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Sorry, Jim: Apologies from Canada about Oil Minister Joe Oliver

I, like most Canadians, don't like it when a member of the family misbehaves in public and I feel it's necessary to apologize on their behalf (for the good of the family name).

Well this is one of those occasions. So here goes:

On behalf of Canadians, I would like to extend a full and sincere apology to Dr. James Hansen (or "Jim" as his friends call him). He is owed an apology for recent derogatory remarks by Joe Oliver, the Minister of Natural Resources.

So what's this all about? Oliver, Canada's Oil Minister (as the U.K. Guardian recently dubbed him), was in Washington last Tuesday flogging the Keystone XL pipeline yet again. While speaking, he dropped the veneer of sober economic pragmatist and diplomat, and the real Joe emerged.

Clueless Joe Oliver

You may recall he's the same minister who calls people radicals, puppets for "foreign interests" and un-Canadian for speaking out against the fossil fuel industry. The same minister who believes scientists 'aren't concerned' about Climate Change any more.

Four years ago Hansen, world-renowned and Nobel Prize-winning climate scientist, stated that if we develop the Tar Sands of Alberta "it's game over for the planet." Oliver told the audience at Washington's Centre for Strategic and International Studies it was "exaggerated rhetoric" and "frankly nonsense".

Of course, Oliver is not a scientist -- he's an oil salesman.

What got Oliver all riled-up, and set off a four-year slow burn? It was a recent observation by Dr. Hansen in the New York Times:

"Canada's Tar Sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet's species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk."

I would have thought Mr. Oliver -- who has an MBA -- would be able to understand math because it all clearly adds up.

When you take the amount of carbon in the Tar Sands and translate that into carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and add it to all the other coal, oil and gas we burn, you can calculate the amount of climate change. And what you get is very scary.

This Oliver moment may be just another "gaff" to some observers, but it is embarrassing to me to hear a minister who we are supposed call "the Honourable" attack an accomplished and distinguished scientist while representing us in another country. I'm also embarrassed he would put his lack of understanding of basic science on display for all Americans to see.

The day after Oliver's attack Dr. Hansen received the Ridenhour Courage Prize, which is "presented to an individual in recognition of his or her courageous and life-long defense of the public interest and passionate commitment to social justice." Coincidence?

Dr. Hansen was being honored in part because he told the U.S. Congress: "The global warming now is large enough that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause-and-effect relationship to the greenhouse effect." The courageous part isn't what he said, it's when he said it -- 25 years ago (during the sweltering summer of 1988). It was the first high-profile public statement by a U.S. government scientist alerting Congress and the world to the grave threat of climate change.

Dr. Hansen embodies the Ridenhour Courage Prize. When he was still NASA's top climate scientist, he blew the whistle on government efforts to silence him -- and others -- on climate change. He's a modern day Paul Revere … that is if Paul Revere's midnight ride had taken place in 1750 and the message was, "The British are coming, The British are coming -- in 25 years."

So Jim, on behalf of Canadians, I'm very sorry our spiteful and ill-informed Oil Minister turned the politics of division, slur and disinformation on you. Canadians congratulate you for continuing to speak out for the planet, our children and future generations, and for your extraordinary contribution to the science and public understanding of climate change.

I hope you will join me in offering an apology to this great man.

Yours sincerely,

John Bennett, Executive Director
Sierra Club Canada
412-1 Nicholas Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7
John on Twitter / Bennett Blog

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