Sustainable Future‘. For over 30 years as the host of CBC’s The Nature of Things, Suzuki has opened the eyes of Canadians to the beauty and fragility of our planet. He is also the co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides science-based education, advocacy and policy work, and acts as a catalyst for social change.
Suzuki’s latest book is a sort of final lecture from a man who has dedicated his life to education and public service. In the book, Suzuki talks about his formative years as a young geneticist as well as the inspiration he has found from Aboriginal societies who have fought for the survival of their lands and traditional ways of life. Now that he is an “elder” as he describes it, the book is also a reflection of Suzuki’s own legacy and his vision for a sustainable future.
Click the audio player above to hear my conversation with him (8 mins). The interview can be downloaded by right-clicking here and selecting ‘Save as’ or ‘Save target as’.
You can also hear Suzuki’s entire speech at McGill by clicking the audio player below or right-clicking here to download.
Described as “one of the most important books of the year“, ‘Merchants of Doubt‘ is a new book by science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. The authors researched the inner workings of the policy-stalling denial machine that works to confuse the public about climate science, the health impacts of tobacco, ozone depletion, the dangers of DDT and other environmental or public health issues. Delving into the root of the problem, this work sheds light on the question of why confusion still surrounds the reality of human-caused climate change despite the overwhelming agreement among the world’s leading climate scientists about its causes and ever-advancing understanding of its consequences.
The authors explain in exhaustively-researched detail how renowned scientists abandon science, how environmentalism has become equated with communism, and how the Cold War has come to be connected with climate denial.
And what was the ultimate objective of these merchants of doubt? As this review by John Atcheson states, they are motivated by “an almost religious conviction in small government and the potential evils of big government; a doctrinaire belief in unconstrained free markets and the purity of capitalism; and the conviction that “environmentalism” and other do-gooder efforts threatened our free market, capitalistic system.”
In his book Hell and High Water, Joe Romm put it this way: “the reason most political conservatives and libertarians deny the reality of human-induced climate change is that they simply cannot stand the solution. So they attack both the solution and the science.”
A must read.