Lessons from a zombie pipeline
Once considered unstoppable, it was killed and resurrected and killed off again. It appears to have been fully euthanized this week when TC Energy formally abandoned the project.
There’s been so much drama around Keystone XL that it’s easy to forget it was not so long ago that the consensus among Very Important People was that the pipeline was inevitable.
Stephen Harper, infamously declared Keystone XL to be a “no-brainer.”
George W. Bush agreed, calling it a “no-brainer” as well.
Hilary Clinton’s State Department endorsed the project.
Bill Clinton urged everyone to “embrace it.”
Justin Trudeau has “always advocated for the project.”
Speaking at the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto, the former chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors described Keystone opponents as “naive.”
Moody’s was confident Keystone XL would go ahead.
When mass arrests against Keystone started, the National Journal did a poll of Washington “insiders,” and 93 per cent of those Very Smart People predicted the pipeline would go ahead.
And yet, here we are. On Wednesday, the pipeline company walked away from the project. The expression “no-brainer” rings very differently today. So many VIPs were so wrong and the Kenney government has Albertans on the hook for over a billion dollars.
One take away from the Keystone saga is that public mobilization worked. Indigenous water defenders, Canadian and U.S. environmentalists, Nebraska ranchers and many others mounted an incredibly impressive organizing effort.
There’s another moral I take from the Keystone story, one that can be strangely comforting in the climate era — we just don’t know what’s going to happen.
We may have pretty good predictions for how the climate will respond to human activities, but we really don’t know what the humans will do.
What we do know is that sometimes the “inevitable” isn’t. And what seems implausible today can be conventional wisdom in a few years.
Feds clamp down on coal
Back on the subject of “no-brainers,” that’s the term Canada’s environment minister used to describe a new policy clamping down on thermal coal mines — the kind of coal used in power plants. Canada has promised to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2030 but we’re still mining and exporting thermal coal and there’s a huge expansion being proposed in Alberta that would turn the Vista mine into the biggest thermal coal mine in North America. That project will get reviewed under the new policy (and almost certainly end up in court).
Protests are back
Large scale protests are happening again in North America. Police have made mass arrests in Minnesota, where Indigenous leaders and climate activists are protesting against Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline.
In B.C., the provincial government has agreed to defer old growth logging in some areas on Vancouver Island after three First Nations announced they wanted time to develop better plans. Protestors say they’ll keep up blockades against old growth logging outside the deferral areas. Following the provincial announcement, the Squamish Nation called for a moratorium on old growth logging in its territories on the B.C. mainland.
Vancouver beats back gas lobby
City councillors in Vancouver voted against delaying zero-emission building requirements. Lobbyists for the gas industry had convinced city staff to recommend postponing the rule for new buildings to be powered by electricity. The requirement will now come into force next year.
Gas lobby wins in Ontario
Ontario announced it will spend more than $234 million to hook another 8,750 new customers on fossil fuels. The money will be used to expand natural gas connections across the province, almost all of them to Enbridge Gas Inc.
The subsidy works out to $26,000 per customer. Environmental Defence says that would cover “the entire cost of switching these customers to existing low carbon technologies, like geothermal and air-source heat pumps.”
This new subsidy lands on top of the nearly $700 million the province already provides each year.
Pray for rain
Drought in the U.S. west has gotten so bad the governor of Utah is calling on citizens to appeal to a higher power.
In California, 85 per cent of the state is now under extreme drought conditions and farmers are abandoning crops. The Hoover Dam reservoir is at its lowest level ever.
In the Middle East, temperatures topped 50 C last weekend in several countries. The Washington Post reports, “this extreme heat comes a full month before high temperatures reach their annual average peak” and cites research suggesting parts of the Middle East may become uninhabitable.
CO2 reaches highest level in 4 million years
The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere peaked 50 per cent higher than pre-industrial levels this year.
Most worryingly, we set a new record for the rate of increase. On average, each year over the past decade CO2 went up 2.4 parts per million.
“Carbon dioxide going up in a few decades like that is extremely unusual,” one scientist told the Associated Press. “For example, when the Earth climbed out of the last ice age, carbon dioxide increased by about 80 parts per million and it took the Earth system, the natural system, 6,000 years.”
It’s taken us just 42 years to pump that amount of CO2 into the sky.
Oilsands companies join forces
You might have heard that the big oilsands companies set up a new net-zero initiative this week and are looking for more government funding. Three of Canada’s most astute academics say you should be skeptical.
For one thing, the companies are only talking about reducing climate pollution from their own operations. They’re not accounting for the whole point of those operations — to produce and sell fossil fuels. We looked at this problem of avoiding Scope 3 emissions a couple of weeks ago.
Rich countries not following through
Rich countries are not living up to their pledges to help less-developed nations grapple with climate change. Industrialized countries agreed in the Paris Agreement to mobilize $100 billion a year but a report from CARE reveals they are not following through. Canada has committed C$2.65-billion over five years — two-thirds as loans that have to be paid back. Climate Action Network is calling on the federal government to announce it will provide its fair share of $5.2 billion annually.
Maine became the first U.S. state to pass a law requiring public pensions to divest from oil, gas and coal. The law directs the state retirement system to divest its $1.3 billion from fossil fuel companies by the end of 2025.
Bank of England stress test
The Bank of England is going to put U.K. banks and insurance companies through a climate stress test this year. The financial sector will be graded against two main risk categories: climate impacts like extreme weather and fires as well as their exposure to high carbon industries during the energy transition.
Electric buses roll into Laval
The transit authority of Laval (STL) took reporters for a ride on one of its new all-electric buses this week. With provincial funding, 10 new buses will go into service this summer. STL will only buy electric buses after 2025 and plans to replace its entire fleet.
Meanwhile, Ottawa (the city) is hoping to leverage federal programs and become the first city in Canada with a zero-emission bus fleet by 2036. Ottawa figures it can get 450 electric buses into service by 2027 if the funding deals work out.
If you want a truly deep dive into electrifying transport then Bloomberg New Energy Finance has the report for you.
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