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A leading columnist in Canada’s Globe and Mail daily newspaper known in the past to voice concern about the global warming emergency has penned two columns recently in support of Alberta tar sands pipelines, including praising the efforts of the premier of Alberta to sell the construction of these project to an increasingly sceptical and wary public in Canada
Jeffrey Simpson has argued for years for a more rational capitalist approach to energy production in which some account would be made for the global warming emergency. He co-authored a book in 2007 with several climate scientists titled Hot Air: Meeting Canada’s Climate Change Challenge. But his columns in the January 14 and 15 editions of the Globe reveal him as a new-found shill for the Alberta tar sands industry.
Simpson begins his Jan 14 column (accessible online to Globe subscribers only) with, “Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, to her government’s great credit, has tried for the first time to outline a comprehensive and serious plan for the province to curb greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.”
Simpson is referring to Premier Notley’s fanfare announcement on November 22, 2015 purporting to be an energy “plan” with greenhouse gas reduction components. The “plan” includes a few piecemeal promises such as reducing coal-fired electricity production in Alberta over the next few decades (presently, the province generates 50 per cent of its electricity from coal). But the centrepiece of her “plan” is to green light an increase in tar sands production in the coming years by as much as 43 per cent, most of which would be sold in foreign markets. A plan to “curb greenhouse gas emissions”, indeed.
Edmonton writer Gordon Laxer explained in a commentary published in the Edmonton Journal on December 3:
It was quite a sight: The CEOs of Alberta’s oil sands projects stood with NDP Premier Rachel Notley [in Edmonton on Nov 22] to announce Alberta’s climate plan before the climate talks in Paris. The CEOs had the widest smiles.
No wonder. Alberta’s climate plan targets the 28 per cent of Alberta’s greenhouse gases from power generation and transportation (driving), and leaves the 46 per cent of the province’s emissions from the production of oil and gas almost scot-free.
Under Alberta’s plan, oil sands and other oil and gas emissions can grow by 43 per cent and will cancel out the carbon pollution reductions in electrical power and driving. Ordinary Albertans are called upon to reduce their carbon pollution to make room for Big Oil’s expansion of oil sands emissions and profits.
The big lie: Energy East pipeline will “replace imported oil”
Another dead giveaway in Simpson’s column revealing him as an industry apologist is the big lie he pens: “Remember that Energy East’s oil [sic] will be replacing imported oil.”
The terminal for the Energy East pipeline will be located on the Atlantic Ocean in Saint John, New Brunswick, located a whopping 5,000 km (!) from the tar sands region. Now why would the pipeline stretch so far and be located in one of Canada’s least-populated provinces, far from the country’s largest markets for refined fossil fuel product when Energy’s East’s product, according to Simpson, is to “replace imported oil”?
Saint John is the location of Canada’s largest oil refinery, owned by the Irving family dynasty. So maybe that’s the reason for the distance illogic? No. The Irving Oil refinery in Saint John is not equipped to process Alberta bitumen (which, to get technical, first requires an ‘upgrade’ to synthetic oil before it can be refined). And Irving has no announced plan to invest the billions of dollars required for such capacity. In any event, it would make no sense to ship bitumen all the way across Canada for upgrading or refining, only to ship it back to the largest markets in central Canada. Why not upgrade and refine in Alberta, or perhaps in Canada’s largest-populated provinces, Ontario and Quebec? What is going on?
To further complicate the mystery, Alberta’s capacity to upgrade bitumen is already maxed out at approximately 40 per cent of existing tar sands production. Apart from the Sturgeon Refinery under construction in the province, destined to produce diesel fuel but which is facing massive cost overruns and market uncertainty, there is no new upgrading capacity under construction or projected in Canada. And here is where the proverbial cat escapes from the bag — what Irving Oil is planning for Energy East bitumen product is to build an export terminal.
Thus stands exposed the talk of Energy East as a project to “replace imported oil” and provide Canada with home-grown “energy security” — the talk of ‘replacing imported oil’ is just so much ruse. And thus stands exposed a journalist once purportedly concerned about the global warming crisis but now reduced to writing as an apologist for the oil industry.
Bizarre advocacy of Keystone XL
Simpson has compromised himself further in a January 15 column where he argues in favour of the dead-in-the-water Keystone XL pipeline. That is something of an environmental equivalent to defending cigarette smoking against public health advocates.
On November 6 of last year, facing intense pressure for years by environmental advocates in the U.S. and internationally (though not so much from Canada), President Barak Obama announced his administration will not approve construction of Keystone XL. The pipeline proposal would have seen tar sands bitumen product shipped to upgraders and refineries in Texas or to export terminals on the U.S. Gulf coast.
Needless to say, Simpson’s argument against Obama’s cancellation of the project had nothing to do with greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. It was, rather, a plea on behalf of Canadian business interests and a complete whitewash of the fact that Alberta tar sands bitumen is one of the worst polluting sources of energy on the plant. Simpson’s argument was couched in language exposing the undoubted hypocrisy of the Obama administration’s decision, awash as it is in rising U.S. fossil fuel production. But that still leaves advocacy of Keystone XL an argument for ecological vandalism.
Simpson further exposed his political prejudices when he wrote: “Keystone XL was supposed to deliver bitumen oil [sic] from Alberta to U. S. refineries of heavy oil on the Gulf of Mexico coast. These refineries for years had imported heavy oil — and therefore dirtier oil than conventional stuff – from such politically insalubrious places as Venezuela.”
Long before the baseline price of crude oil dropped below US$30 per barrel — and the price of Alberta crude is even worse, hovering around US$15 — the economics of Energy East were looking like, well, a pipe dream. Energy East was projected in early 2015 to cost an already absurd $10 billion. By July, the head of TransCanada Corporation said $12 billion was more likely. In December, the company said its new estimate is $17.5 billion.
The very fact that this project is still being discussed in serious company following all that was said and done at the international summit meeting on climate change last month in Paris confirms that mainstream politics in Canada remains snared in a de facto climate change denial mode. This is the argument which I made in my article in October 2015 which surveyed the policies of the main parties in the federal election campaign.
Further confirmation of the climate change denial mode is that notwithstanding all the posturing and grandstanding by the Canadian government at the climate summit in Paris, the new Liberal government in Ottawa has affirmed in recent days that it is moving full steam ahead to approve the oil and tar sands pipeline expansions to the east and west coasts of Canada that industry wants. This is a tri-partisan effort uniting the federal Liberals and Conservative with the New Democratic Party Premier Notley.
The doctrine of ecosocialism
Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster has published another excellent summary of the enormous stakes and political challenges for humanity and planet Earth as global temperatures continue an inexorable rise fed by rising greenhouse gas emissions. His essay appears in the December 2015 issue of Monthly Review, titled ‘Marxism and Ecology: Common Fonts of a Great Transition’.
Foster explains that the capitalist classes of the world and their governments are refusing to confront the threat of catastrophic global warming. They cannot do so, he argues, because the very radical reductions in planetary greenhouse gas emissions that are required to slow and then reduce warming would place in question the entirety of the destructive and wasteful operations of the capitalist expansion business cycle.
In the essay, Foster outlines immediate, practical measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which he says popular, environmental movements should champion. These measures are not a substitute for the long-term, revolutionary changes that are needed to the economic and political order. But those changes are still maturing and it will take more time before they can be achieved and then put to work in repairing the accumulated ecological damage of the past several centuries. In the meantime, practical steps can and must be taken.
One of these steps, Foster argues, is “cutbacks in military spending”.
Indeed, opposition to imperialist war and militarism is a vital part of what is needed to combat the climate emergency. But the movement known as ‘ecosocialism’ has ignored or poorly understood this issue and largely left it out of its program of action. For example, Naomi Klein’s 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate has been lauded across the ecosocialist spectrum and yet it says very little [corrected] on the subject of militarism. (To her credit, Klein has begun to address the problem of militarism in her speeches.)
Genuine anti-capitalism in its intersection with opposition to climate and ecological degradation must include opposition to war, militarism and imperialism, and that, in turn, must encompass opposition to the attacks on democracy and human rights which accompany the scourge of militarism. This is especially important in the war-waging countries of the United States, the European Union and lesser imperialist countries such as Canada.
If the ecoscialism doctrine continues to fail on this score, then it will prove itself as merely an intellectual critique limited to the undeniable fact that unless capitalism and imperialism are defeated in their main bastions, our planet will be less and less able to support human society if not life itself. To date, there is a discernable failure by most ecosocialist luminaries to address these interconnections, including, for example, the case of the NATO military offensive in eastern Europe directed at Russia.
Starting points for the ecosocialist movement would be to opposition to the present imperialist wars in the Middle East and the NATO threats in eastern Europe. The movement should demand that all expenditures on nuclear weapons be cancelled. The latter is especially timely because the United States is embarked upon a trillion-dollar ‘modernization’ of its deadly nuclear arsenal.
Anti-militarism demands should be coupled with opposition to the two, new imperialist investment agreements that threaten the planet with ever more resource plunder–the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership and the proposed Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. These investment and trade treaties weaken national sovereignty, including the capacity of national and local governments to legislate environmental protection, health and safety standards and patent laws. Corporations consider that such governmental powers undermine cherished profit margins.
Opposition to these treaties should be very high on the agenda of environmental movements and advocates. This is doubly the case now that Canada’s minister of international trade, Chrystia Freeland, has said no changes to the TPP are possible. Freeland says Canadians have a simple choice of yes or no on the TPP, but that’s a laugh. In reality, we have no choice except to mobilize in the streets in opposition. There are two things not on offer to Canadians with the secretive and authoritarian TPP: a meaningful voice on the matter, and a free vote. Such is the state of democracy in a world suffering the triple scourges of militarism, economic austerity and climate-wrecking capitalist expansionism.
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