On December 2 at Georgetown University, NextGen Climate Action, along with the Center for American Progress Action Fund, held a conference aimed at answering the question, “can Keystone pass the President’s climate test?” The key findings, according to Keystone Truth, were:
- “Despite claims to the contrary, Keystone XL is the key enabling infrastructure that the Canadian tar sands industry needs to ramp up production.”
- “The carbon footprint of the tar sands development enabled by Keystone XL is equivalent to 35-40 million cars.”
- Offsetting the increased carbon pollution would be extremely difficult if not impossible, require new government agencies that do not exist, and would need to be done at a scale unprecedented in history.”
Scaling Green was there to cover the event, including “live tweeting” the event at our Twitter feed. Here are a few highlights.
- According to Tom Steyer of NextGen Climate Action, “climate change is the defining issue of our generation,” with potentially catastrophic results if we don’t act to stop it, and the Keystone XL pipeline is simply not compatible with protecting the climate.
- In Steyer’s view, Keystone would commit us to carbon-based energy for decades, when we instead need to be cutting carbon pollution. Keystone would do this by shifting the economics of Canadian tar sands production in a way that would unlock more tar sands oil reserves (up to 3.1 trillion barrels) and production, while locking in a lot more carbon pollution. As such, it would be disastrous for our climate — although highly profitable to the oil companies, to the province of Alberta, and to foreign investors.
- Professor Mark Jaccard of Simon Fraser University argued that the unfolding climate crisis actually accelerating, and that we need to slash CO2 emissions if we’re to have a 50/50 chance of stopping at a 2° C world temperature increase.
- According to Jaccard, this 2° C path is only possible if ALL long-lived energy investments are CO2-free starting today. For that reason, unconventional oil is not something we’d be developing in a 2° C future. To the contrary, in Jaccard’s view, we wipe away the 2° C possibility with tar sands development.
- Jaccard argued that, when it comes to climate, “Canada is a rogue state,” acting only out of “self-enrichment and disregard for the planet.” The US government, in Jaccard’s opinion, “should reject Keystone XL and explain to the Canadian government that it hopes to join with Canada in urgent action to jointly achieve our common national emission reduction promises for 2020, and to pressure other countries – China and other countries – to reduce their emissions.”
- Dr. John Abraham of the University of St. Thomas argued that the Canadian tar sands are the dirtiest of the dirty, “the worst of the worst,” and that if we can’t stay “no” to Keystone, what can we say “no” to? In Abraham’s view, if President Obama approves Keystone, it would negate his otherwise excellent record and “become his legacy.” The good news, Abraham pointed out, is that if we just use our own energy more wisely, Keystone won’t even be necessary.
- Dr. Danny Harvey of the University of Toronto explained that approval of Keystone would allow a large expansion of Canadian tar sands production. In turn, this would unlock potentially 200 billion tons of carbon, which is “diametrically opposed to the way we we need to go [on climate].”
- Claire Demerse of the Pembina Institute pointed out that the Canadian tar sands are the country’s fastest-growing source of carbon emissions, to the degree that they will wipe out all of the other emission reductions that other parts of Canada’s economy are projected to make.
- Demerse argued that the way the oil sands companies view it, a “yes” on Keystone XL means full steam ahead” for expanding tar sands production and the associated greenhouse gas emissions.
- Demerse and others noted that Canada has tremendous potential for clean energy, and that tar sands are distracting Canada from focusing on that.
- A panel examined whether it’s possible to “offset” Canadian tar sands oil. The short answer is that they wouldn’t even come close to doing so.
- Erin Craig of TerraPass explained what carbon offsets are and how they work, and argued that it’s not at all clear how offsets could possibly be used to mitigate something as large as the tar sands.
- Mark Trexler of The Climatographers argued that carbon offsets in the context of the Canadian tar sands don’t get us anything close to climate stabilization, and that “anything is better than nothing” is a very weak rationale.
- Michael Wara of Stanford Law School explained that offsets to Keystone would need to be binding, enforceable, monitored, and with consequences for violations. The problem is that none of the legal authority exists for accomplishing these things; thus, carbon offsetting is not a credible or enforceable option with regard to Keystone XL.
- The bottom line, according to the final panel of the day, was that Keystone does not pass President Obama’s climate test. By rejecting Keystone, President Obama would turn the U.S. from a climate laggard to a climate leader. It would also be doing Canada and the rest of the world a favor, by preventing huge amounts of money from being wasted and huge environmental damage from being done.