“Runaway Catastrophic Climate Change” and the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Proposal

23 Mar

Carrie Saxifrage – January 18th, 2013

My name is Carrie Saxifrage. I am a reporter for the Vancouver Observer which has extensively covered the pipeline proposal on its news website and recently produced the book Extract, Volume 1, Enbridge. The facts I rely on come mostly from this reporting, but I am testifying in my individual capacity.

My objection to the Northern Gateway pipeline is that it externalizes the risks and costs of the project. Enbridge and the corporations it contracts with would receive huge profit from the project. The BC public and future generations would pay the unbearable costs of the project.

Democracy and the free market tell us that we should not be forced to pay the costs of private corporations. Fairness dictates that those who profit pay the costs. Those costs should be included in it the price of the product.

In the technical hearings under questioning by the Province of BC, Enbridgestated that it would not consider a commitment to guarantee 100% of cost of an oil spill clean up. It will insure $280 million for a 20,000 barrel spill. That’s the size of the spill in Kalamazoo which has already cost close to three times that amount.

Enbridge refuses to assume its own costs because they are so enormous. It wants to impose them on us.

That isn’t democratic and it isn’t fair.

Not all costs of an oil spill that can be monetized. For example, after the Exxon Valdez spill, Alaskan Native communities were severely disrupted and many experienced high levels of depression from the trauma of seeing so many animals die, the stress of loss of subsistence livelihood from the sea, and the influx of clean-up money. No one knows how many animals died outright from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The carcasses of more than 35,000 birds and 1,000 sea otters were found after the spill, but since most carcasses sink, this is considered to be a small fraction of the actual death toll. The best estimates are: 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, up to 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring eggs.

Twenty three years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, nine species are not fully recovered and some species such as herring and pigeon guillemots may never recover. One of the two orca pods in the area is slowly dying out. An estimated 21,000 gallons of oil remain and oil has been found in the coastal substrate up to 450 miles away.

An even bigger cost that Enbridge would externalize is the cost of climate change.

At the Smithers JRP intervenor hearing, I had the opportunity to ask Paul Stanway what he thought of the International Energy Agency’s 2011 report that states with new infrastructure we will lose forever the chance to prevent the two degree increase in temperature that means catastrophic costs for us all.

I taped Stanway’s response: “I’m not familiar with that report” he said.

Upton Sinclair noted that it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

But when that something includes include making the planet uninhabitable for humans and other species, not understanding it is unconscionable. Enbridge has put itself in a very questionable position.

“Making the planet uninhabitable for humans” – That strong statement might seem overblown. Enbridge might call it a myth stridently stated by an environmental activist. Minister Oliver might call it the statement of someone who wants to block Canada’s opportunity to diversify trade.

But I want Canada to diversify trade. I want it to be a world leader in renewable energy technology. It’s in a perfect position to do so, with good education, plenty of resources and a history of helping when the world needs help, which it certainly does now. Enbridge has a wind power portfolio. I could support the expansion of that. If this debate is really about jobs, renewable energy creates 3 to 34 times the number of jobs for investment than oil infrastructure.

Back to keeping the planet habitable, Enbridge doesn’t seem to know about the immense body of research on the consequences of new fossil fuel infrastructure. That research states that warming of 6 degrees means mass extinction, which may include humanity. We will come close to six degrees by 2100 if we follow our current trajectory of rapidly expanding our fossil fuel infrastructure without any regard to climate pollution.

Enbridge may be money blind enough to bet against the world saving itself, but the government of Canada, must not make this bet.

Here’s a sampling of what the world’s most knowledgeable scientists and leading institutions are saying:

MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, calculates that current emissions will push us toward 5.5 C by 2100. It called for “rapid and massive” action to avoid this and warned that “there’s no way the world can or should take these risks.” It also produced research showing that the expansion of the oil sands is not economically viable under any scenario in which the world takes effective action against climate change.

Bob Ward, from the London School of Economics comments:  

” As the IEA points out, we have little chance [of avoiding the point of no return] if we continue to lock-in fossil fuel sources of energy today … the window of opportunity for action has almost closed.

And, of course, the world’s most important climate scientist, James Hansen of NASA, said that the plan by private oil corporations to radically expand extraction of climate damage out of the tar sands will mean “game over” for our climate. 

Here is a rough estimate of the climate damage the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline would enable. It can viewed either as the costs which Enbridge proposes to externalize, or it can be seen as how the project is no longer economically viable if those costs are internalized through a price of carbon.

The new flow of tar sands oil through this pipeline would result in the release of around 150 million tons of CO2 per year. That is nearly triple all the climate pollution emitted by people of BC from all their fossil fuel burning. Nearly triple. Over thirty years, the proposed pipeline would enable more than four billion tonnes of CO2.

Several reports, including those from the federal government, the BC provincial government and energy economists conclude that a carbon price of between $100 to $200 will be needed by 2020 to meet our climate commitments. Using $100 as a very conservative estimate of the damages caused by climate pollution over the next 30 years, we can estimate over $400 billion of climate damages enabled by this pipeline if built. I would likely be glad to support Enbridge infrastructure choices if the climate costs were internalized with a carbon tax of $150 per ton. But $400 billion of climate damages must not be foisted onto the public.

Let’s look at where we are now:

  • Records show that extreme summer temperatures are 50 times more frequent now.

  • Global food prices are teetering at record levels because of extreme weather events around the world.

  • Hurricane Katrina smashed into a coastal city causing more than $100 billion in damages the most costly weather event in history and Hurricane Sandy brought over $60 billion in damages to NY and NJ.

  • The sea ice in the arctic is collapsing at breathtaking speed and the spring snow cover in Canada, USA and Russia is disappearing.

  • These two events are driving increased global warming beyond our direct control.

  • Warmer winters are releasing pine beetles into vast tracks of our forests. Half the pines in BC are dead and the western boreal is dying faster than it is growing back. Continued warming will release pine beetles into the boreal at which point they will eat our Canadian forests from coast to coast.

I could go on for hours about clear and present climate dangers, but you get the picture that Northern Gateway would help paint: runaway catastrophic climate change with massive death, destruction and extinction. Again and again climate change is out-racing worst case scenarios and costing humans billions of dollars in BC and around the globe.

Enbridge might be money-blind enough to not care, although if they love their kids, and I’m sure they do, they might want to think things through in a different way.

But the Government of Canada can’t expect us, our children, their future, and the incredible biological diversity of the world to pay Enbridge’s tab of hundreds of billions of dollars.

It’s just wrong.

In a best case scenario, the world will put a price on carbon, oil sands expansion will become unprofitable and the Northern Gateway Pipeline would be a huge investment loss and a stranded asset.

In the worst case scenario, the Northern Gateway pipeline hastens the end of the world as we know it.

Either way, it is against the national interest and morally wrong.

Over the holiday, I picknicked with my extended family on a beach. A seagull grabbed a plastic bag smeared with peanut butter from my backpack and I thought to myself, there is no way that a plastic bag that originated in my kitchen is going to end up in the ocean. So I chased the seagull up and down the beach for about ten minutes, not knowing what good it would do but knowing that I had to do what I could. After ten minutes of chasing, the sea gull landed next to another group of picknickers for protection. Four other seagulls landed next to my seagull and caused it to drop the plastic bag. A little boy who had watched me chase the seagull for so long, grabbed the plastic bag and ran down the beach to give it to me.

This event reminded me that sometimes you just have to do what you can to prevent harm even if you aren’t sure how it can help, and that can create the opportunity for good things to happen.

I’m determined to prevent the harm of the Enbridge pipeline from occurring and will not be surprised if the JRP’s report provides the opportunity for good things to happen for Canada, like investment in renewable energy infrastructure.

Republished from the Vancouver Observer: http://www.vancouverobserver.com/blogs/earthmatters/runaway-catastrophic-climate-change-and-enbridge-northern-gateway-pipeline




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