Developing the tar sands means cooking the planet

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When NASA climate scientist James Hansen said developing the tar sands and other unconventional sources of oil would mean “game over for the planet,” pro-tar sands politicians, industrialists and pundits came unglued, calling him everything from a whacko and fear-monger to a biased (and therefore untrustworthy) scientist.

Well, it turns out that senior members of the Canadian federal government believe, or at least have said, much the same thing. An internal memo, sent by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s deputy minister Serge Dupont and released to Postmedia’s Mike De Souza through access to information legislation, highlighted a section of a Conference Board of Canada report that said demand for fossil fuels could drop if countries attempt to prevent the planet’s atmosphere from warming by more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

De Souza points out that the two-degree threshold is a “goal set out in recent international climate change negotiations, based on scientific and economic studies, to prevent irreversible damage to the planet’s ecosystems and economy. Countries have not reached a consensus on a legally binding deal to achieve the target.”

“The Conference Board analysis hinges on global oil prices and demand rising steadily to 2035,” reads the memo, dated Oct. 26, 2012 and signed by Dupont. “If, for example, new supply sources outpace demand, or if the global energy mix changes drastically in response to global climate change initiatives, then the benefits from oilsands investments may be considerably less.”

Another way to say this is that the expansion dreams of tar sands proponents – namely, Big Oil and the Alberta and Canadian governments – relies on the failure of the global community to implement a meaningful greenhouse gas reduction strategy that quickly reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, especially dirtier hydrocarbon sources like tar sands crude.

In large part, this explains why the Alberta and Canadian governments, in cooperation with the oil industry, have been lobbying to undermine progressive climate policy, such as the European Union’s Fuel Quality Directive and similar proposals in many U.S. states.

If that’s “responsible resource development,” as federal and Alberta politicians to characterize Canada’s tar sands industry, well, we’re in deep, deep trouble.

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