Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a series of events that put Canada’s energy file into stark perspectives. With disasters like Lac-Mégantic and the ongoing Cold Lake spill, it’s hard to fathom the potential impacts of other oil-related mega projects like the proposed pipelines Energy East, Keystone XL, Northern Gateway and Line 9 would have on the Canadian environment, our health, and our safety. Our summer intern, Tonya Temple, wrote this newsletter to demonstrate how disconnected our government is from what Canadians really want on climate and energy.
Special Issue: Oil Sands Expansion & The Energy Disconnect
According to a recent poll by Clean Energy Canada, the vast majority of Canadians think an energy and climate strategy that transitions Canada to a low-carbon economy should be a top priority. The poll found that 80% of those surveyed want to see improvements in energy efficiency; 73% want more clean energy jobs created; and 67% said we must reduce carbon pollution to slow down climate change. These statistics are almost identical to last year’s poll, which demonstrates consistency in the Canadian people’s expectations for the energy file. Among the list of priorities, “exporting more of Canadian oil and gas resources” ranked the lowest with only 31% in favour. So why is it that governments in this country spend so much effort and tax dollars in aggressively pushing the expansion of the tar sands? With plans to triple the production of tar sands in coming years (in aims of exporting dirty oil to new markets) this poll shows a major disconnect between what Canadians want, and the governments’ agendas.
Despite the clear message that we want to transition away from carbon intensive energy towards clean renewable sources, the government has been spending a lot of time and resources trying to amplify Western Canada’s oil economy (and little time devising a plan to curb emissions). In fact, just this morning TransCanada announced plans to increase the proposed Energy Easy pipeline from 850,000 barrels per day up to 1.1 million. This means the pipeline will push 130 million litres of dirty tar sands oil from Alberta all the way across the country to the East Coast every day. This makes Energy East the biggest pipeline among a handful of others currently in the works, including Northern Gateway, Keystone XL, Line 9. If built, these pipelines will leave few parts of the country unaffected and will unlock the potential for accelerating reckless tar sands expansion and thus leave Canada with virtually no chance to contribute meaningfully to the global fight against climate change. However, climate change isn’t the only problem made worse by the tar sands expansion: “massive toxic waste lakes, toxic air and water pollution, habitat and species destruction are all legacies of the enormous operations in northern Alberta.”
Canadians aren’t without reason for furiously protesting oil sands expansion. Recent events have heightened cause for concern. The tragic Lac-Megantic disaster is an example of the extreme danger, both to humans and the environment, of transporting oil by rail. Pipeline supporters were quick to use this tragedy to suggest pipelines as the ‘safest’ method of transport, but the truth is, ultimately there is no safe way to transport oil. Among the many recent oil spills, the ongoing underground blowout in Cold Lake, Alberta is another devastating example of tar sands leaking into our shared environment. Not only have these events had tragic consequences for human lives and the environment, they have also exposed the government and oil industry’s inability to ensure that oil spills can be contained and cleaned up in a responsible and transparent way. We know that any oil spilt has devastating impacts on our eco-systems, our health and our environment, so it’s even more shocking to hear that Alberta’s environmental regulators have been enforcing less than 1% of oil sands environmental violations.
Without adequate regulation and enforcement, the idea of tripling production of the tar sands, building several new pipelines and exporting oil across our oceans to new markets is totally mind-blowing… and did we mention that Canadians don’t even want this in the first place? To make things worse, over 2013-14 Natural Resources Canada will spend $16.5 million dollars on a PR campaign to promote the tar sands. So, not only is the government massively pushing something Canadians don’t support, they’re also wasting millions of our tax dollars to greenwash Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.
With only 7 years left to reach emissions reduction targets of 17% below 2005 levels, to which the Harper government continues to commit itself, we still have a very long way to go. Without getting into global warming math, the millions of tons of greenhouse gas Canada pumps into the global atmosphere really does matter and at the rate we’re going, we’re on a path to failure when it comes to doing our fair share on global warming. It’s time to take climate change seriously and create a climate and energy strategy that reflects the priorities of Canadians. Improved efficiency, clean energy jobs and reduced greenhouse gas pollution should be put before the reckless expansion of the tar sands, not only because it’s what Canadians want, but because we need to if we’re going to have any chance doing our fair share in the global fight to stop catastrophic climate change.