Don Braid is reporting on recent comments from Alberta premier Jason Kenney, presumably uttered in the hope of bolstering the chances the Trudeau cabinet will approve the Teck Frontier mine:

“Over the next decades as we go through the energy transition, we all know that there will be a continued demand for crude,” he told a panel at Washington’s Wilson Center last Friday.

Kenney added: “It is preferable that the last barrel in that transition period comes from a stable, reliable liberal democracy with among the highest environmental, human-rights and labour standards on earth.”

Energy transition. Last barrel. Transition period. Six not-so-little words we’ve never heard clearly from Kenney before.

“I have a firm grasp of the obvious,” Kenney said in a later interview. “There is no reasonable person that can deny that in the decades to come we will see a gradual shift from hydrocarbon-based energy to other forms of energy.”

There is still a lot to criticize, of course, and Canadian oil is far less positive from an environmental and human rights stance than industry boosters admit.

Still, there is cause to see these comments as significant. Even for a politician that defines their political programme in terms of support to the oil and gas industry it has become necessary to acknowledge that there is a limit to total permissible global production because of climate change, even if Kenney talks about it here in the impersonal and indirect language of a ‘change in demand’.

Kenney is setting out the logic of the bitumen industry’s downfall here, even though he is trying to do the opposite. Once you accept that oil production can’t continue forever or until all reserves are exhausted, and then you start deciding which oil to produce or not produce on economic and environmental grounds, unless you have motivated reasoning and a set conclusion all along, few people are going to conclude that it makes sense for that oil to come from the bitumen sands.

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Hi Holly

2020-02-07

in Daily updates

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Now that it seems virtually certain that the US senate will acquit Donald Trump the key question about resisting him effectively is who the Democrats could nominate to beat him in November.

There are passionate arguments in favour of both a progressive and a moderate. William Saletan at Slate argues that being able to run against Bernie Sanders and socialism is just what Trump wants: enough Americans are or can be made fearful enough of socialism to give him a path to victory. On the other side are those who argue that a moderate candidate like Joe Biden has the best chance of winning, even if there may be less reason to hope that such an administration will make big positive changes. Of course, there are also those who argue that a progressive candidate will be so out of step with congress that even if they win they will spend their term getting blocked from implementing all their big ideas.

What’s happening in the US is frightening. Republicans have proved terrifyingly willing to back an incompetent president who aspires to authoritarianism, and America’s checks and balances have somewhat hampered but not really impeded his agenda. Republicans seem to have made the cynical calculation that supporting Trump can get them what they care about – whether that’s gun rights, conservative judges, uncritical support for Israel or whatever else – and that the steamroll strategy which blocked Obama’s last supreme court nominee can help them keep winning. At the same time, relatively mainstream Republicans perceive the intense emotions of Trump supporters and fear what will happen to them if they openly break ranks.

It’s a mark of the decay of US politics that it was ever possible for Trump to be nominated and elected. It’s even more disturbing that his contempt for the law has now been ratified by the senate and chief justice. Virtually anybody would be better and might have some chance to start repairing the damage, but it’s also quite possible the Democrats will elect someone whose flaws are sufficient to let Trump win again. If so, we can expect a second term to be a further erosion of the supports which maintain America as a free and democratic society.

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There are several reasons to conclude that the world today is experiencing a nuclear arms race alongside conventional military buildup by many actors and a breakdown of multilateral cooperation.

Partly driven by US ballistic missile defence development, Russia began deploying weapon systems meant to counter them like the Topol-M in the 1990s. Now they are talking about hypersonic weapons and underwater cruise missiles.

China’s nuclear arsenal is developing, including through a rapidly enlarging submarine fleet with the resulting ability to carry out very rapid sub-to-shore SLBM strikes as well as less vulnerability to having land-based weapons and command systems destroyed.

India and Pakistan are also developing their nuclear capabilities, which may be the most threatening in the world because of the short flight times between the countries. Fear that a preemptive strike may destroy their ability to retaliate may be driving both countries to adopt dangerous policies to launch on what they perceive to be an attack and to delegate authority to use nuclear weapons to field commanders.

In the broadest terms, the US development of nuclear weapons in WWII encouraged Soviet weapon development (partly through extensive espionage in the US program) as well as British nuclear weapons after the US cut off cooperation. UK-French rivalry, national prestige, and skepticism about US protection helped motivate the French arsenal and their first test in 1960. Fear of Russia and the US led to Chinese nuclear weapons after 1964, and fear of the Chinese arsenal helped drive India to develop nuclear weapons and test one in 1974. Fear of India led to the current Pakistani arsenal and their test in 1998. North Korean nuclear weapons are partly consequences of fear of the United States, and also the hope they will bolster regime legitimacy and survival. The Israeli arsenal isn’t known to have been tested, and may have been motivated more by fear of being overwhelmed by conventional forces from hostile neighbours than specifically from fear of someone else’s nuclear weapons.

Despite being bound by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty not to do so, all of the long-established nuclear powers have been tempted by geopolitics or profits to share technologies and expertise that helped later nuclear weapon states.

There is now a credible fear that regional nuclear arms races could break out in the Middle East and Asia. There are whispers that Pakistan has promised weapons to Saudi Arabia if Iran ever becomes a nuclear weapon state, and other states in the region may choose the same course. In Asia, South Korea and even Japan may be secretly considering nuclearization, and many other states in the region have the wealth and technical potential to do likewise.

These weapons threaten everyone, not least because accidental or unauthorized launches or detonations are a constant risk. The best thing for the world would be the emergence of a belief that possessing nuclear weapons is a stain on a country’s honour because of their indiscriminately killing power, not a golden demonstration of national prestige. I believe we should fight for a world where these fissile isotopes are put to life-affirming purposes rather than the threat of obliteration, but it’s hard to see the path from here to there while states continue to grow more distrustful about one another and while the capabilities needed to build nuclear arms become more distributed and available.

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Because the alternative is deep and rapid emissions cuts which countries are unwilling to implement, the IPCC now assumes that stabilizing the climate will involve heavy use of negative emission technologies: “between 100bn and 1trn tonnes of CO2 to be removed from the atmosphere by the end of the century if the Paris goals were to be reached; the median value was 730bn tonnes–that is, more than ten years of global emissions.”

There are numerous possible options. CO2 could be separated from flue gasses from power plants, compressed, and injected underground. If those power plants burn biomass which recently took CO2 out of the atmosphere, that could help draw down the stock of carbon in the atmosphere. That approach is called bioenergy with carbon capture and storage or BECCS. It’s also possible to separate CO2 directly from the air and bury it (direct capture). It’s also worth bearing in mind that sometimes CO2 is injected underground to push up oil to be sold (enhanced oil recovery or EOR). In that case, it likely creates more emissions than it avoids since the same volume of oil is pushed out and then likely burned in a vehicle where it cannot be captured.

All this may be highly questionable as a climate change solution and, indeed, the main push for CCS is from corporations and states that don’t want to give up fossil fuel production. The notion the technology will eventually exist at scale helps justify today’s fossil fuel burning, even though right now we’re buying about 40 million tonnes of CO2 while emitting 43.1 billion tonnes. Burying any substantial fraction of global CO2 emissions would mean compressing and burying many times the total quantity of oil we take out of the ground — with everything that implies about costs, deployment times, and capital requirements — and this whole infrastructure would require energy to run instead of producing it, either requiring us to deploy yet-more climate-safe energy to build and power the equipment or putting us in the self-defeating position of burning more fossil fuels to generate energy to bury the CO2 from the fossil fuels we already burned.

Related:

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In Victoria today, about ten young Indigenous protestors were arrested after occupying the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources building.

Meanwhile, British security authorities have categorized Greenpeace and the Extinction Rebellion with far-right groups and neo-Nazis.

Today’s George Monbiot column calls out how government security forces have often been more focused on threats to the political and economic order than on genuine threats to security:

The police have always protected established power against those who challenge it, regardless of the nature of that challenge. And they have long sought to criminalise peaceful dissent. Part of the reason is ideological: illiberal and undemocratic attitudes infest policing in this country. Part of it is empire-building: if police units can convince the government and the media of imminent threats that only they can contain, they can argue for more funding.

But there’s another reason, which is arguably even more dangerous: the nexus of state and corporate power. All over the world, corporate lobbyists seek to brand opponents of their industries as extremists and terrorists, and some governments and police forces are prepared to listen. A recent article in the Intercept seeks to discover why the US Justice Department and the FBI had put much more effort into chasing mythical “ecoterrorists” than pursuing real, far-right terrorism. A former official explained, “You don’t have a bunch of companies coming forward saying ‘I wish you’d do something about these rightwing extremists’.” By contrast, there is constant corporate pressure to “do something” about environmental campaigners and animal rights activists.

Decarbonization is going to be a huge political fight, and it’s clear that the fossil fuel industry has the support of the security and surveillance states which have exploded since the September 11th, 2001 attacks. At the societal level we need to reconceptualize the threats which we face and the appropriate means for dealing with them. Armed force in defence of economic interests which hope and plan to keep fossil fuel use going as long as possible is the opposite.

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A few factors in the last few weeks have left me thinking broadly about the past and the future: the date roll over to 2020, my 36th birthday, and the feeling of progressing toward finishing the PhD. It has been a mingled set of feelings, but with a sad tone.

Breaking it down into components, part of it is certainly stock-taking about past decisions and outcomes and wondering about alternative courses my life could have followed. That also includes an awareness of how many contingent and semi-random things ended up having a big effect. I have certainly wondered what life would have been like if I stayed in Vancouver after my BA or in Oxford after my MPhil. I have also been feeling aware of all the travel which I have missed since I stopped flying in 2010. In particular, there have been major trips all over the world — to countries and regions which interest me but which I have never seen — which family members have undertaken in that time. I have been feeling a sense of how it’s not always possible to go back and cover what you have missed: the nature of time ensures that missed opportunities cannot be jumped back to, even if they can sometimes be re-created.

Another distinct element has been not thinking about choices or alternative possibilities, but just things which were memorable or important in the past but which are now gone forever. My pattern in life has generally been to have a few close friends who I at least interact with a few times per week. Who is in the set has changed drastically over time, however, with high school and UBC friends, Oxford friends, Ottawa friends and classmates, and then Toronto / U of T / Massey friends. It’s weird to think that there are people in the world who spent long spans as my closest social contacts and who I haven’t now spoken with in years.

All this hasn’t been getting me down too much, and it’s certainly possible to redirect feelings about all these past experiences into a sense of gratitude for having met these people, been to these places, and had these experiences. It’s also not a bad idea to be thinking big picture as I am coming to the end of the PhD and contemplating what to do after. It’s clearly going to be a trade-off between who I want to be near, what kind of work would suit me, and how that will fit in with climate change advocacy. I suppose one big advantage to having this fractured or fragmented past with many identifiable eras and sets of friends is that it avoids the anxiety of having concentrated on one place and one thing and being worried about having too much excluded various other choices.

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The CBC is reporting: BlackRock, world’s largest asset manager, changing its focus to climate change.

This is intriguing in several ways. Climate change action is held up politically in part because right wing parties have embraced climate change denial and the defence of the fossil fuel industry. Even progressive parties seem to take the Trudeau approach of promising ambitious targets for long after they are in power, making incremental positive changes, but then continuing to support fossil fuel development to such a degree that those positive changes are overwhelmed.

If the world’s vast pools of finance capital have begun to seriously question the financial return from fossil fuel investments it could do more to decarbonize the global economy than anything which humanity has done so far. It would also be interesting politically if the aims of a climate activist movement which is largely anti-capitalist and redistributive in its membership end up being adopted more immediately and meaningfully by for-profit actors than by governments notionally accountable to the public. It would be interesting too to see what effect this kind of capital shifting may have on right-wing politics.

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