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Hansen:  tar sands project poses a planetary threat

The Canadian press is full of speculation that the Canadian government will push for special treatment and protections from global warming regulation of its fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions: the tar sands oil development in Alberta, where much of Canada's oil is derived. Such protection would be disastrous for life on our planet.

The tar sands of Canada constitute one of our planet's greatest threats. They are a double-barrelled threat. First, producing oil from tar sands emits two-to-three times the global warming pollution of conventional oil. But the process also diminishes one of the best carbon-reduction tools on the planet: Canada's Boreal Forest.

This forest plays a key role in the global carbon equation by serving as a major storehouse for terrestrial carbon – indeed, it is believed to store more carbon per hectare than any other ecosystem on Earth. When this pristine forest is strip mined for tar sands development, much of its stored carbon is lost. Canada's Boreal Forest is also the reservoir for a large fraction of North America's clean, fresh water, home to some five billion migratory birds, and some of largest remaining populations of caribou, moose, bear and wolves on the planet.

As a climate scientist, I am focused on what levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide can be considered safe. In the past few years, based on increasingly detailed information about the history of the Earth and observations of ongoing climate change, a startling conclusion has become apparent. The safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is no more than 350 parts per million (ppm), if we wish the diversity of other species on the planet to survive – as well as "amenities" that humans require, such as fresh water supplies, stable coastlines and a normal degree of extreme weather events.

Unfortunately, because of our fossil fuel use, our planet is already at 385 ppm. It is still practical, with improved agricultural and forestry practices to get future carbon dioxide levels below 350 ppm, provided we phase out emissions from the largest source, coal, in coming decades. It is a tough challenge to develop the needed renewable energies of the future, but it is doable. Together with improved energy efficiency we can move to the clean world of the future, beyond fossil fuels.

So an underlying fact has become crystal clear. The horrendously carbon-intensive unconventional fossil fuels, tar shale in the US and tar sands in Canada, cannot be developed. The carbon emissions from tar shale and tar sands would initiate a continual unfolding of climate disasters over the course of this century. We would be miserable stewards of creation. We would rob our own children and grandchildren.

And this is what the Europeans are rushing to invest in?  Surely this fit the definition of "a criminal enterprise", investment in which makes one an accessory to the crime?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Feb 23rd, 2009 at 02:33:47 AM EST
do the designers of dystopias also sideline in horror flick scripting?

between nukes (kinder, gentler, natch), shale oil, and mountaintop removal for ever-so-tiny-bit-maybe-hopefully-cleaner coal, the scenario looks like a japanese comic hell.


'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Feb 23rd, 2009 at 05:40:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
but the Western oil majors will invest anywhere they can, right now, because they have access to very little, and are running out of reserves. They are small bit playrs compared to the National Oil Cos of the countries with reserves.

So if it's legal in the US or Canada to go for the tar stuffs, they'll go for that, despite the poor prospects. They are that desperate.

But it's legal - the problem is not the oil companies, it's the regulations and the governments that puts them in place.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Feb 23rd, 2009 at 11:56:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am beginning to wonder a little about that.  (the problem being not the corporadoes but the lack of laws).

way back when, there were no laws against slavery;  did that mean that there was nothing wrong with slavery until there were -- presto! -- laws agin it?  that there was nothing wrong with those who invested in slave trading, carried out slave trading, inflicted all that immeasurable human misery, just because there was not a law on the books?

in other words and in today's case, isn't there something wrong with people who deliberately seek personal profit by activities that they know, that everybody knows, to be threatening to human survival on a planetary scale?  is "desperation" a justification?  desperate for another vacation home, a new Mercedes?  what can "desperation" mean for the CEOs, BODs and high level decision making managers in these corps who already have more than enough money to live on for the rest of several affluent human lifetimes?

admittedly they are trapped in a workplace culture that normalises greed, myopia, and crime.  and workplace culture can be very powerful in dulling conscience and wits.  but still one would hope for a flicker of survival instinct, or even (gasp) a moral qualm or two, to suggest that investing in a horror -- and a futile tragic farce -- like the tar and shale sands extraction is a Very Bad Idea?  a suicide/murder pact whose scale makes money itself, at the end of the day, completely meaningless (what is money worth without the civilisation whose consensus is its value)?

how can they sleep at night?

[hmmmm, well, how can any of us?]

OK, diving back into the engine room with a sense of profound and uneasy irony...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Feb 23rd, 2009 at 12:12:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
legal = moral = good

So as long as you're not caught, with no legal recourse, as having done something illegal, you're good. See Berlusconi, Cheney, etc...

And, very importantly, it's the letter of the lw that matters, not the spirit of the law. And monay cna usefully help you navigate the letter of the law againt underfunded public prosecutors...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Feb 23rd, 2009 at 03:11:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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