The Globe and Mail “clarifies” its misleading oil sands article

A bungled correction to a Globe and Mail article reveals that the intent was to publish a puff piece on the oil sands, not an objective analysis of the future of bitumen production in the face of serious climate change mitigation.

Just over two weeks ago, I wrote a piece critical of an article in the Globe and Mail: Environmentalists should end the charade over the oil sands, written by Martha Hall Findlay and Trevor McLeod. I also contacted the editor at the G&M to alert him/her of the errors in the piece. I revisited the G&M article recently and found the following note at the bottom.

Eds Note: This version clarifies references to the IEA’s outlook for oil to 2040.

I didn’t keep a copy of the entire original article, so I can’t be sure of all the updates they made, but I did cite the problematic first paragraph of the original piece (the words that were later removed are marked with a strikethrough):

The story starts with global energy forecasts. Even if there is very aggressive adoption of electric vehicles and renewable energy technologies – which we wholeheartedly support – the world will use more oil each year through at least 2040. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), if the world goes beyond the aggressive commitments made in Paris and achieves the 2C global goal, then oil demand would fall by 2040. Yet, oil demand will remain high for years after that.

The “clarified” version follows, with  text underlined

The story starts with global energy forecasts. Even if there is very aggressive adoption of electric vehicles and renewable energy technologies – which we wholeheartedly support – most forecasts, including two of the three International Energy Agency (IEA)’s scenarios, predict that the world will use more oil each year through at least 2040. According to the IEA’s third forecast, even if the world goes beyond the aggressive commitments made in Paris and achieves the 2C global goal, which many analysts doubt, then oil demand would fall before 2040. Yet, even in that most aggressive scenario, oil demand will still remain high for years after 2040.

I suppose it’s fairly standard for newspapers to try to save face by claiming to “clarify” rather than “correct” a piece. However, in this case they also introduced new errors and added confusion.  Continue reading

Global temperature update: February 2017

Global temperature update: February 2017

NASA’s GISTEMP temperature estimates for February 2017 are now out.  February 2017 was the second-warmest February since records began (the first-warmest being in 2016) and was tied for the fourth-warmest monthly anomaly for any month.

Here is a plot of all monthly anomalies since 1998. I have coloured the lines for the three recent record years of 2014, 2015 and 2016.

gistempfeb17monthly

We are currently not in El Niño conditions, so it is rather extraordinary that the temperatures are running so warm—warmer in fact than during any El Niño before 2016. The average temperature this year so far, 1.01° C, is warmer than the record-breaking annual average for 2017 of 0.98° C. This does not mean that 2017 will set a new record: it’s possible, but not likely, as I will try to show. Continue reading

Keeping oil sands in the ground is not a “charade”

Keeping oil sands in the ground is not a “charade”


If the world is successful in reducing emissions sufficiently to avoid dangerous climate change, there is a limited future for a prospering oil-sands sector in Canada. The conventional wisdom among the Canadian establishment is that growing the oil-sands business is compatible with meeting national and global emissions commitments. This is a myth that obscures government policy contradictions.

In a recent Globe and Mail article Environmentalists should end the charade over the oil sands, Martha Hall Findlay and Trevor McLeod argue that keeping oilsands in the ground and stopping new oil pipelines will actually increase global greenhouse gas emissions.

Their argument rests on two premises:

  • Oil demand won’t start to fall until 2040. After that it will remain high for many years.
  • Oil-sands production is becoming less emissions intensive thanks to improving technology. If oil-sands consumption by US refineries were replaced by, say, more emissions-intensive Venezuelan heavy crude, then global emissions would increase.

I won’t dispute the second point in detail, at least for now. The case I’m making here does not depend on rebutting it. If overall oil-sands upstream emissions intensities really are falling due to improved technology, that’s welcome news. But I haven’t seen the most recent average emissions data that back it up. My understanding is that newer projects are predominantly in-situ facilities that are more emissions intensive than mines, so that the average GHG emissions per barrel is actually rising slowly.

My focus here will be the first point, where Hall Findlay and McLeod made an important error by misrepresenting the scenarios from the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2016. They wrote: Continue reading

In the bleak midwinter

‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar’d with me, who am their epitaph.

John Donne

With Donald Trump about to become the next President of the United States; with the United Kingdom getting ready to indulge in self-harm with a hard exit from the European Union; as European electorates consider voting for racists and authoritarians; and as the dreadful tragedy in Syria unfolds: it does really seem that the world’s whole sap is sunk.

The best hope is that electing a narcissistic and ignorant man-child as president and the coming Brexit debacle will expose the contradictions of these political rebellions and expedite their own undoing. But what a price we will have to pay before this becomes evident to all. As H.L. Mencken said:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

If I were a wise man, I would do my part

I don’t think that there has ever been a time in my life in which resistance to a new political movement has become so necessary. Not only must we fight the proto-fascists, at the same time we also have to understand where western liberalism went so wrong. So many people in our societies have decided that they had nothing to lose by giving the finger to the status quo. Globalization and, especially, robotization of manufacturing are hollowing out and leaving behind large swaths of our countries. Inequality is rising and the poorest halves of our societies are not getting ahead. Those of us who live comfortable lives and spend our days inside our bubbles distracting ourselves with intellectual pursuits have received quite the shock.

Blithe assumptions about how incremental progress would improve everyone’s lives are now revealed as complacency. At least the populist revolt has exposed the contradictions and failures we preferred not to notice.

Education is offered as a simplistic answer by some people—especially educators—who have forgotten what the question was: how can everyone lead dignified and meaningful lives? I don’t have the solutions, but we first need to acknowledge that the consensus we had entering the new millennium has failed.

I dislike the commercialized and kitschy festival we have made of Christmas. Due to overexposure, I have an especial loathing for carols. But Christina Rossetti’s poem In the Bleak Midwinter, set to music, is an exception. The midwinter despair tempered with hope captures the seasonal mood perfectly. At the darkest time of the year we can still look forward to new life.

Susan Boyle sings the best version I could find.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Justin Trudeau approves two big oil sands pipeline expansions

This piece was first published at Skeptical Science on December 1, 2016

In an announcement on November 29, 2016, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved two new major pipeline expansions for Canadian bitumen. Altogether, the two projects will add over a million barrels per day to Canada’s export capacity.

At the same press conference, Trudeau rejected the application for the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would have provided 525,000 barrels per day of transportation from Alberta to the Pacific Ocean through the northern British Columbia coast, near Kitimat.

1_ngateway

Northern Gateway (map by Enbridge) Continue reading

Exaggerations in the pipeline

Exaggerations in the pipeline

There are a lot of claims about the benefits that the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Extension (TMX) pipeline project will supposedly have for BC, and Canada generally. Recently, I listened to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley on the CBC the other day making her pitch, emphasizing the economic benefits for BC. Some of what she said made me immediately reach out to Google to try verify the claims she made. Along the way, I looked critically at some of the other assertions the pipeline promoters have made. In the interest of fairness, I’ll briefly mention some of the exaggerations of the pipeline opponents.

At the outset, let me say that I’m generally inclined to support Premier Notley. In particular, I’m an admirer of the Alberta Climate Leadership Plan that was put together by an expert panel led by University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach. This was a major step forward by an oil-producing province traditionally governed by conservatives. To be sure, the plan is insufficient to reduce emissions to safe levels, but there are yet no such plans enacted anywhere.

Show me one. Continue reading