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Corroding Our Democracy: Canada Silences Scientists, Targets Environmentalists in Tar Sands Push September 24, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canada petroleum, Energy, Environment, Science and Technology.
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http://www.democracynow.org, 24 September 2013

Five years ago this month, the firm TransCanada submitted a permit request to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would bring tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The project has sparked one of the nation’s most contentious environmental battles in decades. The Obama administration initially appeared ready to approve Keystone XL, but an unprecedented wave of activism from environmentalists and residents of the states along its path has forced several delays. Among those pressuring Obama for Keystone XL’s approval is the Canadian government, which recently offered a greater pledge of reduced carbon emissions if the pipeline is built. We’re joined by one of Canada’s leading environmental activists, Tzeporah Berman, who has campaigned for two decades around clean energy, and is the former co-director of Greenpeace International’s Climate Unit. She is now focused on stopping tar sands extraction as a member of the steering committee for the Tar Sands Solutions Network. Berman is also the co-founder of ForestEthics and is the author of the book “This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge.” Berman discusses how the Canadian government is muzzling scientists speaking out on global warming, quickly changing environmental laws, and why she believes the push for tar sands extraction has created a “perfect storm” of grassroots activism bring together environmentalists, indigenous communities and rural landowners.

GUEST:

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Five years ago this month, the firm TransCanada submitted a permit request to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would bring tar Sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The project has sparked one of the nation’s most contentious environmental battles in decades. The Obama administration initially appeared ready to approve Keystone XL, but an unprecedented wave of activism from environmentalists and residents of the states along its path has forced several delays. In the summer 2011, 1200 people were arrested outside the White House. Well, on Saturday, protests were held once again around the country in a national day of action urging President Obama to reject Keystone’s construction. President Obama also faces continued pressure from backers of the Keystone XL. In their latest push for the project, House Republicans have announced plans to tie the pipeline’s construction to the upcoming vote on raising the nation’s debt ceiling. Well, on Monday, delegates at the 2013 International Women’s Earth and Climate Summit held in Sufferin, New York called on Obama to reject the Keystone XL, saying, “There is no single project in North America that is more significant than Keystone XL in terms of the carbon emissions it would unleash… As women who are already seeing the tragic impacts of climate change on families on indigenous peoples, and on entire countries, we urge you to choose a better future by rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.” At the conference, Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation, described the impact that massive oil and gas extraction has had on her family and its traditional land in northern Alberta.

MELINA LABOUCANMASSIMO: I come from a small northern community, it’s Cree, Nēhiyaw, is, in our language, what we call it. There is nothing on — that compares with the destruction going on there. If there were a global prize for unsustainable development, the tar sands would be a clear winner. Not that there’s a competition going on or by any means, but, I just think that world-renowned people, experts are really seeing this as one of the major issues and that is why it is one of the biggest — you know, the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada and why Canada pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol.

So, this is what it looks like. very viscous. It’s, you know, not fluid, so it takes a lot more energy a lot more water, produces a lot more byproduct. So, it’s equaling to — why it is such a big area, it’s 141,000 square kilometers — equal to that of destroying, you know, England and Wales combined, or the state of Florida for American folks. The mines that we’re dealing with are bigger than entire cities. So, there’s about six, seven right now, could be up to nine. And this is — Imperial Oil, for example, will be bigger than Washington, D.C. alone. So, that’s just a mine. And this is some of the biggest dump trucks in the world. A lot of the issues of toxicity we’re talking from the air, so these are some of the biggest dump trucks in the world. And a lot of the issues for toxicity that we’re dealing with is, and which relates to the water, are these huge tailing ponds; they’re called ponds, but they’re actually big toxic sludge lakes. They currently spend 180 square kilometers just of toxic sludge that’s sitting on the landscape. So, every day one million leaders are leaching into the Athabasca Watershed, which is, you know, where our families drink from. I’m from the Peace Region, but it connects to the Athabasca and it goes up into the Arctic Basin, so that is where all the Northern folks will be getting these toxins, and these contain cyanide, mercury, lead, polyaromatic hydrocarbin nythetic acids. So, there are a lot of issues that we’re dealing with healthwise.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Melina Laboucan-Massimo, member of the lLubicon Cree First Nation in northern Alberta. All of this comes as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently sent President Obama letter, offering a greater pledge of reduced carbon emissions of the Keystone Pipeline is built to bring tar sands oil from Canada to the United States. Well, for more I’m joined by one of Canada’s leading environmental activists, Tzeporah Berman. She’s campaigned for decades around clean energy and is the former Co-director of Greenpeace International’s Climate [Unit]. She is now focused on stopping tar sands extraction as a member of the steering committee for the Tar Sands Solutions Network. Tzeporah Berman is also the Co-founder of Forest Ethics and the author of the book, “This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge.” Welcome to Democracy Now! it’s great to have you with us Tzeporah.

TZEPORAH BERMAN: Thank you, it’s great to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what tar sands means for you in Canada and how it has affected your whole country.

TZEPORAH BERMAN: The tar sands are the single largest industrial project on earth. The scale is almost incomprehensible, if you’ve never been there. They are not only the single reason that Canada’s climate pollution is going up, that we will not meet even the weak targets, even the weak targets, that have been set, but they’re also the most toxic project in the country; they’re polluting our water and air. The tar sands produces 300 million liters of toxic sludge a day that is just pumped into open pit lakes that now stretch about 170 kilometers across Canada. And, you know, one of the important things about what is happening in Canada right now is that Canadian policy on climate change, on environment, on many issues is being held hostage to the goal that this federal government, the Harper government and the oil industry have, of expanding the tar sands no matter what the cost. Oil corrodes, it is corroding our pipelines and leading to spills and leaks that are threatening our communities, but it is also corroding our democracy. What we’re seeing in Canada is, the, literally, the elimination of 40 years of environmental laws in the last two years in order to make way for quick expansion of tar sands and pipelines. I mean, the Keystone is not the only pipeline this industry is proposing. It is a spider of pipelines across North America so that they can try and expand this dirty oil as quickly as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: And why is it so dirty?

TZEPORAH BERMAN: It’s really dirty because it’s — the oil is mixed with sand. So, in order to get that oil out, they have to use natural gas. More natural gas is used in the tar sands than all homes in Canada. It’s — so, they use natural gas and freshwater to actually remove the oil from the sand, and the result is that each barrel of oil from the tar sands has three to four times more emissions, more climate pollution than conventional oil.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain how this pipeline would traverse Canada and the United States and where it goes, what it is for. Does the U.S. benefit from the oil going through the pipeline?

TZEPORAH BERMAN: No, this is an export pipeline. What the industry wants is, they want to get this oil off the continent because they’ll get a better price. And so, all of the pipelines that are currently being proposed are in order so that the industry can export the oil. So, the Keystone, for example, will go all the way from Alberta straight down through the United States and out to the Gulf, and it’s not for U.S. consumption. The majority of that oil is destined to — the U.S. is really just in the Canadian oil industry’s way. The result is that this is a pipeline that is — presents enormous risk to the American people as a result of the terrible records of oil spills and leaks. And not a lot of benefit.

AMY GOODMAN: Tzeporah, you have been meeting with a number of scientists. This week in the New York Times had an interesting editorial called, “Silencing Scientists” and it said “Over the last few years, the government of Canada — led by Stephen Harper — has made it harder and harder for publicly financed scientists to communicate with the public and with other scientists.” What is going on?

TZEPORAH BERMAN: First of all, the government has shut down the majority of scientific research in the country that had to deal with climate change. This is a government in denial and they do not want to talk about climate change. So, last year they shut down the atmospheric research station, which was one of the most important places in the world to get climate data. They shut down the National Round Table on Environment and Economy, they fired hundreds of scientists, and the ones that are left are being told that they can’t release the research to us, even though it is a tax payer’s funded research. They’re also being told they can’t speak to the press unless they have a handler and it’s an approved interview; they have to have a handler from the prime minister’s office. So, the scientists that I’ve talked to, they’re embarrassed, they’re frustrated, they’re protesting. Last week in Canada we had hundreds of scientists hit the streets in their lab coats protesting the federal government because they can’t speak. They are being muzzled. To the extent that the, quiet eminent, journal Nature, last year, published an editorial saying it is time for Canada to set its scientists free.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is an amazing story. We know that in the United States, under the Bush Administration, you had James Hansen who was Head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA who had a handler who hadn’t graduated from college, he was — I think his credential was that he been active on the Bush campaign committee, re-election campaign committee, and James Hansen had to go through him to deal with the media.

TZEPORAH BERMAN: Right, well — but, and James Hansen’s still got to speak deal with — to speak to the media. Most of the scientists that I’m talking to in Canada can’t speak to the media at all. And if they want to talk about climate change, they’re definitely not going to get those interviews approved. But, it is not just the scientists that are being muzzled and the climate research that’s being shut down and people that are being fired, we have also seen an unprecedented attack on charitable organizations that deal with environmental research. The Canadian Government has the majority of environmental organizations under Canadian revenue audit, and so, the result is you have the majority of the country’s environmental leaders not able to be a watchdog on what the government is doing. And secret documents revealed through freedom of information this year showed that the government eliminated all these environmental laws in Canada at the request of the oil industry because the environmental laws were in their way. The Embridge Northern Gateway Pipeline crosses 1000 streams and that would normally trigger in of environmental assessment process. Well, when you have no laws, you have no environmental assessment, so when they eradicated all the environmental laws 3000 environmental assessments for major industrial projects in Canada were canceled. Now those projects are just approved without environmental assessment.

AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean, the activism for you and Canada in the United States, when clearly President Obama has been forced to delay the decision, the Keystone XL because of the massive protest against it?

TZEPORAH BERMAN: I think that what we’re seeing, not only in the United States, but also in Canada, is an unprecedented climate movement. I think that, you know, these pipelines have provided a tangible focus for communities on the ground, and the oil industry and the government have, in a sense, created their own perfect storm. Because, while before it might have been people who were concerned about climate change that would get involved in tar sands or pipeline issues, now it is people worried about their groundwater, it’s first nations and indigenous people across North America who are protesting their rights. It’s land owners. So, now you have this perfect storm.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, the legendary Canadian musician, Neil Young, spoke out against the extraction of tar sands oil in Canada and its export to the U.S. through the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. He was speaking to a National Farmers Union rally and Washington, D.C. Neil Young described his recent visit to a tar sands community in Alberta, Canada.

NEIL YOUNG: The fact is, Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima. Fort McMurray is a wasteland. The Indians up there and the Native peoples are dying. The fuel’s all over, there’s fumes everywhere. You can smell it when you get to town. The closest place to Fort McMurray that is doing the tar sands work is 25 or 30 miles out of town, and you can taste it when you get to Fort McMurray. People are sick. People are dying of cancer because of this.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the legendary musician Neil Young. I don’t know how many people here in the U.S. know that he is Canadian, but, he is. The significance of him coming, and also what did the climatologist, the scientist, James Hansen, call the tar sands?

TZEPORAH BERMAN: Dr. Hansen has referred to the Keystone XL Pipeline as the fuse to the largest carbon bomb on the planet. And he says that his studies are showing that if we allow the tar sands to expand at the rates that the government and industry want it to expand, then it’s game over for the planet.

AMY GOODMAN: Tzeporah Berman, I saw you at the International Women’s Earth and Climate Summit in Sufferin and you talked about your son having to respond to a question of his. We only have a minute, but explain.

TZEPORAH BERMAN: One night at dinner my son, who was eight at the time, turned to me and said, mommy, why does the government think you are a terrorist? Which is not really the conversation you want to have with your son. Because he had heard on the radio, that on the Senate floor, the Harper government was proposing that we change the definition of the term “domestic terrorism” in Canada to include environmentalism.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what does that mean for you and what does that mean for environmental activists? Where are you headed now? What are you going to do around tar sands?

TZEPORAH BERMAN: Canadians who care about these issues are under attack by our own government, and we are being told that if we — that what we do is not in the national interest unless we support the oil industry’s agenda. But, I think this government has overreached and we are now finding — our phones are ringing off the hook. People are joining the campaign and stepping up. And let’s be clear, Canadians want clean energy. Canadians, many of them, are very embarrassed about what our government is doing internationally, so our movement is growing, and so far, we have slowed down all of these pipelines and the expansion.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the alternative?

TZEPORAH BERMAN: Well, the alternative for Canada is not only clean energy, renewable energy, which now we can build at scale, we know that, but it’s also supporting other aspects of our economy, because when you support only one aspect of your economy, the most capital-intensive sector in the country, then it starts to destroy your manufacturing base, your service industry, your tourism industry. We need a diversified economy in Canada, and that’s not — and that’s entirely possible.

AMY GOODMAN: Tzeporah Berman, I want to thank you for being with us; leading environmental activist in Canada. She’s campaigned for decades around clean energy; former Co-director of Greenpeace International’s Climate Unit, now focused on stopping tar sands extraction.

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Oh Canada: The Harper Government’s Broad Assault on Environment July 4, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Energy, Environment.
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Published on Wednesday, July 4, 2012 by Yale Environment 360

 

by Ed Struzik

Alberta’s tar sands. (Photograph by Peter Essick | National Geographic)

Outsiders have long viewed Canada as a pristine wilderness destination replete with moose, mountains, and Mounties who always got their man. Recognizing the tourism value of that somewhat dull but wholesome image, successive Canadian governments — both Liberal and Conservative — were content to promote the stereotype in brochures, magazine advertisements, and TV commercials.

The lie of that was evident in the rampant clear-cutting of forests in British Columbia, the gargantuan oil sands developments in Alberta, the toxic mining practices in the Arctic, and the factory fishing that literally wiped out the Canadian cod industry by the 1990s. But this wholesome image endured because progress was made on several environmental fronts, such as creation of many new national parks, and because Canada remains sparsely populated with large swaths of unspoiled boreal forest and tundra.

But Canada’s pristine image — and more importantly its environment — is not likely to recover from what critics across the political spectrum say is an unprecedented assault by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper on environmental regulation, oversight, and scientific research. Harper, who came to power in 2006 unapologetic for once describing the Kyoto climate accords as “essentially a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations,” has steadily been weakening environmental enforcement, monitoring, and research, while at the same time boosting controversial tar sands development, backing major pipeline construction, and increasing energy industry subsidies.

Critics say that assault reached a crescendo in recent weeks with the passage in Parliament of an omnibus budget bill known as C-38, which guts or significantly weakens rules relating to fisheries protection, environmental assessment, endangered species, and national parks. Under this bill, the criteria that currently trigger environmental assessments, for example, have been eliminated, leaving such reviews more to the discretion of the Minister of the Environment and other political appointees. The Fisheries Act will no longer be focused on habitat protection; instead, it will restrict itself largely to the commercial aspects of resource harvesting. Ocean dumping rules will also be changed to allow the Minister of the Environment to make decisions on permitting. And Parks Canada will no longer have to conduct environmental audits or review management plans every ten years. In addition, budgets cuts will eliminate the jobs of hundreds of scientists working for various government departments that focus on the environment and wildlife.

The bill also formally ends Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and removes funding for the bipartisan National Round Table on the Economy and the Environment, which for a quarter-century has offered policy solutions on how to grow Canada’s environment in a sustainable way.

One would expect intense criticism of Harper’s policies from environmentalists. But in recent months, hundreds of scientists, at least one university president, and several former Cabinet ministers and politicians — including three from the Conservative Party — have weighed in with scathing attacks on the Harper government.

“We have had lengthy and varied political experience and collectively have served in cabinet in Progressive Conservative and Liberal governments alike,” former fisheries ministers Tom Siddon, David Anderson, John Fraser, and Herb Dhaliwal said in an open letter to Harper on June 1. “We believe we have a fair understanding of the views of Canadians. Moreover, we believe there is genuine public concern over the perceived threat this legislation poses to the health of Canada’s environment and in particular to the well being of its fisheries resources. We are especially alarmed about any possible diminution of the statutory protection of fish habitat, which we feel could result if the provisions of Bill C-38 are brought into force.”

The discontent, however, goes much deeper than that. In addition to Bill C-38, the Harper government has ended funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, which had doled out more than $100 million in research funding over the past decade. It has withdrawn support for the Experimental Lakes Program in northwestern Ontario, which has used 58 lakes to conduct groundbreaking studies on phosphate, mercury, and bacterial contamination, as well as research on how climate change affects freshwater systems. And it has killed funding for a program that helps keep more than a dozen Arctic science research stations operational.

The elimination or severe reduction of funds for research into climate change and the Arctic has especially serious implications, given that the Canadian Arctic is warming faster than almost any other region on earth. Scientists say that Harper’s sharp cutbacks will mean a drastic shortage of funds to monitor huge environmental changes in the Arctic, including melting sea ice, thawing permafrost, a rapidly changing tundra environment, and widespread impacts on fauna and flora.

“The kindest thing I can say is that these people don’t know enough about science to know the value of what they are cutting and doing,” says David Schindler, co-founder of the Experimental Lakes Project and one of the world’s best-known freshwater scientists. “But I think it goes deeper than that. This government is not going to let anything get in the way of resource development.”

Many think that statement goes to the heart of the matter now that international controversy over the Alberta tar sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline — which would carry that oil across the U.S. to Texas refineries — have put the Canadian government on the defensive. How else, they say, do you account for Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver writing an open letter last January claiming that “environmental and other radical groups” use “funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest” — an apparent allusion to international opposition to the Alberta tar sands and related pipeline projects. What else, they add, could be behind the government’s decision this spring to give the Canada Revenue Agency an extra $8 million to crack down on environmental charities?

Justifying the tax crackdown, Harper said recently, “If it’s the case that we’re spending on organizations that are doing things contrary to government policy, I think that is an inappropriate use of taxpayers’ money and we’ll look to eliminate it.”

Tides Canada is one of the charities at the center of this particular controversy. When the Harper government recently accused it of funneling foreign money to advocacy groups that oppose the Keystone pipeline and the Gateway pipeline (which would carry tar sands oil to ports in British Columbia), the head of the organization took the unprecedented step of releasing a detailed account of its grant recipients and international donors.

As it turns out, The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation — established by Intel co-founded Gordon Moore — is among its biggest U.S. donors. It gave Tides an $8 million grant to support marine planning and science in British Columbia and nearly $10 million for salmon conservation initiatives. Tides Canada also got $2.4 million from several American foundations that wanted the money to support a land-use agreement between aboriginal groups and the province of British Columbia.

Ross McMillan, president and CEO of Tides Canada, denies that his charity is involved in political activity. The decision to go public, he says, was designed to “send a clear message to our critics that we have nothing to hide in our work.”

Harper hasn’t helped his cause by muzzling government scientists who have been conducting research on everything from permafrost to polar bears. Timely access to these scientists has been the subject of several newspaper articles and editorials. Hoping to resolve the long-standing problem, the Canadian Science Writers Association sent a letter to the Prime Minister in February calling on him to “tear down the wall that separates scientists, journalists, and the public.”

In the letter they noted how government scientists such as David Tarasick and Kristina Miller were prohibited from speaking to journalists even though their separate studies on the ozone layer and declining salmon populations were published in the journals Nature and Science.

The letter made little impression on the government. When 2,500 scientists, aboriginal leaders, and decision makers attended the International Polar Year Conference in Montreal in April, Canadian scientists were reminded not to talk to the media even though the government of Canada was the primary sponsor of the conference.

In June, former Conservative Member of Parliament Bob Mills took the extraordinary step of holding a press conference with the Green Party criticizing the government for killing the National Round Table on the Economy and the Environment, established in 1988 by former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

“I’ve always said that if you’re smart, you surround yourself with really smart people,” said Mills. “And if you’re dumb, you surround yourself with a bunch of cheerleaders. We don’t need cheerleaders. What we need are smart people. And in the Round Table, a collection from all walks of life, all different political stripes, it didn’t matter — but they were pretty smart people.”

Insurance industry executive Angus Ross added, “I think that perhaps the Prime Minister has forgotten that the name of the round table is not the National Round Table on the Environment or the Economy. It’s the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.”

Environment Minister Peter Kent, a former journalist, claims that the Round Table had outlived its usefulness.

“When it was created a quarter of a century ago, there were very few sources of policy advice on the relationship between the environment and the economy,” he told the House of Commons recently. “That is not the case today. This $5 million can be better spent elsewhere to protect the environment and the economy.”

Melissa Gorrie, a staff lawyer for the environmental law group Ecojustice, marvels at the persistence with which the Harper government is pressing ahead with its assault on the environment. She knows because she and her colleagues have successfully gone to the Federal Court of Canada several times to get the government to use emergency measures under the Species at Risk Act to protect declining caribou and sage grouse populations.

With each victory, the government has found a way not to act on the court order. Much of the stalling comes from procedural wrangling and disagreements about what constitutes an “imminent threat.” In the case of caribou, when all else failed the government came up with a draft recovery plan that satisfies none of the complainants nor any of the scientists who have been studying caribou for the past quarter-century.

“My colleagues and I have been talking about this quite a lot lately,” said Gorrie. “It’s either a vendetta and a total assault on the anything environmental or a total disinterest in the issue. Whatever it is, I don’t think we’ve seen anything quite like this in Canada.”

© 2012 Yale Environment 360

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Ed Struzik

Canadian author and photographer Ed Struzik has been writing on the Arctic for three decades. In previous articles for Yale Environment 360, he has written about a potential uranium mining boom in Nunavut and about a controversial plan to kill wolves in Alberta.

The Military Assault on Global Climate September 8, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment, War.
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Thursday 8 September 2011
by: H. Patricia Hynes, Truthout         | News Analysis

War and the Tragedy of the Commons, Part 7

By every measure, the Pentagon is the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy … Yet, the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements … Any talk of climate change which does not include the military is nothing but hot air, according to Sara Flounders.

It’s a loophole [in the Kyoto Convention on Climate Change] big enough to drive a tank through, according to the report ” A Climate of War.”

In 1940, the US military consumed one percent of the country’s total energy usage; by the end of World War II, the military’s share rose to 29 percent.(1) Oil is indispensable for war.

Correspondingly, militarism is the most oil-exhaustive activity on the planet, growing more so with faster, bigger, more fuel-guzzling planes, tanks and naval vessels employed in more intensive air and ground wars. At the outset of the Iraq war in March 2003, the Army estimated it would need more than 40 million gallons of gasoline for three weeks of combat, exceeding the total quantity used by all Allied forces in the four years of World War 1. Among the Army’s armamentarium were 2,000 staunch M-1 Abrams tanks fired up for the war and burning 250 gallons of fuel per hour.(2)

The US Air Force (USAF) is the single largest consumer of jet fuel in the world. Fathom, if you can, the astronomical fuel usage of USAF fighter planes: the F-4 Phantom Fighter burns more than 1,600 gallons of jet fuel per hour and peaks at 14,400 gallons per hour at supersonic speeds. The B-52 Stratocruiser, with eight jet engines, guzzles 500 gallons per minute; ten minutes of flight uses as much fuel as the average driver does in one year of driving! A quarter of the world’s jet fuel feeds the USAF fleet of flying killing machines; in 2006, they consumed as much fuel as US planes did during the Second World War (1941-1945) – an astounding 2.6 billion gallons.(3)

Barry Sanders observes with a load of tragic irony that, while many of us assiduously reduce our carbon footprint through simpler living, eating locally, recycling and reusing, energy conservation, taking public transportation, installing solar panels, and so on, the single largest institutional polluter and contributor to global warming – the US military – is immune to climate change concerns. The military reports no climate change emissions to any national or international body, thanks to US arm-twisting during the 1997 negotiations of the first international accord to limit global warming emissions, the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. To protect the military from any curbs on their activities, the United States demanded and won exemption from emission limits on “bunker” fuels (dense, heavy fuel oil for naval vessels) and all greenhouse gas emissions from military operations worldwide, including wars. Adding insult to injury, George W. Bush pulled the United States out of the Kyoto Protocol as one of the first acts of his presidency, alleging it would straitjacket the US economy with too costly greenhouse emissions controls. Next, the White House began a neo-Luddite campaign against the science of climate change. In researching “The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism,” Sanders found that getting war casualty statistics out of the Department of Defense (DoD) is easier than getting fuel usage data.

Only recently has the momentous issue of military fuel use and its massive, yet concealed role in global climate change come to the foreground, thanks to a handful of perspicacious researchers. Liska and Perrin contend that, in addition to tailpipe emissions, immense “hidden” greenhouse gas pollution stems from our use of gasoline. This impact on climate change should be calculated into the full lifecycle analysis of gasoline. When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) compares gasoline and biofuels for their respective atmospheric pollution, the greenhouse gas emissions calculated for gasoline should include the military activities related to securing foreign crude oil, from which gasoline is derived. (But they do not, thanks to the Kyoto Accords military exemption.) Oil security comprises both military protection against sabotage to pipelines and tankers and also US-led wars in oil-rich regions to assure long-term access. Nearly 1,000 US military bases trace an arc from the Andes to North Africa across the Middle East to Indonesia, the Philippines and North Korea, sweeping over all major oil resources – all related, in part, to projecting force for the sake of energy security. Further, the “upstream emissions” of greenhouse gases from the manufacture of military equipment, infrastructure, vehicles and munitions used in oil supply protection and oil-driven wars should also be included in the overall environmental impact of using gasoline. Adding these factors into their calculations, the authors conclude that about “20 percent of the conventional DoD budget … is attributable to the objective of oil security.”

A corresponding analysis by researchers at Oil Change International quantifies the greenhouse gas emissions of the Iraq war and the opportunity costs involved in fighting the war, rather than investing in clean technology, during the years 2003-2007. Their key findings are unambiguous about the vast climate pollution of war and the lockstep bipartisan policy of forfeiting future global health for present day militarism.

  1. The projected full costs of the Iraq war (estimated $3 trillion) would cover “all of the global investments in renewable power generation” needed between now and 2030 to reverse global warming trends.
  2. Between 2003-2007, the war generated at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)(4), more each year of the war than 139 of the world’s countries release annually.(5) Rebuilding Iraqi schools, homes, businesses, bridges, roads and hospitals pulverized by the war, and new security walls and barriers will require millions of tons of cement, one of the largest industrial sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. In 2006, the US spent more on the war in Iraq than the entire world spent on renewable energy investment.
  4. By 2008, the Bush administration had spent 97 times more on military than on climate change. As a presidential candidate, President Obama pledged to spend $150 billion over ten years on green energy technology and infrastructure – less than the United States was spending in one year of the Iraq war.

Just how much petroleum the Pentagon consumes is one of the best-kept secrets in government. More likely, observes Barry Sanders, no one in DoD knows precisely. His unremitting effort to ferret out the numbers is one of the most thorough to date. Sanders begins with figures given by the Defense Energy Support Center for annual oil procurement for all branches of the military. He then combines three other non-reported military oil consumption factors: an estimate of “free oil” supplied overseas (of which Kuwait was the largest supplier for the 2003 Iraq war), an estimate of oil used by private military contractors and military-leased vehicles and an estimate of the amount of bunker fuel used by naval vessels. By his calculation, the US military consumes as much as one million barrels of oil per day and contributes 5 percent of current global warming emissions. Keep in mind that the military has 1.4 million active duty people, or .0002 percent of the world’s population, generating 5 percent of climate pollution.

Yet, even this comparison understates the extreme military impact on climate change. Military fuel is more polluting because of the fuel type used for aviation. CO2 emissions from jet fuel are larger – possibly triple – per gallon than those from diesel and oil. Further, aircraft exhaust has unique polluting effects that result in greater warming effect by per unit of fuel used. Radiative effects from jet exhaust, including nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, soot and water vapor exacerbate the warming effect of the CO2 exhaust emissions.(6) Perversely, then, the US military consumes fossil fuel beyond compare to any other institutional and per capita consumption in order to preserve strategic access to oil – a lunacy instigated by a series of executive decisions.

Short History of Militarizing Energy

Ten of 11 US recessions since World War 11 have been preceded by oil price spikes … Maintaining low and stable oil prices is a political imperative associated with modern petroleum-based economies.

In 1945 the US military built an air base at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, the start of securing permanent American access to newly discovered Middle East oil. President Roosevelt had negotiated a quid pro quo with the Saudi family: military protection in exchange for cheap oil for US markets and military. Eisenhower possessed great prescience about the post-World War II rise of a permanent war-based industry dictating national policy and the need for citizen vigilance and engagement to curb the “military-industrial” complex. Yet, he made a fateful decision on energy policy, which set our country and the world on a course from which we must find our way back.

The 1952 blue-ribbon Paley Commission Report proposed that the US build the economy on solar energy sources. The report also offered a strong negative assessment of nuclear energy and called for “aggressive research in the whole field of solar energy” as well as research and development on wind and biomass. In 1953, the new President Eisenhower ignored the report recommendation and inaugurated “Atoms for Peace,” touting nuclear power as the world’s new energy miracle that would be “too cheap to meter.” This decision not only embarked the country (and world) on a fateful course of nuclear power, but it also affixed the centrality of oil, gas and coal within the US economy.

By the late 1970s, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolution threatened US access to oil in the Middle East, leading to President Carter’s 1980 State of the Union warmongering doctrine. The Carter Doctrine holds that any threat to US access to Middle East oil would be resisted “by any means necessary, including military force.” Carter put teeth into his doctrine by creating the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, whose purpose was combat operations in the Persian Gulf area when necessary. Ronald Reagan ramped up the militarization of oil with the formation of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), whose raison d’etre was to ensure access to oil, diminish Soviet Union influence in the region and control political regimes in the region for our national security interests. With growing reliance on oil from Africa and the Caspian Sea region, the US has since augmented its military capabilities in those regions.

In 2003, Carter’s doctrine of force when necessary was carried out with “shock and awe,” in what was the most intensive and profligate use of fossil fuel the world has ever witnessed. Recall, too, that as Baghdad fell, invading US troops ignored the looting of schools, hospitals and a nuclear power facility as well as the ransacking of national museums and burning of the National Library and Archives holding peerless, irreplaceable documentation of the “cradle of civilization.” The US military did, however, immediately seize and guard the Iraqi Oil Ministry Headquarters and positioned 2,000 soldier to safeguard oilfields.(7) First things first.

Many factors have converged and clarified over time to support the proposition that, at its core, the Iraq war was a war over oil. Eliminating weapons of mass destruction, deposing a tyrannical dictator, rooting out terrorism linked to 9/11, employing gunboat diplomacy to instill democracy and human rights – all were largely foils for oil. Alan Greenspan put it squarely: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everybody knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”(8)

As we near peak oil production, that is, the point of diminishing returns for oil exploration and production and higher oil prices, OPEC countries’ share of global production “will rise from 46 percent in 2007 to 56 percent in 2030.” Iraq has the third-largest reserves of oil; Iraq and Kazakhstan are “two of the top four countries with the largest [petroleum] production increases forecast from 2000 to 2030. The Middle East and Central Asia are, predictably, epicenters of US military operations and wars. A 2006 report on national security and US oil dependency released by the Council on Foreign Relations concluded that the US should maintain “a strong military posture that permits suitably rapid deployment to the [Persian Gulf] region” for at least 20 years. US military professionals concur and are preparing for the prospect of “large-scale armed struggle” over access to energy resources.

Where We Stand

Our national security has been reduced in large part to energy security, which has led us to militarizing our access to oil through establishing a military presence across the oil-bearing regions of the world and instigating armed conflict in Iraq, sustaining it in Afghanistan and provoking it in Libya. The air war in Libya has given the new US Africa Command (AFRICOM) – itself another extension of the Carter Doctrine – some spotlight and muscle. A few commentators have concluded that the NATO war in Libya is a justifiable humanitarian military intervention. The more trenchant judgment, in my view, is that the air war violated the UN Security Council Resolution 1973, the US Constitution and the War Powers Act; and that it sets a precedent and “model for how the United States wields force in other countries where its interests are threatened,” to quote administration officials. The air war in Libya is another setback to non-militarized diplomacy; it marginalized the African Union and it sets a course for more military intervention in Africa when US interests are at stake. Air war a model for future wars? If so, a death knell for the planet. This insatiable militarism is the single greatest institutional contributor to the growing natural disasters intensified by global climate change.

Postscript

In August 2010, as I was conceiving this series “War and the True Tragedy of the Commons,” wildfires caused by drought and heat wave were consuming huge swaths of Russia and choking Moscow with air pollution. A member of the Russian Academy of Sciences warned that fire-induced winds could carry radioactive particles hundreds of miles from the burning forest around Chernobyl, reaching cities in Russia and even in Eastern Europe. The same risk exists for regions elsewhere contaminated with radioactive waste and jeopardized by uncontrollable wildfires. At the same time as the Russian fires, more than one in ten Pakistanis were uprooted, rendered food dependent and endangered by disease from the worst floods in recorded history, floods which engulfed one-fifth of the country from the northwest region to the south. Pakistan – a highly militarized nuclear power with tense relations with its nuclear neighbor India, whose border area with Afghanistan is a war zone, and within whose boundaries the CIA is conducting a drone war – prioritizes militarism over development. It ranks 15 in global military strength and 141 out of 182 countries in the Human Development Index.

In summer 2011, as I was completing this series, forest fires burned almost 50,000 acres in and around the nuclear weapons production and waste storage facilities at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Among the endangered radioactive materials and waste were as many as 30,000 55-gallon drums of plutonium-contaminated waste stored in fabric tents above ground, awaiting transport to a low-level radiation dumpsite in southern New Mexico. Two months later, Vermont suffered its worst ever floods and flood damage, with no part of the state untouched, from Tropical Storm Irene – considered to be one of the ten costliest disasters in US history.

Coincident with these environmental tragedies intensified by global warming, is the ongoing tradeoff in the US federal budget between militarized defense and genuine human and environmental security. The United States contributes more than 30 percent of global warming gases to the atmosphere, generated by five percent of the world’s population and US militarism. The pieces of the US federal budget pie that fund education, energy, environment, social services, housing and new job creation, taken together, receive less funding than the military/defense budget. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has called the military budget a taxpayer-supported jobs program and argues for reprioritizing federal spending on jobs in green energy, education and infrastructure – the real national security.

The United States has the wealth (currently larding the defense budget) and the technical capacity to revolutionize our energy economy and turn it within a few decades into an economy based on efficiency and renewable energy sources, thus removing a critical demand factor of our Goliath military. How costly would it be to eliminate underlying causes of war and injustice, such as poverty and gender inequality, and to restore the natural environment? In his most recent book “Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization,” Lester Brown estimates that eradicating poverty, educating women, providing reproductive resources and restoring forests worldwide would cost one-third of the US 2008 defense budget. The issue is not public monies.

Another ferocious demand factor is the octopus of defense industry companies that have spread their tentacles to nearly all of the states and control the majority of Congressionals. Thus, another vital scarce resource – some mineral in a contested seabed, for example – could replace petroleum and become the next flashpoint for more military build-up and response, unless that military-industrial complex is neutered.

Perhaps the most elusive driving factor of war is the values that underpin the tradition and habit of militarized solutions. War mirrors the culture of a country. US militarism – from its training, tactics and logistics to its reasons for going to war and its weapons of war – is distinctly shaped by core elements of American identity. These determining cultural forces are, according to military historian Victor Davis Hanson: manifest destiny; frontier mentality; rugged individualism and what he calls a “muscular independence”; unfettered market capitalism; the ideal of meritocracy (no matter what one’s class, one can rise to the top in the US military); and a fascination with machines, modernity and mobility. All converge to generate bigger, better and more destructive war technology. He adds that the integration of military into society is smoothed through the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

This cultural competence for high-tech war, with its origins in our past annihilation of Native Americans, may be our society’s nemesis unless we do critical soul searching about our cultural and personal values and actively engage in transforming them. There are a plentitude of cross currents in our society that have profoundly challenged the dominant cultural profile limned by militarist Hanson: the women’s and civil rights movements, the anti-war and peace movements, public intellectuals and progressive media, peace and justice studies, progressive labor and health workers, the coop and Transition Town movements and the handful of progressive politicians, among others. The challenge is how to build voice, social cohesion and public influence for our shared values of a sense of community, connection to nature, concern for the exploited and thirst for equity and justice against the dominant market messages of wealth, social prestige, image, power through dominance and meeting conflict with force.

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” -Martin Luther King

Resources for Education and Action

Bring the War Dollars Home, a growing movement at the state and city/town level, uses the National Priorities Project data to make the case for ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and redirecting defense spending to genuine domestic security. See here and here.

National Priorities Project is a think tank and advocacy group that provides research designed to influence US federal spending priorities. Includes data on costs of wars, local taxes for war and tradeoffs.

Progressive Caucus Budget for 2012, also known as The People’s Budget, is an alternative budget offered by the 81-member Congressional Progressive Caucus that takes steps toward a saner role for government while reducing the deficit more and faster than either Ryan’s “Plan for Prosperity” or Obama’s plan.

Peace and Conflict Studies Programs: Two hundred and fifteen accredited peace and conflict studies graduate programs and grad schools on the leading graduate school web site.

Peace and Justice Studies Association

War Tax Resistance: See the web site of War Tax Resistance/War Resisters League

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) was founded in 1915 during World War I. WILPF works to achieve, through peaceful means, world disarmament, full rights for women, racial and economic justice, an end to all forms of violence.

Footnotes:

1. Barry Sanders (2009), “The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism,” Oakland, California: AK Press, p.39.

2. Barry Sanders (2009), “The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism,” Oakland, California: AK Press, p.51.

3. Barry Sanders (2009), “The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism,” Oakland, California: AK Press, pps.50,61 for data in this section.

4. Units of carbon dioxide equivalent to combined greenhouse gas emissions.

5. This figure is conservative because there were no reliable numbers on the military consumption of naval bunker fuels for the transport of fuel and troops. Nor was there data on the use or release of intensive greenhouse gas chemicals in war, including halon, an ozone-depleting fire extinguishing chemical banned in the US since 1992 for civilian production and use, but allowed for DoD “critical mission” use.

6. George Monbiot (2006), “Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning,” cited in Sanders, p.72.

7. Chalmers Johnson (2010), “Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope,” New York: Metropolitan Books. pp.40-51.

8. Quoted in Liska and Perrin, p.9.

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H. Patricia HynesH. Patricia Hynes is a retired professor of environmental health at Boston University School of Public Health and chair of the board of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice in western Massachusetts.

 

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                  Showing 3 comments

  • Jan                                            1 comment collapsed                                    CollapseExpand
            How much petrol is consumed by the jets during their aerosol spraying of chemicals into our once-blue skies day after day?

  • slashpot                                            1 comment collapsed                                    CollapseExpand
            The FOUR years of WWII???
    The allied forces you mention were at war from September 1939 until July 1945. Does this oh so very typical American view suggest that the tens of thousands from several nations who were violently killed, particularly during the blitz in England, are to be found alive somewhere having done a Rip van Winkle for 70 years?
    Of course the ugly fact is, if America had done what allies are supposed to do in 1939 a huge number of people might never have died at all. So why did America ignore the constant pleas from it’s most fervent allies, including England, France & Australia? For the most part, it was because those with the most influence were too busy making vast profits from the Nazi build up or too firmly in support of Hitlers anti-Semitism and the ideology of fascism. American firmness could have prevented both Japan and Germany from launching the most horrific wars the world has ever seen, but then waiting for everyone else to beat themselves senseless and stepping in at the right moment made the USA the superpower it is today.
    Gee, that worked out well!

  • R                                            1 comment collapsed                                    CollapseExpand
            One has to wonder what the endgame result is to be–who wins in a sick world??

When Breaking the Law Is Justified June 10, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Democracy, Environment.
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Published on Friday, June 10, 2011 by The Toronto Star

The recent bad news about climate change thundered through the scientific community like those twisters through the U.S.

First, the International Energy Association (IEA) announced global greenhouse gas emissions hit record highs in 2010, threatening to catapult Earth over the 2C rise in temperature that, scientists predict, will lead to cataclysmic changes.

 More than 100 Arrested at White House Demanding End to Mountaintop Removal

We’re already up one degree, attributed to human causes. That’s enough to cause widespread drought, wildfires, flooding, extreme weather — and shrinkage of the polar ice caps.

Says Nobel Prize-winning meteorologist Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State: “Their eventual melting would lead to more than 20 feet (6 metres) of global sea level rise — by any assessment, a catastrophic outcome.”

The other climate bombshell came when the U.S. government’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory announced that this year world greenhouse gas emissions are climbing even higher than last year.

On a per-capita basis, Canada has much to answer for. Population and economic growth, oil and gas exports and our love of light trucks have been among the key drivers of our rising emissions.

Then there’s Alberta oilsands mining, which, according to Environment Canada, spews more greenhouse gases than all the cars on our roads combined.

Earlier this month, the government quietly tabled its annual report on how Canada is doing in meeting its targets under the Kyoto Protocol and other international obligations. It isn’t, not by a long shot, say critics.

“Unfortunately, far too many are in denial and political action is at a standstill,” observes Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Senior Scientist at the Boulder, Colo.-based National Center for Atmospheric Research.

“Once the problem is so obvious to everyone, it is far, far too late to do anything about it,” says Trenberth.

That sense of urgency is why a growing number of scientists are advocating non-violent civil disobedience to shake up governments, industry and media.

Although there is some political disagreement, the general scientific consensus is that in order to head off mass extinctions, huge migrations of climate refugees and, yes, global warring, carbon dioxide emissions should be cut back to 350 parts per million from the current 390 or so.

“We need to do (civil disobedience) on a mass scale,” says leading American environmentalist and activist Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. “And we need to do it in a way that makes one thing clear to all onlookers: in this fight, we are the conservatives. The radicals are the people who want to alter the composition of the atmosphere.”

The idea is spreading.

“Non-violent civil disobedience is justified when there is a history of long-standing harm or violation of people’s fundamental rights, when legal and policy means have failed to reduce the harms and violations, and when there is little time remaining to address the problems,” wrote University of New England professor John Lemons and Penn State’s Donald Brown in April in the online version of Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics.

“Simply put, people do not have the right to harm others who have not given their consent to be harmed, and this is exactly what the U.S.A. and other countries continue to do,” Lemons told the Star.

Environmental activists have long engaged in civil disobedience. Greenpeace, to name one group, has specialized in it.

In 2009, 20 activists were arrested after they scaled Parliament’s West Block and covered it with banners demanding government action on climate change. On June 2, two members were arrested and removed from an “Arctic survival pod” suspended from an oil rig off the coast of Greenland in which they had camped out for four days in an effort to stop a Scottish oil firm from drilling.

Noted Australian climate advocate Clive Hamilton (Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough, Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist The Truth About Climate Change) insists that the moral obligation to act now clearly trumps obedience to the law.

“Those who engage in civil disobedience are usually the most law-abiding citizens — those who have most regard for the social interest and the keenest understanding of the democratic process,” he emails from Britain, where he is a visiting professor at Oxford.

Civil disobedience has a proud tradition. It helped bring about civil rights in the U.S. and an end to the Vietnam War. It delayed mass logging in B.C.’s Clayoquot Sound. African-Americans boycotted and defiantly drank out of “whites-only” water fountains, young men burned their draft cards, and thousands blockaded roads to keep pulp and paper companies out of old-growth forests.

The member-supported Council of Canadians has engaged in all sorts of civil disobedience, including sandbagging towns and provincial legislatures to point out how rising sea levels would affect them.

“It’s not an action to be taken lightly,” says Andrea Harden-Donahue, the Council’s energy and climate justice campaigner. “We do believe that all other democratic means should be pursued first and continue to be pursued, even with a civil disobedience strategy.

“But we feel that it is justified to address climate change, especially given that the Harper government has refused to take action, and because of the urgency.”

Most lawmakers — and even most people — don’t seem to think much of the tactic. Witness police actions against non-violent stunts such as teddy bear catapults at global summits, or citizen complaints of tied-up traffic during demonstrations.

How many Canadians say that last year’s peaceful protesters at the Toronto G20 Summit should have just stayed home if they didn’t want to be tackled, cuffed with plastic cables and tossed into cages without charges.

“People from across the political spectrum love to praise civil disobedience — as long as we’re talking about past social movements,” argues U.S. journalist Will Potter, author of Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement under Siege. “For instance, on the very same day that members of Congress were breaking ground for a new memorial honouring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his activism, a bill was passed labelling civil disobedience as ‘terrorism’ if it is done by animal rights and environmental activists.”

“Most people are divorced from the history of social change,” notes Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy campaigner, Mike Hudema, author of An Action a Day Keeps Global Capitalism Away. “From the eight-hour workday to women’s right to vote to the end of slavery — all of these involved good people willing to break the law.”

One much talked-about recent case of civil disobedience within the scientific community is that of NASA climatologist and Columbia University professor James Hansen, who along with others was charged with obstructing police and impeding traffic in West Virginia while protesting mountaintop coal mining.

Hansen, who calls climate change “the great moral challenge of this century,” has been helping other activists who get into legal trouble, including six Greenpeace members tried in Britain in 2008 for scaling and painting slogans on a coal power station’s smokestack.

With Hansen’s expert testimony, they convinced the court that, despite the expensive havoc they wreaked, even greater damage — climate change — was being prevented.

The acquittals shocked both government and industry. The activists were found not guilty by reason of “lawful excuse” — a judgment that opens the door for more climate justice civil disobedience.

In Canada, we have a similar “defence of necessity.” Conceivably, it could be used here.

More than 3,000 delegates from 183 countries are currently in the midst of the two-week session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn.

The reports from there have not been encouraging.

The world’s 21 developed nations have not fulfilled their promises or financial pledges to the parts of the world that will most suffer from climate change.

“Now, more than ever, it is critical that all efforts are mobilized toward living up to this commitment,” said UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres. “We are getting into very risky territory.”

“I don’t think most people realize how little time we have left,” warns Lester Brown, founder of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute and author of the just-published World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse. “The cliff is not that far away.”

© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2011

Antonia Zerbisias

Antonia Zerbisias is a columnist for the Toronto Star. In addition to her Star columns, you can read Antonia – and talk back to her – on her blog Broadsides.

Alberta’s Tar Sands Make Canada a Climate Criminal December 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Energy, Environment.
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Published on Tuesday, December 1, 2009 by The Guardian/UK

Canada’s image lies in tatters. It is now to climate what Japan is to whaling

by George Monbiot

When you think of Canada, which qualities come to mind? The world’s peacekeeper, the friendly nation, a liberal counterweight to the harsher pieties of its southern neighbour, decent, civilised, fair, well-governed? Think again. This country’s government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee’s tea party. So amazingly destructive has Canada become, and so insistent have my Canadian friends been that I weigh into this fight, that I’ve broken my self-imposed ban on flying and come to Toronto.

So here I am, watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petro-state. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalisation of the country, and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by George Bush.

Until now I believed that the nation that has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong. The real villain is Canada. Unless we can stop it, the harm done by Canada in December 2009 will outweigh a century of good works.

In 2006 the new Canadian government announced it was abandoning its targets to cut greenhouse gases under the Kyoto protocol. No other country that had ratified the treaty has done this. Canada was meant to have cut emissions by 6% between 1990 and 2012. Instead they have already risen by 26%.

It is now clear that Canada will refuse to be sanctioned for abandoning its legal obligations. The Kyoto protocol can be enforced only through goodwill: countries must agree to accept punitive future obligations if they miss their current targets. But the future cut Canada has volunteered is smaller than that of any other rich nation. Never mind special measures; it won’t accept even an equal share. The Canadian government is testing the international process to destruction and finding that it breaks all too easily. By demonstrating that climate sanctions aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, it threatens to render any treaty struck at Copenhagen void.

After giving the finger to Kyoto, Canada then set out to prevent the other nations striking a successor agreement. At the end of 2007, it singlehandedly blocked a Commonwealth resolution to support binding targets for industrialised nations. After the climate talks in Poland in December 2008, it won the Fossil of the Year award, presented by environmental groups to the country that had done most to disrupt the talks. The climate change performance index, which assesses the efforts of the world’s 60 richest nations, was published in the same month. Saudi Arabia came 60th. Canada came 59th.

In June this year the media obtained Canadian briefing documents which showed the government was scheming to divide the Europeans. During the meeting in Bangkok in October, almost the entire developing world bloc walked out when the Canadian delegate was speaking, as they were so revolted by his bullying. Last week the Commonwealth heads of government battled for hours (and eventually won) against Canada’s obstructions. A concerted campaign has now begun to expel Canada from the Commonwealth.

In Copenhagen next week, this country will do everything in its power to wreck the talks. The rest of the world must do everything in its power to stop it. But such is the fragile nature of climate agreements that one rich nation – especially a member of the G8, the Commonwealth and the Kyoto group of industrialised countries – could scupper the treaty. Canada now threatens the wellbeing of the world.

Why? There’s a simple answer: Canada is developing the world’s second largest reserve of oil. Did I say oil? It’s actually a filthy mixture of bitumen, sand, heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals. The tar sands, most of which occur in Alberta, are being extracted by the biggest opencast mining operation on earth. An area the size of England, comprising pristine forests and marshes, will be be dug up – unless the Canadians can stop this madness. Already it looks like a scene from the end of the world: the strip-miners are creating a churned black hell on an unimaginable scale.

To extract oil from this mess, it needs to be heated and washed. Three barrels of water are used to process one barrel of oil. The contaminated water is held in vast tailings ponds, some so toxic that the tar companies employ people to scoop dead birds off the surface. Most are unlined. They leak organic poisons, arsenic and mercury into the rivers. The First Nations people living downstream have developed a range of exotic cancers and auto-immune diseases.

Refining tar sands requires two to three times as much energy as refining crude oil. The companies exploiting them burn enough natural gas to heat six million homes. Alberta’s tar sands operation is the world’s biggest single industrial source of carbon emissions. By 2020, if the current growth continues, it will produce more greenhouse gases than Ireland or Denmark. Already, thanks in part to the tar mining, Canadians have almost the highest per capita emissions on earth, and the stripping of Alberta has scarcely begun.

Canada hasn’t acted alone. The biggest leaseholder in the tar sands is Shell, a company that has spent millions persuading the public that it respects the environment. The other great greenwasher, BP, initially decided to stay out of tar. Now it has invested in plants built to process it. The British bank RBS, 70% of which belongs to you and me (the government’s share will soon rise to 84%), has lent or underwritten £8bn for mining the tar sands.

The purpose of Canada’s assault on the international talks is to protect this industry. This is not a poor nation. It does not depend for its economic survival on exploiting this resource. But the tar barons of Alberta have been able to hold the whole country to ransom. They have captured Canada’s politics and are turning this lovely country into a cruel and thuggish place.

Canada is a cultured, peaceful nation, which every so often allows a band of Neanderthals to trample over it. Timber firms were licensed to log the old-growth forest in Clayaquot Sound; fishing companies were permitted to destroy the Grand Banks: in both cases these get-rich-quick schemes impoverished Canada and its reputation. But this is much worse, as it affects the whole world. The government’s scheming at the climate talks is doing for its national image what whaling has done for Japan.

I will not pretend that this country is the only obstacle to an agreement at Copenhagen. But it is the major one. It feels odd to be writing this. The immediate threat to the global effort to sustain a peaceful and stable world comes not from Saudi Arabia or Iran or China. It comes from Canada. How could that be true?

© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited

George Monbiot is the author of the best selling books The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order and Captive State: the corporate takeover of Britain. He writes a weekly column for the Guardian newspaper. Visit his website at www.monbiot.com