Canada’s fatal addiction to oil revenues

Dawn Stover writes: My favorite gift of 2013 arrived in the mail a few days before Christmas: two cans of pure maple syrup made in Quebec by longtime friends, the Stevenson family. Printed on the metal cans is an image that instantly transports me back to my childhood in Canada: In a woodland scene, several men in plaid jackets pour sap from tapped sugar maple trees into buckets, and from there into a horse-drawn tank. Firewood is stacked alongside a red shanty, and steam rises from its roof. I can almost smell the sap boiling, and the scene conjures memories of Floyd Stevenson trickling hot syrup across a pan of fresh snow, and offering me a fork to taste the strands of sweet, frozen taffy.

In the eyes of a first-grader, Canada was a land of vast forests, deep snow, and crisp Macintosh apples. I knew that the nation that put a maple leaf on its flag wasn’t simply one big national park, but for many years afterward, Canada seemed to be a great green land where large carnivores still roamed, and key environmental protections remained intact.

In recent years, however, Canada’s conservative leaders—who are not so when it comes to conserving natural resources—have systematically trashed those protections. My Canadian friends tell me that many of their countrymen don’t even discuss climate change; it is considered unpatriotic to do so, now that Canada has hitched its economic sled to oil.

Oh, Canada. What happened to you, eh? Where is the “land glorious and free” described in your national anthem? Who is now standing “on guard for thee?” You have lost your true north.

The natural resources that Canada is increasingly tapping today are fossil fuels. Canada’s crude oil production has increased by about a third during the past decade, mostly because of tar sands development in Alberta. If the Obama administration approves the Keystone XL pipeline proposed by the energy company TransCanada, the conduit will extend from Alberta to the US Gulf Coast and open new markets for Canadian oil exports.

While environmental activists in the United States have focused on Keystone, though, another Canadian project has flown under the radar. A federal review panel recently approved plans for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, a new pipeline and port that would facilitate oil exports from Canada’s Pacific Coast to Asia. According to a report in InsideClimate News, “The goal is to double or triple tar sands output in the decades ahead, clearing the transportation bottlenecks that have depressed prices for tar sands crude, and getting Canada’s vast reserves onto more lucrative markets outside North America.” But while the government review panel assessed the climate impacts of building and operating the pipeline, it did not study the effects of the increased production that would result, saying that the latter was “beyond the scope of its review.”

Largely because of oil production, Canada is now expected to miss its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent (below 2005 levels) by 2020, which it committed to under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. A government report released in October showed that emissions decreased between 2005 and 2011 but have since risen, and that by the end of the decade they will be 20 percent higher than the target. Annual emissions attributed to the tar sands are forecast to grow from 34 million metric tons in 2005 to 101 million metric tons in 2020. Canada’s per-capita emissions are now only slightly less than in the United States and Saudi Arabia. [Continue reading…]

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