Be Careful Who You Pick On, Joe

XL_pipelineJoe Oliver, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, was in Washington, D.C. last week to promote the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This massive construction project would transport Canadian tar sands oil some 2000 miles from Alberta through the U.S. Midwest to Oklahoma for refining, and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico for export to other countries.

Environmentalists have been critical of the project, saying that the increased tar sands production would emit at least 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year into the atmosphere, significantly warming the Earth’s climate.

TarSandsThe International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that

With current policies in place, global temperatures are set to increase 6 degrees Celsius, which has catastrophic implications.

If, on the other hand, the international community is to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (the agreed upon target under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), then 80% of the world’s existing reserves of oil, coal and gas must be left undeveloped. Canada’s continued development of this extremely dirty fossil fuel thus seriously undermines the goal of sustainability.

Nevertheless, Joe Oliver and Stephen Harper’s Conservative government continue to push for the rapid development of the Canadian tar sands.

JamesHansenLast year James Hansen, a former NASA scientist and a leading climate change activist, stated in an article in The New York Times that if Canada proceeds with its plans to export oil from its tar sands reserves “and we do nothing, it will be game over for the planet.”

Late last month Joe Oliver decided to pick a fight with Hansen, calling Hansen’s statement “nonsense,” and accusing him of “crying wolf.” In an interview with reporters Oliver stated,

It does not advance the debate when people make exaggerated comments that are not rooted in the facts.

Oliver then listed the benefits he said will come from the Keystone XL pipeline project. He added that Canadian “oilsands development will continue, whether the Keystone pipeline is approved or not.”

al gore global warmingThis week Oliver decided to take on Al Gore. In last Saturday’s interview with The Globe And Mail, Gore said we should stop treating the atmosphere like an “open sewer.” Oliver accused him of making “wildly inaccurate and exaggerated comments.” He claims that Canada has done much to reduce emissions into the atmosphere saying, “We’ve done a lot, we’re going to do more. I’m very proud of our record, and it’s a record that we’re happy to stand on.”

Yet Canada’s record is not as stellar as Oliver suggests. In 2011 Canada was awarded the Fossil of the Year award at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban for its failure to address climate change. It was the fifth year in a row that Canada was given this award, prompting the criticism that

Canada’s actions have become so egregious that they have been left behind on the sidelines of global climate progress.

Oliver continues to believe the so-called dangers of climate change are vastly overblown. Many in the scientific community are concerned that Oliver fails to take the scientific data seriously. This week a group of 12 prominent Canadian climate scientists responded to Oliver’s criticism of Gore. They released a letter to him in which they offered to help the minister “understand the scientific data behind climate change and energy development.”

The letter states,

We are at a critical moment. … The longer we delay the transition to [a] low-carbon economy, the more drastic, disruptive and costly that transition will be. The implication is clear: the responsibility for preventing dangerous climate change rests with today’s policymakers.

One of the letter’s authors, David Keith, a Canadian who teaches public policy and engineering at Harvard University, was quite blunt in stating that the Canadian government needs to “grow up” in its attitude toward climate change and stop “using the atmosphere as a waste dump for carbon.”

We may think of scientists as a bunch of nerdy introverts who rarely emerge from their laboratories. But they are increasingly in the public spotlight these days. And when they are attacked, they stand together and come out swinging.

Be careful, Joe Oliver, when you pick a fight.

About politspectator
Edward Clayton grew up in the US but has lived in Canada for the last 4 decades. He is a long time peace activist and committed to issues of social justice and good government. He reports on Canadian, American, and global politics from a Canadian perspective.

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