Mark Jaccard: You can’t take the tar sands out of the climate change problem
[Seriously, how could I resist posting at least once on February 29th? I’ll have to wait another four years for the opportunity to arrive again.]
Last week I wrote about the recent article published in the journal Nature, which analyzes how burning all global stocks of fossil fuels would influence global temperatures. The authors of the study, Andrew Weaver and Neil Swart of the University of Victoria, contend that mining and burning all of the tar sands oil of northern Alberta would raise global temperatures by about .36 degrees C. By contrast, burning all of the world’s vast coal deposits would increase temperatures by 15 degrees.
Yesterday, the Globe and Mail published a rather bristling response to this study by none other than the renowned climate economist, Mark Jaccard, who is a professor at Simon Fraser University and lead author for sustainable energy policy in the coming Global Energy Assessment. Jaccard writes that “Andrew Weaver and Neil Swart of the University of Victoria are surely about to receive a major award from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the Alberta government and even the Canadian government for their just-released paper in Nature on the potential contribution of Alberta tar sands to global warming. Usually, CAPP and its allied governments have to pay someone…to justify a continuation of fossil fuel profiteering in Canada at the planet’s expense. For once, they get it for free.”
Ouch. Jaccard goes on to argue that Weaver and Swart have committed a “fallacy of composition”, which occurs when one infers that “an individual component on its own is not a problem, then it isn’t part of a problem that exists when all components are added together…even if we just hope to keep the (global average temperature) increase below four degrees, then we can’t allow any expansion of the tar sands, and certainly no new pipelines such as Keystone and Northern Gateway to support any expanded use of fossil fuels.”
I agree with Jaccard but would take exception with his contention that the oil industry and the Canadian government will be thrilled by the results of this research. Climate scientists have made it clear that we must limit warming to an absolute maximum of 2 degrees (compared to pre-industrial times) to avoid potentially catastrophic climate change. Yet burning fossil fuels has already resulted in warming of 0.8 degrees. This leaves us only 1.2 degrees of wiggle room, meaning that the tar sands, if fully exploited as the Canadian government wishes, would contribute .36 degrees of warming and would thereby be singly responsible for almost one-third of the entire planet’s remaining allowable temperature increase. This seems like a huge contribution to me and not one to be celebrated.
You can’t take the tar sands out of the climate equation – The Globe and Mail.