Sunday, February 05, 2012

Why I am opposed to Northern Gateway

After a few months of thinking, I came to the conclusion that there is no choice but to oppose the construction of the Northern Gateway pipeline. There are many worthy arguments on either side of this issue, from the economy to First Nations rights, and from the preservation of the BC coastline to the reality of oil consumption here and abroad. My argument, presented in the Mark, is entirely about climate:

If the Harper government were not so consistently obstinate on federal climate policy, people like me (a climate scientist who has long been wary of the NIMBYism of environmental groups) might not become vociferous opponents of projects like Northern Gateway. We are forced to oppose individual carbon-intensive projects because the government refuses to listen to scientific or economic reason on climate change.

My compromise solution is a federal carbon pricing system.

A carbon-pricing system, like those of British Columbia and Australia, would not necessarily prevent pipeline construction. Rather, it could allow the market to decide whether the costs of a new pipeline outweigh the benefits, and ensure that any emissions from such new projects are more than compensated for by cuts elsewhere. This would also help Canada slowly transition towards a 21st-century economy, based on innovation and our plentiful renewable resources, without ignoring extractive industries of our past.

I encourage people to read, consider and comment on this argument. It is not based on concern about the direct effect of an individual pipeline like Northern Gateway on the physics and chemistry of the climate system. The approval of an individual project, and for that matter, the overall expansion of oil extraction in Alberta, would not specifically be  - physically or chemically speaking - "game over" for the climate, as some have claimed. They could, however, lead us down the wrong path. 

Absent a federal effort to manage carbon emissions, there will be a pitched battle over every new pipeline and every new coal-burning power plant. Many of those seeming slam dunks, like Keystone XL, will clang off the rim. We could keep fighting like this forever. Or we could work together on a federal climate policy.


ScruffyDan said...

Your solution is essentially the same as mine, and more importantly the very similar to Mark Jaccard from SFU who spends a great deal of time thinking about this type of policy.

But I am quite convinced that a price on Carbon is not only not on the table for the Harper government, but it isn't even in the room.

The question for me is how do we change that? How do we get politicians to consider a proper price on carbon.

The Mound of Sound said...

And who will make good the losses from a tanker catastrophe in the Hecate Strait? No one is willing to indemnify the province and people of British Columbia. What happens when dilbit is immersed in seawater, Simon? According to Pembina it gels and sinks. Who will clean up the seabed hundreds of feet down? The same people who won't indemnify us against the losses of their high risk venture?

Compared to the conventional crude oil spill in Prince William Sound, a dilbit spill in northern coastal BC waters would be cataclysmic.

And we're supposed to think this is a good deal because it might create 560-BC jobs? To write this off to NIMBYism is way off mark.

crf said...

Scruffy: one way would be for provincial politicians in Quebec and Ontario to recognize that Harper's regulatory approach disadvantages these provinces' clean energy industries within the country, and does nothing to promote sales outside the country.

Also, failing to price carbon makes the extraction of oil artificially cheap. Which makes the Canadian dollar artificially expensive. Which damages other export industries, including clean energy production and technology export.

Steve L said...

Good argument. I'll join with the second commenter, though, and warn against implying that NIMBYism is by definition a bad thing. I can't remember who asked, "If you won't protect your back yard, who will?"