Canadian oil production expected to cross 5 million barrels per day

Taking into account both the things we are doing right (some carbon pricing, some other efforts) and what we are doing wrong (building more fossil fuel production, transport, and use infrastructure) Canada is still not even moving in the right direction on fossil fuels and climate change: Canada could lead the world in oil production growth in 2024.

The people leading our society are earning a legacy as the worst wreckers and vandals in human history: inheriting a planet that is the sole jewel of life in the solar system, and passing on profound and perhaps inescapable peril to their human successors while simply blotting out most of the rest of life on Earth.

Climate change policy durability

One of the main points in my PhD dissertation on climate change and activism is that, in order for them to improve outcomes, policies to control climate change and abolish fossil fuels need to be sustained for decade after decade (§5.7, p. 201).

Only when there is confidence about the future direction of policy can individuals and firms make sufficient investments in post-fossil fuel infrastructure.

Likewise, if people think that policies to get off fossil fuels are changeable, they will exert their efforts to lobby the government to make those changes, instead of working to decarbonize.

Right now, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is demonstrating the dangers of policy instability: Rishi Sunak announces U-turn on key green targets. Also:

The backtracking on electric vehicles was most surprising. Just two months ago, the government promised a £500m ($643m) subsidy to Tata, an Indian conglomerate, for a new battery plant in Somerset. (And in July Michael Gove, a cabinet minister, had agreed the 2030 deadline was immovable.) Other carmakers immediately reacted angrily. Ford said the industry needed “ambition, commitment and consistency” from government, all of which had been undermined. Sir Simon Clarke, a former Conservative cabinet minister, asked how businesses should plan “if we respond to one by-election…by tearing up key planks of government policy.”

As always, it is vexatious and painful to see that our leaders don’t have a serious plan to avoid climate change catastrophe. The fact that they don’t shows how they see it as someone else’s problem: just a legacy of ruin that other people will need to endure.

I feel like I have been seeing increasing journalistic coverage about young people not wanting to bring new children into this world. Often the focus of these stories is economic, but I feel like there must be deeper climate-related motives too. The message older generations have sent is that they are quite happy to ruin the Earth for future generations if doing so will protect their personal interests. When their elders have made that choice — and keep voting consistently with it — perhaps the young deserve praise for not wanting to keep this species going.

Low feelings

It is hard to say when it began, because the stress and loneliness of the PhD blended into my post-PhD feelings, but it’s quite fair to say that I have been feeling consistently low at least since I learned that I would have to leave my old home in North York in March.

One big contributor is surely the feeling of anticlimax after the dissertation was released. This wasn’t some obscure academic tract about an issue of specialist interest, but a very current-day analysis of humanity’s most pressing problem. I was expecting, or at least hoping for, debate and pushback from people in the activist and policy communities. So far, the most substantial response to what I wrote has been a half-hour discussion with my brother Mica and his wife Leigh when they were visiting Toronto. In the dissertation I express my worry that — even though their aspiration and plan is to change the world — activists get caught up in routine behaviours like marches which occupy their time and effort but do little to change minds or policy. The total non-response to my research so far is a minor bit of additional evidence that activists aren’t generally too compelled by external analyses of their efficacy.

Another dimension is no doubt simple isolation. The layers have been stacking for me in that area: it’s harder to make and keep friends as an adult, it’s harder when you’re no longer a student, and it has become harder as people have pulled their social attention inward to a small group during the pandemic. Getting anybody to attend any sort of event has become substantially harder, and as corollaries the events that do happen have less attendance and energy and there are fewer events.

Another item for this decidedly non-comprehensive list is my sense that most of the people who I know (or, at least, peers and younger people — the dynamics of the affluent and established are different) are not doing well. People seem stymied in achieving the sort of adult lives they want, and especially in finding any sort of work which is psychologically and materially rewarding. It feels like to a large extent our parents got rich and retired, but most of us have never been able to move up into the positions they held at our stage of life. As with housing, there is a feeling that the older and best-off parts of the population have grabbed everything and are keeping it for themselves. This feeling becomes especially embittering when paired with the knowledge that they are actively choosing to hand over a ruined planet to their descendants every time they keep electing leaders who keep the future-wrecking fossil fuel industry going.

It is hard to escape the feeling that I have spent the last 20+ years building up for what I thought would be an intense period of intellectual effort, civilizational re-consideration, and mass political re-organization… and have found myself instead in an epoch where smaller-scale but acute disruptions have monopolized public attention to the point where we seem to be paying even less attention to the big trends than we were 10-15 years ago. It’s very hard to feel optimistic about the future, and it is simultaneously profoundly alienating when society at large is choosing to ignore the existential seriousness of the crisis which we are in. Living among people who are likely to be remembered as history’s greatest wreckers (on the optimistic assumption that anyone will be around with luxuries like paper and literacy to write the history of the present) carries with it feelings of rage and hatred against everything around me: the cars pumping out their fumes in a million lines idling behind red lights, the kaleidoscopic variety in our supermarkets at the same time as we are smashing the Earth’s biodiversity and capacity to support us, the elections that still turn on trivialities even though the consequences of our choices are as serious as death…

Feeling that our civilization is such a disaster is utterly isolating, since our fellow human beings cannot help taking that personally as a criticism and rejection of their own lives and priorities. Meanwhile, it’s impossible to have any confidence in the future. Over the last 20+ years, humanity has shown that we are totally capable of knowing the consequences of our actions and the stakes being played for and still choosing to ruin the world which we inherited. As much as I sincerely delight in the possibilities and experiences of life, I don’t know how to avoid the feeling of being a witness during the time of humanity’s downfall.

Vancouver

We have arrived safe in North Vancouver via Kamloops, Lillooet, and Whistler — managing to avoid any major fire delays more by luck and Sasha’s dedication behind the wheel than by foresight and planning. He did all our driving in three back to back days, and did today’s stretch through the heaviest traffic, steepest and twistiest roads, and our only night driving of the voyage.

We worked in a few short pauses to enjoy the views from the mountains. I hadn’t realized how beautiful the area around Lillooet is, with a semi-arid landscape, rocky peaks overhead, and vertiginous drops into the river canyon. It would be a fine place to return in no hurry and with a tripod and landscape photography gear. A hot tip from a German man at a roadside viewpoint took us on a ten minute hike to a stunning panoramic view at 50.65983, -121.98589.

A stop in Pemberton yielded kimchi and pulled pork sandwiches and smashed fries, which seemed just right as our last rest and meal of the journey.

After a night in tents and three solid days of driving, the last stretch in the dark through Whistler and Squamish had Sasha showing his only noticeable fatigue of the journey, which we countered with lively songs and an effort I made to dance in my seat to kinetically counteract the idea of tiredness.

Our parents welcomed us late in the evening with great hospitality and kindness. Because of the fires and the importance of Sasha not driving when too tired, I had been planning based on a five day drive with two extra days for delays and detours. As a result, I am in Vancouver with five days before the next phase of this visit is to begin. To pack light, I omitted to bring any camera gear, so my hope of digitizing the family albums on this visit is set aside.

While the time together was joyful and rewarding, we did spend the day very concerned about the fire threatening Bechoko. I watched the news and fire map updates while Sasha kept up with friends over messages and social media. The danger there is great and everyone has been directed to evacuate, and the structures and environs of the community are in peril. All we can do now is hope that the three homes that have already been lost will be all that are taken, and then regardless of the actual damage realized during this fire season do what we can to support the people impacted. I wish this unprecedented fire season was having a decisive political effect, pushing the public and politicians to accept that it is madness and a profound and irreversible betrayal of the young to keep producing and expanding fossil fuels. It isn’t really prosperity when you get or stay rich by burning up the prospects of those who will come after you, but our cognitive blockages to accepting and taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions continue to paralyze us into accepting a world-wrecking status quo. I don’t know what can break that complacency, but the way in which we carry on heedlessly incinerating the future with our coal, oil, and gas dependence is setting us up to be justly remembered as the generations that squandered the common heritage of humankind for the sake of our own ease and enjoyment.

Another example of Canada’s dishonest climate policy

These linguistic evasions demonstrate both our continuing lack of seriousness about climate change and how the public policy agenda remains captured by the fossil fuel industry protecting its narrow interests:

Western premiers push back as Guilbeault calls for ‘phase-out of unabated fossil fuels’

We know that greenhouse gases are the cause and there is no solution to climate change without fossil fuel abolition, but we are stuck talking about a “phase down” instead of elimination, and using the magical idea of “abated” fossil fuels to use a technology that does not exist at scale (carbon capture and storage) to justify continued fossil fuel development.

We are sliding toward geoengineering

Geoengineering is a very dangerous and ethically questionable response to climate change, but it feels increasingly inevitable.

Governments are simply not willing to do what is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change, which is unsurprising because voters refuse to elect anyone who even gestures at the scale of change required.

Furthermore, there is no evidence that worsening climatic conditions make people more willing to support fossil fuel abolition. Instead, it seems to drive people toward false solutions or just inchoate anger. Even the ‘serious’ governments are still using taxpayer money to subsidize brand-new fossil fuel production. Everyone has a story about why their industry is the one that doesn’t need to shut down.

It is hard to believe that when climate disruption continues to get worse every year (with El Nino, people are predicting next year will be the hottest in history) the worst-hit places won’t start modifying the atmosphere to try to cancel it out — side-effects, impacts on others, and long-term risks be damned. We are a species that has always preferred monthly life-long $1500 injections with a mystery drug to be thinner, rather than changing our diets.

Related:

Wildfires are doubling Canadian CO2 pollution this year

A popular argument among those who want Canada to ignore climate change and keep exploiting fossil fuels is: “But we have so many trees that our emissions must hardly matter! Maybe the world should pay us!”

The argument is deficient on several levels, not least because a tonne of carbon in a tree doesn’t negate a tonne of emissions from fossil fuel burning. The tree only holds the carbon while it is alive, whereas CO2 in the atmosphere will partly remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of thousands of years.

The argument also fails when our forests themselves become a cause of worsening climate change:

Hundreds of forest fires since early May have generated nearly 600m tonnes of CO2, equivalent to 88% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions from all sources in 2021, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) reported.

More than half of that carbon pollution went up in smoke in June alone.

If you think Canada should get extra permission to pollute because of our forests (questionable) then we also need to be responsible when those forests become net carbon sources.

Related:

Alberta’s 2023 election

Al Jazeera reports:

Canada climate battle looms as Alberta takes aim at PM Trudeau

In her victory speech in front of cheering supporters in Canada’s oil capital Calgary, Smith called on Albertans to stand up against policies including the federal government’s proposed oil and gas emissions cap and clean electricity regulations, expected to be unveiled within weeks.

“We need to come together no matter how we have voted to stand shoulder to shoulder against soon to be announced Ottawa policies that would significantly harm our provincial economy,” said Smith.

“Hopefully the prime minister and his caucus are watching tonight. As premier I cannot under any circumstances allow these contemplated federal policies to be inflicted upon Albertans.”

How do we fight for a future without fossil fuel arson when our fellow citizens are keen to sustain and enlarge the fires, even when the secondary effects bring hell-like conditions home?

Update on emissions trends and climate sensitivity

Zeke Hausfather has a useful update on how real-world GHG emissions compare with estimates in IPCC models, and the implications for future warming:

So what should our takeaway from all of this be? First, there is some good news here. The world is no longer heading toward the worst-case outcome of 4C to 6C warming by 2100. Current policies put us on a best-estimate of around 2.6C warming.

At the same time, a world of 2.6C by 2100 is still a giant mess to leave to the future, including today’s young people, who will live through that, and warming continues after 2100 in these current policy scenarios. Climate system uncertainties mean that we could still end up with close to 4C warming if we get unlucky with climate sensitivity and carbon cycle feedbacks.

A lot of this optimism depends on governments keeping their promises when all the costs come due. We are all still fighting to keep a world stable enough to sustain something like our current global civilization.

Why aren’t the NDP climate and environmental champions?

It is generally held that the existence of this socialist tradition allows governments in Canada to play a larger role than in the United States. As noted above, however, pollution regulation in this country has imposed costs on industry that are only one-third of those imposed by American governments. Despite their much more vocal commitment to the virtues of free enterprise, Americans have been much more willing to see governments intervene to protect the environment than have Canadians.

Perhaps of more significance is the fact that this socialist tradition led to creation of the CCF in 1932 and the New Democratic Party in 1961. Environmentalism has always been seen as part of the progressive agenda and therefore it might be assumed that environmentalists form a natural constituency for the NDP.

In fact, however, the NDP has been no more successful than either of the other two parties in articulating environmental policy and NDP governments have not been particularly noted for action on the issue. It would be difficult to argue that British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, in which NDP governments have held power, have introduced more stringent pollution control measures than Ontario, where, until 1990, the NDP had not formed a government. A 1985 review of the record of NDP governments in Manitoba since it assumed power in 1982 reached this conclusion: “Changes in [environmental] legal arrangements and institutions have also been minimal; not one change seems to strike environmentalists as having great significance.”

The question is not whether the socialist foundations of the NDP will lead that party automatically to environmentalism, since they will not, but whether environmentalists can draw on that party’s concern for fairness and social justice as they work to put in place policies based on fairness and justice for the natural world.

Macdonald, Doug. The Politics of Pollution. McClelland & Steward; Toronto. 1991. p. 50–1

Related: