Debunking some activist myths about the Trans Mountain Expansion Project

On Tuesday November 29th the Trudeau government approved the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX). I am someone who has researched the topic extensively and have a very nuanced  view on the project. I also have a strong desire that any discussion about the project be evidence-based. As such I tend to keep my ears open for erronious information and in the last 24 hours I have encountered a number of commonly-held myths that are being spread by anti-pipeline activists. Given my desire to see a pragmatic discussion of the topic I have decided it was time to present a quick post debunking some of the most common myths presented about the Trans-Mountain Pipeline. Without further ado let’s get started on the debunking.

Myth: A Spill in Vancouver Harbour would pose catastrophic human health risk  

Now we all agree that a spill in the Inner Harbour of Vancouver would represent an ecological catastrophe. However, the activists are not satisfied with scare-mongering solely on the ecological sphere and have repeatedly talked about it as being a potential human health catastrophe as well. The basis for this myth is the City of Vancouver (CoV) May 27th Trans Mountain Expansion Proposal Summary of Evidence which, as I wrote about in two posts Questions about the City of Vancouver May 27th Trans-Mountain Expansion Proposal Summary of Evidence and More on that “Toxic Benzene Plume”.

In those two posts I demonstrate that the modelling exercise presented in the CoV May 27th Summary of Evidence represents extremely questionable science. In the second post I described the modeling as both “troubling” and “an outlier”. For those of you not familiar with science-speak that is not something upon which you want to base your evidence-based policy.

To explain in layman’s terms the modelers in the CoV May 27th Summary of Evidence used a sort of bait and switch through the use of a “pseudo-surrogate”. As I explained in my post:

As an analogy, imagine you were tasked with compiling a survey of the animal population of Vancouver. To simplify the survey you didn’t ask your surveyors to try to identify the dogs by species instead asking them to group the dogs by size. For a subsequent risk analysis you then assigned the pit bull as a “surrogate” to describe the behaviour of all dogs smaller than 2 feet tall identified in your survey. Would you then feel comfortable with the outcome of that risk analysis knowing that the analysis treated every Chihuahua it counted as if it were a pit bull for risk purposes? If someone subsequently warned you to stay off the street for fear of being attacked by “surrogate pit bulls”, based on this analysis, would you stay off the street? Well that is what they did in this report with benzene.

I concluded my post with this:

In the academic community there is a simple rule: if a new study runs contrary to a body of research then it is incumbent on the authors of the study to explain the discrepancy. Sometimes the new study is a paradigm changer, but most of the time it represents an outlier of dubious use in decision-making. Unfortunately, the Levelton report does not explain why its results differ so dramatically from the scientific consensus. More troublingly, it does not even acknowledge the existence of the body of research out there, including an almost identical modelling study, that came to such startlingly differing conclusions.

In the programming and modelling world there is an expression “garbage in, garbage out”. In the case of the CoV modelling the information they used as an input was not even close to appropriate for the analysis and as such the conclusion of the study is simply a fairy tail not even worthy of consideration. A bitumen spill in the Inner Harbour would be an ecological catastrophe, but would have very limited human health repercussions and certainly nothing like the repercussions suggested by the City of Vancouver and reported by the anti-pipeline activists.

Myth: Multiple Oil “Spills” on the Existing Trans Mountain Pipeline.

I have heard repeatedly in the last 24 hours that the Trans Mountain pipeline has had numerous spills and is therefore not safe. This myth takes advantage of the rather unusual definition of a “spill” used by the National Energy Board(NEB). To explain, under the NEB definition, a release that occurs into a spill containment facility is still reported as a “spill”. So imagine you had a wonky faucet in your bathroom that dripped into your sealed bathtub. WEre the faucet oil that could potentially be considered a “spill” under the NEB definition. An examination of the data shows that most of those “spills” (almost 70%) involved releases to containment facilities. The point of a “spill containment facility” is to contain releases before they hit the environment and as such these “spills” posed essentially zero risk to human health or the environment. They represented limited releases into systems specifically designed to contain such releases.

As Kinder Morgan points out at their web site, in the last 35 years there have been three reportable spills from the Trans Mountain pipeline which escaped containment (were released into the environment (one the three being the responsibility of a third party the 2007 Westridge spill in Burnaby). Now let’s also remember that absent the TMX, future oil expansion will be along the rails. Now let’s compare those three spills to the three latest Canadian oil-transportation rail spills: GogamaGalenas and Lac Megantic and ask ourselves how many deaths did the three Trans Mountain spills cause and how many deaths have oil-by-rail spills caused?  There are NEB “spills” and there are spills and the two should not be confused. When an activists suggests that a spill occurred the first question they should be asked is : how much of the product escaped to the natural environment. If the answer is none, then that is not what you or I call a spill.

Myth: Increased Risks to the Fraser River

Last night while watching Global News I heard a native leader saying he was going to fight TMX because of the risk it poses to the Fraser River. At that point I wanted to scream into my television set that he was looking at the the problem exactly backwards. As I have detailed in my blog the TMX poses a substantially lower risk to the Fraser River than the alternative (oil-by-rail). The reson for this is that our national railway system was built before our national highway system and as a consequence the rail lines that will carry those oil-by-rail trains mostly run along the sides of rivers like the Fraser. The Trans Mountain, which was built after the Trans-Canada Highway, runs well-separated from the river for most of its route. A derailment of a rail-train has a much higher probability of ending up in the Fraser than a spill from the Trans Mountain and when you do the numbers you come to realize that oil-by-rail is much more dangerous to the Fraser River than the TMX would be.

Additionally, remember that if the TMX is not built the Puget Sound refineries will still need crude oil and that crude oil will come by rail. That rail route runs along the headwaters of the Kootenay River and along the Columbia River. A spill on that route risks polluting those two shared river ecosystems as well. Think I’m overstating the risk? Well look what a happened adjacent to the Columbia River last June. It was only freak luck that the spill was caught before it hit the river. Think that was a freak event? According to the Guardian, including that incident, at least 26 oil trains have been involved in major fires or derailments during the past decade in the US and Canada. Finally if the TMX is not approved that rail traffic is going to increase substantially. The Puget Sound needs its oil and if it doesn’t come via pipeline, it will come via rail.

Myth: Substantially Increased Risks to Orcas

The latest argument against the Trans Mountain has been its purported added risk to the resident Orca population. Originally the argument went: increasing the number of tankers would increase the number of collisions with marine mammals and this could result in the extirpation of the resident Orca community. That trope was quickly demonstrated to simply represent a mis-reading of a single scientific article by someone apparently unaware of BC geography. The paper indicates that the Orcas are at high risk of collision in Johnstone Strait, which would be a problem if tankers were heading in that direction, which they are not. As for the increase in tanker traffic, the TMX tankers would represent an increase of 720 more ship movements in a Strait that sees 23,000 ship movements a year. This at a port that is engaged in a build-out that will expand ship traffic significantly. If acoustics are really a concern for the activists then rather than fighting the TMX, they should be protesting the Port of Vancouver’s expansion plans.

Never a group to let a good idea go to waste, once the collision myth was busted the activists turned to the risks to the resident Orca population posed by an oil spill. This myth comes courtesy of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation who prepared a study “Report on Population Viability Analysis model investigations of threats to the Southern Resident Killer Whale population from Trans Mountain Expansion Project. The study represents a modelling exercise to examine the effect of the TMX on the resident Orcas. Now, much like the City of Vancouver modelling, I was a bit surprised by the conclusions of the analysis and so looked a bit deeper into the methodology and like the Vancouver Study I discovered another case of garbage in, garbage out. The model itself seems sound and the statistical methodology was excellent. The problem with the exercise was the data used to generate the results. In this case the authors chose to use a very interesting source for their spill occurrence frequency input value. Specifically they relied on a “report” called Foschi (2014). Except when I go to the references I see that Foschi 2014 is not a peer reviewed journal article but rather a blog post by an interested engineer.

The blog post that serves as the critical data input for this modelling exercise claims to use values from the Trans Mountain TERMPOL 3.15 General Risk Analysis and Intended Methods of Reducing Risk (caution large file), but in that blog post he uses the wrong numbers. Specifically he relies on Table 34 (p83 of 454 on the pdf) to get his risk of oil spills. Now looking at the table the TERMPOL 3.15 authors presented several scenarios, a current (Case 0), a Case 1 (expansion with no mitigation) and then Case 1a and Case 1b (expansion with specific mitigations to reduce risk). Now the intention of the TEMPOL 3.15 report is to provide a description of the appropriate and necessary mitigation efforts associated with the increase in tanker traffic that would come with TMX. The conclusion of the report was that Trans Mountain make use of those mitigations. Those mitigations (including tugs etc….) were subsequently written into the TMX proposal as a requirement for the project.

Given that the mitigation plans were incorporated into the TMX proposal would anyone care to guess which number Foschi 29014 uses for his analysis? Yes you guessed it, the “no mitigations applied” number (Case 1). As a consequence do you know which number was used by the modelers in the Raincoast Conservation Foundation Report? Yes you guessed it the “no mitigation applied” numbers. They use the very numbers that the authors of TEMPOL 3.15 suggest are not relevant (since the intention of the work is to describe the mitigations).

This is essentially like looking at the difference between a no seatbelt and mandatory seatbelt scenario in car crashes. If someone argued that we should ban cars because accidents for passengers without seatbelts is too risky your response would not be to ban cars. Your response would be to point out that seatbelts are mandatory and that modern cars have air bags as well thus any analysis that ignores the existence of seatbelts and air bags is not terribly relevant. Well sadly for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, their analysis metaphorically argues that people are driving around without access to seatbelts or air bags and therefore driving is too dangerous. The model, which relies on the inflated risk of incidents thus presents a similarly inflated risk of extirpation of the resident orca population.

Sadly, no one with the expertise to catch this bait and switch had read the report prior to it going to the TMX Ministerial Panel. As a consequence the flawed inputs were used to generate necessarily flawed outputs and those flawed outputs from that modelling made it into the TMX Ministerial Panel final report. So I suppose the opponents of the TMX Ministerial Panel were correct, maybe we should have been allowed to cross-examine presentations because then someone might have had the opportunity to debunk this flawed modelling exercise before it was broadcast to the world and treated as correct.

Looking at this short list of myths it is easily understandable why so many people are fighting the Trans Mountain pipeline. Given the amount of mis-information that is being spread over multiple media platforms it is simply impossible for the common Vancouverite to get a grip on the real risks of the project. Like I’ve said in this post garbage in, garbage out. Public sentiment is being swayed because the truth is being flooded out by the myths.

To conclude this post, I want to be clear, I am not saying that the project must go forward. As I note in my previous post, I have serious reservations about the project, However, I believe we need a fair debate on the topic and fair debates must rely on demonstrably sound evidence and not the scare-mongering that I have heard blasted across my social media feeds.

Posted in Canadian Politics, Pipelines, Trans Mountain, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

On the Omnibus Changes to the BC Contaminated Sites Regulation

I am going to break one of my rules at my blog today and write briefly about work that is directly in my area of professional practice. My intention in this short piece is to explain in simple language some changes that are coming in the contaminated sites regime in British Columbia. The reason I am breaking my rule is that I have seen misinformation being spread by various groups (the one that set me off was from BC Green Party). It is clear that someone who actually knows what they is talking about needs to step in to ensure that this misinformation does not remain unchallenged.

To provide some background, the Contaminated Sites Regulation (CSR) of the Environmental Management Act (EMA) provides the primary regulatory means by which the government of British Columbia regulates the investigation and remediation of contaminated sites in British Columbia. The CSR was enacted in 1996 and at that time the CSR included a number of Schedules that provide the soil (Schedule 4, Schedule 5 and Schedule 10), groundwater (Schedule 6 and Schedule 10) , vapour (Schedule 11 added in 2008) and sediment (Schedule 9 added in 2004)  standards applicable under the CSR. For the most part (excepting vapours and sediments) the standards presented in these schedules were all developed in the years leading up to the implementation of the CSR in 1996. The standards, where possible at the time, were based on values called toxicity reference values (TRVs) which establish safe exposure concentrations based on toxicity testing. The derivation of these TRVs and how they are used in the assessment of risk (as well as the sources for preferred TRVs for risk assessment) are detailed in Technical Guidance on Contaminated Sites Document  #7.

The Stage 10 Amendments to the CSR also known as the Omnibus amendments (the Omnibus changes) provides the first comprehensive update of the standards in the CSR since 1996. As readers can imagine, science has advanced a bit since 1996. A lot of toxicological research has been done and as a consequence we know a lot more today about numerous chemical than we did in 1996. The Omnibus is an attempt to bring our regulatory regime up to 2016 standards. As part of the exercise the British Columbia Ministry of Environment re-calculated every regulatory standard for every chemical currently regulated under the CSR using the best available science from 2016 (not 1996). The TRVs used in the work are derived from Health Canada and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) values including the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). We depend on IRIS because the US EPA has been mandated by the US government to maintain the most recent TRVs and they are typically much more recent that the Health Canada values which are not updated as regularly. So let’s be clear here, the point of the Omnibus is to modernize our regulatory standards to scientifically defensible 2016 values. This appears to be a good thing in my mind.

For those questioning the science behind the changes, since 1996 it has become clear that the standards needed to be updated and as a consequence the Ministry of Environment (BCMOE) sought insight from an independent scientific body called the Science Advisory Board for Contaminated Sites in British Columbia (SAB). The SAB was “established as a non-profit foundation under the Societies Act of British Columbia to develop independent science-based tools of benefit to professionals working in contaminated sites management in British Columbia”. While partially funded by the BC Ministry of Environment (BCMOE) it is independent of government and provides a science-based approach to contaminated sites management in British Columbia. In 2010 the SAB provided a review of how the soil standards were derived and provided suggestions for how future standards be developed.

So let’s look at some of the claims made by the Green Party. Their biggest complaint is that the new standards are less protective of human and ecological health. Well the truth is that in some cases acceptable concentrations went up, in others it went down. As an example, the acceptable concentration of benzene in soil at a residential property (with a drinking water use water standard) went down but the acceptable concentration of toluene in that same soil went up. The basis of these changes was the best available science in the field of toxicology, not the whims of the Minster of Environment. In addition, 123 chemicals that were not previously regulated are now regulated. So before the Omnibus perfluorinated compounds (PFOS) were not regulated but thanks to the Omnibus they will be. I’m not sure in what world regulating compounds that were previously not regulated makes the regulations “more lax”

Another complaint by the Green Party is that the process was secretive and there was insufficient consultation. The BCMOE maintains a “Contaminated Sites e-Link Mailing List” (CS e-Link) that emails subscribers regular updates on the comings and goings of the field of the contaminated sites management. Anyone can register for CS e-Link and a casual look at the archive shows that there have been literally dozens of updates provided for interested parties on the Omnibus changes. The CS e-Link archive includes details on how the standards were derived and included multiple opportunities for input and feedback from interested parties. It includes live links to how the standards were derived and all the opportunities interested parties (like the Green Party) had to provide input. It is absolutely laughable to read a statement like:

What is also lacking from the Ministry is evidence that the changes are science-based; I call on the Minister to provide independent and peer-reviewed scientific evidence that justifies the increases to allowable limits of contaminants

There is ample evidence that the work was science-based, there was ample opportunity for the Green Party technical specialists to provide feedback on the proposed changes and had they actually had anyone paying attention there would have been ample opportunity for the BC Greens to have sought face-to-face meetings on the topic. As the BC Liberal caucus points out dozens of organizations and groups had face-to-face meetings with the BCMOE on the topic. Simply put all the information was there, the Greens simply didn’t appear to care enough about the topic at the time.

The best analogy I can think of is that the Green Party (and the other activists) are acting like someone showing up at the end of the fourth quarter of a BC Lions playoff football game and claiming that no one knew it was happening and that they should re-start the game from the beginning. Every football fan in BC knew it was happening and the real fans were in the stands before the game started. Similarly every organization actually interested in the field of contaminated sites knew this was coming and were given the opportunity to provide feedback over the course of the exercise.

To conclude lets summarize.

  • Anyone with any interest in the topic has known that the Omnibus changes were underway. The BCMOE has been engaged in a wide-ranging public consultation process for the last couple years and provided ample opportunity for interested parties to provide input on the process.
  • The changes to the regulation are demonstrably science-based. They represent the best science available and contrary to what the Green claim anyone with an undergraduate science degree should be able to reconstruct every standard using the information provided by the Ministry.
  • The standards did not get more lax, rather the standards were modernized to reflect the best available science in the field of toxicology. Some standards went up, some standards went down and 123 compounds that were previously not regulated will be regulated under the Omnibus changes. I’m not sure in what world regulating compounds that were previously not regulated makes the regulations “more lax”

To conclude I want to make a clear statement. The suggestion by the Green candidate Dan Hines that the changes are “solely for the benefit of company profits” is demonstrably wrong and in my mind represents a libel against the hard-working and scrupulously ethical employees of the BCMOE. I have worked with these people for the last 16 years and they are some of the hardest-working and I can’t say it enough scrupulously ethical public servants I have ever encountered. I feel that the Green Party and Mr. Hines should publicly apologize to the BCMOE staff for making (Mr Hines) and broadcasting (Green Party) such an incredibly evil and unfounded slur against these hard-working public servants.

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On the trade-offs, real costs and human consequences of fighting climate change

There is an incredibly common misperception about the fight against climate change that I find intensely frustrating. The misperception is that fighting climate change has to be seen as easy to be sold to the public and is inherently good for everyone involved. This misperception is so acute that it has its own meme. This meme really took off with the famous Joel Pett cartoon that had a lecturer at a “climate summit” who says:

“what if it’s just a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?”

The meme died down for a while but since 2016 is a COP year (COP22) it is making the rounds again. I saw it first last week with another tweet making the rounds that said

there aren’t really any downsides – even if climate change wasn’t real – acting as though it is can’t hurt us

And this morning I saw it again this time Dr. Kate Marvel a respected climate scientist who tweeted:

If you hate climate scientists, try aggressively cutting CO2 emissions. We’ll feel so silly when climate change isn’t that bad, trust me!”

All these comments have one thing in common, they appear to completely miss the fact that fighting climate change involves trade-offs, lost opportunity costs and negative consequences for a lot of people.

While I am a Lukewarmer, I am from the school of thought who accept that climate change is happening and will potentially have devastating consequences. My major difference with the alarmists is that I believe that climate sensitivity is on the lower end of the IPCC consensus scale and thus that we still have time, if we act now, to avoid the worst of those consequences. I’m not saying climate change is harmless (the common misconception spread about Lukewarmers) but rather that it will take more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, than many of the alarmists claim, to achieve some of the same levels of expected negative outcomes.

Part of the process of building a consensus to fight climate change involves dealing with people who may be more skeptical about the topic. Some of these people are less informed, while others are far more qualified than myself and have legitimate scientific doubt about the science of climate change. Some disagree with the way the GCMs model the planet, noting the discrepancy between model outputs and actual observations; while others feel that natural feedbacks will buffer, not enhance, warming in the system. These are legitimate concerns. As a result, we need to make a good case for reducing our emissions and to put it simply, the argument that reducing global carbon dioxide concentrations is good, for its own sake, is not one that should be used because it does not hold any water.

Let me say this again because I know that I will get flack on both sides for this post. It is my personal belief that fighting climate change is a necessary endeavour, but the fight to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions is not going to be cheap, it is not going to be easy and the transition to a global, fossil fuel-free energy system will hurt a lot of people. Specifically, the transition to a fossil fuel-free future will cost a lot of people their livelihoods; will suppress economic growth in many parts of the world; and will result in the premature death and continued misery for millions worldwide. From a pragmatic perspective, I can only believe that those millions of premature deaths will be offset by reduced suffering and death for billions of others, but to pretend that this pain will not happen can make climate activists appear both out of touch and insincere.

So you ask what going to cause all these deaths? Energy poverty and increased costs for food and energy. Let’s start with a simple truth: energy poverty is a killer. There are 1.2 billion people in the world living in energy poverty and each year 4.3 million people a year die from preventable indoor air pollution directly resulting from that energy poverty. Absent the risk of climate change the world would be building those people energy systems based on clean coal and natural gas technologies. These are established technologies that are readily available and both cheap and easy to build. Absent climate change the World Bank wouldn’t think twice about providing financial aid to build coal power plants, but in our real world, with climate change, it pretty much refuses to support such projects except in “rare circumstances”. Putting coal aside, clean burning natural gas plants would be an obvious solution to global energy poverty in a non-climate change world. Realistically, for some countries low-GHG LNG actually represents a pretty reasonable compromise to reduce energy poverty even in a world with climate change. But because of climate change concerns in BC the government has to mediate battles over whether we should supply some of the planet’s lowest-GHG LNG to the world.

In order to fight climate change, hundreds of millions of people who could be pulled out of energy poverty using fossil fuels, will not be; and they will suffer the health consequences. It is clear, from reading their reports that the various world financing organizations have agonized over the decision to leave millions behind in the fight against climate change but behind they are leaving them. Recognize, the face of the fight against climate change is not some well-fed, well-clothed university graduate blockading a pipeline. It is a young girl living in a house heated by burning cow dung; coughing out her lungs and unable to get to a hospital while living in a community where they can’t even guarantee that the hospital will have enough electricity to treat her effectively.

Besides energy poverty, the fight against climate change has also resulted in some horrible policy decisions that have had global human health and ecosystem effects. I can’t think of one that is worse than the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) otherwise known as the ethanol mandate which has resulted in increased food prices and as a consequence has left many hungry. Frankly, the entire field of biofuels (one I have covered quite thoroughly) serves as an object lesson about how the best of intentions can have the worst end results. Our drive for biofuels has left human and ecological devastation in its wake and it still continues to this day. Absent the threat of climate change those policies would never have been put in place and those negative consequences would not have happened.

From a domestic perspective, absent the threat of climate change do you think there would be a chance Quebec refineries would be importing oil from such human rights hotspots as Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria? Would the transportation of ethical Canadian oil not be happening today if not for the threat of climate change? Absent the threat of climate change Canada would be supplying developing countries with LNG, which I believe we should be doing anyways because by my climate math having Malaysians burning low-carbon Canadian LNG is much better than their burning higher GHG LNG from elsewhere or even worse, using coal to lift their population out of poverty.

Besides the human health and ecological costs associated with fighting climate change there are also the opportunity costs. Alberta is completely right to shut down its coal plants as quickly as possible, but those closures are going to cost a lot of money. That is money that would not otherwise have been spent and could have been spent on anything from basic research at universities to finding homeless families a place to call home. Instead those resources are going to shutter otherwise fully functional power plants. Good for the fight against climate change? Yes. Good for reducing the number of homeless in Calgary? Not so much.

Going back to the point of this post. In order to create good policy you need to consider the benefits and consequences of the policy action. In the climate change debate the activists keep trying to pretend that there are only benefits while disguising or ignoring the consequences and costs. Fighting climate change is a good cause and one worthy of our attention but the only way to fight it effectively is to lay out the case for it as honestly as possible. If the election of Donald Trump has taught us one thing, it is that telling our population that all is good, when you know otherwise in your heart, is the best way to lose the hearts and minds of the public. We need to have a serious discussion about climate change; one that lays out the challenges and the consequences of our actions. Only by doing so can we win a mandate for change.

Now I ask myself: have I seen a serious case made for a reasonable approach to fight climate change? one that considers and highlights the good and the bad? As a policy wonk my answer is yes. They did it in Alberta not too long ago with their Climate Leadership Plan. But what about in the rest of Canada? There my answer is less positive. To date the only approaches I have seen from the climate activists in BC involve hectoring people on one side, and pretending it will be easy on the other. The Council of Canadians assure me that a “100% clean economy is 100% possible by 2050” and it will be both easy and will make us money while creating jobs. My response is simply that we will not be getting to 100% wind, water and sunlight by 2050 while creating millions of jobs and creating no economic hardship.

I will close this post by reiterating a simple point. The fight against climate change is going to be long, slow, hard and expensive. It is going to take honest discussion and not trite statements of hope from high-flying celebrities who demand we do one thing while they do another. It is going to take political will and politicians willing to spend political capital to make it happen. The only way to convince those politicians to spend that political capital is to look at all the data and then to make a case that demonstrates that the benefits outweigh the costs and the projected future benefits far outweigh the real human and ecological costs. Trying to argue that it will be cheap and easy with no downside is both intellectually wrong and self-defeating. Trying to claim that we would do it anyways “even if climate change wasn’t real” is simply silly.

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On Trump voters, climate change and lessons learned from the 2016 US election

Last week Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. This came as a surprise to a lot of the media and to those of us who live in our media bunkers on the West and East coasts but was not as much of a surprise to the people who live in the “flyover states” and the “rust belt”. In retrospect, the pundits explain, it should have been obvious. The liberals on the East and West coasts were out-voted (technically out electoral voted) by the people they seldom deign to acknowledge or recognize: the “great unwashed” who form the backbone of the country, growing its food, hewing its wood and feeding its industry. Well as a British Columbian and a pragmatic environmentalist I see some lessons to be learned from the Trump victory. In this blog post I will consider some of these lessons starting with the climate change debate, moving to the upcoming BC election and finally considering a local example of a party being out of touch with the electorate.

Coincidental to Trump’s election COP22 (The twenty-second session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) and the twelfth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 12)) got underway last week. At COP 22 the leaders of the world climate change community are debating how to address our ever-shrinking global carbon budget. Since COP21 there has been a lot of global posturing, a number of countries has submitted their national NDCs and global carbon emissions have continued to increase, admittedly at a lower rate than in previous years. You may ask: but what does this have to do with the US Election? My answer is that like in the US election, we western democracies have been navel-gazing so intently that we have missed the big issue: North American and Europe don’t represent the majority of world greenhouse gas emissions anymore. Like the coastal liberals in the US election; we think we are the big kids on the block but are now revealed to be minor contributors. As a EU report points out:

The top 4 emitting countries/regions, which together account for almost two thirds (61%) of the total global CO2 emissions are China (30%), the United States (15%), the European Union (EU-28) (10%) and India (6.5%).  

Look at those numbers again, the US and Europe only represent 25% of global CO2 emissions. Canada meanwhile is down at the 1.6% zone. While we have a moral duty to lead by example and cut our emissions we also need to recognize that our actions alone will not make a whit of difference if we can’t get the rest of the world onside. Consider China; I keep hearing how China is weaning itself off coal and yet according to a report out last week:

in a new five-year plan for electricity released Monday, the [Chinese] National Energy Administration said it would raise coal-fired power capacity from around 900 gigawatts last year to as high as 1,100 gigawatts by 2020. The roughly 200-gigawatt increase alone is more than the total power capacity of Canada.

By comparison, the agency said it would increase non-fossil fuel sources from about 12% to 15% of the country’s energy mix over the same period. Coal would still make up about 55% of the electricity mix by 2020, down from around two-thirds in recent years.

What this tells us is that we can spend billions in Canada to reduce our carbon footprint but we western elites had better pay attention to those flyover continents because that is where the real action is at.

As I pointed out in a previous post, 2.7 billion humans in Africa and Southeast Asia live in energy poverty. Unless we can help them with access to cheap renewable energy sources, nuclear energy, LNG (as a bridge fuel) and grid upgrades; they will go to the easiest and most plentiful base-load energy source out there: coal. If they do that, then all the emission–control work we do in Canada won’t help a bit. We have to remember that we live on a single planet and while the Western elites continue to ignore these poor countries, the planetary atmosphere does not. The best efforts of Canadians can be erased with the flick of a pen in China so we have to recognize that from a global emission perspective maybe the best use of our limited dollars is in foreign energy investment and helping our poorer neighbours with access to lower (or zero) carbon energy sources. My environmental friends who insist that this may risk our meeting our Paris Agreement promises are missing the point. If we meet our Paris Agreement commitments but allow those gains to be  overwhelmed elsewhere then we have simply wasted our money.

From a provincial election perspective the Trump victory should come as a serious worry to our friends in the NDP. Before the last election it was readily accepted in the pages of the Tyee, the Georgia Strait and other progressive publications that the Christy Clark government was going to be soundly defeated. Instead she won a resounding victory. The basis of that victory was a lack of support for the NDP in the center and north of the province. Frankly the 2013 BC election map looks a lot like the 2016 US election map. The NDP won on the coast and in the enclaves of Vancouver, Burnaby and Vancouver Island and took a thumping in the communities dependent on natural resource jobs and in the “suburbs” south of the Fraser. Flip-flopping on pipelines, and other topics important to interior resource communities, left the NDP out of luck in the interior and the north and gave the election to the Liberals.

Now never a group to learn from past mistakes, the NDP continues to ignore the issues that really matter to people outside of their favoured enclaves north of the Fraser and along the BC Ferry routes. Rather it looks like the NDP is doubling-down on those past mistakes with their stated policies  on the Trans-Mountain expansion, Site C and other topics that are critical to interior voters. Instead of broadening their appeal progressive factions in the NDP caucus continue to narrow it and that does not bode well for their election prospects in 2017. Christy Clark doesn’t even need to appeal to the negative populism the way that Trump did in the US election either, because the NDP caucus has been doing her job for her. By ignoring and/or insulting potential voter blocks across the province they are handing her ridings that should really be competitive.

Now for a simple example of where the NDP is getting things wrong and lets have a discussion about Lower Mainland transit priorities (sorry my international friends, I will try to make this quick and relevant to non-Lower Mainland dwellers). There are few topics that will get a Langley taxpayer more upset about the NDP priorities than listening to David Eby demand a subway or Skytrain along the Broadway corridor. To explain to our non-local readers, we have people in Vancouver whining because they get passed by a bus going to UBC and will have to wait a whole 4 minutes for the next one (sometimes the buses can be 6 minutes apart…the horror!!!). I, meanwhile, live in a community where if you miss the bus (in the approximately 25% of the community served by buses) then it will often be an hour or more before the next one shows up. Now this wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for the fact that the voters south of the Fraser, without bus service, don’t see a transit discount on their tax forms. We pay essentially the same amount for our non-existent transit service as the people in Vancouver pay for their frequent service.

To go even more micro into this topic consider that we have a major commercial/warehousing district (Gloucester Industrial Estates) that serves as a hub for literally thousands of lower paid commercial and warehousing jobs (the type of people who would typically rely on transit) but Gloucester is completely unserviced by transit. The only reason Gloucester exists is because all those warehousing facilities were chased out of Vancouver proper when they gentrified Yaletown, False Creek etc.. and put in all those condos. The warehouses in Langley literally feed Vancouver. Trucks from these warehouses cross the Port Mann Bridge daily to supply their stores with supplies. Meanwhile the only thing we hear about that bridge from Vancouverites is that it was too expensive even though it has has eliminated a major bottleneck in our food and services transportation system in the lower mainland. As for Gloucester, I have talked to business owners who simply will not hire people who don’t own cars because it is too hard to ensure their workers get to their jobs absent transit. If you really want to get drivers off the road and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, setting up a bus service to Gloucester will do just that, while providing access to good jobs for the young people in our community. But have we ever heard a single NDP member pushing for better transit outside of their urban enclaves? Not to my memory. Instead we hear more complaints about the Port Mann, demands for more service in areas with already excellent service and more tax bills being paid by people who cannot even access the system their tax dollars pay for.

The old adage goes that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it and in BC, Canada and the world we continue to ignore the lessons of history. In Canadian political history we are reminded former Prime Minister Joe Clark who lost his job because he miscounted how many members he had in parliament. Well Donald Trump won the presidency because the Democrats didn’t bother to count how many people live in the US heartland and so ignored the issues that were most important to those voters. Globally, the only way we are to going to win our fight against climate change is if we do a head count and recognize that huge number of people are living in energy poverty. Unless we can find a low-carbon way to advance their energy needs they will erase all our efforts and climate change is an inevitability. As for Provincially, until the NDP recognizes that voters south of the Fraser and north and east of Coquitlam mean something then we will have another “surprise” election result and another Liberal majority. Not that I will mind as I am one of those people who is sick of having my issues ignored by the provincial NDP.

Posted in Canadian Politics, Climate Change, Climate Change Politics, General Politics, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

On tanker bans, oil spill response, coastal barges and government doing its job

For the last week my twitter feed has been filled with discussions about the grounding of the Nathan E Stewart and the ensuing diesel spill into the fragile ecosystem of Athlone Island. Now the activist community, never willing to let a tragedy go to waste, has jumped on this to reinforce their demand for a renewed tanker ban off the West Coast. To add a bit of flavour to their demands, some have included a demand that the tanker ban include a ban on barge traffic. As I have pointed out numerous times, a tanker ban would have had no effect on this spill as barges aren’t covered. As for the barge ban, well more on that below. Rather than harping on those topics, however, I am going to use the majority of this blog post to make a plea for a reasonable discussion about our spill response capabilities in the central coast. Before I do that let’s talk about barge bans.

As I have had to point out numerous times on Twitter; Bella Bella is a coastal community with no road links to the mainland. You get there by air or by sea. As pointed out by Tom Fletcher Bella Bella gets its electricity from the former Ocean Falls pulp and paper mill backed up by diesel generators. Now where do those generators get their diesel from? You guessed it: coastal fuel barges. The same means by which the vehicles in the community get their refined gasoline and the cooking stoves get their naphtha. If one were to ban fuel barges the community would almost immediately cease to be tenable. The dock would close as the fishing/crabbing ships would not have any fuel to operate. The airport would close because the aviation fuel used at the airport comes via tanker. The back-up generators would have no fuel so come winter-time when the power line to Ocean Falls went down there would be no power. Heck even the chainsaws most people use to cut firewood would lack the fuel to allow them to operate.

Now I, more than most, understand the risk associated with coastal barges running up and down our coastline. I highlighted the problem almost two years ago in my blog when I wrote:

From a risk perspective, we have been trained to fear oil tankers even though they are highly regulated and have strict maintenance/piloting/tugboat requirements. Meanwhile, we are essentially oblivious to all those container ships travelling without tugs through our “narrow and dangerous” straits. Even more frightening are all those barges being towed along the coast. Few people ask how coastal BC communities get their fuel supplies? Well most are supplied by barges towed to their destinations by tugs. According to the spill response study 48 billion liters a year of fuels are transported by barge in coastal BC. Much of this material is considered “non-persistent” as it represents refined fuels that do not last as long in the environment once spilled. Lack of persistence, does not, however, mean risk-free. That lack of persistence must be tempered by the fact that these barges operate in inshore waters close to shore, so spills are more likely to migrate to land and cause damage to marine and coastal ecosystems. For volume comparisons, the biggest barges can carry 8 to 21 million liters of fuel.

Now that I’ve addressed the ridiculousness of a barge ban let’s get to the meat of this issue: oil spill response times. The biggest complaint about this spill has been the relatively slow response time. West Coast Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) is the private company with the responsibility to address oil spills on the BC Coast. Following the sinking, WCMRC sent a large team from their nearest response base (Prince Rupert) as well as a local contractors from a closer base in Shearwater (three miles from Bella Bella). Now Prince Rupert is over 300 kms north of Bella Bella and the crew from Shearwater simply lacked the equipment to mount a full-on oil spill response for a spill of that volume. The result was a loss of significant volumes of diesel from the tug’s onboard fuel supplies. Now that the WCMRC crew is on hand they are working to off-load as much of that diesel as is possible and the spill is mostly contained, but in the meantime it is likely that a local clam fishery has been damaged and there are clear indications of ecological damage.

The question that is being asked is: why the relatively slow response? The simply answer is geography. The British Columbia coastline is immense, including inlets and islands it exceeds 25,000 kilometers. Now consider that spill response times assume that response ships will travel at 6 knots (approximately 11 km/hr) and you see the challenge faced by first responders. According to the 2013 West Coast Spill Response Study the current goal for a spill of over 2500 tonnes in that part of the coast is that a response team be on hand within 72 hours. 72 hours is a long time to wait when it comes to containing an oil spill and a lot of people have demanded that we do better, but no one has explained how that might happen.

The problem that many of the armchair quarterbacks out there don’t seem to understand is that oil spill response is an expensive affair. You need to stockpile expensive material in caches available for the first responders and then you need crews and equipment on standby for when the inevitable spill occurs. Right now that funding comes entirely from industry under a “polluter pays principle” where the operators of commercial ships pay into a fund to allow for the operation of WCMRC. I have said again and again, you only get the quality of service that you are willing to pay for; and in spill response this 72 hour response time is what people have been willing to pay for. You want a faster response? Then under the current system that means paying for it in the form of higher fuel and food prices in coastal communities.

Ultimately a “world class oil spill response” is only going to happen in the central coast if the money is there. With the exception of immediately after spills like the Nathan E Stewart, the coastal communities have not been clamoring to pay for increased spill response (and the ensuing increase in costs of living). As for the world class oil spill response associated with the pipelines, those resources are going to go where the models suggest the ships are going to travel. So if the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain expansion occurs that would be the south coast while the Northern Gateway would result in a drive to ensure adequate supplies in the north coast. None of these plans will likely do anything about the central coast because the volume of transport is simply not there.

The only way the central coast sees improved oil spill response is if one of our levels of government decides to ante up, because a polluter pays system will never have enough money to provide a world class oil spill response over the entire central coast. The coastline is too long, the population centers too dispersed and the volumes transported are not sufficient to pay for a better service.

When I started writing this blog post I was of the opinion that this was a chicken and egg situation. You aren’t going to get a world-class oil spill response until you increase the shipping volume and you aren’t going to increase shipping volume until one or more of these major projects is approved. Now this is very true for the north and south coasts, but in my research I have come to recognize that, as suggested above, neither scenario addresses the central coast and that is where I think it is time for our two senior levels of government to get involved. The movement of vessels in Canada’s inshore waters is regulated by Transport Canada and as a consequence I think that both the Feds and the Province should be kicking in to address the holes in the current system. While I strongly approve of the concept of polluter pays I think that this cannot be the only funding mechanism for oil spill response on the west coast.

Think of this from a more familiar perspective. We don’t demand that shop-keepers in dangerous neighbourhoods pay for their own policing nor do we expect individual shop-owners to pay for on-call fire-fighting crews. Rather we accept that as communities, provinces and a country that we share the burden. The cost of maintaining oil spill response capabilities in the central coast should not be placed solely on the consumers in those communities (through pass-on charges associated with WCMRC fees). Rather, those fees should be supplemented by government fees to address shortfalls in the central coast.

The best analogy I can think of is the BC Ferries system. BC Ferries, if it relied only on user fees, would operate solely on the short southern coastal routes. However, our government recognizes the need for its service on lesser-traveled routes and provides supplemental funds to cover operational costs. In a similar vein, I would suggest that our provincial and federal governments cough up a subsidy to improve spill response capabilities in the central coast. Polluter pays only works so well and in the case of spill response paying for a clean-up after the fact does nothing to address the damage that could be contained if only spill response capabilities were in place. It is time our senior levels of government stepped up to the plate and took on the responsibilities that the constitution places in their hands: to protect our coast. That means providing a governmental subsidy to top up the quality of our oil spill response capabilities in the central coastal region because irrespective of whether there is a tanker ban or a single pipeline built the central coast is going to be under-serviced by oil spill response capabilities if direct users are the only ones covering the costs of the program.

Posted in Canadian Politics, General Politics, Pipelines, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

A challenge to the climate activists, Leapers and anti-pipeline activists: show us your plans

I started this blog to provide a venue for pragmatic discussions about evidence-based environmental decision-making. The problem with being both pragmatic and evidence-based is that it grounds you in the mundane realities of the world. It prevents you from taking the flights of fancy that seem to be the strength (and weakness) of the environmental community. My colleagues in the environmental community like to think big. They like big ideas and big plans. The problem is that their plans tend to concentrate on the big picture while being light on the details. What is most annoying is when I point out the holes in their plans and the needs to identify achievable goals; I get responses that question my sincerity or dedication to the “cause”. It is as if there is a requirement to put my scientific mind in neutral in order to be considered an environmentalist. Well I am a scientist, a pragmatist and an environmentalist and I want to make real advances not simply generate good in sound-bites.

So I am going to challenge the climate activists, the Leap Manifesto proponents (Leapers) and the anti-pipeline activists. Provide a cogent, evidence-based mechanism to implement one of your plans? You see in all these discussions I keep hearing negatives about my ideas but never any positive, practical alternatives from you. Specifically: in the last year I have presented a cogent, environmentally-balanced and pragmatic viewpoint on pipelines and have been insulted and heckled. I have pointed out specific limitations in the renewable energy dreams of the Leapers (and their 100% Wind, Water and Sunlight acolytes) and have been assured that I must be working against environmental causes. I have poked holes in the numbers of the innumerate climate change activists and have been called a “denier”. I challenge you to present a plan that can actually achieve a goal, heck any goal, because right now all I get from you is platitudes and hand-waving.

Climate Change

Let’s start with climate change since these are the most self-righteous of the activists. As we enter the second year of a post-Paris Agreement world it is becoming increasingly clear that the activists do not have the slightest idea how to achieve the goals they claim are imperative. Under the Paris Agreement Canada’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) (note I have linked to our INDC as the NDC library does not have Canada’s submission), Canada has agreed to:

achieve an economy-wide target to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.     

Now I will give some credit where credit is due, Canadians for Clean Prosperity have presented a means to possibly get part-way to our 2 degree Celsius NDC by 2030 but it involves a massive rise in carbon taxes coupled with some pretty significant policy changes and even then they only achieve 13-14% below 2005 emissions by 2030?

The issue is that Canada’s INDC was created when the goal was still to avoid 2 degrees Celsius. Since the NDC was produced we agreed to an aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Now consider the research by Dr. Simon Donner and Dr. Kirsten Zickfeld of the University of British Columbia. They have calculated what it would take to achieve the aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius and have presented it here. Under their model Canadians we would need to emit essentially zero carbon dioxide sometime before the year 2030 or as they put it:

It would require a 90% to 99% reduction in emissions below 2005 levels by 2030. The budget is equivalent to less than seven years of emissions at current (2013, year with most recent data) levels  

Now think of that. By the year 2030 we would need to essentially emit no carbon dioxide? That means no gasoline automobiles, no diesel trains, no container ships, no trans-continental airliners, no diesel transport trucks, all by 2030? In the 14 years between now and 2030 our society would have to invent, prototype and mass produce engines capable of moving all the essential staples of our civilized society around the world. Within that time window we will have to get the entire existing fleet of automobiles, passenger trucks, transport trucks, airplanes, tugs, etc… out of commission and replaced with these, as yet, still hypothetical technologies.

In reality it would take a monumental effort to simply address personal vehicles but to achieve our aspirational goal we have to do away with all fossil fuel-reliant technologies? No a World War II level mobilization will not do the trick, we need at least an order of magnitude greater effort to change virtually every vehicle out there. The activists say words like, “but we have to do it for the future” and my simple answer is: show me how?

Now let’s play devil’s advocate and imagine a scenario where, by some miracle, we achieve that goal, that still leaves us only part-way to our goal since in that same time frame we still need to develop the electrical infrastructure to power those electric vehicles. I will go into more detail on that question when I deal with the Leapers.

Leapers

In order to electrify all those vehicles we would need to massively ramp up our electricity system? By how much? Well let’s ask the hero of the Leaper movement: Dr. Mark Z Jacobson of Stanford. I have previously described what Dr. Jacobson has to say about Canada in his 100% WWS scenario….that would be the one promoted by the Leapers. As I wrote in my previous post, their proposal is simply not tenable. It is reliant on us inventing new technologies that are subsequently implemented on an industrial scale, all by 2050. Consider it asks for us to have 27,323 0.75 MW wave energy devices when we still don’t have a working prototype for the first unit? It is really hard to industrial facilities to tool up to build something that has not even been invented yet.

Besides being virtually impossible the Leaper approach would be devilishly expensive. Once again, I must give some credit, at least some economists associated with the Leap Manifesto tried to explain how they will pay for all this but they fell sadly short. They have proposed a set of policy alternatives that they estimate would raise $48.85 billion dollars a year. Now this list is essentially a poison pill for any politician who attempts to implement it, but that’s not the half of it since it doesn’t even cover the $53 billion a year Dr. Jacobson indicates it will take to pay for the power generating units for their 100% WWS program. Remember that $53 billion a year was prepared by their own expert Dr. Mark Z Jacobson from Stanford. Virtually every expert who has looked at his numbers suggest his costs are unrealistically low and still those numbers don’t include the infrastructure costs associated with the energy plants and necessary to build that infrastructure (roads etc…). It also excludes the costs or time to carry out the environmental assessments and all the consultations on all those projects or to purchase (or compensate owners for) the land used by that infrastructure.

That $53 billion/year is simply the capital costs of the actual units themselves. And those aren’t one-time only costs since that infrastructure will not last forever. It is well understood that wind turbines and tidal power units have relatively short serviceable lifetimes. Barnacles, salt water and winds take their toll and these units seldom last the 25 years. Yet the Leapers need them to last much longer in order for their numbers to work. Moreover, because of where we would need to install these units we won’t simply be able to abandon them, we will need to decommission each unit and reclaim the land under it. None of these costs are factored into the equation?

So let’s look at what we need by 2050: new technologies to generate power, new technologies to power vehicles and the replacement of all the existing vehicles in use today….all in 34 years in this case? Which brings me to the:

Anti-Pipeline Activists

As I have shown above we aren’t going to be anywhere near ready to get off fossil fuels before 2050. That means we will need updated infrastructure to move that oil, so how do the anti-pipeline activists respond? They simply insist that we should just stop using oil. Now I have addressed that topic in detail and it is not pretty scenario.

Having quickly dispatched the anti-oil pipeline folks, let’s look at LNG. The major complaint about LNG is that it will blow us over our Paris Agreement numbers but as I point out, we shouldn’t let that stop us. There are 1.2 billion people living in energy poverty in the world today and they are not going to sit idly by as the rest of the word advances without them. Each year 4.3 million people a year die from preventable indoor air pollution. Let’s not let some confusion about how we calculate carbon emissions leave those 1.2 billion Indians, Indonesians, Malaysians and Africans using coal to power their future instead of cleaner, lower-carbon, BC natural gas.

Conclusion

It is clear that our nation and our planet are facing some monumental challenges in the next few decades. It is equally true that we are not going to be able to address all these challenges in the time-frame indicated. What does that mean? Well as a pragmatist it means we will have to make compromises. If we know that India has a choice between coal and natural gas, then we should make sure it chooses natural gas. If we know that 100% WWS is not possible, then we had better include hydro and nuclear into the energy mix for our renewable energy future. If we know we are not going to achieve our aspirational 1.5 degrees Celsius target then we should throw it away and fight for a target we can achieve. Wishing for unicorns is not going to make them appear. We need to identify our priorities and work as hard as we can to achieve them. We have to stop chasing rainbows and instead try and chase achievable targets. That means it is time to stop making enemies out of potential allies. It is time to recognize that standing on the sidelines throwing out insults is not getting us anywhere. We need to come up with pragmatic plans to achieve our joint environmental goals.

Posted in Canadian Politics, Climate Change, Climate Change Politics, Environmentalism and Ecomodernism, Leap Manifesto, Pipelines, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

On Lukewarmism, denial and a look at the state of the environmental movement

This weekend was a busy one for me, but I had time early in the mornings (thanks to our new puppy) to spend a little time catching up on what is happening in the environmental world. In the process I caught the attention (and ire) of some of my least-favourite environmental activists: angry anonymous academics, grumpy retirees and numerous anonymous trolls. This blog post started as a light lark about the internecine battles between climate activists but has ended up as a state-of-the-union sort of piece that refutes a lot of malicious slander being directed my way by the likes of Miriam (SouBundanga) O’Brien and her acolytes who have filled my twitter feed with their rubbish, lies and insults. It puts some thoughts together in one place and describes where my mind is on the topic of Lukewarmism, climate change “denial” and the current state of the environmental movement.

As regular readers of this blog know, I am a Lukewarmer. What does that mean? It means I agree with the fundamental science of climate change. I acknowledge that the anthropogenic addition of Tyndall gases into the atmosphere will have an effect on global climate. As such, I agree with consensus (as presented by the IPCC) on the topic of climate change. As a Lukewarmer my primary difference with the alarmists is that I believe that the climate’s sensitivity to carbon dioxide is on the lower end of the consensus scale presented by the IPCC. The basis for this belief is a combination of my graduate-level education in global biogeochemical cycles and my personal knowledge of the early global climate models used to generate the original sensitivity numbers.

I’ve been a Lukewarmer for over two decades (even before Lukewarmers had a name) and in that time my Lukewarmer viewpoint has been consistently demonstrated to be a better representation of climate sensitivity than the alarmists’ views. More specifically, in the last two decades the consensus climate sensitivity estimate has gradually decreased to approximately the point I guessed it would be when I last looked closely at the topic over a decade ago. Conversely, the current consensus climate sensitivity estimate is now much lower than the one the alarmists were using in their discussions of the same era.

In my blog I have repeatedly discussed the policy means by which we can reduce our emissions of Tyndall gases while mitigating the effects of the climate change that is already locked into the system. I have promoted renewable and alternative energy technologies and have highlighted the policy needed to enhance our available renewable energy portfolio. Moreover, as a private citizen I worked to help get a carbon tax enacted in my home province of British Columbia. So I am exactly what I say I am: a pragmatic environmentalist who has worked to achieve evidence–based policy goals.

My pragmatism represents one of my major “sins” in the climate change debate where the two choices are: true believer or heretic. Another is that while I am a progressive on social issues I am conservative on financial issues. I believe in the power of a free market that is overseen by, but not controlled by, a functioning regulatory regime. I believe in the motto “polluter pays” and have worked in a contaminated sites industry for the last 15 years where “polluter pays” is more than a motto, it is how we do business. Most of the alarmist crew are far more left-leaning in the political spectrum. They are mostly comprised of people with the politics of Naomi Klein (and the authors of the Leap Manifesto) who seek to throw out our capitalist system to be replaced by a socialist paradise. They have a stronger belief in the ability of government to manage change than I do and believe that government action is the only way to beat climate change.

As a free-market type, I appreciate the existence of our regulators but have come to recognize their flaws and limitations. I have come to acknowledge that the government is extremely bad at picking winners and losers and that there is no such thing as a free lunch. I do not believe that the government can just magically make money appear. I know that the government gets its money by taxing or borrowing and money spent by government in one area restricts the amount it can spend in another. I recognize that infrastructure takes time to build and that history has taught us that environmental issues are thrown to the back-burner when the economy is bad. This means that maintaining a strong economy is a necessity if we are going to fight climate change. Finally I have crunched the numbers on what is needed to achieve a fossil fuel-free future and recognize that the infrastructure needs are staggering and thus the transition is not going to happen in 5-15 years but will take 30-50+ years and in the intervening time we will need to safely transport fossil fuels across our continent.

Now let’s consider the nature of the climate change debate. Well, the alarmists are not doing too well these days. Certainly the Paris Agreement was passed, but that was more a testament to the pragmatists and the middle-of-the-roaders than the alarmists. The alarmists keep screaming from the tops of hills but the rest of the world has taken to tuning them out? Why you might ask? Well in my opinion, it is because they are too quick to make enemies and so unserious that it is hard to take them seriously.

Consider their use of the term “denier”. Before I go further, a bit of background; I was a young boy when Ernst Zündel published the pamphlet “Did Six Million Really Die” (in 1974). I grew up in a time of the quiet growth of the Holocaust denial movement in western Canada. I was a young activist while the Keegstra case worked its way up to the Supreme Court of Canada and did my small part to support groups who fought anti-Semitism and the rise of Holocaust Denial. I watched as a tremendous effort was made to link a relatively benign word “denier” with the concept of Holocaust Denial. This was not a local phenomena but one that happened world-wide. This linking worked and for many of my generation the term “denier” has a power like few others. Happily, my kids are growing up in an era where (at least where I live) Holocaust denial is restricted to those with recognizably bad intentions. As a consequence many from younger generations do not have the same associations with that word that people of my age do.

Given this background, you can imagine my disappointment when the term “denier” was misappropriated by a core of activists who recognizing its power (a power soaked in the blood, sweat and tears of people I knew and respected) who decided to use it to label their opponents in the climate change debate. I have even less time for the apologists who say, “well look it up in the dictionary” and thus excuse themselves of the implied slander associated with using the term. When I was a young man the “joke” used to be that calling a homosexual a “faggot” was not an insult because if you looked the word up in the dictionaries of the time the definition simply read “a bundle of sticks”. Everyone knew that the word had an incredibly evil use intended to degrade the person being addressed but for some the fact that the dictionaries had not caught up with the common usage meant it was okay to use this vile term.

Nowadays I have mostly given up fighting the historically illiterate activists who insist on using the word but still pay attention to how it is being used. A decade ago, it was used to label a small minority of individuals who actually argued that climate change was not happening, but that, too, has changed. You would think that having misappropriated a term that has so much inherited power you would be careful how you used it….and in this you would be wrong. Instead of being treated with reverence it is bandied about these days like a minor insult just below “racist” but above “sexist”.

So how is the word “denier” used these days? Well a “freelance consultant” with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science (Honours) by the name of Miriam O’Brien (known better as SouBundanga who has a huge online following) called me a “science denier” for no other reason than because I got into a disagreement on the semantics of the term. Locally a transportation planner and campaigner with no education in climate science has taken to calling people “soft climate deniers” in the newspapers and on social media because they disagree with him on transportation options in our community. When he does so what do we hear from the serious people in the activist community? Nothing. A political science grad whose research topics include welfare policy, poverty, inequality and economic security with no apparently no formal training in climate science calls anyone who disagrees with his progressive policy choices climate deniers and what do we hear from the activists? Nothing. Heck, Dr. Naomi Oreskes a specialist in the history of science calls the father of climate alarmism, Dr. James Hansen a climate denier because of differences in how nuclear energy can be used in fighting climate change and once again the great majority of activists in the alarmist camp say nothing.

It is no wonder people have stopped taking the alarmists seriously, since they can’t be bothered to take what each other says seriously. Moreover their infighting is like something out of a Monty Python movie or 1920’s Russia. When Dr. Oreskes condemns Dr. Hansen I keep trying to remember which one represents the People’s Front of Judea and which is the Judean People’s Front? Frankly if the Romans (ooops I mean climate skeptics) had planned it I don’t think they could have done a better job turning the activist fringes of the climate alarmist brigades against each other or making them look more ridiculous. Perhaps it is time that the intellectual leaders of the movement speak out because right now they have become more of a punch-line than anything else. How else to explain how Donald Trump can run a presidential campaign rejecting climate change while Hillary Clinton runs hers without any useful discussion of one of the seminal issues of our generation.

As a pragmatic environmentalist I am deeply saddened. I see the effort of individuals like myself being overwhelmed as progressives have gradually wrest the environmental movement from the hands of environmentalists and scientists and put it in the hands of philosophers, sociologists and political scientists. People who understand little about the complexity of the problems facing us but instead see this as their latest hobby-horse that they can ride to potential political power. In the end it is likely that the fading world economy will take the wind out of the environmental sails and we will once again have failed to make hay while the sun shone; because as history teaches us, when the economy goes down environmental awareness goes out the window. It is not too late to achieve some goals, but given the tenor and the quality of the people leading that debate, I am quite certain that we will have missed this window of opportunity. It reminds me of the old Alberta (Texas?) expression: Dear Lord, please give me another boom and I promise not to blow it only it looks like we took this opportunity and blew it again.

Postscript

Since I wrote this piece I was made aware of a blog post by the wildly popular climate mouthpiece Miriam O’Brian. I had to be told about the piece because she was very careful (cowardly) not to inform me of its existence or provide any links that might have made me aware of its existence. Here is a link to the blog post which I welcome you to visit. Be warned calling the piece mudslinging would be to give it too much credit. The strangest part of the piece is that she brags about not ever having read anything I have written while asserting strongly and repeatedly that I am a “denier” and making secondary accusations that are simply base and untrue. She quite effectively demonstrates the mindset of the climate activist and her blog post is a learning experience for me.

While she hasn’t read my work, Miriam does take a number of my Twitter comments out of context. Amusingly, since she included links to the comments you can actually follow the threads which show her falsehoods and makes reading her blog even more entertaining. If I were James Inhofe trying to create a parody of an intolerant climate alarmist I would reject her as being too extreme. Few would believe that a person like her really exist, but like Ann Coulter she is wildly popular among her set. I presume this is mostly because she is willing to say such bizarre things and reinforce their biases.

Be sure to read the comments as they include a take from a gent by the name of Ken Rice who blogs under the name “and Then There’s Physics“. Ken works at the University of Edinburgh as an Astrophysicist (don’t worry his training is not in climate science) and he got his knickers in a knot over the fact that I did not show anger at a comment below that used the term “science denier“. As people who have followed this brouhaha know Miriam called me a “science denier” and chrism56 used a literary device where he turned the insult around for emphasis to demonstrate why it was an inappropriate thing to say. Now Ken being a literal man seems unable to comprehend literary devices and claims I am being two-faced on the topic. I would simply point out that anyone with a classical education would recognize the literary device and will leave it at that.

Posted in Canadian Politics, Climate Change, Climate Change Politics, Environmentalism and Ecomodernism, Lukewarmers, Uncategorized | 37 Comments