It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Sunday, November 8, 2015

David Roberts on Keystone

When he starts off on the right foot, nobody is more cogent on climate issues than David Roberts:
Fossil fuel extraction and transport projects have a presumptive social warrant. Local opposition or environmental standards may sometimes trump that warrant, but the heuristic applied defaults to positive, to yes.

That attitude simply isn't commensurate with the urgency that climate change imposes. Limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees means not burning 80 percent of the fossil fuel reserves already available to us. At the rate we're going, we're going to burn through that 20 percent in just a few decades. There's got to be some decisions made somewhere not to dig it up, not to build distribution infrastructure for it — to leave it in the ground.

Getting there means removing that presumptive social warrant, the default yes. It means creating a new heuristic: fossil fuels must be reduced as fast as practically possible. It means creating a new default answer to fossil fuel infrastructure: no, unless a case can be made that the climate damage is worth it. This wouldn't mean cutting off all fossil fuels tomorrow, despite the crude caricatures painted of activists. But it would mean steadily raising the bar, changing a defeasible presumption of innocence to a defeasible presumption of guilt.
Well, um, yeah. What he said.

Go read the whole thing. It will probably be the most important thing you read about climate this month:

 What critics of the Keystone campaign misunderstand about climate activism

6 comments:

Tom said...

You cannot solve your problem first. Mine is more important. My problem is that the demand for energy in the developing world is rising by 4.19% every year.

Sorry. My problem takes precedence. I will be happy if we can give them green energy. Nuclear, hydro, solar, wind, biofuels--I don't care. Mix and match, pile it on, the more the merrier.

But if it can't be green, it still has to come from somewhere. So I'll take brown if there is no green. I'll take black if there is no brown.

Michael Tobis said...

Agreed. I don't think anyone who knows the ropes is arguing differently. But that's not really where the bulk of the carbon problem lies.

Jim Eager said...

You're right, Michael, David Roberts' piece is well worth the read, but quite a few people have been saying as much for some time now.

Both fossil fuel advocates of all stripes and a good many of those in favour of taking action to address AGW make the same mistake: underestimating or just plain ignoring the value of delaying pipeline construction and expansion of the tar sands (or promoting fossil fuel divestment, or protesting mountain top removal coal extraction) as a public education, persuasion, organising and motivation tool, one with serious multiplying power.

The proposed new pipelines from the Alberta tar sands are not required to handle existing production, they are needed to allow for the *expansion* of tar sands production. A quadrupling in fact. And to date not one of them has been built, despite Harper gutting the Navigable Waters Protection Act at the behest of TransCanada and Enbridge. Despite Joe Oliver labeling those opposing them as foreign-funded radical environmentalists. Despite the National Energy Board’s refusal to allow anyone to use climate impact in a written objection or in person at its hearings.

Not Keystone XL. Not Energy East. Not Kinder-Morgan. And there has been no expansion of tar sands capacity. That carbon is staying in the ground, at least for now. True, the Saudis can take credit for the latter, but it wasn’t the Saudis that stymied the pipelines. That was the successful removal of the "presumptive social warrant" that it is automatically in the public interest to build them. The social and political landscape has changed and people are noticing.

Obama's decision to reject KXL was a welcome congratulations gift to our new PM as it gave Trudeau cover and let him off the hook. Although the Liberals stated that they were not against XL or the tar sands during the campaign, they pretty much had to say that if they wanted to win a majority. Trudeau's "disappointment" in the XL rejection was clearly not very deep and not even crocodile tears were shed by anyone in the new government, not withstanding the gnashing, wingeing and exploding heads in Alberta. For sure it is a load off Trudeau's plate heading off to Paris.

It's nice to not feel like a cynical pessimist for a change. I know, it won't last, but then again, it just might.

Kevin O'Neill said...

Bear in mind that I'm in favor of virtually any program/action that reduces fossil fuels, but Keystone XL can hardly be considered a victory.

Keystone XL Phase IV would have added 830,000 barrels/day of capacity. The alternative to Keystone XL Phase IV is already moving up to 570,000 barrels a day, is expected to be upgraded to 800,000 barrels a day and was put in service with hardly any fanfare or political opposition.

Enbridge's Alberta Clipper (Line 67) made use of existing pipe that moved oil *from* Superior, Wisconsin to North Dakota and Alberta by reversing flow and now that same pipe moves dilbit from ND and Alberta *to* Superior.

In the end the same amount of tar sands oil will reach its final destinations, just on a different carrier with different middlemen taking their cuts. A pyrrhic victory at best. Sadly, most don't even realize Keystone XL Phase IV was really no longer needed.

Michael Tobis said...

Kevin, did you read the article? Or Jim's comment above? It seems almost as though you haven't.


Steve Bloom said...

Or, what the hell, cheap coal, right Tommy?