Alberta’s Oil: sustainable development vs. the race for what’s left

There is a lot, and somehow an ever-heightening, showdown playing out regarding bitumen in Alberta. And it is playing out as a global drama where everything rides on just one pipeline: Keystone XL.

Last week, Canada’s Commissioner for Environment and Sustainable Development, Scott Vaughan, issued what will be the last report under his tenure. Among other things, it dedicated an entire chapter to the federal support of the fossil fuel sector [PDF]. The entire report can be found here, which is much more wide ranging, and considers Arctic energy, liabilities for environmental accidents and marine protection.

Also last week, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, John Baird, met with John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state. On the agenda was Keystone XL, a proposed pipeline that would transport somewhere around 500-700 000 barrels of bitumen per day to the large refineries on America’s gulf coast.

As has been on-going for awhile now, there is considerable opposition to Keystone XL, with a day of action planned for February 17, if I’m not mistaken.

That day of action will take place in the context of two vastly different approaches (both replete with their own “science and facts” agenda) to the Oil Sands.

Canada’s political position is crystal clear. Get the pipeline built and get the oil flowing. That position has not changed for some time, and was reiterated last Saturday (Feb 9, 2013) by the Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver on CBC Radio’s program The House (listen here). The facts that support this argument rest on arguing that, proportionately, Canadian bitumen is a very small sliver of carbon production pie – one certainly dwarfed by coal, or the oil consumption of larger economies. The news out this morning that Alberta is developing a new oil development strategy to get its resources to market.

paperback_bookshot_the_race_for_whats_left_michael_klare

On the other side, folks like Bill McKibben and Michael Klare (author of “The Race for what’s left), are so opposed to this one pipeline that it is taking on planetary importance. Klare’s recent essay  argues the pipeline portends the end of (what is left of) climate stability. And that Obama’s decision on the pipeline could “change the world.”

In this context, a very interesting article also came out last week on Open Canada, which is a great source of thoughtful debate. The article is by Jim MacNeill, the lead author of the Brundtland Commission report on Sustainable Development published in 1987.

Here is the first paragraph of his article, which is very interesting given the current debate, which is positioned ever more between ‘sustainable development’ and crisis discourses from all sides (the global economy, the global climate, the global supply of resources, and so on):

Brundtland Revisited

“Exactly 25 years have passed since the Brundtland Commission presented its landmark report, Our Common Future, to the United Nations General Assembly, which, following an extensive debate, endorsed the commission’s call for a rapid global transition to more sustainable forms of development. I was the secretary-general and a member of the commission at the time. During a recent conference in the Netherlands, I was asked to look back on our work during the mid-’80s and comment on the progress – or the lack of progress – since then. I was also asked to look ahead and examine the prospects of getting off the largely unsustainable path we are still on.  This article is based on those remarks. While my conclusions will seem pessimistic to some, I believe they offer some prospect of a turnaround toward a more sustainable future, providing Mother Nature doesn’t suffer a terminal heart attack before we finally get our act together – terminal not for planet Earth, of course, which is in no danger, but for the narrow range of conditions that enable human life to thrive on it.” READ MORE HERE.

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