27 April 2014

Are we gambling our economy on the tar sands?

Depending heavily for jobs, profits and taxes on our most rapidly increasing source of greenhouse gas emissions is environmental folly. It may mean more economic prosperity in the short term, but by contributing to global warming, it will undermine economic prosperity, and a lot else, in the long term. It is a dangerous dependence. And pollution may not be the only danger this dependence presents.

At least two other threats to our economy emanate from our tar sands dependence, one ethical, one financial. The ethical threat is the growing hostility to our insistence on producing the world's dirtiest oil. We are all aware of the U.S. environmental movement's opposition to the Keystone pipeline. We are aware also of the international community's increasing impatience with our reckless attitude toward climate change. And more voices join the condemnation all the time, some with considerable moral clout. For example, in recent months both former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu have spoken out strongly against the tar sands. This growing chorus will increasingly dissuade governments from buying tar sands products and investors from buying shares in tar sands producers.

Even more challenging is the "carbon bubble" threat. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if we are to avoid dangerous levels of warming, investment in fossil fuels must start falling by tens of billions a year. Only a third of the reserves on the books of fossil fuel companies can be burned if the world is to restrict climate change to 2C; the other two-thirds will be lost as assets. Yet companies continue to invest heavily in finding more reserves.

These twin threats are making their presence felt. According to Oxford University research, a divestment campaign against fossil fuel investments is growing faster than campaigns that targeted apartheid, tobacco and arms manufacturers. As to the carbon bubble, a number of major financial players, including Citi bank, HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Standard and Poor's, and Moody's, are warning investors of the risk.

Increasingly it looks like we have too many eggs in one basket, and unfortunately our government is myopically focused on that basket.


  1. do you remember when we actually had a green prime ministerial candidate? We voted against a carbon tax, with the help of Mike Duffy. Imagine where we might have been.

  2. Short answer: absolutely.
    Canada's destiny is now clearly and inextricably intertwined with what the Tar Sands will bring us. First, money and royalties followed by a legacy of destruction of the planet.
    Canada's future is dirty, basic and corrupt.

  3. Shareholder and investor pressure is on Big Oil to deliver analyses of risks of fossil fuel assets already on the company books becoming 'stranded assets.' We're told that 80% of already known fossil fuel reserves will have to be left untouched if we're to avoid catastrophic climate change. That surely argues against the highest carbon options and, in bitumen, the highest cost and highest carbon unconventional oil.

    The Tar Sands have been abruptly shut down before once by the discovery of large reserves of conventional crude at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Athabasca could be shut down again only this time the economic fallout would be much worse for Alberta and for Canada.