Tag Archives: oil sands

Keep It in the Ground: The Biggest Story in the World

by Josef Kuhn

Keep what in the ground? Who says this is the biggest story in the world? The ‘what’ is hydrocarbon fuel material in its many forms. Alan Rusbridger, Editor-in-chief of The Guardian and Bill McKibben, leader of 350.org, got together this past year and from their discussions concluded that ending the mining, transporting and burning of hydrocarbons, also known as fossil fuels, is the biggest story in the world. “Keep it in the Ground” is the key to reversing the catastrophic damage hydrocarbon material produces when it is moved from where it has been placed by natural processes and pumped into our atmosphere as exhaust from our fuels.

Many of the world’s scientists, scholars and journalists, and even some politicians, have expressed grave concerns for several decades now about what is happening in our atmosphere and to life in our waters and on the land as a result of climate change. One just needs to follow the news to see story after story about how climate change is impacting the well being of people all around the world. People, especially young people, are taking to the streets in protest as they see big trouble for their future and the future of their children if action is not taken to reduce the increasing impact of storms, heat waves, melting glaciers, ocean acidification and other effects of global warming. More and more people are seeing that the twentieth century industrial way of life is contributing to a distribution of wealth that results in poor living conditions and poor health around the world.

When Alan Rusbridger had his breakthrough discussion with Bill McKibben, he was looking for ‘the crux of the matter,’ what should journalists, and everyone who cares about this growing crisis, be focusing on if it is to be averted. Keeping the bulk of the hydrocarbons in the ground emerged as the critical, strategic action that people everywhere, in all walks of life, must focus on. All people, not just government and corporation leaders, must take action to insure that the right decisions are made in order for us to meet our present and future energy needs without damaging the health of eco-systems and the well being of people.

There is clearly a backlash against this kind of thinking from industry and government leaders who are arguing that the health of our economic systems must be our first priority and that climate change and ecology must be a lower priority. The question each of us has to address if we are to achieve success in preserving healthy eco-systems is: can we have healthy economic systems if our climate is being disrupted and all forms of life impaired? This is another way of expressing “The Biggest Story in the World.”

My view as an ecologist and Elder is that we cannot have healthy economies if our ecological systems are being damaged and disrupted by climate change. Although the Government of Canada has made it very clear that it does not support this view, many of Canada’s scientists and scholars are supporting the need to recognize that we are moving rapidly into crises. More and more objective, fair minded people are advocating that Canadian business and government leaders join with leaders in the international community who are working to formulate the actions that are needed.

What is emerging from the international conferences that are underway as I write this is that the release of carbon into the atmosphere from the burning of hydrocarbons must be curtailed, i.e., “Keep It in the Ground.” The scientists, economists, journalists and others who are contributing factual information and ethical assessment to the national and international decision making processes are making it clear that changing the way our industries develop and use energy will produce economic benefits, like jobs and investment opportunities. We should not be misled by twentieth century thinking and policies which make protecting the carbon fueled industrial development sector of our economy the highest priority of our governments.

“The Biggest Story in the World” involves each of us being well informed and contributing in a responsible way to the critical decision making process that is underway to control carbon emissions. We know that carbon based fuels will be with us for a while. We also know that this energy source must be replaced as fast as possible by clean energy or all life will suffer tremendous damage. The technology to make the needed changes is available. The will has been lacking. Will people work at making it happen? Will people express their concerns and what they want to see happen? Will we as voters, stockholders and consumers support politicians and businesses that will contribute to changing the way we develop and use energy? For the well being of our children and grandchildren, this Elder sure hopes so!

oilsands

Ecological intelligence – a scarce resource

by Stan Hirst

 

Groupthink

We elders value the environment in which we live, and so we take a deep interest in anything that threatens the quality of that environment. For the past while we’ve been expressing concern about plans and proposals to run oil pipelines across the landscape and to build massive tanker terminals on the west coast to supply oil supertankers which will then chug up and down B.C.’s narrow coastal channels with their bituminous loads. Now we find ourselves faced by yet more proposals to haul yet more piles of thermal coal down to the coast for loading into yet more freighters to carry the stuff to yet more power plants in China for combustion to add, yes, yet more greenhouse gases to the planet’s already overloaded atmosphere.

We understand the underlying motivations of the people who propose, plan and implement all these grand schemes. Canadians don’t get to actually use any of the oil, gas and coal being extracted, hauled and shipped, so the reasons for the frenetic interest in these activities are more elementary – employment and revenue from exports. National statistics indicate that the energy sector provides 4% of Canada’s total employment and that income from energy extraction and export is currently 3.5% of average national income. These are not huge proportions in the national sense, but obviously represent a significant number of jobs and piles of loot for some. We look at the other side of the coin and express our concern with statistics and forecasts related to things like habitats for fish and wildlife, clean water and marine coastlines not befouled with oil slicks or worse.

Our reasons for concern at carbon extraction and combustion relate in the first instance to the very real possibility of local impacts from spills, contamination at the like. At the global level we see even greater threats to global climate and to planetary ecosystems from the additional carbon dioxide and methane which will be added to Earth’s atmosphere. Those impacts will affect virtually every person on the planet in some way, and the negative effects will be handed on to succeeding generations.

The really perplexing question now arises when we consider the motivations and decision-making modes of those driving the proposals to extract bitumen and coal and to ship it out for combustion. These folks look a lot like us. They live on this planet right here next to us. They seem to value environmental quality just as much as we do. They too have children and grandchildren who they want to see live happy and productive lives. Why then are they so happy to sidestep the obvious implications of negative global impacts and focus instead on the materialistic – jobs and money?

The difference between the two groups – the environmentally concerned and the environmentally unconcerned – seems to be a sensitivity to global ecological issues and to the vast web of connections and intersections between human activity and nature’s systems. Daniel Goleman, author and journalist, has termed this sensitivity ecological intelligence. Ecological refers to an understanding of living organisms and their ecosystems, and intelligence connotes the capacity to learn from experience and deal effectively with the shared environment.

In primitive societies this shared environment was essentially local – a valley, a stretch of shoreline or a path of forest used as habitat by fish and wildlife essential to local humans as food sources. Today, the global dominance of industry and commerce has brought the impacts of our lifestyles to virtually every corner of the planet. Current human use and consumption of the natural world far exceeds Earth’s long-term carrying capacity. At the same time, modern society has lost touch with the sensibility crucial to our survival as a species. Our daily routines carry on completely disconnected from the adverse impacts on the world around us. As Goleman expresses it – our collec­tive mind harbours blind spots that disconnect our everyday ac­tivities from the crises those activities cause in natural systems. An all-encompassing sensibility would be the only way to appreciate the interconnections between human actions and their direct and indirect impacts on the planet and on our own well-being and social systems.

A contemporary expression of ecological intelligence would be a naturalist’s ability to categorize and recognize patterns in the natural world – ecological, geological and climatic. Humans have done this for centuries. The global extent of human-induced change now requires that ecological intelligence be extended to the planetary level. Other levels of human intelligence, e.g. social and emotional, enable us to take other people’s perspectives, assimilate these and feel genuine empathy. Ecological intelligence extends this capac­ity to all natural systems.

The sheer efficiency and widespread prevalence of modern technologies have severely blunted the survival skills of billions of individuals on the planet. Modern economies require and encourage specialized expertise, which in turn depends on other specialists for tasks in another field. However, while many of us excel in a narrow specialized field, we all depend on the skills of experts – farmers, software engineers, nutritionists, mechanics – to make life work for us. We no longer have the abilities, the attunement to the natural world, nor the custom of passing on of local wisdom to new generations that traditionally allowed native peoples to find ways of living in harmony with their patch of the planet.

When it comes to seeing nature, differences in perception have huge consequences. Images of polar bears stranded on ice drifts or vanishing glaciers offer powerful symbols of the perils we face from global warming. Inconvenient truths of the trouble our planet is in are everywhere, but our collective ability to perceive them has been rendered ineffective. Our attention has been drawn, somewhat reluctantly, to symptoms like the slow rising of global sea levels or the pesticide-induced demise of our all-important bee populations, but how many other keys and subtle insights into natural disruption are we missing? We have no sensors for this sort of thing Goleman reminds us, nor is our otherwise impressive neural system designed to warn us of the ways that our activities are having on our planetary niche. We clearly have to acquire new sensitivities to a growing range of threats and learn what to do about them. In other words, we need urgently to sharpen our ecological intelligence.

Ecological intelligence should allow us to comprehend complex systems as well as the interrelations between the natural and man-made worlds, but developing it requires a vast store of knowledge. Too much for any one individual. Intelligence has traditionally been a characteristic of the individual, but now the ecological abilities we need in order to sur­vive must necessarily be collective. The challenges we face are too diverse, frequently too subtle or too complex to be understood and addressed by an individual. Problem recognition and solution now require intense efforts by a diverse range of experts, entrepreneurs, activists; in short, by all of us. As a group we need to learn what dangers we face, what their causes are, and how to render them harmless. On the other hand we need to see new opportunities. Above all, we need the collective determination to do all this.

Large organizations already make good use of distributed intelligence. Goleman cites the examples of hospitals where technicians, nurses, administrators and specialist physicians coordinate their skills to provide appropriate care to patients. A similar example is that of a modern commercial enterprise in which sales, marketing, finance, and strategic plan­ning each represent unique expertise yet op­erate as a whole to provide coordinated, shared understanding and implementation.

The shared nature of ecological intelligence makes it synergis­tic with social intelligence, which gives us the capacity to coordi­nate and harmonize our efforts. The art of working together effectively has to encompass abil­ities like empathy and perspective taking, candour and coopera­tion, to create person-to-person links that let information gain added value as it moves up. Collaboration and the exchange of in­formation are vital to amassing the essential ecological insights and necessary databases that will allow us to act for the greater good.

Pipelines and emotions

by Jim Park

There has been much concern voiced lately over the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline (ENGP) which, if built, would traverse northern British Columbia and deliver bitumen to a deepwater tanker terminal at Kitimat, B.C.

Loudest amongst the voices heard are those who oppose the pipeline for a variety of reasons, and make use of the media and public meetings to make their objections known, often in emotion-coloured messages. One message, currently circulating online, shows a video of 10-year old TaKaiya Blaney from the Sliammon First Nation band in North Vancouver singing a song of protest against ENGP.

The displays of public emotion have drawn some criticism from observers. They note that the people making the emotional responses have no technical knowledge of the issues involved in pipeline projects and cannot provide any useful expertise in reaching a decision as to whether the project should be built or not. In their view, these folks are simply repeating the anxiety that others have put into their minds. The use of a child as a tool to communicate objections to the project is seen as reprehensible and a form of child abuse.

However, for me, when reading or listening to these arguments, what comes to mind is the age-old struggle between the logical mind and the illogical emotions.

People with a scientific background have spent lifetimes approaching challenges and achieving goals using the scientific method: detailed observation, comprehensive and structured data collection, and objective analysis of the facts to reach repeatable conclusions. This is a good thing; it is the tool that helped us to achieve the scientific breakthroughs that created the high standard of living that we enjoy today.

However, those without a scientific background have never gained this tool or learned the discipline required to approach the physical universe from a non-anthropocentric perspective. They approach life from an instinctual, threat/reward-oriented, highly personal level. Some few have managed to harmonize the mental and emotional aspects of themselves, and have gained an inner peace with themselves and the world, in which they try and live a lifestyle of creative harmony with the natural and artificial worlds around them. To me, these are the wise ones.

As we all know, facts can be twisted into any shape that is desirable depending on the viewpoint of those paying our wages. Studies can be conducted and facts collected and analyzed about a given topic ad infinitum. This is how and why those interests opposed to the anthropogenic causes of climate change can keep delaying concrete action; introduce some doubt and uncertainty, whether factual or not, and science dictates that further analysis is required in order to “prove” the hypothesis one way or another, and nothing changes.

The danger of always approaching the complexities of life through scientific eyes is that we cut ourselves off from that which is being studied. We have to disconnect – that is what the objectivity of the scientific method is all about. The observer and the observed. The more distant we can be from that which is being studied, the better. And it is here where the underlying problem resides. When we try and use logic to explain everything, we don’t feel an emotional connection to anything.

Many of those who oppose the ENGP have experienced a strong emotional connection with the natural world, it’s beauty and complexity. They are the ones who can truly say “Mother Nature is hurting!” because they FEEL that hurt, whether it be the destruction of biomes, pollution of the earth, air and water, or the extinction of species. For many scientists, economic interests and politicians, to “feel” is anathema. As such, they tend to denigrate the weight and value of the opinions of those who “feel”.

Is it reprehensible to use children as tools to “communicate one’s objection to a project”? I find it reprehensible to use children as sexual objects as in the TV show “Tiaras and Toddlers“. I find it reprehensible to use animals in advertising. I find trophy hunting reprehensible. I find factory farming to be reprehensible. I find war and poverty and ignorance to be reprehensible. It is reprehensible what is being done to indigenous people downstream from the Alberta tar sands: polluted rivers with deformed, ulcer-ridden fish, a dramatic increase in cancers associated with petrochemicals. Sorry, can’t act on taking remedial action to improve living conditions for these people because the facts aren’t all in yet; there are conflicting studies. And while this endless argument goes on, people are getting sick.

In the final analysis it will be the children who inherit the world that we have created for them; they have to live in it. We’ll all be dead and buried in the not too distant future, and won’t have to worry about the “mistakes” that we have made, but they will be in their prime, and have to deal with the world that we have left them based on the decisions being made today.

To desire a natural and bounteous environment in which to grow up, have a family, and live a simpler yet fulfilling life in harmony with your surroundings is a pretty sane goal to me. To respect and love life in all its diversity, and to kill only for sustenance where that which is killed is wholesome and chemical-free is a worthy goal on my book. How much “technical knowledge” does a parent need to raise a healthy, well-adjusted child? How much “technical knowledge” is needed to simply say that I don’t want to take chances on my children’s future and don’t want potentially toxic pipelines in my backyard?

When it comes to taking action to prevent further degradation of our planet, and to nurture the recovery of the natural world for future generations, then I believe children should stand with their loved ones on the front lines. If the emotional impact of seeing and hearing the voices of children will hasten the speed of positive change in our world, then they have my blessing.

Whatever our individual beliefs as to the percentages between natural cyclical and human-induced causes for climate change, the natural world is very sick and changing rapidly and we had better start working together to heal it and identify remedial options. This can best be done by acknowledging both the logical and emotional components of the problems that we face and finding holistic solutions for each of them.

Northern Gateway pipeline is more than just an environmental issue

By Bob Worcester

The Northern Gateway Pipeline is pitting U.S. interests against the Chinese, and Alberta against B.C. Five oil sands companies have revealed themselves as supporters of the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline, lending their names to a massive infrastructure proposal that has stirred intense opposition in Western Canada. Cenovus Energy Inc., MEG Energy Corp., Nexen Inc., Suncor Energy Marketing Inc. (a subsidiary of Suncor Energy Inc.),and Total E&P Canada (the domestic arm of French giant Total SA) have each spent money to help develop the $6.6-billion pipeline which, if built, will funnel massive volumes of oil sands crude to the West Coast for export to California and Asia. Gateway’s financial backers also include Chinese state-owned energy company Sinopec. And there are others who have yet to step forward. Market sources have said they believe China National Petroleum Corp. also holds an interest in Gateway. Sinochem Group, another Chinese energy firm, is also believed to support Gateway.

Against this backdrop a story is emerging that Canadian environmental groups receive some funding from US charities. Canada’s Conservative government is using this as a “talking point” against the swelling opposition to the Gateway pipeline and tar sand development. The government seems to be taking a very narrow view as to what constitutes the “national interest.”

No one can deny that billions of dollars of foreign investment will impact the Canadian economy. It seems easier, however, for the government to deny that billions more tonnes of greenhouse gases will impact the Canadian (and global) climate. Despite the petro-dollar funded denials it remains an “inconvenient truth” that we are mortgaging the health and welfare of our children and grandchildren in the rush to exploit the last remaining fossil fuel deposits and get them to market across BC’s pristine northern forests and rivers.

Oil and gas geologists know very well what global warming is doing to arctic ice and northern tundra. They drive through the infestation of warm weather pine beetles in BC’s boreal forests. For them it is merely the cost of doing business, knowing that they are not even being asked to pay those costs. Those costs are being passed on to our children in the form of catastrophic climate changes now occurring faster than the IPCC’s worst predictions.

Environmentalists are raising the alarm because the facts are truly alarming. This is much more than merely an environmental or economic issue. It is an eldership issue of survival. Elders have understood for generations the dangers of reckless exploitation and resource exhaustion. Those cultures that heed the warnings survive and thrive while those that don’t disappear into the mists of history. The difference now is that the impacts are global and there are no more uncharted territories to shelter the survivors.

Ecology has no national interest. Iroquois Law is often described as decreeing that decisions must consider seven generations. Sadly, governments are bound instead to election cycles and oil companies are bound to balance sheets and annual reports. Eldership transcends those limitations and never was there a greater need for elders to be heard. Canada’s national interest is a sustainable future for its next generation. Who will speak for them?