Mark Jaccard calls out Stephen Harper on oil sands

Mark Jaccard is arguably Canada’s foremost climate policy researcher. He was a key architect of British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell’s landmark climate change program, featuring North America’s first comprehensive escalating carbon tax. And he led  a comprehensive 2007 modeling study, Climate Leadership, Economic Prosperity that  detailed the path for Canada to meet, or even exceed, its GHG emissions target for 2020.

So when Jaccard has something to say, politicians and interested citizens on all sides of the climate policy debate generally listen. And Jaccard is speaking out  against the Northern Gateway pipeline, stating in no uncertain times that ongoing expansion of the Alberta oil sands, including its proposed network of pipelines, can not be reconciled with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s promises and commitments to mitigate climate change.

Writing in the Vancouver Sun, Jaccard laments that Northern Gateway opposition is largely focused on  what he terms “local” environmental issues, such as pipeline and tanker spills. As compelling as those concerns may be, this risks missing the big picture. The Northern Gateway is only one element in a program of massive and rapid oil sands expansion that will undoubtedly upend Canada’s climate change initiatives.

Jaccard notes the Conservative government’s endorsement of U.N. and G8 initiatives and resolutions broadly commiting industrialized nations to cut GHG emissions by 80% by 2050. The Harper government’s own commitment, as embodied in the 2008 Turning the Corner Plan, calls for a somewhat  less aggressive target of 65% below 2006 levels. As I explained in my previous post on the subject, Canada after Kyoto, this translates into a 2050 target level of 250 Mt a year. If the more aggressive U.S. Copenhagen target of 83% below  2005 levels were adopted by Canada, the 2050 target would be 125 Mt.

But as I noted back then, even Canada’s less aggressive 250 Mt target can not be reconciled with the ongoing unbridled expansion of the oil sands. For Alberta’s own emission targets, already off track, call for a rise to 2020, and a reduction of only 14% below 2005 level by 2050, namely 200 Mt. That irresolvable conflict is baldly summarized in the graph  I presented three weeks ago.

The Alberta plan is based on a business-as-usual scenario of 400 Mt in 2050 (up from 230 Mt in 2005), and is heavily dependent on an unlikely mitigation from carbon-capture-and-storage of almost 140 Mt to arrive at the 200 Mt target. Yet even this far-fetched scenario is clearly impossible, as it leaves only 50 Mt for all of the rest of Canada. And the 83% target is actually a whole 75 Mt, or 37%,  under Alberta’s target.

Nevertheless, even discussion of climate change issues tends to be focused on Canada’s 2020 target. As I showed previously, that target is clearly already blown, since there is a yawning 178 Mt gap with absolutely no measures in place, or even announced, to bridge it.

But Jaccard argues that the mid-century time frame is even more important (a view with which I seem to be one of the few concurring these days). Here’s Jaccard again:

A target 38 years hence might seem safely distant. But this is incorrect. All leading independent climate policy institutes concur that only with immediate action will we achieve a 65-80 per cent reduction in less than four decades. In the case of vehicles, this means the rapid deployment of near-zero-emission technologies which, thankfully, are already commercially available. These include hybrid vehicles using biofuels (ethanol or biodiesel), plug-in hybrid vehicles, and battery-electric vehicles. In contrast, our demand, and soon the global demand, for oil must contract, especially the demand for high-cost, high-emission tarsands.

Thus, for his promise not to be a lie, Harper cannot allow expansion of tarsands and associated pipelines, and he must require a growing market share of near-zero-emission vehicles. He knows this because his analysts are privy to the work of the world’s leading researchers. Canadians on all sides of the issue should read a 20-page report from MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change entitled Canada’s Bitumen Industry Under CO2 Constraints (found at edu). The report shows how and why the Canadian tarsands must contract as part of a global effort to prevent a 4 degree increase in temperatures and catastrophic climate change.

Well, I’m going to read that 2010 MIT report. And I hope Canadian politicians – of all stripes – will read it as well, and that we all start discussing the real issues.

[Update: Here is part of the abstract of Canada’s Bitumen Industry Under CO2 Constraints (January 2010, MIT Joint Program Report 183):

We find: (1) without climate policy annual Canadian bitumen production increases over 6-fold from 2005 to 2050; (2) with CO2 emissions caps implemented in developed countries, Canadian bitumen production drops by nearly 65% from the reference 6-fold increase and bitumen upgrading capacity moves to the developing countries; (3) with CO2 emissions caps implemented worldwide, the Canadian bitumen production becomes essentially non-viable even with CCS technology, at least through our 2050 horizon. The main reason for the demise of the oil sands industry with global CO2 policy is that the demand for oil worldwide drops substantially.

This confirms what I’ve said previously; any plausible scenario to reduce  global emissions and limit atmospheric CO2e to 450 ppm necessarily implies much more limited development than planned, with phaseout of the oil sands much sooner than currently contemplated. ]

In the mean time, I’ll give Jaccard the last words, with the emphasis they deserve.

The facts are simple. Our political leaders are lying to us if they aid and abet the expansion of tarsands while promising to take action to prevent the imminent climate catastrophe. If you love this planet and your children, and are humble and objective in considering the findings of science, you have no choice but to battle hard to stop Gateway and other tarsands pipelines. It is time to face up to this challenge with honesty and courage.


20 responses to “Mark Jaccard calls out Stephen Harper on oil sands

  1. Of course we know politicians lie to us.
    It has become more prevalent lately.
    Harper now speaks with forked-tounge.
    I would not even allow him to babysit any of my children.
    I’d be afraid they would all turn out as lying schemeing over-bearing, sociopaths.

    • In Canada, the “L” word is seldom, if ever, used in the mainstream press in reference to political leaders. But Jaccard has simply had enough, I suppose.

  2. tomharrisicsc

    Dr. Jaccard says, “The facts are simple.” No, Mark, they are not at all simple. Take a look at the climate (realist) science and economics hearings that took place on December 15, 2011 before The Canadian Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. It may be viewed, along with all the supporting data and Q&A’s at the following Webpage:

    It is time to face up to this reality with honesty and courage.

    Tom Harris

    • Tom,
      Perhaps you could explain your role in obtaining the Senate invitation of these four fringe climate science contrarians. For example, have you had communication with Nancy Greene-Raine or other senators or their staff about this session?

      I note that all four have been associated with your various climate science disinformation initiatives, which were in turn supported by Talisman Energy and Heartland among others.


    • Ian Forrester

      Tom Harris said:

      It is time to face up to this reality with honesty and courage.

      Too bad that you and your cabal of deniers are neither honest nor courageous. And as for that Senate session, that was a mockery of science but does explain well how dishonest you people are.

    • Gavin's Pussycat
    • Tom,

      I just took a look at the ICSC website, and was very impressed with your misison statement. Tell me, how is it that your goal of “a more rational, open discussion about climate issues” can emerge when, on the same page, you call those who disagree with you “misguided” and “dangerous”?

      Doesn’t sound like you’re very open or rational to me. Sounds a lot more like you’re closed-minded and political.

    • KAP, it could be viewed as a way to exclude and dismiss the most expert experts. Tom is a PR flack, after all.

  3. caveat emptor

    Jaccard has hit the nail on the head. In the absence of any significant climate policy from the federal government one of the best things Canadians (and Americans) can do to mitigate climate change is to oppose and delay oil sands expansion.

    You can do your bit to oppose the Northern Gateway by sending a Letter of Comment to the National Energy Board. Deadline is March 13th.

  4. Good to see our critics have nothing to say about the actual content of the Senate hearing. It must be pretty good then.

    By ignoring what really matters (i.e., what the scientists actually said) and trying to find supposedly nefarious motives and engaging in ad hominem attacks (i.e. accusations of dishonesty, etc.), those who oppose us come out looking desperate again.

    • Don’t kid yourself.

      For example, I’ve already debunked McKitrick and McIntyre on “hide the decline” many times – for example see here and here. Not to mention McKitrick’s epic fail on the IPCC and “Climategate 2”. If you’d like to comment on those, you are welcome to do so at the appropriate thread.

      I have pointed out serious errors regarding the satellite tropospheric record in the 2005 film you did for Friends of Science/Talisman Energy when you were with APCO Worldwide here. You used two conflicting UAH records, both out of date, and claimed that record showed “imperceptible” warming. And you failed to include other available series such as RSS. These errors and omissions even continued into the second edition of the film in 2007. If you were aware of RSS, or that more recent UAH versions were available, then that is clear dishonesty. But perhaps you really are that incompetent and you just didn’t know better – it’s hard to tell.

      Don’t worry, I’ll get around to this latest errorfest of your friends soon enough. In the mean time, try to confine your comments on this thread to the actual topic from now on. You might also want to read the comment policy before posting again. Thanks!

    • “…ad hominem attacks (i.e. accusations of dishonesty, etc.),…”

      An accusation of dishonesty is not ad hominem.

  5. Gavin's Pussycat

    DC, it seems you hit a sore spot with the NZ deniers, given the angry responses on Gareth’s blog. Pity there’s only one of you. Your work is needed outside Canada as much as inside.

  6. To paraphrase Mark Twain, ‘projection shall not die from this earth so long as such Senate proceedings are in session’. Without ad hominems and ignoratios, the denialati would have nothing to say.

  7. Re. J Bowers’ remark. While I agree with the sentiment, I’d say instead that an accusation of dishonesty is ad hominem, but ad hominems are not always fallacious (something widely recognized in work on informal reasoning). Where there’s evidence for dishonesty (especially topic-relevant dishonesty) it’s perfectly sound reasoning to raise this as an objection. It’s not a direct refutation of what’s been asserted, but it can legitimately undermine the credibilty of a claim and underwrite a demand that more/indepedent support for a premise be provided. This kind of ad hominem is fallacious when it’s just an accusation, with no background evidence supporting it– like the widespread denialist accusations of conspiracy and dishonesty in the climate science community (so often ‘backed up’ with cherry-picked quotes out of context).

    • In Denialand, any accusation or harsh language is automatically seen as an ad hom by victim bullies.

    • The argument about Global Warming is a complex one, made all the more complex by its political dimension and the simple fact that the clock is ticking. We’re like ducks trying to play tugboat to the Queen Mary. Denialists, meanwhile, are insanely trying to run out the clock.

      Logically, claims aren’t false because they’re made by liars. But pointing out the who, what, when, and where of lies is part of the necessary “impendimenta” of trying to get things done.

  8. Indeed they do– but ad hom is fine when you can make a case for it. There are very general as well as specific reasons that can underwrite a non-fallacious ad hom: compare ‘don’t trust a barber to tell you if you need a haircut’ with ‘don’t trust Fred because he’s a bit crazy, as you can tell by …’ Denier ad homs either cherry-pick quotes to support specific ad homs, or try to generate and mine a wider distrust of scientists by accusing them of having bad motives– seeking research grants or conspiring to block contrary publications to defend ‘orthodoxy’, or being crazed eco-freak watermelons. But it is (or should be, in any rational discussion) ridiculous for people who live in glass houses to throw stones at people living in normal buildings…

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