An advance leak from the forthcoming United Nations (U.N.) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on Oceans and Cryosphere confirms that the climate crisis is deepening. According to the leak, the U.N. report concludes that changes to global oceans, glaciers, and melting permafrost will unleash disaster upon the world including drought, floods, hunger and destruction unless dramatic action is taken to reduce global carbon emissions immediately.
It is against this backdrop that the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has announced plans to drill 100 new offshore exploration wells and dramatically increase its oil production by 2030, thereby roughly tripling the oil and gas sector’s carbon emissions. The province is currently carrying out a Regional Strategic Environmental Assessment (RSEA) of its offshore exploration drilling plans, which included a climate change session.
As a participant in this process, I made the simple mathematical point during one of the sessions that the province cannot possibly meet its 2030 greenhouse gas emissions target if it proceeds with its drilling plans in the offshore. What’s more, carbon emissions from the full production of currently operating oil and gas fields and coal mines across the world will already lead to a global temperature rise above the 2 degrees Celsius limit set in Paris in 2017 by the U.N., much less the aspirational 1.5C target.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s emissions target for 2030 is 6.9 million tonnes (megatonnes) of carbon dioxide. If the province triples oil production as it intends to do, this would mean that emissions from this sector alone in 2030 would account for an estimated 4.9 Mt of this target, or 71%, making it virtually impossible for the province to reach its emissions reduction goals.
Representatives of oil companies attending the RSEA session responded by saying that, while this analysis is true, Newfoundland and Labrador’s contribution to Canada’s and the planet’s carbon emissions is small and therefore inconsequential. Moreover, the world will need oil for the foreseeable future so if oil and gas is not produced in the province, it will simply be produced elsewhere. This response is commonly heard in defense of the oil and gas industry in Canada in an effort to stymie efforts to reign in emissions and question the long-term viability of the industry.
Here’s the thing. Either we are serious about our Paris commitments or we are not. We cannot pretend we will meet our global emissions reduction targets while continuing to expand fossil fuel production at the same time. This is what is commonly known as cognitive dissonance, the act of holding two contradictory ideas in one’s head at the same time and believing them both to be true.
It is simply not true that that the world will continue to use oil and gas long at increasing rates into the future *IF* we are serious about our carbon reduction commitments. Asserting the future inevitability of oil and gas is a bet against Canada and the world meeting its Paris targets. If on the other hand, we are serious about meeting the Paris targets, then the demise of oil and gas becomes a mathematical inevitability. We cannot both expand fossil fuel production AND reduce emissions at the same time.
While it is true that some energy projections assert that the world will continue to need fossil fuels for decades to come, this is not the case if the world is to stay within 2C of warming, let alone 1.5 degrees. The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook in 2012 stated that “No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be burned, leaving up to 80% of assets technically unburnable.” In 2015, the Bank of England warned that policies designed to limit carbon emissions could mean some fossil fuels become “stranded assets”, with the Bank’s governor adding that “the vast majority of reserves are unburnable if global temperature rises are to be limited to below 2 degrees C.” Even the oil giant Shell conceded in 2013 “in a world where the 2C limit is imposed and achieved, most of the future value generation of the companies involved will never be realized.”
The province of Newfoundland and Labrador, as well of the rest of Canada, has come to a moment of reckoning. Why even bother setting targets in the first place if we are not serious about meeting them?
“The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders.” –Ed Abbey
“I am here today because I have chosen to protect the people locked out of the system over the profits of the corporations running the system. I say this not because I want your mercy, but because I want you to join me.”
– Tim DeChristopher
In July of last year, I interviewed Tim DeChristopher – a 30 year-old activist from Utah who had been charged with the crime of posing as a false bidder (Bidder 70) at an auction that was leasing more than 100,000 acres of federal (i.e. public) land for oil and gas development. DeChristopher won the right to develop 22,500 acres of land for which, of course, he had neither the capability nor the intention of doing. His goal was simply to take the land out of the hands of oil and gas companies.
DeChristopher was convicted of the crime in March of this year and, just last week, he was handed his sentence: 2 years in jail and a $10,000 fine. The punishment was less severe than it could have been but, all the same, he is off to prison for trying to protect public lands from being exploited by the oil and gas industry. Leases for these lands, which were approved in the dying days of the Bush II Administration, were subsequently canceled by the Obama Administration.
During the trial, the judge refused to allow DeChristopher to discuss his motivation, that he had been compelled to act to prevent a greater evil: climate change. Because of that, and other reasons, his lawyers are launching an appeal. In his statement to the court before sentencing, DeChristopher said he had wanted “to stand in the way of an illegitimate auction that threatened my future.”
Support for DeChristopher has been pouring in and it goes without saying that Canadians who care about climate change, and there are many of us (current federal government excluded), should stand in solidarity with this young man’s courageous actions. As one commentator put it, “DeChristopher’s nonviolent act has galvanized the climate movement in a way that will be hard to ignore.” The well-known author and environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote in the Huffington Post that “the oil and gas under that ground needs to stay there. The carbon it contains is, we now know, ruinous — it’s what is heating the atmosphere, setting new temperature records every day. If you sweated through last week’s record heat, if your crops are withering in the southwest’s epic drought, if you watched the Mississippi swallow your town — then Tim DeChristopher acted for you.”
Campaigners from film-maker Michael Moore to scientist James Hansen denounced the sentence as excessive. DeChristopher’s civil disobedience organization, Peaceful Uprising, said last week it hoped to use the sentence to build momentum for protests in Washington next month against a proposed pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to Texas. “Consider this your call to action,” the group said on its website. Even legendary folk singer Peter Yarros has weighed in, saying “Tim is a hero to me, the kind of hero Peter, Paul and Mary stood up for consistently over the last 50 years. Throughout American history, acts of civil disobedience have led to change. Think about the Underground Railroad that helped escaped slaves to freedom, or about the courageous actions of people like Rosa Parks, who refused to stay in the back of the bus simply because of their skin color. Without this kind of defiance of unjust laws, our country would likely still be denying people of color basic freedoms.”
Even Canada’s own David Suzuki has chimed in, writing “DeChristopher’s ordeal exposes the massive power of the fossil fuel industry. Governments, including the U.S. and Canada’s, often do far more to promote the interests of this industry than to protect people’s rights and health. Those who violate the law and put the lives of citizens and their children and grandchildren at great risk through pollution and destructive industrial practices often get let off scot-free or receive a slap on the wrist, while those who use civil disobedience to challenge this imbalance are hit with the full force of the law.”
What can we do to support Tim? Well, first off he will need money for his appeal. This could be a precedent-setting case and a ground-breaking one for the climate justice movment. Make sure to follow the group he’s helped found, Peaceful Uprising. You can also contact Tim at the following address:
#2011 – 06916
c/o Davis County Correctional Facility
PO Box 130
Farmington, UT 84025
Maybe it’s also time for the rest of us to think about stepping it up in our own way. Letter writing, protests and international conferences just don’t seem to be getting the job done and are not commensurate with the urgency of the task at hand. Politicians and industry leaders still don’t seem to understand the scope of the problem or, worse, they do understand but still refuse to act.
Could Tim’s actions be the catalyst for a resurgence in non-violent, civil disobedience in our country as well? What will future generations say that Canadians contributed to the climate justice movement? How will we help to turn the tide against the powerful, grotesquely wealthy and immensely destructive fossil fuel industry? Our government is clearly not prepared to take any serious action but what can the rest of us do? Remember, two pipelines are in the works to transport crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the west coast of B.C. and the Gulf of Mexico. If built, these pipelines would mean a dramatic increase in the production of tar sands oil and, consequently, in greenhouse gas emissions as well. In a few weeks, supporters of tarsandsaction.org will be gathering in Washington DC for two weeks of civil disobedience against the proposed Keystone Pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico. If you’ve been thinking about laying it on the line, maybe the time has come. Check out ClimateDirectAction.org for more info.
As Tim wrote the night before his sentencing, “At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like. In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like. With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow.”
Interview with Frederic Bohbot, producer of the new documentary film Burning Water
Click the audio player to hear my recent interview with the producer of the new documentary film, Burning Water. Directed by Cameron Esler and Tadzio Richards, Burning Water is about a family living in a small town in Alberta where an oil and gas boom is underway. Yet there’s a catch: their water can be lit on fire.
Canada’s largest natural gas company, Encana, has been drilling for coal bed methane in the area using a process called ‘fracking‘, which uses chemicals for drilling. Now methane is turning up in large quantities in the wells and the water supply of local farmers.
Is coal bed mining to blame? The Lauridsen family thinks so but the government of Alberta has other ideas. As other jurisdictions in North America consider their own oil and gas exploitation (such as shale gas drilling here in Quebec), Burning Water is a timely contribution to the debate. It serves as a cautionary tale that raises some very serious questions we all need to consider.
To download the interview, right click here and select ‘Save as’ or ‘Save target as’.