A final victory last week over the Keystone XL pipeline is a reminder that fighting particular fossil-fuel projects is a necessary strategy if the climate is to be saved. The defeat of Keystone XL doesn’t mean that Canada’s vast tar-sands project, which is generally regarded as the largest industrial project in the world, is over, but the fight has been a gut punch to the fossil-fuel industry. In 2011, when protests began outside the White House, Canada’s National Energy Board was confidently predicting that tar-sands-oil production would triple by 2035—which led the climate scientist James Hansen to explain that pumping Alberta dry would be “game over” for the climate. A decade later, as Karin Kirk reported in Yale Climate Connections, fifty-seven major financial institutions have “pledged to stop funding or insuring oil sands ventures. Exxon Mobil has declared a loss on the original value of its oil sands assets, and Chevron has pulled out of Canadian oil and gas entirely. Other oil majors, like Shell and BP, are selling off their oil sands assets, leaving it largely to Canadian oil companies and the Canadian government to forge ahead.” Kirk’s piece appeared in March; the number of such institutions is now seventy-seven.
The situation will get even harder for tar-sands investors if protests led by indigenous groups in Minnesota succeed in halting an expansion of the Line 3 pipeline—which is being built by the Canadian company Enbridge Energy, and will carry tar-sands oil and regular crude—or if protesters north of the border are able to block a huge expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, from Alberta to Canada’s Pacific Coast. Still, as a truly useful Twitter thread from the Cambridge, England, chapter of the Extinction Rebellion movement pointed out last week, there are plenty of other places around the world that are still trying to increase their oil output by developing new projects or enlarging existing fields. Examples ranged from projects in Norway and Russia to those in Uganda and Nigeria, from Mexico and Brazil to Japan and Guyana, from Vietnam and South Africa to Pakistan and Papua New Guinea—and the United States. The governments and companies involved surely know that electric vehicles will soon replace conventional cars, and that solar and wind power are growing cheaper every day. But rather than joining in the effort to speed that transition—and speed is the only thing that gives us a hope of solving the climate equation—they have decided to pump and sell what they can while there is still some market left for it.
In the process, they are undercutting other efforts of theirs, designed theoretically to deal with the climate peril. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for instance, announced over the weekend that Canada would double its commitment regarding “climate finance” for developing nations around the world, giving more than five billion dollars to the United Nations to support mitigation and adaptation efforts. But that amount is nearly equal to what the country is spending to buy and build the newly nationalized Trans Mountain pipeline, after its former, corporate owner decided to stop throwing good money after bad. Politicians would far rather make promises about the future than shut down existing projects; that means shutting down jobs, some of them good ones. But the math is dauntingly clear. [Continue reading…]