Join 3,422 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Blame Canada!
December 3, 2009 6:25 AM   Subscribe

Will the Tar Barons get their way?
posted by batboy (29 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Yes, with help from Harper.
posted by antihostile at 6:40 AM on December 3, 2009


Here's what I don't quite get about climate 'negotiations': Why does the whole world need to get on board? The U.S. and China are the largest carbon emitters. The E.U seems to be very onboard already, and they are a huge economy. If the U.S, China and the E.U decided among themselves what to do, they could mostly solve the problem.
(In fact, the E.U, China and US account for 55.8% of the world total, according to Wikipedia)

Add Japan and India, and you're up to 65.4% of world emissions. Canada releases 1.9%, Saudi Arabia 1.3% Venezuela releases 0.6%, and Nigeria 0.1% Why even give Oil producers a seat at the table?

And of course, the U.S, China, and E.U would have no trouble forcing the rest of the world to do whatever they come up with.
posted by delmoi at 6:43 AM on December 3, 2009


If the U.S, China and the E.U decided among themselves what to do, they could mostly solve the problem.

True, but one of the big arguments against it in the US has been "Hey! Look at China/India/Vatican City! Why do they get to keep polluting and we have to be responsible?!? It's not fair! [stomp feet]"
Having more nations on board strengthens the argument in the US for change. This is to excuse nothing, just at least one explanation for why it would benefit from as many nations on board as possible.
posted by deliquescent at 6:55 AM on December 3, 2009


Also, the more nations that you have on board the harder it is for companies to move to countries that with lax restrictions.
posted by oddman at 6:58 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another explanation related to that is the "cost", where companies in countries still allowed to pollute would be able to undercut those in the signatory countries. Solving this would need some kind of additional treaty to tax those countries' goods back up to full price, but that would be a barrier to world trade. And certain folks don't like that.

Preview, what oddman said.
posted by Sova at 7:00 AM on December 3, 2009


The Tar Sands Blow (YouTube)
posted by various at 7:01 AM on December 3, 2009


Here's what I don't quite get about climate 'negotiations': Why does the whole world need to get on board?

Because if substantial industrial economies are outside the system, industrial firms can be expected to just move their production facilities to noncompliant countries until, at the margin, doing so is too costly. In which case you haven't actually reduced carbon output, and may well have increased it depending on the power infrastructure of the target country (ie, moving production from France to China means shifting from nuclear electricity to coal).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:13 AM on December 3, 2009


q. How do you make 20 Canadians get out of a pool?

a. You ask "Could you please get out of the pool?"
posted by Jon_Evil at 7:21 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is picking up and moving a giant-ass industrial factory really so simple? Like, are the expected costs that would be incurred so expensive it makes more sense to build a new factory in pollution love Canada?

Also, WTF Canada. Someone needs to kick Harper in the nuts.
posted by chunking express at 7:21 AM on December 3, 2009


Thanks to George Monbiot for working to persuade the Canadian public, we're a pretty apathetic bunch.

He alludes to but doesn't outright explain that our last federal election was in part a Carbon tax referendum... and resulted in re-election of the party of the Tar Sands. Authoritarians + Fundamentalists + Tar Barons + dependants of Tar Barons = 33% of the vote. That, and Stephane Dion couldn't sell the "Green Shift" to save his political life.

Monbiot's targeted phrasing is pretty concise: Canadians are "bullies" and a "threat to peace". Take that, national self-image...
posted by anthill at 7:25 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jon_Evil, ham it up a bit for the suspense, they've got to be a drunk Canadian sports team or something...
posted by anthill at 7:27 AM on December 3, 2009


Because if substantial industrial economies are outside the system, industrial firms can be expected to just move their production facilities to noncompliant countries until, at the margin, doing so is too costly.

But moving isn't free. Moving would cost money, and carbon tariffs would cost money if those existed as well. So for a lot of companies, it might not be practical. Even if some fled, there would still be a reduction. Eventually you would need to have some enforcement mechanisms in place for smaller countries, but the top polluters today could easily cut carbon emissions to reasonable levels.

It's not about fairness, or being polite. This needs to be stopped, now.
posted by delmoi at 7:31 AM on December 3, 2009


My God, is anybody as good at hilariously overwrought moral outrage as George Monbiot? I mean, really, calling Canada a "thuggish petro-state"? (Well, maybe that was his sub-editor.) At least we know that this must be the most pressing issue of our time if it's forced him to break his self-imposed ban on flying.

I swear I can pick up one his articles, have the same opinion as him before I start reading, and by the time I'm done I end up believing the opposite.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:36 AM on December 3, 2009


Yes. He who controls the oil controls the universe. If they don't get a "yes," they'll fight tooth and nail for one, and do it anyway even if they get a "no."

Has anyone been following the chain of events in the past 150 years?
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:04 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


When New York City floods, they'll say: "but george monbiot was such a jerk, and al gore has a mansion, and i hear that climate scientists are assholes"

How unoffensive George's style would be if he was delivering Buddy Science.
posted by anthill at 8:12 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


>
Or they'll just simply say that New Yorkers were very very bad people, and God was sending them a warning about even considering gay marriage. Also, HURF DURF CRU EMAILER.

Then, they'll point out that Kansas and many other Red States are not flooded at all. Coincidence? They think not!
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:17 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


chunking express: "Is picking up and moving a giant-ass industrial factory really so simple?"

You don't physically move the factory, you could just switch your part sourcing from a company that manufactures in Canada (or France, or the US, or wherever), to one that manufactures in China. It would just look like any other overseas outsourcing move, with the goal of lowering costs. Only in addition to lowering costs due to quasi-slave labor, there would also be an additional—possibly hidden—cost differential due to the unrestricted carbon emissions. In the same way that there are currently cost differentials due to all sorts of pollution regulations. (If a Chinese factory can just dump waste chemicals into a hole in the ground while a European factory has to do expensive neutralization, the Chinese factory has a competitive advantage when working for export due to the externalization of costs—really a sort of hidden subsidy—in the absence of punitive tariffs.)

The net effect is a "movement" of industry but it's not generally as though a factory actually closes and physically moves its tooling overseas. Although that does occasionally happen, and when it does it generally gets press, it's vastly less common than companies just gradually outsourcing production to low-cost suppliers, sometimes as part of new product development or CIP.

The solution to this would be tariffs on goods coming from countries which decide not to participate in a carbon-emissions-management scheme, but I don't see that as likely; government is so corrupt and our society in general so dependent on imports that it would almost certainly be a toothless mess. Like our periodic complaints about China's human rights record, we never quite seem to care enough to do anything about it that might impact the price of consumer goods.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:26 AM on December 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Has anyone been following the chain of events in the past 150 years?

This is a nice way to start. The book is even better.
posted by elmono at 8:36 AM on December 3, 2009


Considering the roughly one trillion dollars or so the U.S. has pissed away in pointless fighting overseas, we probably could have built enough solar capacity to power a third of the country, given the current cost/power for solar projects. Probably a lot more if the program were being anywhere near competently as to get some sort of economy of scale going.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:42 AM on December 3, 2009


Hmm. Yes, that was a bit overblown and over-wrought. However, as carbon-intensive as oil sands production is, the carbon hit from production / upgrading / refining remains a very small part of the overall carbon intensity of the fuel. That is, between 70 - 90% of the carbon dioxide is released upon burning the fuel. You know, in cars and suchlike.

Interestingly, this means that the low carbon fuel standard of Calfornia and jurisdictions that follow California are "leveraged" a bit. Since most of the carbon emissions happen at the tail pipe, mandating a 10 - 15% decrease on a "Well to Wheels" basis means that almost all those emissions reductions have to happen at the upstream end. There's a big push right now among the oil sands producers to bring their carbon intensity down to parity with conventional production. This, and eliminating or reducing tailings, are probably the two biggest research pushes in the oil sands sector right now.

I'm a bit dissappointed to note, however, the salutatory effect of policy is being imposed from beyond our borders. You can absolutely forget about either the Alberta or Canadian governments being proactive on this.
posted by bumpkin at 9:44 AM on December 3, 2009


I've been chewing on this since Monbiot wrote a similar piece for the Globe & Mail a few days ago. I'm saying this as a Canadian (an Albertan, even), as a journalist whose career has been dedicated almost exclusively to studying solutions to the climate crisis for five years now, as someone who would dance a little joyous jig if there were a steep across-the-board carbon tax imposed Canadawide tomorrow, and as and an unabashed Monbiot fan.

(Among other things, I absolutely adored his calm, reasoned evisceration of Bjorn "Cost-Benefit" Lomborg on CBC Radio Tuesday AM. And here, by the way is a link to the Munk Debates website - the impetus for Monbiot's lifting of his air travel ban.)

To begin with, I can find no fault with the core of Monbiot's argument. Canadians should be ashamed and outraged - I am - at the cowardice and greed that has driven our government to its morally reprehensible and recklessly irresponsible climate policy. The ignorance of mounting evidence of the impact of tarsands tailings on the native community of Fort Chipewayan verges on a crime against humanity. There is no just defence of Canada's or Alberta's climate policies. There are only rationalizations.

That said, I think those rationalizations matter - I think, that is, that understanding them is the best path toward eliminating them - and Monbiot's column is, by comparison, easy grandstanding that verges on scapegoating. It uses loaded language ("tar barons," "petro-state") guaranteed to cause all but those who already agree with Monbiot to tune out the meat of his argument. Which meat, to my mind, is on clearest display in this graf:

Canada hasn't acted alone. The biggest leaseholder in the tar sands is Shell, a company that has spent millions persuading the public that it respects the environment. The other great greenwasher, BP, initially decided to stay out of tar. Now it has invested in plants built to process it. The British bank RBS, 70% of which belongs to you and me (the government's share will soon rise to 84%), has lent or underwritten £8bn for mining the tar sands.

This is a global problem. Refined Alberta bitumen ships and sells globally at market rates, and it's as likely as any other gallon of gas to be filling your tank. If you consume oil - and unless you're tapping out your Mefi posts from an Earthship, you most assuredly do - then you are a party to this crime. In the grand scheme of things, a pretty much equal party to this crime.

As long as there is an insatiable global market for oil, it'll be extracted wherever it's found at whatever cost. Indeed the tarsands are only profitable to exploit at prices upward of $70 per barrel. If global demand declines to the point where a barrel of oil can be had for substantially less than that, the industry would quickly wither and die. And if the price went to $150 (as it did in '08) and there were tarsands to be mined in Wales or northern Sweden, we'd see trucks and pipes and meth-addled rig pigs there.

The counterargument - a tenuous one - is that a robust Copenhagen agreement would in and of itself hasten the end of the fossil fuel age. I don't put that kind of faith in well-meaning, near-impossible-to-enforce UN agreements. I'm with Germany's Hermann Scheer on this one: the Kyoto process is a kind of accidental postponement of action. The real goal - best accomplished, Scheer argues, city by city and state by state and nation by nation - is to build a new industrial order to supplant the current one.

In the meantime, it's rather convenient to explain away an entire global industrial order as the mortal sin of one extraction operation, colossal as it may be, in a remote place few people (particularly among the Guardian's core UK readership) have even heard of. It's a way of moving the universal responsibility onto some ill-understood other. I don't think Monbiot means to pass the buck here, but I fear his readers might take it that way. Ah yes, we here in congestion-charging London are doing our bit; it's those nasty greedy Canadians who are at fault!

The thing is, all politics - even petro-politics - are substantially local. And I don't think you can understand Harper's position on tarsands development - let alone the Alberta government's - without understanding the psychic scarring the '80s bust left on Alberta's political culture. You can't just look at the here and now, deem it indefensible evil, and demand its cessation. You need to know the context, the history. It'd be like weeding a garden without digging down to the roots and pulling those out as well - the garden might look fine for awhile, but it won't be cleared forever of contaminants that way. A permanent, sustainable solution to the converging climate and energy crises won't be found simply by properly apportioning blame. And in the meantime - again pace Scheer - said apportioning might be little more than a distraction.

Sorry, George - I respect the hell out of your work and think you're often a downright brilliant writer, but outrage and fingerpointing may not be all that helpful right here and right now. I can see the Canadian corporate HQs of these companies from my balcony, and I can assure you they don't listen when you speak to them in that tone.
posted by gompa at 11:00 AM on December 3, 2009 [8 favorites]


George Monbiot is an anagram of Goober Emoting. Nuff said
posted by A189Nut at 12:08 PM on December 3, 2009


I don't understand why they're being allowed to dig up the tar sands at this point. The world is not out of oil. Leave the sands be, allow the technology to catch up to the point where it can be extracted without destroying the environment (and everything downstream of the sands), and rake in the mega-mega-bucks as nations fight over the world's last oil.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:17 PM on December 3, 2009


Considering the roughly one trillion dollars or so the U.S. has pissed away in pointless fighting overseas, we probably could have built enough solar capacity to power a third of the country, given the current cost/power for solar projects.

The U.S uses 105 exajoules a year, according to wikipedia. That's 3.32732029 × 1012 (3 trillion). Since solar panels currently cost about $3/watt that's $9 trillion to get all of our current demand paid for with solar panels. But that's assuming peak capacity. According to this it's about $10/watt overall installed.

But, if the U.S. started by building solar factories, the price would probably drop quite a bit. The material itself (silicon) isn't very expensive, but it needs to be purified to one part per million to make solar panels (six nines). For microchips, you need nine nines, or 1 part per billion IIRC.

I don't understand why they're being allowed to dig up the tar sands at this point. The world is not out of oil.

We're not out of oil, but global oil production actually peaked a year or two ago.
posted by delmoi at 2:51 PM on December 3, 2009


This is a global problem. Refined Alberta bitumen ships and sells globally at market rates, and it's as likely as any other gallon of gas to be filling your tank. If you consume oil - and unless you're tapping out your Mefi posts from an Earthship, you most assuredly do - then you are a party to this crime. In the grand scheme of things, a pretty much equal party to this crime.

What the hell does that mean? Some people use a lot of oil, and some people use a little. Their responsibility is proportional to their consumption.
posted by delmoi at 2:53 PM on December 3, 2009


Speaking as a Canadian... we suck, particularly hard, at this moment in time.

This country's government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee's tea party.

If it acts like a duck...
posted by Artful Codger at 3:00 PM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why they're being allowed to dig up the tar sands at this point.

A really big country asked, nicely...
posted by Artful Codger at 3:01 PM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's what I don't quite get about climate 'negotiations': Why does the whole world need to get on board?

The short of it is this; if your country signs up to an emissions trading scheme, producing anything in that country becomes more expensive, depending on the commodity, even becoming prohbitively expensive.

If every country signs up, great. You can still produce your what's-its and doo-dads and trade them overseas at a profit, even the bits and bobs that make a lot of pollution, because people still want to buy them. However, If some countries don't sign up, then your competitors, producing in countries where they don't need to pay to offset their carbon emissions, can sell their products cheaper, eventually driving you almost out of business.

So, being a rational economic entity, you lobby for your country not to support emissions trading schemes like kyoto. What we will probably see happen is a lot of "rolling" engagements to these schemes where they only have to pay a set percentage of their emissions, or, ideally, import subsidies for goods produced in countries with no emissions trading schemes.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 10:10 PM on December 3, 2009


tl;dr; We sink or swim together. Looks like we're gonna choose to sink.

Not that it really matters, eh? There'll be death by the billions upon billions, but individually we're unlikely to be wiped out during our present (adult) lifetime; and as a species we'll continue to survive.

Which, from the perspective of DNA, is all that matters. If our brains don't start overriding our bodies, we're in for some really nasty times.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:25 PM on December 3, 2009


« Older Jesus is a raisin. Fuck a hologram. Happy in Parag...  |  "In just a few days, a verdict... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments