But my Canadian government and the tar sands industries who want Keystone argue that somehow, miraculously, increasing carbon polluting infrastructure will not increase carbon pollution. (George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth has nothing on these guys.) They argue that even without Keystone Alberta tar sands would be developed to the same extent. So you might as well approve Keystone – so the argument goes.
But this is simply not true. Tar sands production is currently about 2 million barrels per day. At this level it already has trouble getting to market, which is why tar sands producers must accept a lower price for their oil – which is good news for U.S. gasoline purchasers, but not for investors hoping to expand tar sands.
Keystone would help tar sands producers expand output by 50 to 100 percent. Without it, output would stay constant. But this is where the magicians offer their next deception. They claim that even without Keystone tar sands production would increase because the oil would simply be shipped to China via a Northern Gateway pipeline through British Columbia. You might as well build Keystone and keep the oil from going to China, so the magicians argue.
In fact, the likelihood of this is slim – and getting slimmer every day. The reason is British Columbia. My province is the Canadian, and perhaps the North American, epicenter of two important social movements – environmentalism and rights activism by aboriginal peoples.
British Columbia has North America’s only real carbon tax, with all of its revenues returned as income and corporate tax cuts. And our electricity policy is the toughest in North America, allowing no fossil fuel power without carbon capture and storage. It is no surprise that polls consistently show that a majority of British Columbians oppose Northern Gateway.
Our provincial election is in May, and the opposition party, which is well ahead in the polls, has promised to prevent the project if it forms the next government.
British Columbia’s aboriginal peoples are proud, organized and active in defending their land and coast. Court rulings have made it extremely difficult to develop resource and infrastructure projects without their support, and almost all the tribes along the proposed pipeline route and on the coast are adamantly opposed to Northern Gateway. They have promised lengthy court battles and even civil disobedience should anyone try to build it.
The odds against Northern Gateway are huge. Without it and Keystone, there is no tar sands expansion, no increase in carbon pollution. Stopping Keystone will hinder tar sands expansion; believing otherwise is nothing more than a magician’s delusion.
If U.S. policy makers don’t want to lock-in a Sandy-Katrina future for our children, rejecting Keystone is one of the most obvious and easiest steps.
Jaccard, a professor of Environmental Economics at Simon Fraser University in Canada.