On Fort Mac and Dr. No

A short post related to my last one on Neil Young, Fort Mac, and Integrity.

For people who like to read long-format journalism as opposed to Maclean’s style photo-caption writing on the latest “hot trend story”, Canada has the Walrus. It is usually interesting, often brilliant, always worth reading. The NWimby household has been a subscriber since the first edition.

I raise it now because an article about Fort McMurray in the November edition should be read by everyone in Canada. The author clearly brings his anti-tar sand biases into the discussion, but the best parts of the article are not his writing, but the quotes of the Mayor of Fort Mac, Melissa Blake.

It all starts out friendly enough, the Mayor tries to dispel some negative impressions about the City and its livability, and talks about the big plans to build an integrated, sustainable, and full-service community. It only gets weird when the author questions the Mayor about the potential disconnect between building a low-carbon sustainable City fueled completely by the carbon-intensive and unsustainable extraction of oil from bitumen.

“Blake doesn’t miss a beat. ‘I’m a big believer that, yes, the climate is changing. If the climate goes up by two, three, four degrees in the future, we’re lucky to be here in Fort McMurray. We’re lucky not to be in California or BC. They’re going to fall in the ocean. In a place like this, we’re going to survive a lot better.’

You mean digging up bitumen is a good thing, because it will make Fort McMurray’s winters milder?

With a nervous laugh, she assents: ‘And that means my real estate becomes a very important asset in the future, so I’m not selling my house anytime soon.’ “

OK, let’s get something straight. This young person with a young family clearly believes in anthropogenic climate change, and she is talking liltingly about a time in the near future when California and Vancouver will “fall in the ocean”. That is no doubt a bit of fanciful hyperbole, but it has to be put into perspective. With no check on our greenhouse gas emissions, we could see, in her lifetime, global sea levels rise enough to displace hundreds of millions of people from low-lying cities like Miami and Shanghai, Osaka and New Orleans, Bangkok and Mumbai. California and Vancouver don’t need to “fall”, the ocean is coming up to meet them. Climate disruption at this scale will also cause widespread crop failures, mass migrations, unprecedented famines and unimaginable human suffering.

It takes a certain kind of sociopathy to think about the death and suffering of hundreds of millions of humans and say “Wow, that’s going to be good for my real estate value”, nervous laughter notwithstanding, if you are not the one causing these events to take place.

However, when you say that with a giggle at the same time as you are leading a community of people hell-bent on accelerating the very activity that will cause all of those bad things to happen for a little short-term profit?

That is a level of truly evil sociopathy usually reserved for Bond Villains.

I’m with Neil

Canada is trading integrity for money” – Neil Young.

Let’s start with disclosure: I am a Neil Young fan, to the point where being a Neil Young fan has done much to shape my taste in music. To explain that, I need to go back to the late 80’s when I was sharing an apartment on Royal Ave with my brother.

I was raised in the Kootenays on a healthy diet of classic rock (although at the time we just called it Rock) and “Metal” (in quotes, because at the time that referred to a strange amalgamation of Zeppelin and Glam that went by names like Poison, Ratt, Quiet Riot, et al. my god.) because that was the playlist of the only real FM Rock station we could hear – “ROCK 106! KEZE!” out of Spokane, Washington.

When I moved to New West, CFMI was still Top-40, and one of the AM stations (CHRK 600) decided to go Classic Rock (probably the first time I heard that phrase in the context of 60s and 70s Rock music). Despite the hopeful WKRP-feeling of the whole enterprise, it was risky. AM came with questionable sound quality and more onerous Canadian content rules. This last requirement made for some difficult programming choices. All that BTO and Guess Who was bad enough, but the seemingly hourly appearance of the Whiner in D Minor caused me to turn Classic rock off. So safe to say Neil Young entered my consciousness in a pretty negative way.

A year or two later, I was sitting in the Quad at college and “Rocking in the Free World” came on the TV (tuned to MuchMusic, of course), and my opinion changed.

Looking back, it is a hard to understand how powerful that song was. Perhaps this has something to do with “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You” by Milli Vanilli being #1 on the charts the day that Young’s Freedom was released. Here was this old rocker, screaming angry lyrics about the fate of the world as America was plundering the depths of Bush I Conservatism. Between scenes of LA viewed through the eyes of a homeless man, we see Young standing in a dystopian junkyard beating the living shit out of his guitar – a solo so angry and violent that the strings were stripped off the instrument. The feedback and distortion are perfect for the angry chaos of the song. It might have been a Rock anthem, but it was more punk than Punk. The lyrics of the bridge (edited out of the video for MTV) lay the blame for the ills of the world on no-one but us:

We got a thousand points of light, for the homeless man
We got a kinder, gentler machine gun hand.
Got department stores and toilet paper
Got styrofoam boxes for the ozone layer
Got a man of the people, says ‘keep hope alive’
Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive.

A quarter-Century later, in a post-grunge era, the distortion and chaos of the song sound pretty tame. At the time, it was stunning in mainstream rock, and this album was my (admittedly late) gateway drug to Sonic Youth, Dinosaur (Jr.), Fugazi, and the Pixies. But that’s a whole different story.

I bought Freedom on cassette, and became a pretty big Young fan at that point. Such that I can look back at where I was and what I was doing by Neil Young concerts: Solo acoustic at the Spokane Coliseum (I was working at a ski shop in Trail); with Crazy Horse at the Pacific Coliseum (undergrad at SFU); with Booker T and the MGs (around my Brother’s wedding, working in a bike shop, living on Hastings street); etc. His album “Harvest Moon” even played a significant role in my courting (or being courted by) Ms.NWimby.

The question is why am I such a fan? His rock music is pretty straight-forward, even derivative. His ballads are simple – 3 verses and chorus. His vocal style is distinct, but not particularly elegant. He is pretty good at the guitar (if you like extended one-note guitar solos), ok on the piano, and probably should avoid future banjo work. His styles change like the wind, and for every work of genius like “After the Goldrush” there is a “Trans” or an “Everybody’s Rockin”. However, with all the ups and downs of his discography, there is one thread that runs through: integrity.

He has spent a life surrounded with chaos (broken childhood home, 60s folk scene, 70s drug scene, etc.), and, when he occasionally found himself flirting with middle-of-the-road success, he once famously said:

Traveling there was really boring so I headed for the ditch“.

Every seemingly-strange fork he took in his long career (Trans, Shocking Pinks, Greendale), he did with purpose, and because he felt it served his creative drive. He has never been afraid of being unpopular – he was once sued by David Geffen for making records that didn’t sound enough like Neil Young (Geffen lost). He seems to have limited interest in the machine that feeds him – rock and roll stardom. A lesser-known song on “Freedom” talks about the state of the music business at the time when Milli Vanilli was #1 on the charts:

“The artist looked at the producer, The producer sat back
He said ‘What we have got here, is a perfect track
‘But we don’t have a vocal, so we don’t have a song
‘If we could get these things accomplished,
‘nothing else could go wrong.’
So he balanced the ashtray, as he picked up the phone:
Said ‘Send me a songwriter, who’s drifted far from home
‘Make sure that he’s hungry, make sure he’s alone
‘Send me a cheeseburger, and a new Rolling Stone.'”
                            -Crime in the City (Sixty to zero)

He more famously (clumsily, unkindly) lampooned corporate ownership of music and using music to shill products:

Young’s integrity doesn’t stop at his music, though. He has, for more than 20 years, run an annual benefit for the Bridge School– a school for kids with communications challenges related to various disabilities (his own son is non-verbal with cerebral palsy). He worked with Willie Nelson to develop the Farm Aid movement. Just as he has never shied away from musical experiments, he has never been bashful about his political opinions, from “Ohio” to “Living with War”. I don’t know if he is right in his opinions, I’m sure we can all pick opinions of Young’s that we don’t agree with. However, when he speaks about something politically, we can be sure it is coming from him. You cannot doubt his sincerity, or his integrity.

So why Tar Sands? Why now?

Hearing his interviews since this whole thing started, the answer is easy to find. Young is a tinkerer, and has always expressed ideas around sustainability. Exploring his film-making side, he decided to drive his electric car to Fort McMurray and see what all the fuss was about. I take him completely at face value when he describes getting out of his (electric) car, smelling the air in Fort Mac, and recognizing something was amiss with the boreal forest. Being a life-long advocate for aboriginal rights, he connected with local first nations, and was told of their concerns. Clearly they made an impression, because he made a commitment to help them out if he could. Turns out he could.

Did Young then contact the Canadian Association of Petroleum producers to get the “other side of the story”? Did he surf over to Suncor’s website to see the myriad benefits of oil extraction? Did he read the most recent International Energy Agency forecasts for recoverable reserves and cross reference against human rights abuses in other petroleum producing nations? Possibly. More likely, he looked in the eyes of his Athabasca Chipewyan hosts, smelled the bitumen in the air, and said something along the lines of “this shit ain’t right”. Then he set about doing what he could to help raise the profile of the issue, and maybe raise money to help people he saw as needing some help.

The reaction from the Oil Industry and their shills was predictable, alternating between obscuring the point he was making to ad hominem attack on him as a “Rock Star”, “Aging Rocker” or a “Bad Canadian”. Perhaps the most ham-fisted rebuke of Young’s statements was made by Harper Government spokes-flaks. A response easily and compellingly retorted by Young. Watching that exchange, it is clear which side is speaking with integrity.

To Ezra Levant and his astro-turf shills behind “Ethical Oil”, who have started an anti-Neil Young website, I ask: Where is your integrity? They call Young a “drug lifestyle icon” after the man has been public about his sobriety, and some of his most poignant songs are about the friends he lost to drugs. But if the quality of Young’s “lifestyle” is to be questioned, we should start by looking at his 40-year body of work, his commercial, artistic, and critical success. One might conclude that we all would benefit from a little more of whatever Neil is on.

They further criticize Young for not protesting against OPEC dictatorships, while also suggesting he shouldn’t meddle in Canada’s politics, as he doesn’t live here (try to square that circle). They never address the actual points that Neil Young is making, and the entire issue of the Constitutional rights of First Nations – the centre of all of Young’s arguments – is conveniently ignored by those interested in “Ethical Oil”. Instead, they then call Young a hypocrite for fueling his “rock star lifestyle” with oil, not realizing that they are making his point. They are correct that Neil Young is reliant on fossil fuels; We are all reliant on fossil fuels. That is the fucking problem!

Um… sorry, got a little heated there. I know I should be used to it but now, but I’m still surprised when it is suggested that our society may need to think about reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and critics react by arguing “but we NEED fossil fuels, we can’t live without them”, as if that is a counter-argument, and not just begging the question. If this isn’t addiction, what is?

I’ve seen Neil Young talk, and I’ve heard his critics. I’ve seen Neil Young walk the walk and put his time and money where his mouth is. I see a person raising a conversation about the largest industrial development in the history of Canada’s hinterland, and I hear critics telling him to shut up. I see a person standing next to First Nations leaders and trying to help a community who feel powerless against global Multinationals and the government that covers for them. I see the Government trying to reassure an increasingly suspicious public that everything is fine: “Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive”, indeed. I see an aging rocker legendary artist, humanitarian, and Officer of the Order of Canada using his name not to fill his crib, but to raise a conversation about an issue that is important to the future of the planet, important to the nation of his birth, and important to a small community in eastern Alberta that touched him. I see one man acting with integrity, and taking the slings and arrows that often follow those that choose that path.

I’m with Neil.

Do the Math (the Movie)

Every month or so, the NWEP hold an informal get-together of like-minded folks to chat about sustainability issues. This follows the international movement known as “Green Drinks”. The original Green Drinks model was to have a regular informal networking and conversation session for environmental professionals, sustainability activists, and like minded folks to create a crucible for action. There are literally hundreds of Green drinks held internationally, and each has its own character.

Here in New West, we are trying to attach a small-scale event to each Green Drinks, a speaker or such to lubricate the conversation and to increase the reach to the general community. As per the Green Drinks code, the evening is not “about” the speaker or a specific topic. The conversations after are broad-reaching and held in small informal groups constantly migrating, really it is just a cocktail party not a rallying session. Above all, it is a social night out where folks can meet new people and share new ideas. As a bonus in New West, we can meet in the Back Room of the Heritage Grill, where the license if food primary, so it has a “pub” feel, but people under 19 can attend, and there is no expectation to imbibe in alcohol if that isn’t your thing. There is even live music up front for those who do feel like hanging out a little later.

Last week’s Green Drinks was moderately well attended, considering short notice and the burgeoning nature of this new iteration. 25-30 people gathered to see a short documentary film that was just released last month:

Just to put things into a local perspective, I gave it a short intro, and tried to put the local and personal spin on it all. For the record, here are my speaking notes from the night (of course, I ended up speaking more off the cuff and may have missed some of this or added new stuff- you’d have to have shown up to recognize the difference).

INTRO:
Tonight we have a short new Documentary; “Do the Math”

Don’t be afraid of the title, there are only three numbers discussed, and the movie is less about the math behind those three numbers, and more about what those three numbers means to us as denizens of Earth in the 21st century.

The film revolves around Bill McKibben, who has become one the most vocal environmental activists in the Land of Freedom, therefore the subject matter is almost exclusively about our southern neighbours – but maybe that is an interesting thing to keep on your mind during the film: how does the situation there relate to Canada? Or does it relate? What are the similarities and differences?

Finally, I like this film because after the first third talking about the problem, McKibben makes a compelling case about how it is time to stop playing defense for the environment, and if we are going to make any difference at all before it is too late, we had better start playing hard offence, and hitting the people who are perpetrating climate change right where they hurt: their stock value.

Clearly an academic who got dragged into activism (much like Marc Jaccard, Andrew Weaver, James Hansen, Michael Mann, etc.), McKibben has an academic’s speaking style. He wants to be understood more than heard, so what he lacks in bombastic, he makes up for in factual information.

So without further ado: on with the show.

AFTER:
I want to mention a number that was alluded towards, but not part of the “big three numbers” in McKibben’s argument. That is the number 400, as in parts per million CO2.

Sometime last month, while many of us were distracted by a Provincial election, the global atmospheric concentration of CO2 exceeded 400ppm for the first time in about 3 million years. This number is much higher, I hasten to mention, than 350 – the number that the globe agreed was the limit we had to shoot for long-term to prevent unpredictable and catastrophic results of the global atmospheric temperature increasing by more than 2 degrees due to fossil carbon in the atmosphere.

It might be seen as ironic that this arbitrary milestone was passed in the middle of an election where the winning party set as their main policy goal – as their great vision of the future and economic salvation of our Province – a rapid expansion of fossil fuel extraction and quick sale through the most energy-intensive and unsustainable means possible. That this position was supported tacitly by the poll-leading opposition party might be part of the reason we saw a strong surge in support for the Green Party.

Look, mea culpa: I own stocks in Exxon. I own stocks in Encana and Suncor and BP. Not by choice, mind you. I work for a municipality, and am required to contribute to the Municipal Pension Plan. All of those companies are listed amongst the holdings of the MPP. I also have a small personal RRSP, and until recently, Suncor (a large bitumen sand producer) was included as part of my “Ethical Fund” investment. For many of us, we either cannot know where our retirement savings are invested, or have no influence over how they are invested. Maybe the first thing we should take out of this film and McKibben’s “disinvestment” idea is to find out. See if we can change that.

But even if you are not lucky as I am to have some retirement savings, think about what those election promises meant. We have a government right now who wants to invest in hydrocarbon extraction and burning in order to put the Provinces’ finances in order. That is your money they are investing in extracting part of that 2000 GigaTonnes of carbon that needs to stay in the ground if we hope to leave a recognizable global ecosystem to our kids and grandkids. Maybe here in BC, that is where divestment starts. But in this case, we are not just the shareholders- we the voters are the corporation.

There is a coal terminal proposed for across the water that will be responsible for more GHG per year than the City of New Westminster, all its citizens and businesses and cars and schools and everything puts out over 200 years – but our local Chamber of Commerce is all for it because it promises 25 local jobs. Is that a good investment?

There are two pipeline proposals to make BC the export port for bitumen bound for gas tanks and boilers around the Pacific Rim – risking our coastline and our water supplies to expand bitumen sand extraction in Alberta. Is that a good investment?

The big proposal on the table right now is to use your tax dollars to double BCs electrical generating capacity, not to wean ourselves off of less-sustainable energy sources, or even to sell to neighbouring jurisdictions to offset their more carbon-intensive electrical generation, but so we can refrigerate methane extracted through fracking, transported in pipelines, with up to 20% of the methane lost during drilling, pumping, and transportation activities, letting all of our chips lie on the roulette table known as the global natural gas market. Is that a good investment?

To quote the film- we need to start taking money from people causing the problem, and start giving it to people solving the problem. But first, we, as British Columbians, need to stop being former, and start demanding that our government become the latter.

All the Good News that Fits

Proving that there are two ways to look at any story, it has been interesting to watch the news coming out of this recent report by the International Energy Agency.

The story on the CBC, that bastion of left-wing thought, was positively glowing for the future of oil and gas. The US will be the world’s largest hydrocarbon producer by 2020, and completely energy independent by 2035. The only problem they forsee for Canada is that we will be producing so much oil and gas in Canada in the next decade that we will outstrip our ability to burn it or export it.

Few stories, however, talked about the other half of the IEA report. I pick a few relevant quotes from the Executive summary:

“Taking all new developments and policies into account, the world is still failing to put the global energy system onto a more sustainable path. Fossil fuels remain dominant in the global energy mix, supported by subsidies that amounted to $523 billion in 2011, up almost 30% on 2010 and six times more than subsidies to renewables.”

So we are pulling too much carbon out of the ground, too fast, and government policies are specifically designed to mainline this unattainable status quo, not working to fix the inherent problem with this.

What inherent problem? How about these quotes:

“Successive editions of this report have shown that the climate goal of limiting warming to 2 °C is becoming more difficult and more costly with each year that passes. No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 °C goal. Emissions correspond to a long-term average global temperature increase of 3.6 °C.”

Now compare this to the most “alarmist” of IPCC predictions, and you can see that the International Energy Agency is predicting something like twice the warming than the average of the IPCC models over the next 4 decades. Yet this part didn’t even make the news.

We can pull more carbon out of the ground that we know what to do with, and we know doing that will cause unintented catastrophe. Its like we have some kind  of Obsessive Compulsive Oil Extraction Disorder.
Note – we don’t have to leave that carbon in the ground forever. The climate change thing isn’t about how much gas, oil and coal we burn, it is about the rate at which we burn it. To avoid catastrophe, we don’t need to stop using hydrocarbons, we need to slow down until the biosphere can catch up, or until we invent some sort of practical and realistic sequestration technology (which the IEA notes we are not actually inventing anywhere near fast enough). If we leave it in the ground, it will always be there. It is already so valuable for everything from plastic to chemicals to medicine that it is frankly baffling that we still waste so much of it on simple combustion – but that’s another whinge.

So we have a choice- we can rush to exploit the Bitumen Sands faster than we can burn and export it, or we can do it slowly, keep as much in the ground as long as possible, and extract more value out of every tonne of carbon extracted.

If we take the fast-and-cheap route, we will run out faster, make less per tonne, and threaten the most expensive infrastructure we have – our coastal cities (see New York and Venice). Not to mention the homes of hundreds of millions of people, and entire marginal ecosystems. Then we will leave the future generation the problem of abandoning those cities or investing massively in energy-intensive plans to save them- after we have already spent all of the easy money and burned off all of their cheap energy.

Try explaining that to your children, who I assume you hope will be alive in 2050, even after you are in the ground. That is why Anthropogenic Global Warming isn’t a science problem or a political problem, it is an ethical problem.

Apparently, Pipelines have two ends.

We are still a full human gestation from a Provincial Election, but the campaign season is in full swing. The BCLiberals are dropping hints of more landmines they are going to leave for the NDP to deal with next year, the cracks are starting to show in the spackle that is the BC Conservative Party, and the NDP seem to have decided it is time to stop watching Premier McSparkles(tm) bail water onto her own sinking ship, and are starting to speak up on specific topics.

At least the BCliberals are getting over their six months of mock outrage that Adrian Dix had not provided a campaign platform for them to critique, fully a year before the election. It wasn’t fair, they whinged, for him to criticize us and not give us anything with which to criticize him back. This seems a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the Opposition, as there’s no compelling reason for the NDP to offer a platform if they are not the Government, have no power to implement their mandate, and are not even going to the voters asking to be made Government. If the Premier wants to see the NDP platform, then she is free to drop the writ.

However, sometimes the opposition has to strike when the iron is hot, and the iron is very, very hot around the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline right now. The Federal Conservatives keep bouncing between unabashed support and calling for careful scientific review (while concurrently laying off the very scientists who would do that review), the Premier of Alberta sees any pipeline anywhere as her Constitutional Right, and the Premier of BC is rattling something she must think are sabres: trying to look tough, pragmatic and “leaderish” around the issue.

It was a good time, apparently, for Adrian Dix to make his alternate viewpoint on the Pipeline clear.

So John Rustad (who?) responded with vigour. According to Google, the pipeline runs through his backyard, and he is one of the few BCLiberal MLAs who has confirmed he will return to contest his seat in May, so I guess he is a logical voice for the Government on this issue, I just wish his criticism contained more logic. You can read his statement here, and it is an incredible pile of wrong. Either Rustad is unfamiliar with the BC Environmental Assessment Act that he is talking about, or he is purposely misleading people about what it means. Hanlon’s Razor suggests the former, so let’s stick to that.

The BC Environmental Assessment process is not a “unilateral” hearing, nor would the Premier’s expressed opinion about the project mean the project could be “killed” by applying a Provincial Process. In contrast, since the recent Federal omnibus budget bill C-38, the Federal Environmental Assessment process is much less informed by science, as the Prime Minister’s Office or the Minister of Raping and Pillaging can now override any recommendation coming out of the review; including the recommendation of the specific Ministry running the scientific review or the scientists providing the data. The BC EA process does not include any such provision. Simply put, the BC EA process is now the much less political, more science-based process cmpared to the “sham process” (to borrow Rustad’s words) the Federal Government has created.

Here, let me pick one of his paragraphs apart:

“By prejudging the project and the federal environmental review process, the NDP have sent a dangerous message to investors. The NDP are, in essence, saying future resource development should be determined by popular opinion – not scientific review. This begs the question, what other resource projects would they try to halt prior to diligent review processes?”

It is clear that the Federal Government (who are running the current EA) have pre-judged the process; is Mr. Rustad assuming the Feds can run a fair, scientific process despite the bias they have already expressed, the specific language in new Federal EA Act that provides political override of the scientific conclusion of the EA process, and the ongoing gutting of the very scientific jobs that would provide the understanding of the environmental impacts – yet (breath) – the Province under Dix can’t, where there is no legislated ability to subvert the Provincial process? Read the BC EA legislation, does that look like the aforementioned “public opinion” poll? Not at all.

Aren’t the Federal Government and the Government of Alberta saying that all resource development should be approved, regardless of the present or future environmental impacts? what does that say to resource industries hoping to set up shop in BC? Come, pollute our streams, as long as we get a few jobs or royalties as crumbs, not need to assess the cost-benefit!

Finally, could someone in the BC Liberals communication department, the people writing these speeches for Rustad and other announcements, look up what the expression “begging the question” means? Or is it being used ironically here, as he is rather begging the question (in the logical fallacy sense)…

If Rustad had bothered to read Adrian Dix’s actual statement, he might have taken the hint and actually read (or had his communications staff read) the cited parts of the BC Environmental Assessment Act and the changed Canadian Envrionmental Assessment Act before he commented on it. The “new” Federal Act is no longer independent, science-based, or accountable, and therefore no longer in the same spirit as the Federal Act that was part of the 2010 Environmental Assessment Equivalency Agreement (which brought he two acts into harmony). If BC wants to have a legitimate Environmental Assessment of the Enbridge pipeline, it will have to hold its own.

The approach outline by Dix is clear, and completely within the spirit and the letter of the Act while representing BCs interests before the interests of Enbridge, unlike the silly approach proffered so far by the BC Government. Rustad trots out BC’s strange “five minimum requirements” approach for any proposed “heavy oil” projects in BC (that term poorly defined, but clearly not including liquified natural gas or refined oil products) to receive “potential” provincial support, although not outright approval. If the remarkable glut of weasel words in the preamble is not enough to reassure you, just review what those 5 conditions are, the 5-headed hydra of Premier McSparkles’(tm) “principled” position:

1. Successful completion of the environmental review process. This “condition” is actually required by Federal Law, and no-one is expecting the pipeline to go forward without this approval – which raises (but doesn’t beg) the question of just what the hell the Premier thought we have been talking about for the last 2 years!?

2. World-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems for B.C.’s coastline and ocean to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy oil pipelines and shipments; A completely nonsensical and unmeasurable requirement. What does “World-Leading” mean? Does every aspect need to be better than everyone else’s? Or just a cumulative? Does she require an insurance scheme and on-board navigation systems more comprehensive than International Law? Would any tanker company agree to that? Why? Who will measure, if it was even measurable?

3. World-leading practices for land oil spill prevention, response and recovery systems to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy oil pipelines; Again, completely unmeasurable. A standard that is not measurable is not standard at all (see the recent Auditor General’s report on the BC Environmental Assessment Office, and assuring conditions are attainable and measurable with rational metrics). Perhaps we can have a spill-response Olympics, to prove our systems are better than those in Azerbaijan and Zaire…

4. Legal requirements regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights are addressed, and First Nations are provided with the opportunities, information and resources necessary to participate in and benefit from a heavy-oil project; OH, Ok, we are making compliance with the CONSTITUTION a condition of approval? Wow, that’s bold. Why again is no-one taking this person seriously?

5. British Columbia receives a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of a proposed heavy oil project that reflects the level, degree and nature of the risk borne by the province, the environment and taxpayers. Translate: show me the money. Here is the heart of the “principled stand”. Act tough, hold out for more cash, a mob-style security shakedown.

The BCLiberal approach to the Enbridge Pipeline has been confused, self-contradictory, tone-deaf, a day late and a dollar short. It has lacked in both vision and in understanding of law, from Provincial and Federal EA statutes to the Constitution Act of 1982. It has been an embarrassment for the Premier, and she has, in turn, has been and embarrassment to the Province.In contrast, Adrian Dix has make a clear, definitive statement, citing the specific existing legislation he would invoke, and how he would invoke it. The BC Liberal response is to have some junior MLA ridicule him, avoiding any points of fact, or any specific flaw in his statement, just suggesting he might be “scary” to Enbridge.

Suddenly, the NDP are looking like a Government, the BCLiberals are looking like a desperate opposition.

Thinking about Oil Exports

The Provincial NDP have come out strongly against the Northern Gateway Pipeline.

Before anyone accuse them of just following the crowd to see where it is going, then rushing out front to make it look like they were leading all the time, they have also provided a 6-point argument for why they do not support Enbridge.

Most of the points are ones you have heard before from other radical foreign-funded environmentalists like me (full disclosure: I spent two years receiving paycheques from the Illinois State Department of Natural Resources): risk of tanker spills, risk to inland waterways, GHG impacts, etc. One argument, however has always led to interesting discussions with people I talk to whom I consider “environmentalists”.

“The NGP provides few long-term, sustainable economic benefits for B.C., and forgoes value-added economic activity involving upgrading and refining in Canada”

As a reflex, I support this argument. Selling off as much of a finite resource as quickly as possible without first squeezing out as much value from that resource as possible seems like a really bad idea. Perhaps the only worse idea is to sell off a sustainable resource at a rate that makes it unsustainable and at the same time not first squeezing out as much value from that resource. But this argument hides another deeper argument that is harder for many on both sides of the political spectrum to get around.

First, it is interesting to look at the oil numbers. Canada (according to the CIA factbook) produces about 3.3 Million barrels of oil per day (Mbbl/d), but consumes the equivalent of 2.2 Mbbl/d in oil products. Although we export about 2.0 Mbbl/d, we import about 1.2 Mbbl/d.

The numbers look like this (Mbbl/d, all 2011 numbers):
Production:      3.289
Import:              1.192
Export:               2.001
Consumption:  2.151

Canada currently has 15 operating oil refineries, which combined total 1.879 Mbbl/d in daily refining capacity. This does not include “upgrade” refineries in Alberta and Saskatchewan; those turn bitumen into synthetic crude oil (syncrude), which must then go to another refinery to be made into useable product. Exporting syncrude is indistinguishable from exporting crude oil, carbon- and ecological-footprint aside. Three of those refineries are in the Maritimes, 2 in Quebec, 4 in Ontario, 1 in Saskatchewan, 3 in Alberta, and 2 in BC (including the Chevron refinery in Vancouver).

The point is that, even if all the refineries were to run at maximum capacity, we could not begin to refine all of the oil we produce here in Canada, we could not even refine enough to satiate our consumption needs. Hence, we need to import refined product, some of that potentially refined from the 60% of the oil we produce that goes offshore. With all the recent talk of China, most of the oil currently going out of Burrard Inlet is bound for California refineries, and most of those tank farms you see around Burrard Inlet (Shellburn in Burnaby, Ioco in Port Moody, Suncor on the northeast slope of Burnaby Mountain) are just storing oil products imported for the States to supply local demand.

Ideally, based on the NDP argument above, Canada would refine our own oil. We would at the very least build refineries to meet our domestic refined product demand, and potentially build enough that we could export the refined product to gain all the added value instead of the raw syncrude. We don’t do this, because the refineries belong, for the most part, to publicly traded multinational corporations. They will build and operate refineries where it is easiest and cheapest to do so, with lower labour costs, lower tax regimes, and softer environmental laws. What may be (agruably) in our national interest is most defintiely not in their best financial interest.

Canadian Refineries and capacity by ownership:
Imperial Oil (Exxon): 4 refineries totalling 503,000 bbl/d;
Suncor (formerly PetroCanada): 3 refineries totalling 360,000 bbl/d
Irving (a Canadian business): 1 refinery at 300,000 bbl/d;
Valero (Texaco): 1 refinery at 265,000 bbl/d;
Shell (Royal Dutch Shell): 2 refineries totalling 172,000 bbl/d;
Korea National Oil Company: 1 refinery at 115,000 bbl/d;
CCRL (a Sask. co-operative!): 1 refinery at 100,000 bbl/d;
Chevron Corporation: 1 refinery at 52,000 bbl/d;
Husky Energy: 1 refinery at 12,000 bbl/d.

So here is when my environmentalist friends start to get itchy collars: I suggest this scenario (recognizing it is highly unlikely). Let’s assume that the NDP win the next federal election, and just to piss off Alberta after all the efforts their guys have done to piss off the NDP over the previous 5+ years, they bring about Canada National Energy Program 2.0. Part of that program includes an end to raw crude exports, and an end to refined product imports.

The question for envrionmentalists concerned about all this export of raw crude: Would you support increasing refining capacity in Canada? Even if that meant doubling capacity in order to meet the demand from back in 2011? So, my sensible environmentalist friends, I ask you: would you support the building of oil refineries if it meant the end of oil imports for Canada, and the end of raw crude exports?

This might be a good question to ask the NDP.

On Pipelines, Parks, and Rhetoric

I could start this post apologizing for not writing more recently, but things are pretty crazy busy and… well.. most of my recent posts have been of the “haven’t written much lately” genre, so just read one of those if you come here for lame excuses.

I did stay up last night to see Stephen Harper talk to Peter Mansbridge. The take-away quote for me came when the Prime Minister suggested :

“But just because certain people in the United States would like to see Canada be one giant national park for the northern half of North America, I don’t think that’s part of what our review process is all about.”

First off, for those interested in the he art of rhetoric, this is a textbook example of a “Strawman Fallacy”. This is when you re-phrase your opponent’s argument using a deliberately extreme caricature of it. You then argue not against your opponent’s actual position, but against the extreme caricature of your own creation. The name comes from the idea of building up an effigy of your opponent, but make it of straw so that it is easy for you to defeat.

Like most logically fallacies, it is pulled out when you cannot refute your opponents’ actual position. Really, the only way it works is if his opponent falls for it, and tries to defend the Strawman position without realizing that it is an exaggerated version of their position.

So, just to prove it is a crappy Strawman, I’m going to do exactly that.

The Northern Gateway Pipeline has benefits to BC, no doubt. According to the Astroturf organization the Northern Gateway Alliance , these benefits can be counted as 3000 short-term jobs, 500 long-term jobs, and $1.2Billion in tax revenue over 30 years (that is $40Million a year). That is pretty impressive.

However, compare that to the benefits Alberta receives from its National Parks. According to the Albera government, just Alberta’s Rocky Mountain National parks provide almost 20,000 fulltime jobs (40x that of the Northern Gateway), $1.14 Billion in annual revenue, and $398 Million in government revenue every year (more than 10x the Northern Gateway).

I’m with Steve! It’s a no-brainer. Lets us stop the Northern Gateway Pipeline and open the Northern Gateway National Park. Have you seen that part of the Province? it is spectacular! One Peter Jackson movie, and we’re in gravy!

Even if it only sees 10% of the visitors of Banff, we will still be way ahead economically, and we don’t have to worry about the long-term environmental impacts, the oil tankers, the GHG emissions, or anything. Best thing is that this is sustainable in the long run, and it wouldn’t require us slowing down on Bituminous Sands extraction at all, as there are already plenty of places to ship the stuff. Or maybe we can start refining it domestically and see some value added, but I am digressing here…

OF course, I am being facetious (a little bit), but really, this just puts the lie to the biggest logical fallacy that is made by Stephen Harper here, and by his entire “you are with us, or you are radicals” crowd: the false dichotomy they create between environmental protection and economic development. I’m not just saying that both can exist simultaneously, I’m saying that they had better exist simultaneously.

Otherwise, what future do we have?

With Enbridge, or Against Us?

The Environmental Assessment for the Northern Gateway pipeline project has started its public consultation stage. As is typical, the Harper Government has used this potentially-divisive event not to demonstrate leadership, but instead to draw sharp the divisions, and to demonstrate it doesn’t respect due process or the laws of the nation.

It started a few days ago when Steve declared that he was going to make sure radical groups with foreign funding don’t “hijack” the process. Now Steve may have his faults, but using language loosely is not one of them. Every message sent out by the PMO is carefully crafted to frame the discussion. Therefore, his choice to use the language of the War on Terror (“radical”,”foreign”,”hijack”) is designed to intentionally draw anyone who values environmental sustainability over the profits of Multi-national Oil Companies as non-Canadian, and not to be trusted. You are with Enbridge or you are against us.

Then he sent one of his less familiar minions, Joe Oliver, to sign a highly inappropriate and inflammatory “open letter”. The inflammatory part is obvious (read “radical ideological agenda”,”foreign special interest groups”, “radical groups”), but the inappropriate part comes from what he does for a living. As the Minister of Natural Resources and a member of the Conservative Cabinet, he is one of the people who will need to review and eventually approve or reject, this project: a job best done, in my humble opinion, after the data-gathering and the public hearings, and after the Joint Review Panel makes a recommendation. Actually it’s not just my opinion, it is the Law.

Given the nature of the open letter, how could anyone conclude the Joint Review Panel is anything but a sham process, when it is clear that the Federal Government as already made up its mind. You are with them, or you are against Enbridge.

Once again, Elizabeth May is the only one in Parliament standing up and speaking truth to power.

I keep on jumping on and off the Elizabeth May bandwagon, but with this open letter and her frighteningly frank comments coming out of Durban, I can see myself enjoying my current bandwagon seat for quite some time. I know many members of our Loyal Opposition feel the same way on this topic as May, but the realities of a large party system probably limit their ability to speak as clearly and truthfully as She does in response to John Oliver. Why, oh suffering Canadian Media, do we give Kevin O’Leary more air time than Elizabeth May? looking for inspiration in the vacuum left by Jack Layton? Read her blog. I digress…

Since he raised the spectre of “foreign special interest groups”, I might just agree with the concern expressed by Minister Oliver, except that all of those pejorative terms are so poorly defined. What is a “special interest group?”

Looking at the Joint Review Panel documents, one can actually see who is planning to hijack this process.

“Interveners” are interested stakeholders who are able to present written or oral evidence to the Panel, and to ask questions of other Interveners when they are presenting evidence. In essence, if you want to “hijack” the process, being an Intervener is the way to do it.

The Joint Review Panel lists 216 registered Interveners. Of those, 91 are private citizens, almost all from the northwest of British Columbia, or those most directly affected by both the positive and negative impacts of the proposed pipeline. There is really no way to know which of those are “for” and which are “against”, or which are just kind of curious. I suspect this group also includes small business owners who may have a vested interest one way or the other, or even journalists, bloggers, and local politico types who just want to take part in the conversation.

The Interveners list includes one labour union that has already expressed opposition to he project, and two academic institutes associated with Universities, who may be presenting evidence, or may just be interested in collecting data for research purposes.

Twelve of the Interveners are governments: BC, Saskatchewan, and a whole bunch of Municipalities. Except that, as Elizabeth May was quick to point out, the First Nations are also effectively governments, and there are no less than 48 First Nations groups listed as Interveners. I wonder if Minister Oliver suspects these as the source of “Foreign interference”?

If not, that leaves us with two more groups: Non-Profits (34) and Corporations and businesses (28). The first group is pretty diverse, including everyone from the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation and the Douglas Channel Watch (whom I think we can safely say are opposed to the project) to oil-industry funded lobby groups like the Oil Sands Developers Group Association, the In Site Oil Sands Alliance, and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, whom we can be equally assured are in favour of the project. I will leave it to you to determine which Non-Profits are more likely to be well funded from abroad, and which are more likely to have the local community’s interests in mind.

Which leaves us with 28 Corporations and businesses. I am not going to presume that all of them are in favour of the pipeline, but seeing as they fall into two main categories: Oil Companies, and companies that contract to Oil Companies, I think the vast majority see oil pipelines as a good thing. Since Minister Oliver seemed specifically incensed by the untoward influence of foreign money, I am going to pass on calling out any Canadian companies (hey, they are Canadian, and Corporations are People too… give ‘em the voice!), and instead call attention to a few of the standouts:

ExxonMobil (Irving, Texas, annual revenue $383 Billion), and their subsidiary Imperial Oil, are listed as two separate Interveners.
BritishPetroleum (London, UK, annual revenue $309 Billion);
Total E&P (Courbevois, France, annual revenue $203 Billion);
ConocoPhillips (Houston, Texas, annual revenue $198 Billion);
Sinopec (China, annual revenue $197 Billion) as “SinoCanada Petroleum”;
Koch Industries (Wichita, Kansas, annual revenue $100 Billion) as “Flint Hills Resources”;
Inpex (Tokyo, Japan, annual revenue $16 Billion);
Daewoo International (Seoul, South Korea, annual revenue $13 Billion);
Kinder Morgan (Houston, Texas, annual revenues $12 Billion)
Japex (Tokyo, Japan, annual revenue $2.6 Billion) as “Japan Canada Oil Sands”;

So Severn Cullis-Suzuki and the Fort St. James Sustainability Group are going up against an organized group of foreign-owned companies with $1.4 Trillion (with a ”T”) in combined revenue, and our Prime Minister is more concerned about where the Environmental Groups money is coming from? Surely, this is parody.

As an aside, this morning on the radio business news, I hear Chris Carter stating that the high gasoline prices we are seeing now are only partially caused by high crude prices. The biggest reason for high and fluctuating prices is a chronic lack of refining capacity in North America leading to difficult-to-manage inventories.

This is something to talk about. Why are we spending billions setting up systems to export raw crude, when we could use the money to build the needed refining capacity? This would provide way more jobs, would increase the “value added” we receive from the Bituminous Sands, and could potentially lead to more stable fuel prices for Canadian businesses.

The question is, of course, rhetorical. Lower and more stable fuel prices, producing jobs in a relatively expensive labour market, increasing domestic value form Canada’s natural resources: none of these serve the purposes of the real decision makers in Ottawa, the Multi-national Oil Companies with offices in Calgary.

Election Day 1

As you can read here, I am not a member of any political party, and my votes in the past have gone to candidates from all over the political spectrum. I am political, but pretty non-partisan. Good ideas can come from anyone, just as bad ideas can.

But I am not without biases. I really don’t like Harper’s Conservatives, for several reasons. A good recent example arrived in my electronic mailbox on Thursday.

I am on an Environment Canada mail list for both work and personal interest reasons, mostly because I like to know what my “open and accountable” government is up to. So when this notice arrived in my mailbox (and mailboxes across Canada) at 12:25 PDT on Thursday, I was naturally excited. Apparently the Government was finally going to do something about the damning report they themselves commissioned, then tried to bury, only releasing it a couple of days before Christmas, when everyone is paying attention. I was looking forward to calling in for the announcement, until I realized the actual announcement was in less than 20 minutes, and I would have to “pre-register” by calling the handy number they provided. So they are giving a press conference to no-one, at 3:45 EDT, the day before the Government Falls. Why do I think this is not going to be good news? Open and accountable government? those bastards. Ends up they came up with a “plan” to start monitoring the Tar Sands impacts on the Assiniboine River. No actual timing is mentioned, no actual funding is suggested. Really, there is no evidence they plan to actually do anything, but they have a plan. To start monitoring. Some time. Later. Maybe.

Apparently, I am supposed to vote Liberal, but tomorrow I will be out pounding signs into lawns for a friend representing another party. Not that it matters in this riding, as someone representing yet a third party is the foregone winner. Dilworth’s pre-recorded voice already called me today, and she gave me the canned Party Line. The message offered to hear my questions of I pressed 1, which I dutifully did. They hung up on me. but a pre-recorded message that lies about allowing you to interact: that is pretty much the Conservative Party Line, isn’t it?

So I can sit back and enjoy the election with a slight detachment. 24 hours in to the election, and Ignatieff has already made a strategic blunder.

This coalition thing is a smokescreen, it is just more of the Politics of Fear that Steve learned from his Southern Friends. As long as they are trying to paint a coalition as the Worst Possible Thing That Could Happen™, none of the real issues are going to come to the forefront.

So to deny that a coalition is up for consideration serves three purposes: It reinforces the false notion that it is the Worst Possible Thing That Could Happen™; it limits his options if the polls don’t start improving soon; and it lets Harper control the conversation.

The only appropriate response to this type of bullshit is to turn it around on him. Say something like:

“I am campaigning for a Liberal Majority Government, because I think that would be the best result for all Canadians. That said, Mr. Harper is going to have to explain to Canada why a stable coalition of willing Parliamentarians, working together to represent the interests of the majority of Canadians is somehow “less stable” than yet another fragile minority government, unwilling to work with anyone or hear any diversity of voices, desperate enough to hold on to the reigns of power that they would rather prorogue Parliament that listen to the will of the people.”

Boom.

John Baird is an evil little man.

Last month when Jim Prentice resigned as Minister of Environment, my initial reaction was “good”, followed quickly be “aw, shit.” Because despite Jim Prentice’s troubles with the portfolio, he might have been the best the Harper Conservatives had to offer in that role.
Harper’s previous picks for Minister of Environment were Rona Ambrose and John Baird. Ambrose is, of course, the dim-witted Ayn Rand-quoting Calgary ideologue who once suggested a Federal Child Care plan would violate Canadian women’s rights and that the spotted owl population was not threatened just because their total population was reduced to 17 individuals. Rona’s main asset appears to be that Sarah Palin – Christine O’Donnell kinda-puffy former cheerleader vibe that is so damn attractive to puffy white male conservative voters. An asset that puffy white Harper is quick to exploit by assuring she is in the near background whenever you see him speaking in the house.
Here: see if you can play a game of “Find Rona”: 

After Ambrose’s embarrassing run as Minister of Environment became too embarrassing, even for Harper, The PM propped Baird into the role, despite the obvious handicap of Baird’s disfigured hand, which prevents him from ever bending his index fingers:

When Baird was eventually replaced by one of the reasonable voices in Harper’s cabinet, one of the few Progressive Conservatives who had not been driven out or dragged down by the PMO, there was room for cautious optimism. And a few good things did manage to get done under Prentice. He made progress on water quality on first Nations reserves, made some useful changes of the CEAA, and even managed to kill the proposal to replace Fish Lake with a tailings pond.

Unfortunately, his failure to secure funding for the CFCAS will be part of his legacy, and was probably part of the reason he found greener pastures in the Private Sector. Anyone with a conscience cannot continue to serve in that portfolio under this Prime Minister, which brings us to John Baird…

Here is the notice I got today from John Baird, as part of his regular press missives. It is a stunning example of cognitive dissonance. In it, he has three points to make:

“We are committed to working with our partners in preventing and preparing for marine environmental emergencies.”

This in the day that the person responsible for evaluating the Government’s preparedness for maritime oil spills blasted the Ministry for being woefully unprepared, This is not some Eco-terrorist suggesting that the government has it’s head in the sand, or even the opposition passing a private members bill to protect the coast from being devastated by Alberta’s economic interests, it is the guy the government hired to perform an audit of the very practice he is commenting upon. This is, in effect, John Baird’s employee. For once, pointing a finger at HIM.

What else does John say:

“We are proud of the concrete and measurable action we are taking to implement a strong and comprehensive approach to protect Canada’s waters. This past year alone, Environment Canada has spent more than $140 million on water related programs and science.”

This sounds impressive, but is one quarter of what the US government is spending on water monitoring and protection in the Great Lakes alone, and orders of magnitude less than the subsidies being given to Tar Sands industries that are turning most of Northen Alberta water into emulsion. A fact he might be concerned about if only a single doller of that sampling money was spent measuring for potential Tar Sands impacts on the Athabaska River. But he don’t want to go there.

Finally, the mud in the eye to the few still reading:

“The Government of Canada is also taking action to help Canadians adapt to a changing climate and we are working towards developing a Government-wide adaptation framework.”

So Baird has decided to stop denying climate change, and has decided to think about adapting to it. Mr Baird is sunning his not-unsubstantial buns in Cancun right now, at the UN climate conference. And he is there with, apparently, a purpose.
And that is his power, with a stright face (and ever straighter finger), John Baird, overseer of environmental responsibility in a Country that has made the least progress (actually, the most negative progress) of any nation since Kyoto, the country that in the last 10 years has gone from a world leader in reductions to a global pariah, is going to show up at Cancun and slam his shoe on his desk. I can’t help but see Baird’s approach to this conference as eerily similar to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rants to the UN. Both are separated from reality, both show a complete lack of self-awareness, and both completely lack in credibility. These are desperate, distracting rants being delivered by persons who the sane people in the debate have stopped listening to years ago. But he is now Stephen Harper’s closest ally in the house. And even worse, he is Canada’s representive on a world stage.

I ascribe to Hanlon’s Razor: I try not to assume malice when incompetence will suffice. But I think Baird is too smart to be so utterly hopeless. I am left to interpret only evil.