President Biden Refuses to Make our Climate Crisis Worse

Cancels Canadian Tar Sands Pipeline Keystone XL

By Stephen Leahy
Jan 22 2021 – I wasn’t going to stop for the school bus stuck in the mud outside of Fort McMurray, Alberta in the heart of the Canada’s tar sands industry but my kids insisted. It had been raining most of the week and the grassy field was soaked and slick. We stopped and got out and looked at the 12,000 kilogram bus uselessly spinning its wheels, digging deeper into the mud. Someone got the driver to stop, essentially saying you’re making a bad problem worse.

Stephen Leahy

No one had a vehicle large enough to tow or push the bus which would have likely become mired as well. A few other people came by, and collectively, we came up with ideas. I thought it an impossible task for a handful of people barely able to stand in the muck ourselves. A few trials, some planks of wood and a gleeful bouncing up and down inside the back of the bus produced the unexpected result of freeing the vehicle.

I was surprised we’d done it and by my own feelings of intense satisfaction at what we strangers had collectively accomplished. By not making a bad problem worse, we figured out a way to solve it together.

Keystone XL would have added 110 millions tons of CO2

President Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL (KXL) oil pipeline is an example of not making a really bad problem worse. The Need-to-Know here is that KXL would have added up to 110 million tons of climate-heating CO2 into the atmosphere every year for at least 50 years a study in journal Nature Climate Change reported in 2014. That’s country-sized emissions — enough to put it on the list of the top 35 worst carbon-polluting countries in the world, as I wrote in Vice at that time.

I first learned of KXL more than ten years ago and ended up writing a dozen articles about it, including how Canada’s spy agencies were monitoring KXL protestors as potential threats to national security. The 36-inch diameter pipe was intended to pump 830,000 barrels of bitumen per day from the Alberta tar sands down to US Gulf Coast for refining. Calgary-based TransCanada Pipelines, now renamed TC Energy, originally claimed the pipeline was needed for US energy security, but environmentalists said it was to be refined into diesel and exported to Europe. An interesting Need-to-Know today is that the US doesn’t need the oil and Europe doesn’t want dirty diesel. In fact, Europe bought nearly 1.4 million electric vehicles in 2020, more than any other country in the world.

Here’s where things got interesting in 2020

TC Energy began pipeline construction in Alberta after Jason Kenney’s provincial government agreed in March 2020 to fund the first year of construction with a C$1.5 billion investment. Kenney also guaranteed C$6 billion worth of loans, all as part of an effort to jump-start the northern portion of project ahead of the US Presidential election. Last summer about 90 kilometres of pipeline was built in Alberta.*

As expected on Inauguration Day President Biden signed an executive order rescinding KXL permits. Expect Jason Kenney to scream loud and long. Although it’s really Albertans who should be screaming about the blatant waste of their tax money on the long predicted cancellation of the project.

The last thing an escalating climate crisis needs is to increase fossil fuel infrastructure. That’s a clear case of making a very bad problem much worse. To repeat another Need-to-Know: The 2015 Paris climate agreement means all countries agreed to phase out fossil fuel use. That’s essential in order to keep climate change under 2 degrees C.

Instead of wasting $1.5 billion on the doomed KXL pipeline, Alberta’s Kenney should have used that public money to help workers in the oil industry with re-training and financial support during the required phase down of the industry.

A Need-to-Know is that the fossil fuel industry is not a major employer in Canada or most countries. It’s a capital intensive sector, not job intensive. Less than 1% of Canada’s workforce are employed in those industries in total. A 20-year phase out of Canada’s fossil fuel sector is entirely doable and would not disrupt the economy, said economist Jim Stanford in a new report.

Undeniable: fossil fuels will disappear

A 20-year phase out would reduce fossil employment by about 8,500 positions per year—as many as Canada usually creates every 10 days. The industry already shed twice that number of jobs in 2020 due to poor oil prices and pandemic-induced recession. Most of those jobs aren’t coming back. Stanford, who heads the Vancouver-based Centre for Future Work said:

    “It is now undeniable: fossil fuels will disappear from most uses in the foreseeable future.”

The industry and it’s supporters will continue to deny the undeniable, making a bad situation worse. For example the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims the cancellation of KXL “….will put thousands of Americans out of work…” The very influential US Chamber has been a long-time denier of climate change and played a key role in getting former President Trump to pull the US out of the Paris agreement.

Continuing to deny the undeniable is why many once-prosperous past societies collapsed anthropologists report in a new study: “When Good Governments Go Bad”. In studying 30 different societies they concluded that collapse could very likely have been avoided but citizens relied on their leaders to act in societies’ best interests. Instead, leaders protected their own interests, and those of the elite in society.

Let’s not continue to repeat past mistakes.

*Note: In 2012 KXL was split into two projects with a southern leg from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf Coast and northern leg from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska. Construction for much of the southern leg was completed in 2014.

Stephen Leahy is an award-winning environmental journalist and author based in Canada. He was lead international science and environment correspondent at IPS and now publishes Need to Know: Science and Insight, a free weekly bulletin bringing fresh ideas and perspective on the pandemic, and existential crisis of climate change and unravelling of nature’s life supports.

 


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