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Fort Nelson’s Gas Boom Went Bust. Who’s Going to Clean Up?

Fort Nelson’s Gas Boom Went Bust. Who’s Going to Clean Up?

Ottawa has announced money to clean up the oil and gas industry’s old wells and infrastructure, but critics say it’s not enough.

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The Cabin gas plant expansion was supposed to provide jobs near Fort Nelson. Now it sits idle. Photo by Garth Lenz.

In the face of the economic fallout from COVID-19, it’s easy to forget that some communities in British Columbia were in deep fiscal distress long before the pandemic began.

Fort Nelson is a good example, and a textbook case of why senior levels of government need to be mindful when they roll out recovery plans such as the announced $1.7 billion in federal funding to address cleanup costs at aging oil and natural gas wells.

In 2008, B.C.’s northernmost city was rocked by news that logging and sawmilling giant Canfor was closing two panel mills. Four hundred and thirty five men and women, among the highest paid workers in their community, lost their jobs. The mills never reopened.

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For 14 years, Canfor’s massive PolarBoard mill has stood idle on the outskirts of Fort Nelson. Hopes that gas extraction would provide new jobs were soon dashed. Photo by Garth Lenz.

The fossil fuel equivalent of a gold rush owed its roots to developments in distant Texas where companies had figured out how to force oil and gas out of stubborn shale rock by blasting it with tremendous volumes of water, sand and chemicals in fracking operations. With that innovation, a wave of drilling and fracking for “shale oil” and “shale gas” swept across North America. 

Before long Encana, Apache, Nexen, Chevron and other energy companies swarmed Fort Nelson. The city’s main street buzzed with pickup trucks, its hotels and restaurants were fully booked, and the bar tabs ran high.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What Kenney Had to Kill to Embrace Coal

What Kenney Had to Kill to Embrace Coal

Alberta’s 1976 Coal Policy protected vital drinking water supplies for much of the province. That’s gone now.

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. His government, after being heavily lobbied by coal interests, opted to open a huge swath of sensitive Rocky Mountains land to open pit mining, rendering longstanding protections ‘obsolete.’ Photo by Jason Franson, the Canadian Press.

Under the cover of a pandemic, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney quietly wiped away a near half-century of safeguards against open pit coal mining in most of the province’s Rocky Mountains and foothills.

The result could be the stripping away of mountain tops across more than a million and half hectares of terrain — about half the size of Vancouver Island.

Gone, as of last May, is the province’s 1976 Coal Policy, which protected the headwaters of rivers that secure drinking water for Canadians across the prairies.

The Coal Policy was established by the Progressive Conservative government then led by Peter Lougheed, based on nearly six years of active public consultations. It was quietly axed this spring without input by First Nations or the wider public.

In fact, Kenney’s government only talked to one group, the Coal Association of Canada. (See this related story published today on The Tyee.)The Tyee is supported by readers like you Join us and grow independent media in Canada

That lobbying group is directed by Robin Campbell, a former Tory provincial environmental minister.

Now a handful of largely Australian-owned corporations intent on serving metallurgical coal markets in India and China are poised to begin transforming Alberta’s eastern slopes into an industrial mining zone.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How Canada’s Oilsands City Is Supporting Indigenous Food Sovereignty

How Canada’s Oilsands City Is Supporting Indigenous Food Sovereignty

A new Métis Cultural Centre in Fort McMurray aims to revive traditional practices in an urban setting.

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‘The garden has become a place where people begin to reclaim their land literacy,’ says the director Indigenous Research Partnerships at UBC, and that’s why projects like the Métis Cultural Centre are meaningful. Photo by Olivia Szostek, UBC.

Genevieve Noel was in the room when Fort McMurray city councillors voted unanimously last month to provide almost eight acres for a Métis Cultural Centre.

Noel, a Métis woman and designer, said she had goosebumps as the votes were counted. The $22-million project offers a chance to reconnect with her Indigenous identity, she said.

And that includes exploring Indigenous food sovereignty as a solution to food insecurity, climate chaos and loss of culture, she said.

“As we were reconnecting with Indigenous culture, it just was so evident to me that the wisdom of traditional Indigenous culture is the way forward. We really need to embrace the Earth and really reconnect,” she said. “The spirituality was another layer that I really appreciate.”

Noel and her husband Maginnis Cocivera are founders of Mindful Homes, a North Vancouver architecture firm that hopes to facilitate “a seamless transition to the post-carbon era in response to climate change.”The Tyee is supported by readers like you Join us and grow independent media in Canada

The firm has been selected by McMurray Métis to design the project.

“It’s an honour to work with them and help bring all these things back,” Noel said. “It’s really a nice healing process to bring community together, and we want to present the project that way, like we’re all moving forward together, we’re not leaving anybody behind, and people can learn to live together again in a more positive way.”

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Has Suncor Seen the Climate Crisis Coming for 61 Years?

Has Suncor Seen the Climate Crisis Coming for 61 Years?

A US lawsuit wants the oilsands producer to pay for global warming havoc.

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Suncor Energy Centre is the tallest building in this photo (and second highest on the Calgary skyline), built in 1984. That would be a quarter century after corporate leaders were first told about global warming and around the time the company was involved in public relations to downplay the threat, alleges a lawsuit. Photo by Danielle Scott via Flickr.

Did Canada’s largest oil producer learn about climate change as early as 1959, develop a massive bitumen industry in northern Alberta knowing the atmospheric damage it would cause, and then take part in an international effort throughout the 1990s and 2000s to convince the public that climate change isn’t real?

Those questions are now at the heart of a closely-watched lawsuit filed against Suncor in the state of Colorado, which earlier this month cleared an important legal hurdle.

Now it’s up to a judge to determine whether the lawsuit, which also names Exxon as a defendant, can move beyond procedural wrangling into the first phases of an actual trial. Such a trial has the potential to set a transformative legal precedent: for the first time ever assigning legal blame for climate change to oil and gas companies in a U.S. court while holding those companies accountable for undermining life-saving science.

“That would be huge news,” said David Bookbinder, an attorney with the Washington D.C.-based Niskanen Center, which is helping the city of Boulder and several other local Colorado communities sue Suncor and Exxon for allegedly profiting from climate change while concealing the devastating impacts. “We’re waiting for the judge to give us an answer.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

We’re Dumb about Exponential Growth. That’s Proving Lethal

We’re Dumb about Exponential Growth. That’s Proving Lethal

And not just for COVID-19. The same ignorance accelerates the climate crisis.

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Exponential growth looks like a jet taking off. It is rapid and explosive and follows a geometric progression. It is often about doubling times. Image via Shutterstock.

Gradually, and then suddenly. That’s how exponential growth can ruin your day, undo your family, evaporate your economy, destroy your climate, crush an empire and destabilize a planet.

Consider the performance of COVID-19.

Last month a 30-year-old male attended a “COVID party” in San Antonio, Texas.

At a COVID party, the host has tested positive. He or she then does not sit down with a math primer to understand how many human dominoes they might cause to fall. Nor does the host watch this handy video which, in three short minutes, explains the deadly implications of exponential growth of infection.

WATCH: A mathematician explains the power of exponential growth to spread the coronavirus at increasing speed throughout a population if unchecked by social distancing and other measures.

No, at a COVID party the host invites others to come over and mingle, have a few drinks, test fate, laugh in the face of reality.

The 30-year-old male who came to the COVID party died several weeks later, but not before he made a brief confession to the nurse attending him. “I think I made a mistake, I thought this was a hoax, but it’s not.”

That’s how exponential growth can ruin your day.

The percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Texas has risen steeply in recent weeks. Up to 22 per cent of tests showed positive in the San Antonio area last week.

The exponential function is all about growth, and growth follows a logical curve. It can be linear or exponential. Linear is what children do as they grow in weight. Or what stalagmites do as they grow with dripping water.

But exponential growth looks like a jet taking off. It is rapid and explosive and follows a geometric progression. It is often about doubling times.

After China reported its first case of COVID-19 last January, it took 67 days to reach the first 100,000 global cases.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Is Jason Kenney Ready to Bet Albertan Pensions on Failing Fossil Fuel Firms?

Is Jason Kenney Ready to Bet Albertan Pensions on Failing Fossil Fuel Firms?

The UCP government is moving to take control of citizens’ savings — and they should be very worried.

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney may be eying up the retirement funds of public sector workers as a financial lifeline for companies in the oil patch. Photo via the Government of Alberta.

Cautious. Reliable. Boring. Those are words that are appropriately associated with pension fund management. However, pensions have recently become a hot button political issue in Alberta, for some ominous reasons.

As international investment dries up for the fossil fuel sector, evidence mounts that Premier Jason Kenney may be eying up the retirement funds of public sector workers as a financial lifeline for companies in the oil patch.

The United Conservative Party didn’t mention sweeping pension reform in its election platform, but it has been a curious legislative priority since they were swept to power last year.

Bill 22 forced the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund to hand over its $18-billion pension fund to Alberta Investment Management Corp. — a Crown corporation that just lost $1.9 billion of the Alberta Heritage Trust Fund’s assets. This bill also prevents the numerous public pensions under AIMCo control from ever taking their investment business elsewhere, regardless of poor investment results.

Kenney has also proposed pulling out of the Canada Pension Plan after a vote under his new referendum-on-anything bill. AIMCo could then be in charge of over $260 billion entrusted for the financial futures of millions of Albertans.The Tyee is supported by readers like you Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Legal firewalls are often in place to prevent political meddling in public pension management. If a politician even attempts to contact a Canada Pension Plan board member, it is a reportable offence.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

By Many Calculations, LNG Is a Fail for BC: Report

By Many Calculations, LNG Is a Fail for BC: Report

The math for liquefied natural gas is bad on emissions, revenues, jobs, even offsetting coal in China, finds a new study.

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Go figure. BC NDP Premier John Horgan announcing in 2018 a $40-billion investment by the consortium LNG Canada in its Kitimat terminal for processing and export. Photo: BC Government.

David Hughes, one of the nation’s foremost energy analysts, has a simple message for the governments of British Columbia and Canada when it comes to advocating for LNG projects.

“Do the math.”

Hughes has parsed the numbers and they don’t add up on methane emissions, climate change targets, resource royalties, job benefits or even basic economics.

“The math is clear,” says Hughes, whose latest 57-page report on LNG exports highlights a long pipeline of damning figures.

Emissions targets: Won’t LNG help hit them? The numbers say noThe Tyee is supported by readers like you Join us and grow independent media in Canada

The province’s CleanBC plan, for example, demands an 80-per-cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 from 2007 levels.

But Hughes, who was a scientific researcher for 32 years at the Geological Survey of Canada, checked the math on emissions based on energy production forecasts made by the Canada Energy Regulator.

His math is conservative. It excluded any LNG exports. It assumes current major reductions in methane leaks from gas extraction might be plugged. And it further assumes the electrification of some upstream projects. Still, Hughes found that “emissions from oil and gas production would exceed B.C.’s 2050 target by 54 per cent.”

(A group of scientists writing in Nature found the same thing on a global scale last year: just using existing fossil fuel infrastructure takes the world into climate change hell.)

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Security Camera Captures Heavily Armed RCMP at Wet’suwet’en Cultural Site

Security Camera Captures Heavily Armed RCMP at Wet’suwet’en Cultural Site

RCMP have no reason to carry assault weapons or even be at the newly constructed smokehouse, say spokespersons.

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RCMP officers and Coastal GasLink pipeline workers captured on trail camera despite lack of environmental assessment approvals. Photo submitted.

Members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation are challenging RCMP actions on their territory after a security camera captured images of police with assault rifles checking an empty building located deep in the woods.

The building, a smokehouse that will soon be used to process fish, was built this spring at the request of Gidimt’en Clan Hereditary Chief Woos. It is on the Morice River about one kilometre from the Morice West Forest Service Road, not far from the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre where conflict between Wet’suwet’en members and pipeline builders began a decade ago.

The long dispute came to a head in January 2019 when heavily armed RCMP officers enforced an injunction by removing barricades and arresting 14 people opposing the Coastal GasLink pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory. Earlier this year large RCMP operations again removed barricades and arrested dozens at several camps over five days.

A trail camera installed to monitor the Gidimt’en smokehouse captured two RCMP visits this month, including images of three officers, one carrying what appears to be a semi-automatic Colt C8 assault rifle, surrounding the building.

According to Cpl. Madonna Saunderson, the officers are members of a Quick Response Team assigned to the Community-Industry Safety Office, a remote detachment established to police the Morice West Forest Service Road following the arrests in January 2019.

“The photos being circulated online relate to recent patrols and the check of a newly constructed building which is on the pipeline’s right of way and is therefore in breach of the BC Supreme Court injunction order,” the statement said. “We understand that CGL has posted a notice on the building advising of this breach.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Argument over Where to Put ‘Agri-Tech’ Zones

The Argument over Where to Put ‘Agri-Tech’ Zones

In the name of food security, BC proposes whittling away Agricultural Land Reserve farmland. Opposition is sprouting.

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‘What are the bottlenecks for agri-tech or ag-industrial? What is agri-tech and ag-industrial? I think we need to define it,’ says Agricultural Land Commission chair Jennifer Dyson. She and husband Russell pose with water buffaloes at their farm in Port Alberni. Photo: supplied.

The province is working to carve out new industrial zones for agricultural technology, saying the goal is better food security. But farmers, land-use experts and former NDP ministers are all raising concerns over the proposed location — on the arable soil of the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Last month, deputy minister of agriculture Wes Shoemaker was appointed head of a new effort to establish agri-industrial zones, “as recommended by” the BC NDP government’s Food Security Task Force, said an internal email obtained by The Tyee.

The recommendation, one of four in a new report titled “The Future of B.C.’s Food System,” is to convert up to 0.25 per cent of the Agricultural Land Reserve into agri-industrial zones.

Population growth and climate change may make agri-tech — which supports the production, processing and distribution of food — increasingly necessary. But proponents of the ALR warn about eliminating soil-based food production on 11,500 hectares of land. That’s the size of Vancouver.

The ALR was established in 1973 to protect B.C. farmland from overdevelopment. At a time when the province was losing as much as 6,000 hectares of land every year to urban sprawl, the NDP government under Dave Barrett placed the five per cent — or 4.7 million hectares — of the province that’s farmable into a reserve based on a soil-climate classification.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Can Community Gardeners Start Planting? It Depends Where You Live

Can Community Gardeners Start Planting? It Depends Where You Live

Interest in local growing is exploding while funds shrink.

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Organizations that run community gardens in BC are working to ensure their allotments remain open to local gardeners. This photo of Vancouver’s compost demonstration garden was taken before the pandemic. Photo by Ruth Hartnup.

Interest in growing food has exploded during the COVID-19 crisis, but not everyone has access to a yard or even a balcony. Community gardens play a crucial role for both households and food security organizations. But how are they functioning now — if they are at all?

Despite the province designating community gardens as an essential service, some municipalities like View Royal, a small suburb of Victoria, have decided to keep them closed during the pandemic, with the council citing public health and safety concerns.

In Surrey, parks staff knew that when they looked at ways citizens could be outside safely, community gardens needed to stay open. “We definitely see the value of [community gardens],” says Dan Nielsen, manager of landscape operations and park partnerships. “We are, as a city, here to support our residents in these times.”

While the social aspect of community gardening may currently be missing, he says other benefits remain. “I think when [community gardens] were identified as an essential service through the province, we realized that aside from the value of growing local food, there’s also the therapeutic and recreational value that people can get from being able to garden,” Nielsen says.

Surrey parkland hosts about 450 plots in seven community gardens and one orchard, each run by independent garden societies. The focus is now solely on individuals efficiently tending their plots, and Nielsen is communicating more regularly with co-ordinators to help them with necessary changes. He’s encouraging them to hold meetings online and develop digital schedules for members.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Farmers’ Markets Are Safe, Support Local Food

Farmers’ Markets Are Safe, Support Local Food

That’s the message from the BC government as some vendors also move online.

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Sellers from a local meat shop wearing protective gear take a customer’s order at the Moss Street Market in Victoria. Photograph: Hakai Magazine.

The long-running market is a staple in the Fairfield Gonzales area, and uses space owned by School District 61, the City of Victoria, and the neighbourhood’s community association, giving Goulet three landlords to wrangle. For two weeks, Goulet was nearly shut down by the school district, the city and Island Health. He managed to co-ordinate exemptions and workarounds before the province announced its essential service list, including farmers’ markets, on March 26, ensuring Moss Street could continue under new safety protocols.

The BC Centre for Disease Control currently considers farmers’ markets low risk for COVID-19 transmission because they are usually held outdoors and can limit the number of people in assigned areas. Additionally, a new public health order bans all non-food and merchandise vendors at the markets. A usual summer Saturday sees 140 vendors in 100 stalls at Moss Street. Goulet estimates this will be down to 55 vendors in 44 stalls with the new measures, and he is working with the city to expand into a nearby park to better permit appropriate spacing.

For those who don’t feel safe going in person, the provincial agriculture ministry has announced $50,000 in funding to the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets to cover the cost of taking farmers’ markets online.

“A virtual shopping trip to a farmers’ market is an easy way to get the groceries on your list and to buy B.C. while ensuring physical distancing measures are being followed,” said Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham in the March 27 funding press release. “Moving farmers’ markets online will help ensure the health and safety of vendors and consumers, while still providing the same fresh and local food that families all over the province count on.”

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The PM’s Pandemic Power Grab

The PM’s Pandemic Power Grab

Trudeau has pushed for lifted restraints, less transparency. Why we should be deeply concerned.

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Had the PM gained the powers he is said to have sought, Canada’s parliamentary democracy would have gone into hibernation, for 21 months a one-party state.

“Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.” — Niccolo Machiavelli

Machiavelli’s words, borrowed by Rahm Emanuel during the 2008 financial crisis when he was Barack Obama’s chief of staff, offer a stark warning about the COVID-19 pandemic: it kills human beings and economies on a massive scale, but it also puts democracy itself in mortal danger.

Everyone can appreciate that things like war, insurrection or disease may require extraordinary powers to manage the risk. President George W. Bush assumed police state surveillance powers over his own citizens in the wake of 9/11. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau declared the War Measures Act to deal with the FLQ crisis in Quebec. And president Franklin D. Roosevelt placed 100,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps during the Second World War. 

But the current pandemic also shows that an alarming number of leaders know that a crisis allows them to impose transformative change — less because of COVID-19, than their lust to extend and consolidate their own power. We’ll get to the son of Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s current prime minister in a moment. But first, the poster-boy of authoritarian opportunism is Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban. 

Reporting just 700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in his country, Orban has used the pandemic as a fig leaf to cover his dictatorial impulses. It is not a new story. Since coming to power in 2010, he has fiddled with the constitution, stacked the Supreme Court with loyalists, altered the electoral process to favour his own party, and co-opted the media. As reported by the New York Times, there were just 31 pro-government news sources in Hungary in 2015, including newspapers, broadcasters and social media outlets; that number is now 500.

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‘Each Moment Here Is a Victory’: Wet’suwet’en Supporters Aren’t Backing Down

‘Each Moment Here Is a Victory’: Wet’suwet’en Supporters Aren’t Backing Down

RCMP ‘exclusion zone’ isn’t deterring anti-pipeline activists, land defenders. A report from the scene.

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‘We’re here to make sure that people stay warm and people stay fed and just to be witnesses to whatever may happen.’ Residents of a camp supporting Wet’suwet’en land defenders in northern BC on Jan. 14. Photo by Dan Mesec.

Thirty-nine kilometres down the Morice Forest Service Road in northern British Columbia, people huddle around a fire, close enough to feel some heat but not enough to melt their boots. 

At -34 C, it’s a fine line. 

A handful of people mill around in the camp about 60 kilometres south of Smithers. They are here to support the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their opposition to a pipeline slated to cross their traditional territory. The pipeline would carry fracked gas from northeast B.C. to an LNG plant on the coast in Kitimat.

Tensions have been high in the area since a Dec. 31 B.C. Supreme Court decision that granted Coastal GasLink an injunction barring land defenders from blocking access to the pipeline work sites. Some Wet’suwet’en fear the injunction could also lead to the destruction of their camps in the area.

Since the decision, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have evicted the company from their territory and the RCMP have established an “exclusion zone” in the area, limiting access.

Meanwhile, a steady supply of food and warm clothing donations has been making its way to this remote outpost. Land defenders say they will ensure supplies are delivered to additional camps located farther along the forestry road.

But today, what they are most hungry for is information. Since RCMP unexpectedly closed the road Monday, few people have made it past the police checkpoint and communication has been limited.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

RCMP Planned to Use Snipers in Assault on Wet’suwet’en Protest, Guardian Reports

RCMP Planned to Use Snipers in Assault on Wet’suwet’en Protest, Guardian Reports

Newspaper cites planning documents that called for ‘lethal overwatch’ to ensure pipeline built.

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Heavily armed RCMP officers sent to Indigenous checkpoint with instructions for ‘sterlizing the site,’ documents reveal. Photo by Michael Toledano.

The RCMP were prepared to use snipers with shoot-to-kill orders when they launched a raid to remove Indigenous protesters slowing pipeline construction in Wet’suwet’en territory, the Guardian reported today.

The exclusive report by Jaskiran Dhillon and Will Parrish reveals RCMP planning notes included arguments that “lethal overwatch is req’d,” a term for deploying snipers.

The Guardian reports RCMP commanders instructed officers to “use as much violence toward the gate as you want” as they planned the Jan. 7 action to remove a gated checkpoint and camp about 120 kilometres southwest of Smithers.

The RCMP sent heavily armed officers in military-style fatigues to break down a gate, arrest 14 people and enforce a “temporary exclusion zone” that barred anyone aside from police from the area. The police were enforcing an injunction obtained by Coastal GasLink, the company building a pipeline to take natural gas to a planned LNG project in Kitimat.

The Guardian reports RCMP documents note arrests would be necessary for “sterilizing the site.” Plans included arresting everyone in the injunction area, including children and elders.

They also show the RCMP conducted surveillance in advance of the raid including heavily armed police patrols, drones, heat-sensing cameras and monitoring of protesters social media postings.

And the report reveals the RCMP and pipeline company officials worked closely together on strategy.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

It Bears Repeating: Renewables Alone Won’t End the Climate Crisis

It Bears Repeating: Renewables Alone Won’t End the Climate Crisis

‘We have to look at downsizing, degrowth, using less.’

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We’ve got a ways to go if we choose to reduce emissions by simply replacing fossil fuels with wind turbines. What also matters: using less energy.Photo via Shutterstock.

Although the media still portrays climate change as some vague threat to “the environment,” it is really a self-made blitzkrieg that is already destabilizing a highly energy-intensive and complex human civilization.

Greta Thunberg has spoken prophetically: our civilized house is on fire. 

But our collective politicians, blinded by ideology and technological illusions, refuse to panic, let alone call the community fire department. 

They behave as though they can just build another house somewhere else on Mars, and then watch the conflagration on Netflix

In that previous analysis, I quoted a Colorado professor, Roger Pielke Jr., who recently noted in Forbes that if we really wanted to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050, and we solely choose wind power as the solution, we’d need to build and deploy 1,500 wind turbines on about 300 square miles every day for the next 30 years.

We can’t do that, of course, because of physics and economics. Pielke was simply illustrating the scale of the challenge if we thought that renewables could do all the work for us.

But a great many readers questioned Pielke’s math; others questioned his motivation. Others questioned my sanity in quoting such a fellow.

Having written about energy for 30 years (and my best scribbling on the matter remains The Energy of Slaves), I thought Pielke’s numbers, which can vary with wind power due to location and size of blades, were largely accurate and conveyed the enormity of the task at hand, especially if we think our energy crisis is just a substitution problem. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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