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By Geoffrey Styles on Sep 10, 2013 with 31 responses

Would An Emissions Deal Break The Deadlock Over Keystone XL?

Bloomberg and others have reported that in August the Canadian Prime Minister sent a letter to President Obama, proposing to work with the US to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector as a way to facilitate US approval of the Keystone XL pipeline (KXL.) The only surprising aspect of this story, if accurate, is that it has taken so long for so obvious a solution to be floated. If, as I believe, opposition to the pipeline has little to do with potential spills and local rights of way, and everything to do with the emissions profile of Canadian oil sands crude — accurately or not — then environmentalists should welcome this overture.

All CO2 Is Equivalent

You would never know it from protest slogans conflating all types of air pollution as if they were identical, but the characteristics and effects of greenhouse gases (GHGs) like CO2 are very different from the smog-forming emissions from automobile tailpipes or the sulfate pollution from coal power plants. For that matter, air containing 400 ppm of CO2 (0.04%) is no more harmful to breathe than pre-industrial air with 280 ppm of CO2. More relevant to the current topic, it is also a fact that the climate consequences of each ton of CO2 emitted to the atmosphere are the same as for every other ton, regardless of where they are emitted or from what source. While scientists can distinguish CO2 from fossil fuel combustion from the CO2 you just exhaled, based on differences in the ratio of carbon isotopes they carry, the effect of these on global warming is essentially identical.

That sounds trivial, yet it has great importance for expanding our options for managing the accumulation of these gases in earth’s atmosphere. Not only don’t we have to handle GHGs the way we do local air pollutants, it can be more effective not to. In practical terms, that means that unlike the well-established approaches for mitigating smog, it isn’t necessary to tackle all GHG emissions at the source, particularly when it’s expensive or impractical to do so. Saving a ton of CO2 by preventing deforestation or improving vehicle fuel economy is exactly equivalent in its effect on the climate to reducing a ton of CO2 emitted from producing oil, which accounts for less than 20% of the emissions from the oil value chain.

A Test of All Parties’ Seriousness

Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Harper’s proposal has been greeted with skepticism by some environmental groups, including a representative of Sierra Club Canada who expressed doubt that Mr. Harper was serious. I am in no position to comment on that, other than to point out that entering into negotiations on a proposal such as this one would be an excellent test of his government’s seriousness about reducing emissions.

In fact, a proposal to approve Keystone in exchange for a deal to reduce emissions provides a test of the seriousness of all the parties involved. If the project is worth pursuing for the Canadian government and Canada’s oil sands producers, then it should be worth some additional efforts on their part, over and above those already undertaken, to reduce emissions from oil sands production and to find suitable offsets elsewhere. Of course it’s also a test of how serious President Obama was when he  explicitly linked approval for KXL to “whether or not this is going to significantly contribute to carbon in our atmosphere.” And because the administration’s protracted delays in approving or rejecting the project can fairly be attributed to political considerations, the proposal also tests the seriousness of “movement” organizations like that influence the politics of Keystone within the President’s political base.

What’s the Real Issue with KXL?

Opponents of the Keystone XL project who are genuinely concerned about addressing climate change ought to at least be willing to consider a framework that links approval of this project to quantifiable and verifiable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions on a comparable scale. Since the determination of such reductions depends on the assumptions governing the alternative state of the world against which these reductions would be compared, that would require a willingness to accept a reasonable set of baseline assumptions about what would happen if this pipeline were not permitted to cross the US border. While I don’t pretend that would be easy, it would be difficult to reject such an approach outright and still claim to adhere to sound science and consensus policies.

This strikes me as an opportunity to embrace the kind of constructive and responsible compromise, the absence of which in our government so many Americans have lamented. Or, to put it bluntly, is opposition to Keystone not really about greenhouse gas emissions, after all?


The beauty of this offer, if it has actually been made and depending on its details, is that it provides President Obama with a potential two-fer: a pathway for approving a project that would please a large majority of Americans, while obtaining significant greenhouse gas reductions that wouldn’t require the highly unlikely enactment by Congress of comprehensive climate legislation. I look forward to learning more details of Canada’s Keystone-for-emissions proposal.

  1. By Sabri Ipek on September 10, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    The tar sands oil is bad for the world for many reasons, not only because of the CO2 emissions which will add to atmospheric CO2 levels. It is very energy intensive to mine, so the energy received from it is a low multiple of energy spent to get it, compared to other forms of fossil fuels. It is also very destructive of the environment as large areas have to be stripped of forests and other natural life. It also tramples on native peoples lives in Canada. Another reason is that the amount of tar sands oil which would be opened to exploration by permitting the Keystone XL would be enough to put the world on a path towards total destruction through devastating climate change.
    With all these negatives, if the Canadians are serious about reducing their CO2 emissions, wouldn’t it be logical to start this reduction by not exploiting the tar sands? How can the world believe the Canadian prime ministers sincerity of willing to reduce CO2 emissions when he is pushing for exploiting the dirtiest oil in the world.
    It is sad that he people who claim to be energy experts put their personal gains from big corporations ahead of protecting the remaining health of world ecosystems. It is especially a pitiful attempt at trying to confuse people by saying that air with 400 ppm CO2 is not more harmful than preindustrial air with 280 ppm CO2. Nobody said it was!

    When the worlds ecosystems are already under great stress from humans for countless reasons such as uncontrolled population growth, habitat loss for many wild species, agricultural and industrial poisons introduced directly into air land and waterways in great quantities, deforestation, unsustainable fresh water use and topsoil loss, etc. we should at least do our best to slow down our CO2 emissions fueling the ocean acidification and climate change. When we are in the 6th extinction crises already with potentially catastrophic consequences for humans and countless other species in the coming decades, our personal monetary gain should take a back seat to our moral values and duties to make this earth more liveable and not destroy it faster. This would make sense even for people with no moral values beyond making money, as money is only good in a liveable world.

    • By Optimist on September 11, 2013 at 4:18 pm

      Wow Sabri, how many false statements can you pack into one post?

      Inconvenient truth #1: All of the tar sands put together has a negligible warming potential(1). Hint: It’s the coal, stupid!

      Inconvenient truth #2: Not building KXL does NOT mean the tar sands stay in the ground (and earth is saved, at least according to your twisted logic). It means the product is shipped via rial, as is already happening. It may also mean an alternate pipeline takes the oil to China.

      Inconvenient truth #3: “Uncontrolled population growth” is NOT the reason the world’s ecosystems are under duress. Mainly it is because of our ignorance and laziness. That can change. An environmental movement that is less about doom, gloom and depression can only help.

      BTW, after 200 years Robert Malthus, and all his disciples, are STILL batting 0.000. That is NOT about to change.

      Inconvenient truth #4: If the energy received were such a low multiple of energy spent on recovery it wouldn’t be profitable to develop tar sands.

      Inconvenient truth #5: Is this about the wealth of corporations or the wealth of average working class people, many of whom invest in Big Oil through their 401(k) funds, if not more directly? Many of whom still choose to use oil, sometimes in significant quanitities, and sometimes for nothing more than leisure. (I know. I know. It’s all a BIG conspiracy…)

      But hey, don’t let the facts spoil a good story…


      • By Sabri Ipek on September 11, 2013 at 9:55 pm

        I did not mean to be rude or condescending but I feel strongly about this subject. I will try to go over the points you made.
        #1: Tar sands oil is very destructive in how it is produced. Even if the coal is responsible for more CO2 emissions, tar sands oil is worse than almost any other form of oil, in addition to destroying large swaths of land, and lives of indigenous people of Canada.
        #2: Doing something we know is bad because otherwise somebody else would do it, is very bad logic. We have to try and do what is right. We are the most powerful country in the world. We should lead the world by example.
        #3:The population growth is one of the biggest causes of our problems, the other big cause being the way we consume natural resources to make more and more stuff, which end up in landfills in a very short time. Paul Ehrlich from Stanford University claims that a reasonable human population for the world is around 250 million. So I am hoping that major religions come to terms with the fact that we can not increase our population indefinitely in a finite world. We are pushing other living beings out. The extinction rate is 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate according to Edward O. Wilson, the great entamologist of our time.
        #4: Since the most profitable oil has been taken in the past, now our choices are not as good. Deep sea drilling is not cheap or safe either, but companies are trying to do it. As long as our appetite for fossil fuel energy remains high, oil companies will find a way to produce it, until we find energy sources comparable to fossil fuels and less harmful, or our civilization collapses under multiple stresses.
        5#: I have nothing but respect for hard working Americans who have to use oil and have to make a decent living, but if we continue in the same path, all we are doing is making some people extremely wealthy at the expense of rest of us and the rest of the living world. All I am saying is that either we change our ways and slow down our negative impact on the natural world very quickly, or the natural world will handle us in a way which may not be very pleasant for us.
        Please read about the dissapearing frogs and bees (bees are responsible for pollinating around 70% of our fruits and vegetables) in the US, the dying white lodge pine of British Columbia (70% are dead), dying Great Barrier Reef of Australia (half of its corals are already dead), and countless other warnings about ecosystem stresses. We don’t have a choice.

        • By Geoffrey Styles on September 12, 2013 at 2:45 pm

          It’s clear that you feel strongly about this, but your feelings seem to leave little room for factual discussion, here.

          • By Sabri Ipek on September 13, 2013 at 12:27 am

            In the absence of some philosophical guidelines, discussing facts may not be very useful. You may say, KXL will increase the environmental damage in Alberta, but it is acceptable for the economic benefits it will bring. For me such devastation I see in the production sites of tar sands, can not be justified for any economical gain. So end of factual discussion.

            • By Geoffrey Styles on September 13, 2013 at 9:27 am

              If facts don’t matter to you, then this conversation is over.

            • By Sabri Ipek on September 13, 2013 at 2:18 pm

              Facts do matter, but people show different reactions and make different decisions looking at the same facts. Our reactions to facts are influenced by our upbringing, our education and some qualities from birth. We have been greatly influenced by the civilization we have been educated in. We look at the same facts and come to much different conclusions than a Native American would.
              When I look at boreal forests I am thinking of the miracle of life, how myriad of life interact, how they survive the winters etc., someone else is thinking about the tar sands and how to take it out. When I look at a bird at flight, I am mesmerized by the complexity of even basic flight and appreciative that I have been allowed to observe such a miracle, someone else looks at the same bird and only sees some meat for dinner.
              So, I read the articles you suggested on KXL, but even if they were 100% correct, my opinion on this pipeline is still same. I am still opposed to it. That is why it is so hard to change people’s minds.

          • By Sabri Ipek on September 13, 2013 at 3:28 am

            James Hansen’s article about tar sands of Canada. He doesn’t seem to think that exploiting this oil source will have negligible effect on CO2 production.


            • By Geoffrey Styles on September 13, 2013 at 9:27 am

              With all due respect to Mr. Hansen, he’s wrong about this, because he doesn’t seem to understand how production works.

        • By Optimist on September 12, 2013 at 8:53 pm


          I too feel strongly about these issues, even though my
          opinions appear to directly contradict most of yours. Let me address your reply, point by point:

          #1: Tar sands production indeed appears to be very destructive. That can change. Most likely it will: Effluent can be cleaned up. Safer chemicals can be substituted for dangerous ones. Forests can be re-planted. As has been demonstrated many times, nature has an incredible capacity for recovery. Like everything else, tar sands can be done better.

          #2: I actually agree: we need to lead by example. Our fear
          of doing so, and the change it might require suggests a civilization in decline.

          Unfortunately, renewables are NOT ready to step in and
          replace fossil fuels. Until they are, fossil fuels will continue to be used.

          #3: You will excuse me if I do not hold prof. Ehrlich in the
          same high regard you appear to hold him. When I think of him I recall a guy being spectacularly wrong on at least two occasions: his famous 1968 book, “The Population Bomb” and his bet with Julian Lincoln Simon, where Ehrlich wagered that due to rising population the cost of resources would explode. The bet ended up costing Ehrlich $576.07. It should be noted that the terms of the bet was extremely generous to Ehrlich, allowing him to pick any raw material he wanted and any date at least one year into the future. In spite of all that freedom Ehrlich lost his bet. Why do you think that is?

          “The Population Bomb” was even more of a bomb: recall that it stated: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…”

          How did the good professor get it so wrong? The 250
          million is likewise a joke IMHO. Earth is currently supporting over 30 times as many people. While the system is far from perfect, nobody is dying due to the fact that there isn’t enough food to go around. Starvation unfortunately does happen, but mainly due to bad leaders, such as Robert Mugabe, Omar al-Bashir and Bashar al-Assad. The widespread starvation Ehrlich keeps predicting, keeps failing to happen. Could it be that prof. Ehrlich is totally and fundamentally WRONG about this? I think the data makes it pretty obvious.

          As for the major religions of the world: I credit at least some of these for the fact that 7 billion of us co-exist in relative peace.
          Unlike atheism, some major religions prove a basis for taking care of the weak and the poor, as well as creation. Now, many believers fail to live up to the teachings, but that is not the fault of the teachings.

          The extinction rates you mention are indeed disheartening.
          But you surely aren’t proposing that we slaughter more than 95% of earth’s human population in an attempt to save a few other species, are you? Again I would say Ehrlich is utterly wrong on this, and those extinction rates are not directly linked to the size of the human population.

          #4: Indeed. Noticed how quickly we adopted to $100/bbl?
          Makes one wonder what is next…

          Sadly, even at $100/bbl renewables are NOT flooding into the
          market. Oh well. At least $100/bbl will continue to encourage conservation.

          #5: Economics may rescue us. Maybe at $500/bbl we’ll REALLY start to conserve. Or Exxon-Mobil will find a renewable fuel to replace crude. Time will tell. Don’t count on the natural world to slap us: we’ll stay ahead of that as we always have.

          As the referenced article showed: KXL will hardly impact
          global warming.

          To stop global warming, it must make sense for inventors and
          entrepreneurs to solve the problem. That obviously hasn’t happened yet. Not even sure how that would work. Perhaps when Wall Street gets flooded, our banksters would offer nice cash prizes for somebody to make global warming go away…

          • By Sabri Ipek on September 13, 2013 at 12:19 am

            Please look at my response to the author as to whether the KXL will have a considerable effect on the CO2 emissions. Being the third biggest reserves of oil in the world, it seems that it will.

            The living world is a very complex system. I don’t think anybody can claim to understand how things really will work out at the end, but it is undeniable that we are changing the world very quickly. We are adding CO2 into the atmosphere at an unprecedented speed, the oceans are acidifying again at a speed that never happened before (at least for the last 300 million years). We are also changing the face of the earth with our cities, our agribusiness, our industrial fishing, and on and on.

            Maybe you are right that our economic system and our technology will find a fix, or maybe I am right, that civilization and humanity is marching towards a cliff, or maybe something between these two extremes.

            I think that in the face of such fundamental changes to the living world, which also supports us and our civilization (although the corporations would let you believe that they are supporting life on earth), it may be safer to have some philosophical beliefs to guide us. Maybe something as simple as what Aldo Leopold said: “Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

            So according to this statement the KXL is wrong. There is no way of saying that “yes it is very destructive but it will get better”. If we don’t have any ethical guidelines, and decide on every subject on economical expediency and technological feasibility, we can wiggle our way into accepting anything that will make us a little money.

            We can not be sure that our economic system and technology which are only a few hundred years old will carry us safely into the future (from the damage they caused so far it doesn’t seem likely), but we can be absolutely sure that the natural world which has been more or less in its same form for millions of years before we started to alter it a few thousand years ago, was perfect (as we evolved in it, for us it was perfect before we started to apply our agriculture, economy and technology to it). So if we have to change it we better have some sound guidelines, so we don’t accept everything multinational corporations (Monsanto, Cargill, Exxon, Chevron, …) are telling us. They still did not clean the mess they created in Columbia, in Nigeria, in Gulf of Mexico, and countless other places, because they can not. They don’t know the long term damage the GMO crops are going to cause. They are devastating the wildlife so far. The places they pollute and destroy so carelessly are too complex for them to repair, and the damage is increasing.

            • By Optimist on September 13, 2013 at 10:19 pm

              I guess we differ in terms of our assumptions. If KXL doesn’t get built, I believe the tar sands will still be developed, at much the same rate ($100/bbl will do that). The only difference is that the oil will be shipped by rail (as is already happening), causing more leaks and environmental damage than KXL would do. Not to mention the danger of this method of shipping crude, as was highlighted by the recent accident.

              The Canadians may also build a pipeline to the Pacific, and ship the oil ti China. The Americans, meanwhile will ship an equivalent volume of the oil that Chine takes from the tar sands from more distant shores. Again, more pollution, emissions and danger of leaks and accidents, than if KXL gets built.

              So, even using Aldo Leopold’s criterion, I still conclude KXL should be built.

              GHG emission is indeed a problem. The problem with this problem is that it is nobody’s baby. As we start to experience the impacts of global warming that will change. I know you hate to hear that, but please accept I’m not being flippant about this. It is one of those unfortunate realities of life. Civilization won’t change because a model predicts that it needs to. It takes some punishment in the real world.

              But I also believe that one of humanity’s greatest strengths is its ability to adapt. Once the problem can no longer be denied, action WILL follow. And I don’t think it will ever be too late. It is just that it will take a much bigger effort the longer we wait. But the game isn’t over until it is over.

              What you call “only” a few hundred years of success, I tend to see as a great start. Of course, there is always the potential for a screw-up, as Washington insists on reminding us every day with its childish puppet shows. But mankind won’t wait for Washington.

              I don’t see corporations as part of a big conspiracy. I do accept that many corporations would act criminally, if they suspect they can get away with it. But many others act responsibly. The vast majority are somewhere between the extremes, and will respond if the public demands change.

              I think you better make your peace with GMOs. We’re going to need that particular technology, if we intend to keep ourselves well fed. The question is rather: How do we use it in a safe manner…

            • By Sabri Ipek on September 14, 2013 at 3:57 am

              From an article the author sent me it seems that there is a possibility that not building KXL may considerably hamper Canada’s efforts of developing tar sands. Scenario 3 in the article.


              So if we stop it we may have done something useful for the climate.
              You may well be right about the civilization not changing because a climate model says it should. My fear is that by the time it is forced to change, we will have a runaway problem on out hands. I think you are being too optimistic about our capacity to reverse the climate. Stopping our CO2 emissions will not be enough, as the methane and CO2 bubbling up from permafrost and northern oceans are picking up speed already, and James Hansen states that for a given CO2, it takes 2,000 for the temperature of the earth to reach steady state. So we have seen nothing yet.
              I think that humanities ability to adapt may be working against it this time. Since we are able to adapt so well, we keep adapting to this artificial life style without any interaction with other species (except cats and dogs), and wilderness areas. And now we are losing these at a great speed in the name of “progress” but we can not react, since we adapted to a life without them. I think this time having adapted to living this plastic life style in concrete buildings with our ipads and iphones, will work against us as a species.
              Sometimes I think that what we have in this civilization is very similar to the movie Matrix, where people lived in liquid filled containers in a ruined world, with images of good life fed into their brains directly. Just think about the devestation caused in Niger delta, or Alberta tar sands, or 100 million sharks cought for their fins and dumped back alive to die slowly, and the commercials about the happy American family.
              The couple of hundred years of success you mention caused the extinction of about 25% of species in the world and increased the world average temperature over 1 degree Centigrade. It almost did away with the Ozone layer, seen the oceans being stripped of most fish, caused the agricultural land loss to reach epic proportions, the complete lake systems to get poisoned or completely dry up etc. etc. It is hard to call such a system successful.
              Actually if you read the articles from Union of Concerned Scientists, you may find GMO’s to be worse than you think. They are devastating wildlife, such as Monarch butterflies, and other bugs, due to the application of Round Up, killing the “weeds” these animals need. They are also causing the loss of many old and proven seeds developed through generations of farmers. They are not trying to feed the world, they are just trying to own the world food production. Unfortunately they are causing great harm to wildlife, to soil, to seed stocks, and to small farmers.
              So it is a complex world. It is hard to understand everything, let alone change it in a positive way. Our education in this civilization gave us a great optimism about the powers of human ingenuity but it may be overblown. One day our children may remember us fondly for what we decided not to build (left in its natural state), instead of what we built.
              I hope John Lennon was right when he said: “Everything will be alright at the end, if it is not alright, it is not the end.”

            • By Optimist on September 16, 2013 at 3:34 pm

              OK Sabri,

              Let’s talk about that article. The first point it makes is
              that Canadian tar sands will produce 10 to 30% (quite a range) more CO2 than the average US gasoline. It also suggests that the tar sands CO2 estimates overlaps with that for Venezuelan
              heavy bitumen and are very similar to Nigerian crude. So if the tar sands are not developed, but we make up the shortfall from Venezuela or Nigeria, there would be almost no impact on CO2

              Then there is scenario 1 (alternate pipelines): under the worst case estimate KXL increases CO2 emissions by 9 million tons/year, the equivalent of three coal-fired power plants. For reference, “According to WRI’s estimates, 1,199 new coal-fired plants, with a total installed capacity of 1,401,278 megawatts (MW), are being proposed globally. These projects are spread across 59 countries. China and India together account for 76 percent of the proposed new coal power capacities.” – In other words, KXL is a drop in bucket under scenario 1.

              Under scenario 2 (guys like you succeed in preventing KXL, and the oil is shipped by rail) the saving in global CO2 emission is estimated to amount between 1 and 100 million tons/year, depending on how global markets respond. That is between <1 and 29 coal-fired power plants. Still, a drop in the bucket, compared to the plans for new coal-fired power plants.

              Under scenario 3 (KXL dies and somehow the tars sands with it), the most optimistic case for environmentalists, as you indicated, only saves 70 – 140 million tons of CO2/year, the equivalent of 20 – 40 coal-fired power plants or at most 2.6% of US energy-related CO2 emissions. Drop in the bucket, even so.

              In fact, even if you go with’s high estimate of 181 million tons of CO2/year, you’re only at 52 new coal-fired power plants, or ~ 4% of what is on the drawing board. Really? This is what the environmental movement is going to the mat for? You’d have to agree, this is too absurd to comprehend. Stopping KXL would be a Pyrrhic victory for environmentalists if there ever was one.

              Runaway or not, one way to address global warming would be to simply transfer more heat from earth to space. A big challenge for sure, but one that can surely be met by the civilization that put a man on the moon. Note that the hole in the ozone is mostly fixed.

              The idyllic system to seem to prefer would involve most Americans living in Yellowstone (at least in summer) and having regular contact with wildlife, from bunnies to bison, as well as the plant life. What you fail to appreciate IMHO is that having that many people in Yellowstone would transform it into New York city, and be harmful to the bunnies and the bison. In other words, we can find the space for a Yellowstone and other national parks, because so many of us live in cities and megacities. On a global scale then cities contribute to preservation. With the economies of scale, city dwellers also typically emit less CO2 than rural people. Of course, the vast majority of city dwellers like to get out in nature, for the exact same reasons
              you do.

              The existing system isn’t flawless, but it is a long way from the “liquid filled containers in a ruined world” that you mention. Devastation in the Niger delta is mostly linked to the corrupt state of African politics IMHO. More than democracy, Africa needs to import the separation-of-powers principle, so that nobody ever has absolute power. Accountably is something else that is mostly MIA in African politics. The state of Albertan tar sands, likewise is a challenge for local politicians. Clean up will only happen, unfortunately, if forced by the heavy hand of government. Wastewater can be clean up relatively cheaply, for example. The taste of some peoples for shark fin soup, like that for rhino horn aphrodisiac, is a specific problem requiring a specific solution. It is not a general problem related to the overall size of the planet’s population. It also is not related to man’s inherent ability to co-exist with other species.

              You’d have to agree that the last several hundred years have been spectacularly successful from a human perspective. Specific issues do need to be addressed. Endangered species need and will get protection. Notice the world’s recovering whale populations. Consider the success stories of the bison and both black and white rhino. As always, new threats are ever out there. The world’s temperature increase so far has been a minor inconvenience. The ozone layer appears to be fine. Indeed, some peoples seem to have a goal of stripping all fish out of the oceans. People are capable of all kinds of evil, especially when they manage to convince themselves that they are the victims. As ever, the challenges remain, but the overall trend is upward.

              The good news IMHO is that GMOs can be developed responsibly. The bad news is that it would need action from our politicians. Fundamentally, there is no reason why this can’t be done, the actions of the current crop of corrupt officials notwithstanding.

              Not sure what you are basing your pessimism about human ingenuity on. On the balance, the glass is more than half full IMHO. And while John Lennon made good and innovative music, I would not defer to his views of humanity.

            • By Sabri Ipek on September 20, 2013 at 7:44 pm

              Even if this articles predictions about KXL contributions to global CO2 emissions are correct and they are small compared to total fossil fuel CO2 emissions, I still think we should prevent it due to the destruction its production methods cause on the land. Also the development of this fossil fuel resource is an effort in the wrong direction. If you are in a train accelerating towards a concrete wall, you should spend your limited resources and limited time on figuring out new breaking technologies, not new fuel resources.
              I do not know if transferring energy from earth to space in large enough quantities to matter, is possible. I would appreciate some references on this subject if you have some.
              Your example about Yellowstone seems to imply that either our numbers are too great to use the natural resouces sustainably or our industrial life style is too destructive on the natural world. People evolved in the natural world. Their living in that system should not cause destruction to other life forms. If it does, we should seriously think about resolving this problem, either changing our industrial civilization or our numbers or both.
              I do not think that people living in cities decreases the damage to the natural world. As seen in the tar sands example, land where nobody lives is more open to exploitation by multinationals, whether energy companies or agribusiness, or “development” for some shopping mall, as other life forms don’t have a say in how the land is being used. If the people lived a more rural life style, it would be harder to destroy the land and waterways they depend on for their livelihood (although the existence of indigenous populations in remote areas did not stop multinational corporations from destroying their land so far).
              In your paragraph starting with “The existing system isn’t flawless”, I respectfully disagree with everything you say. These are all problems that came into existence in the last 200 years with our use of fossil fuels. Corruption in Africa and any other place has always been there and always will be. People will always kill each other and other life forms. The problem is that the scale of destruction is too great now to allow our civilization to continue business as usual. Our numbers and the more effective means of destruction which came about with technological advances has become an existential problem for our civilization and maybe humanity as a species. As Einstein said: “Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal”. You may also want to read Edward O. Wilson’s article “Is humanity committing suicide?”. Your optimism about any problem we are facing is impressive. You think that any problem big and small can easily be fixed. If your optimism is not the result of some religious belief that we were created in God’s own image and he has total control of and a grand plan for what is happening in the world, then you must be the most optimistic person I have ever talked to about these issues.
              Even you must accept that if there were 1,000 people in the world, all of these problems would go away immediately. So the question is what is the right number for sustainable human population, not if these problems are related to human population.
              I am not sure about man’s inherent ability to coexist with other species. The hunter gatherer life style was much less destructive although not perfect as far as our relationship with other species. Even those societies drove many species to extinction. But the most serious of our problems started in the last few thousand years after the last ice age when we started to develop more and more destructive civilizations. Until the last civilization we are living in, those were local and collapsed when they caused too much damage to their surrounding area. The problem now is that our civilization is global. When it collapses it will take so much of the living world with it that it will be very hard to form another civilization again. “Collapse” by Jared Diamond talks about how civilizations fail.
              The improvement in our lives in the last few hundred years is the result of burning fossil fuels. It will pass. If you look at a 10,000 year chart (which is nothing in geological time), this period can not be more than 400 – 500 years, a mere blink of an eye in the history of the world. I do not think that we can sustain a similar life style for over 10 billion people, after the fossil fuels are depleted or we can not use them any more due to their effects on climate. So we should think of this as a one time party. The future generations will be presented with the tab, in reduced biodiversity, poisoned waterways, acidified oceans, and much less hospitable climate. I do not consider this a success. What I consider success is leaving an unchanged world for the future generations. They will not care about a rotting skyscraper, or posioned lands of old copper mines. They will care about an undiminished natural world to supply their needs.
              Again similar to your optimism about all other problems, you state that the problems about the GMO’s can easily be fixed. The reason for their existence is to make money for Monsanto and similar corporations, not to feed the world. The research shows that organic farming can yield as much as GMO’s without permanently damaging the land. Their claims of greatly increased yields are not true even in the short run. In the long run they destroy the land. You should really look into this subject more. What could we expect from a company which produced Agent Orange.
              At the end I didn’t really expect to change your opinion about the general direction of our civilization, but for me it was useful to look at the problems from a different point of view and try to understand your thinking process. Thank you for participating in this discussion. At the end “Que sera sera”. Life on earth existed for 3.5 billion years, and so far managed to deal with all the species and create more and more diverse life forms. I am sure the system has a way of dealing with us too.

            • By Sabri Ipek on October 13, 2013 at 1:05 pm
          • By Sabri Ipek on September 13, 2013 at 3:24 am

            An article by James Hansen about the tar sands oil.


    • By Geoffrey Styles on September 11, 2013 at 6:13 pm

      The only way to sort through the conflicting claims about this issue is to look at the numbers. They simply don’t support the exaggerated assertions you’re making. Oil sands extraction is energy-intensive, which is why it emits more GHGs that some other crudes. However, it also yields considerably more energy, in more useful forms, than what goes into producing it. As for a pipeline’s-worth of oil sands crude being sufficient to alter the climate change trajectory in any perceptible way, that, too is demonstrably false. See, for example.

      It appears that you have absorbed a lot of “facts” on this topic that simply don’t stand up to scrutiny.

      • By Sabri Ipek on September 11, 2013 at 9:18 pm

        I am sure “it yields considerably more energy than what goes into producing it”, otherwise they wouldn’t produce it. Still according to what I read, its ratio of useful energy obtained from it, vs. energy spent to produce it is much lower than many other forms of oil production.
        It may not alter the climate change trajectory too much, but people who know about this subject say that it will have considerable contribution to CO2 emissions as there is so much of this oil available once we start to produce it in big quantities.
        The problem is that according to vast majority of climate scientists, the climate change is very close to getting out of our control with some positive feedbacks (with methane and CO2 releases from the northern oceans and melting permafrost), and we should not even extract and burn all the proven reserves of fossil fuels if we want to keep the climate change to a manageable upper limit. Bill McKibben had an article in Rolling Stone about why we could not afford to burn all proven reserves of fossil fuels. Also please look at the World Bank report on why we should avoid a 4 degree Centigrade warming, which they say is possible by 2065 if we continue on this trajectory. Are they lying too?

        • By Geoffrey Styles on September 12, 2013 at 2:41 pm

          “people who know about the subject” sounds a lot like the old, “they say.” My conclusions are based on having done the math for myself, not on hearsay. As for the World Bank’s view, you’re making a big leap between their warning to avoid a 4 deg. C rise–sound advice, if we can achieve it–and KXL adding 0.1% to global emissions.

          • By Sabri Ipek on September 12, 2013 at 11:27 pm

            How do you reach the conclusion that KXL would add only 0.1% to global emissions when the proven tar sands oil reserves are under 140,000 sqkm of Alberta, third in size after the reserves of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela (, and “average greenhouse gas emissions for oilsands extraction and upgrading are estimated to be 3.2 to 4.5 times as intensive per barrel as conventinal crude produces in Canada or in the US.”
            Also are we supposed to ignore the destruction its production causes by stripping the boreal forests, destroying the ecosystem of close by rivers for water used in production, displacing indigenous people and wild animals?
            Why is it so important to build this pipeline against the strong opposition from all environmental organizations? Is it the few thousand temporary jobs it will create? Or is it important to show that nothing can stand in the way of the oil companies? They are so rich and powerful that they can buy anybody, push anything, good or bad, through our political system, and down our throat.

            • By Geoffrey Styles on September 13, 2013 at 9:24 am

              A few straightforward answers:

              1. See the linked post in my first response for an explanation of why the production associated with Keystone XL would only add 0.1% to global emissions. See also:
              2. It’s a fallacy to assume that the entire resource can be produced. This is the key mistake that James Hansen makes. It is based on ignorance of extraction rates and industry operations. You can’t simply assume all the carbon in the ground will end up in the atmosphere, rather than the daily production rates over time.
              3. Whatever the correct multiple of extraction-phase emissions is, compared to other types of oil production, production only accounts for a fraction of total lifecycle emissions. Roughly 80% occur during end-use, and those don’t differ much from source to source. Well-to-wheels emissions estimates for oil sands are thus 10-20% higher than for the lowest-emission crudes, and comparable to some other crudes currently imported by the US.

            • By Sabri Ipek on September 13, 2013 at 1:34 pm

              From the article you suggested.

              This doesn’t seem like an environmentally sound production:

              “To get at the bitumen, shallow bitumen deposits are strip-mined out of the ground while deeper deposits are recovered “in situ” by injecting a stream of hot gas into an underground bitumen reservoir, cooking the heavy oil and making it fluid enough to pump out of the ground.”

              Also the author arrives at very different results on the effects of KSL depending on three scenarios:

              “Scenario 1: If Not Keystone, Another Pipeline

              Bottom line: If Keystone XL isn’t built but tar sands oil finds its way to market via other pipeline routes, the climate impacts of blocking Keystone would be fairly small. Building Keystone would increase the value of tar sands oil by only up to $2 per barrel, a 3 percent increase. This is the scenario behind the State Department’s (very) low end estimate that blocking Keystone would save just 70,000 metric tons of CO2 annually. Assuming such a small price increase has little impact on tar sands production, the climate impacts would be negligible. If that small increase in value somehow makes the difference between profitability and not for some tar sands projects, Keystone’s climate impact may be somewhat larger, on the scale of the annual CO2 emissions of one to three coal-fired power plants.

              Scenario 2: Rail Saves the Tar Sands

              Bottom line: Under a scenario where climate campaigners blocked all proposed pipelines out of the tar sands region and rail shipments expand to carry the oil instead, building Keystone XL could increase the value of tar sands oil by $6 to $22 per barrel, or up to 36 percent relative to current WCS prices. If global oil prices are fairly low, that price increase may make the difference between profitability and not for a number of tar sands projects. In this case, blocking Keystone may prevent as much as 103 million tons of CO2 annually, or up to 2 percent of total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions. In contrast, if global oil prices rise, building Keystone or not may not make much of a difference to the economics of tar sands oil. In this case, blocking Keystone could prevent as little as 1 to 5 million tons of CO2 annually, about the output of a single coal-fired power plant.

              Scenario 3: Tar Sands Hit a Bottleneck

              Bottom line: if rail freight capacity can’t expand fast enough to make up for the loss of Keystone XL, blocking the pipeline project could keep at least 830,000 barrels per day out of the global market. That could have large climate impacts, preventing 70 to 140 million tons of CO2 emissions annually — equivalent to the output of 20 to 40 typical coal-fired power plants, or as much as 2.6 percent of U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions.”

              So even if we assume that the analysis of this author is 100% correct, and unaffected by his business affiliations (as all energy experts can be assumed to be affiliated with energy corporations unless they disclose otherwise) according to his Scenario 3, stopping KXL would have a considerable effect on the CO2 emissions.

              I personally think that we have to make a stand to prevent the KXL, when we don’t even need this oil. We have to concentrate on reducing our energy use through incentives for efficient use of energy in all aspects of our lives. We should continue to reduce and convert our energy to renewables as quickly as possible as all oil, coal and gas production harms the land, and also we can not affort to release much more CO2 into the atmosphere. We don’t have another 100 years to wait for economics to solve the problem. We have to generate economic incentives to using less fossil fuels.

  2. By SoloCup on September 12, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    I don’t even care about the emissions issue. TransCanada is asking us for a right ot way to build a pipeline to export this oil to world markets. Aside from Americans having their land confiscated to build this thing, all of the oil will be refined for export as distillates. The US is now in the position of refining more gasoline than it needs, and as new cars replace old ones, that trend will continue. I can understand the refiners looking to expand their markets, but this is an issue that really isn’t going to affect the US one way or the other. In addition, tar sands extraction is expensive. In the end, as with Natural Gas, it may turn out be less than cost effective. I like Charlie Munger’s idea- this is an asset that should be kept for the future.

    • By Sabri Ipek on September 13, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      If you were in Boulder Colorado right now, or in New Jersey during Sandy, you would care. I think we should care about serious issues before we are personally effected. Otherwise it is too late to care when we are in water up to our neck, or the fire surrounds our house.

      • By SoloCup on September 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm

        I lived through Sandy, thank you. I accept the fact that we need energy, but I don’t accept that we need to extract the entire earth’s supply just this minute. As it is, US energy consumption is declining, and even without further breakthroughs, it will continue to decline. Policies have worked. The AVERAGE MPG for a car is now just shy of 25- and the older guzzlers get sent to the crusher every month.

        • By Sabri Ipek on September 13, 2013 at 2:49 pm

          I am sorry to hear that you had to live through Sandy. I agree that energy consumption will continue to decline, and I think it is important to break the influence of energy companies on our political system so we can make sound decisions relating to energy efficiency, and reducing the exploitation of dirty sources of energy.

  3. By ben on September 14, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Sabri Ipek’s hand-wringing is just so painful to follow. My heart goes out to someone who lives in such a black & white world that he actually believes that either someone views a bird in flight as a miracle of life (and gift from our Creator) or simply some meat for dinner. Wow! I dare say there is plenty of room in there for a belief that a magnificent bird in flight is also a candidate for someone’s dinner (wherever they may find themselves in the food chain:) I love nature–and it’s Creator–even as I accept that in a system of liberty preserved through the rule of law within a system of limited self-government, we must accept consensus as the viable basis for the adoption of public policy. Given humanity’s inclination toward tradition and a general resistance to precipitous change, incremental adjustments tend to be standard fare for a republican form of government (US Constitution: Art. IV, Sec. 4 ).
    Such a view may prove a bit dispiriting to many (both Left and Right) who entertain adventures, aiming with the best of intentions, to redress threats to our well-being though prospectively posing no less risks to our liberty. On that note, we might do well to look before we leap. Such an orientation probably makes me one of those conservationists of an old-fashion variety (some of us codgers simply claim to be little more than “farmers”:).
    Thanks for caring enough to defend divergent points of view. Who knows, maybe some of the iron clashing may lend itself to a little sharpening. Just make sure any of the well-honed blades are used to collective good purpose!:)

    • By Sabri Ipek on September 20, 2013 at 5:58 pm

      I admit that the bird example was a bit extreme. My world is not really that black and white. I have nothing against hunting and eating an animal. I was just trying to express my feeling that our seperation from nature by technology and our industrial civilization is putting us at risk of being unable to comprehend the damage we are causing to the natural world. When we look at open pit mines (like tar sands) we do not even think of what happened to life there. The damage to any life which existed prior to destruction, is accepted as an unfortunate side effect of our need for energy. From my point of view, if we need to survive as a species on this planet, we need to see life as sacred, not to be destroyed unless we absolutely need to for our survival, and not because we want to live in 5,000 sqft homes and drive V8 SUV’s.
      The accelerating extinction rates point to a fundamental problem with the way our civilization is treating life on earth. At the end whatever will be will be. I am sure 3.5 billion year old life on earth has an answer for a species like us. It just may not be pleasant for us. That is all I was trying to point out.

  4. By Peter W on September 16, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    > Saving a ton of CO2 by preventing deforestation or improving vehicle fuel economy is exactly equivalent in its effect on the climate to reducing a ton of CO2 emitted from producing oil…

    Keeping carbon in the ground is a dead simple way to prevent it from getting into the air. No other option is as simple and sure as that.

    A deal which involves definitely putting carbon in the air in exchange for a potential decrease in deforestation or driving related carbon emissions could be complicated to ensure parity of effects and prevent gaming. Imagine the following. Harper: “Mr. Obama, you see that forest over there? We had planned to cut it down but we’ll agree not to if you permit the pipeline.” Obama: “How do I know you had planned to bulldoze that forest?” Harper: “Uh, just trust us, OK?” Similarly, Canada could agree to improve vehicle efficiency, but they might have done that anyway (in addition, you’d have the increased driving from Jevons paradox to confront).

    Canada needs to reduce its emissions from their current levels, not just enter a deal that keeps them at unacceptable levels.

    • By saeef on September 25, 2013 at 8:35 am

      Clearly extinction of the species is the “dead simple” answer. Zero carbon footprint…ever.

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