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The Keystone Principle And Canada

By Bill Henderson

18 February, 2014

No new fossil fuel infrastructure: every cent is an investment in death for our kids. This is the emerging line in the sand dictated by the carbon budget science if we are serious in protecting our kids from climate change.

Prominent US activist KC Golden has recently articulated the message behind the growing challenge to the Keystone XL pipeline: The Keystone Principle : Stop making it worse.

" Specifically and categorically, we must cease making large, long-term  capital investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure that “locks in” dangerous emission levels for many decades . Keystone is both a conspicuous example of that kind of investment and a powerful symbol for the whole damned category...(T)he Keystone Principle is basic common sense. It's step one for getting out of a hole: Stop digging."

First enunciated at the huge President's Day demonstration in the spring of 2013, this attempt at keeping fossil fuels in the ground has been applied to stopping development of West Coast coal ports for Powder River coal and will hopefully go global as a rallying cry for climate activists everywhere.

IEA chief economist Fatih Birol was the first to point out that new investment in fossil fuel infrastructure would lock-in 'irreversible climate change'. In the same 2011 IEA report that recognized the emerging carbon budget science, Birol said that continued investment in power stations, pipelines and refineries over the next five years would make it impossible to hold climate change to safe levels.

Three of those five years later investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure continues unabated. The carbon budget science (now included in the recent IPCC AR5 report ) and the fear of the growing carbon bubble should have convinced corporations and governments to switch investment out of fossil fuels, but path dependence in a now global Fordism is too strong.  60-80% of current reserves must stay in the ground unburned, but still the fossil fuel industries continue to invest in expanding exploration and production. 

Activists have been trying to halt pipelines, and coal terminals, and exploration in the Arctic but co-ordination for effective climate action is needed. We urgently need to turn a pivotal corner from investment in fossil fuels to renewables and powering down. A 2C rise in global mean temperature is already deep into dangerous climate change but fossil fuel use continues at levels projected to cause a 3-5C increase by the end of the century.

We greatly benefit from both the production and use of fossil fuels with the consequences falling on innocent generations in the future - we have to recognize our responsibility for our actions. Time for a line in the sand.

So how does this principle apply to my country Canada: no Keystone XL; no Northern Gateway or Kinder-Morgan expansion or Energy East pipelines either; no new railcars or any other infrastructure to allow tarsands expansion. No new LNG development or increasing coal handling facilities on BC's coast. No further development in Hibernia or other deep-sea Atlantic oilfields. No exploration in the Arctic. This is the climate bottom line for Canada in 2014 Mr. Harper, and as the nations of the world get serious about climate change - as they surely must given the building science and the onset of extremely costly extreme weather - the carbon budget will require the mothballing of some large fraction of existing production as soon as possible.

Ain't going to happen? Way too radical and impractical? The fossil fuel tide is too strong? Then our kids are doomed .

Development of innovative infrastructure for fossil fuels with greatly reduced emissions will, of course, still be welcomed,  but the Keystone Principle must be the action to force investment out of fossil fuels today and into a post-carbon economy while there is still a chance to prevent dangerous climate change. No new fossil fuel infrastructure: every cent is an investment in death for our kids. This must be bottom line for all those who recognize the climate dangers and the need for real change. This is what pushback against a petrostate obsessed with building pipelines to markets in Asia is growing into in Canada and the States. 

Is the Keystone Principle too Draconian given the socio-political realities in Canada? Can we be responsible, manage ourselves and make the necessary change? Change in our economy has to be possible and there are many more benefits besides just emission reductions if we care about our kids future.

Get out of denial and really become familiar with the carbon budget science (and the carbon bubble and probable stranded assets); there is a wealth of information on the Net, here for example.  Action on climate change must happen urgently. Right now those that are most responsible for GHG pollution consider activists as in the way of their legal vocation; this must change to a recognition that any person, company or government seeking to pollute is causing great harm to future generations.

Finally, consider this overview by Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo :

As an energy company, we cannot blame you, 20 years ago or, say, even 15 years ago, for building energy based on oil, coal and gas. However, now, you need to understand that the scientific consensus is completely clear, and even if the science was not clear, the last decade has seen more than a 10 percent increase in extreme weather events, the very events that the scientists say that that's how climate change will be looking at. So now you do not have an excuse. The facts are before you. And you need to understand that every cent that you invest in new projects is an investment in the death of our children and their children and future generations.

What we are saying to them is, we don't expect you to switch off overnight, but let's do the following things: Stop fresh fossil fuel investments; begin a transition away from your existing energy supply, which is dependent on dirty, brown, fossil fuel-based energy; and begin to develop your capability, your technological expertise and so on in clean, green, renewable technology. Some energy companies are doing it. It's still too little, too late. But what we are saying is that we are not trying to put any of these companies out of business. What we are wanting to do is put their fossil fuel projects out of business. And sadly, some of these companies, it's almost the same, because all they have is fossil fuel projects. And they have the technological capability­they don't have the political will yet­to actually make the transition into clean energy projects.

"No new fossil fuel infrastructure: every cent is an investment in death for our kids." This is the last opportunity to force the political will to make the needed change out of fossil fuels that we owe to our kids.

The Keystone Principle and Justin, Elizabeth and Andrew

Stephen Harper's Conservatives, of course, don't recognize the climate change implications of expanding the oilsands (and other fossil fuels like LNG in BC); expansion is needed as Canada's economic engine. But why are Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Green Party leader Elizabeth May and BC Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver clearly offside in what looks to be the make or break climate stand?

Justin, Elizabeth and Andrew - Steve's not even allowing himself to think about something so inconvenient for his agenda - how does this Keystone Principle effect you?

By advocating for Keystone XL (would have got him key support in the West), Justin Trudeau got on the wrong side of history as deeply as if he would have gone to Alabama and championed Bull Connor. If he wants to be a leader concerned about Canada's future he has to publically explain the terrifying math to both his Liberal Party and the country and lead the country back onto the right side.

Ms. May came out last spring with an ill advised endorsement of the Energy East pipeline. Why, when she must surely know that oilsands expansion, even to supply oil to Eastern Canada, is not possible if we are to keep below the 2C guardrail? We all make mistakes, especially political leaders determined to expand their party's electability, but pragmatism this time must mean joining the blockade of all new fossil fuel infrastructure. Period. All of us against Harper and the advocates of petrostate expansion.

Andrew Weaver is a foremost climate scientist but a naive and cautious conservative politician. His semi-endorsement of Black's proposed Kitimat refinery is supposedly to keep bitumen from spilling on BC's coast - but what about the bitumen threat to over a thousand rivers and streams along the proposed pipeline's path to Kitamat, and the salmon and other lifeforms that are essential for British Columbians, especially First Nations?

Dr. Weaver shares Harper's neolib worldview but he knows his climate science, knows the climate dangers and the carbon budget timetable: yes, insisting upon no new infrastructure is way too radical in our present economic reality, but given the climate change dangers and the urgent mitigation timetable, the Keystone Principle is scientifically not radical enough. (After years of watching his political moves it is possible that he will stay on the wrong side of the line, but politically he's a minnow and not representative of his Green Party nor of activists in BC, so who really cares.)

In your country, which of your politicians are on the wrong side of the Keystone Principle line in the sand?

Bill Henderson is a frequent contributor to Countercurrents on Climate Change . He can be reached at bill (at) pacificfringe.net


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