Jan 22 (IPS) – I didn’t want to stop about the school bus stuck in the mud outside of Fort McMurray, Alberta, in the heart of Canada’s tar sands industry, but my kids insisted. It had rained for most of the week and the grass field was sodden and slippery. We stopped and got out and looked at the 12,000-pound bus, uselessly turning its wheels and digging deeper into the mud. Someone made the driver stop and basically said that you are making a bad problem worse.
Stephen Leahy: Nobody had a vehicle big enough to tow or push the bus, which probably would have stalled too. A few other people came by and together we came up with ideas. I thought it was an impossible task for a handful of people who can barely stand in the dirt themselves. A couple of attempts, some wooden planks and a happy up and down in the back of the bus led to the unexpected result of the vehicle being freed.
I was surprised that we had made it, and from my own feelings of intense satisfaction about what we strangers had achieved together. In not making a bad problem worse, we found a way to solve it together.
Keystone XL would have added 110 million tons of CO2
President Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL (KXL) oil pipeline is an example of when a really bad problem doesn’t get worse. The essential thing is that KXL would have released up to 110 million tons of climate-warming CO2 into the atmosphere every year for at least 50 years. So reported a study in the journal Nature Climate Change in 2014. Those are emissions the size of a country – enough to put it on the list of the 35 worst carbon-polluting countries in the world, as I wrote in Vice at the time.
I first heard about KXL more than a decade ago and ended up writing a dozen articles about how Canada’s spy agencies monitored KXL protesters as a potential national security threat. The 36-inch diameter pipe was supposed to pump 830,000 barrels of bitumen per day from the tar sands in Alberta for refining on the US Gulf Coast. TransCanada Pipelines, based in Calgary, which has now been renamed TC Energy, originally claimed the pipeline was necessary for energy security in the US, but environmentalists said it should be refined into diesel and exported to Europe. An interesting must today is that the US doesn’t need the oil and Europe doesn’t want dirty diesel. In fact, Europe bought almost 1.4 million electric vehicles in 2020, more than any other country in the world.
This is where things got interesting in 2020
TC Energy began building pipelines in Alberta after Jason Kenney’s provincial government agreed in March 2020 to fund the first year of construction with an investment of $ 1.5 billion. Kenney also guaranteed $ 6 billion in loans, all as part of an effort to boost the northern portion of the project ahead of the US presidential election. About 90 kilometers of pipeline were built in Alberta last summer. *
As expected on the day of inauguration, President Biden signed an ordinance revoking KXL permits. Expect Jason Kenney to scream loud and long. Although it really is the Albertans who should scream about the obvious waste of their tax dollars in the project’s long-predicted cancellation.
The last thing an escalating climate crisis needs is improving the fossil fuel infrastructure. This is a clear case where a very bad problem just gets worse. To repeat another need-to-know: The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement means that all countries agreed to stop using fossil fuels. This is important to keep climate change below 2 ° C.
Instead of wasting $ 1.5 billion on the doomed KXL pipeline, Alberta’s Kenney should have used that public money to help workers in the oil industry with the necessary retraining and financial assistance during the required phase of the industry.
A must is that the fossil fuel industry is not a major employer in Canada or most countries. It is a capital intensive sector, not labor intensive. Overall, less than 1% of the Canadian workforce is employed in these industries. A 20 year exit from the Canadian fossil fuel sector is perfectly feasible and would not disrupt the economy, economist Jim Stanford said in a new report.
Undeniably: fossil fuels will disappear
A 20 year exit would cut fossil fuel employment by about 8,500 jobs per year – as many as Canada typically creates every 10 days. Due to the poor oil price and the recession caused by pandemics, the industry has already cut twice as many jobs in 2020. Most of these jobs are not coming back. Stanford, who directs the Vancouver-based Center for Future Work, said:
“There’s no denying it now: fossil fuels will be disappearing from most applications in the foreseeable future.”
The industry and its supporters will continue to deny the indisputable, which makes a bad situation worse. For example, the US Chamber of Commerce claims that the KXL termination “… will put thousands of Americans out of work …” The very influential US Chamber has long denied climate change and played a key role in the appointment of former President Trump to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement.
Continuing to deny the undeniable is why many of the once prosperous societies of the past have collapsed. In a new study anthropologists report: “When good governments go bad”. In examining 30 different societies, they concluded that a breakdown could very likely have been avoided, but citizens could rest assured that their leaders were acting in the best interests of society. Instead, the leaders protected their own interests and those of the elite in society.
Let’s not repeat past mistakes any further.
* Note: In 2012, KXL was split into two projects, with a southern section from Cushing, Oklahoma, to the Gulf Coast and a northern section from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska. Most of the southern section was completed in 2014.
Stephen Leahy is an award-winning environmental journalist and author based in Canada. He was the senior international science and environmental correspondent at IPS and now publishes Need to Know: Science and Insight, a free weekly bulletin that offers new ideas and perspectives on the pandemic and existential crisis of climate change and deciphering the preservation of nature.
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