The Husky leak should be seen as a warning

solarspill

As I write, a relatively small spill of oil (250000 litres) is threatening the water supply of thousands along the North Saskatchewan river, causing damage of as yet unknown scope to the aquatic and riparian ecosystems, and most likely contaminating traditional First Nations medicines.  We do not know the detailed composition of the oil, but there is now confirmation that it contained dense fractions (API<10) which have sunk to the bottom of the river and will create dead zones and ongoing ecological damage.  (Because of these denser-than-water components, certain heavy oils and bitumen carry extra risk – it is virtually impossible to clean up, as was discovered at the much larger Enbridge leak at Kalamazoo Michigan six years ago).  As for the floating portion of the oil, neither Husky nor the provincial government was capable of containing the slick, and others have had to bear the consequences.

Clearly Husky should take full financial responsibility for restitution of all that its oil has damaged.  But successive provincial governments bear moral responsibility, on account of weak regulations and inadequate enforcement.  The present government’s shift towards letting industry report its own emissions can only make the situation worse.

This smacks of inverted priorities.  If we need to (and within the next few decades we will need to), we can find a way to live without fossil oil.  We cannot live without water.

Meanwhile, premier Brad Wall is reported in the media as concerned that this leak should not increase opposition to proposed new diluted bitumen pipelines such as Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain expansion or TransCanada’s Energy East.  Any concern he may have for the victims of the spill is apparently secondary.

This leak was an accident, but Saskatchewan people should read it as a warning.  Devastating forest fires and virtually-unprecedented floods of cities and agricultural land warn us that the climate is changing, and we must move away rapidly from dependence on greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels.  The sudden drop in the international oil price, together with the weak potash market, warns us of the volatility and instability of an economy based on extractive industries – as shown in the rising provincial deficit figures.  And now this accident warns us that economic dependence on oil can threaten the very basics of life even at a local level – a lesson which First Nations in northern Alberta have been telling the world, out of their own painful personal experience, for decades.

Unfortunately, premier Wall’s ideologically-driven commitment to Big Oil – reinforced by substantial infusions of Calgary petrocash to his party – ensures that he is incapable of reading such signs of the times.  There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Edited 2016:Jul:26 to take account of the fact that it is now known that some of the heavy oil has sunk

Brad Wall risking being left behind

This week Premier Brad Wall has embarked on a tour out east to promote the Energy East pipeline, a project which demonstrates his dangerously poor understanding of climate change and of 21st century economics. A new report this month from the CCPA definitively shows that Canada cannot meet its emissions reductions obligations if it builds new pipelines, and also highlights the erosion of the economic argument for new pipelines – low prices are unlikely to recover soon, and bitumen will always be the costliest product in an inundated oil market. This latest report adds to a wealth of evidence warning against the project, joining a mountain of opposition that continues to grow. This week the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador announced their opposition to Energy East, adding to already strong Indigenous resistance to new pipelines. All this comes on the heels of the Premier warning oil executives that the industry is facing an “existential threat” and losing the “PR battle” to activists across the country; it is surely no coincidence that the fossil fuel industry is losing the scientific and moral battles in the fight to address climate change. The facts are clear – there is no economic and surely no environmental basis for the Energy East project, making it one the country would surely come to regret if it’s not ultimately rejected.

Wall also got himself into hot water this week as he attempted to mock the Leap Manifesto on Twitter. Wall posted a video of himself scoffing at the more than $1.5 trillion in capital costs required for a transition to 100% renewable energy but, as it turns out, badly misrepresented research in the process. Naomi Klein called him out, and Mark Jacobson, Stanford professor and author of a widely-cited study offering a map for Canada to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050, highlighted the error of Wall’s ways. Jacobson pointed out that the projected savings in health and climate-related costs of more than $10 trillion clearly dwarf the upfront capital costs, and explained that those capital costs are meant to be spread out over more than 3 decades anyway. Further, Jacobson has estimated that such a transition will be a net creator of 130,000 jobs in Canada, so delaying in the name of employment makes little sense. The exchange can be seen here.

Jacobson’s work isn’t Saskatchewan specific and many of the specifics still require more work. But, Brad Wall’s oversimplifications and misrepresentations are holding this province back from having the necessary and nuanced discussion it deserves. Saskatchewan needs more research to gain a better understanding of specifics in the provincial context so that we can plan with clarity and intention. Because one thing is certain: climate change and 21st century economics dictate that we must transition away from our dependence on fossil fuels. Fortunately, Saskatchewan has a lot to gain in such a transition, including in the jobs department. Although a new report shows that Saskatchewan is lagging behind the rest of the country in renewable energy investment, that certainly leaves a lot of potential to tap into.

Speaking of jobs and the transition, Iron & Earth will be in Saskatoon on Sunday to discuss the Workers’ Climate Plan, a new initiative they launched this month in an effort to offer industry workers a platform to advocate for strong climate action that protects Canadian workers. Come and find out more at 7pm at The Stand Community Organizing Centre!

The Stand is hosting two other great events next week – Delivering Community Power on Monday at 7pm, and the Climate Solutions Books Club, breaking down Gordon Laxer’s After the Sands, Wednesday at 7pm.

Please help us challenge Brad Wall’s climate denial

If you live in Saskatchewan, please sign on to our letter to premier Brad Wall (below)

(But also if you live in the Saskatoon area, please come to the climate Town Hall on Wednesday)

When the Saskatchewan legislature opened for business again on May 17th, Brad Wall’s Speech from the Throne included the following paragraphs:

But it is troubling that today, there are some in this country who, given the opportunity, would shut down major parts of Saskatchewan’s economy and put thousands of hard-working Saskatchewan people out of work, all in the name of some misguided dogma that has no basis in reality.
There are those who are not comfortable with and even oppose much of what we produce in Saskatchewan and how we produce it – oil and gas, coal and uranium, livestock and grains.
They would prefer that those sectors did not exist and that the thousands of jobs in those sectors did not exist.
They look at those jobs like they are somehow harming the country and the world.

Quite apart from the general tone of paranoia, this looked very much like denial of the science of climate change. In response to a national petition and some national media coverage, Wall’s spokespeople said that no, it was only criticising the Leap Manifesto.

Given that the Leap Manifesto is itself based on scientifically understood climate reality – and Brad Wall’s policies aren’t – we think this makes no difference. So we need to keep up the pressure – and push Brad Wall to tell us what he really believes about the climate crisis, and stop blocking real climate action. To do that we are asking people to sign on to the following letter.

If you are happy to sign, please email us your name and town of residence.

An open letter to premier Brad Wall from concerned citizens

Premier Brad Wall
226 Legislative Building
Regina, Saskatchewan
S4S 0B3

2016:May:24

Re:  climate change

Dear Mr Wall

In your Speech from the Throne you referred to “some in this country who, given the opportunity, would shut down major parts of Saskatchewan’s economy and put thousands of hard-working Saskatchewan people out of work, all in the name of some misguided dogma that has no basis in reality”.

This is a serious accusation, and the people of Saskatchewan deserve a full and detailed explanation.  As a public servant, it is your duty to tell us: (i) who are the people about whom you are making this accusation, and (ii) the nature of the alleged “misguided dogma”.

We are not clear whether you are insulting and misinterpreting (a) climate scientists, (b) the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries, (c) informed citizens who are calling for an orderly decades-long transition to clean energy, or (d) Indigenous people protecting the land and water with which they have been in relationship since time immemorial.  Or, indeed, some combination of the above.  Whichever is the case, it seems an extraordinary step for a premier to take.

It would help us all if you were to answer a few questions as to your understanding of the climate crisis.  These are not merely rhetorical questions:  we want answers from you as our chief public servant:

  • Do you accept the scientific consensus that the earth is warming, that consequently the climate is changing in diverse and potentially devastating ways, and that this results primarily from human activity in the form of greenhouse gas emissions?
  • Do you acknowledge that our dependence on fossil fuels is responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the well-established findings of climate science that global warming results in more frequent and more extreme weather events, including droughts, floods, heat waves, forest fires, etc, as well as sea level rise?
  • Do you accept the detailed research on these climate change impacts which resulted in the key commitment of the Paris Accord to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”?
  • Do you accept that Saskatchewan, like all jurisdictions worldwide, has a responsibility to take action commensurate with that ambitious but necessary goal?
  • Do you accept the finding of climate scientists that, in order to remain below either of these temperature limits, total future emissions must be limited to a strict global “carbon budget”? – and that the best scientific estimates for the size of this budget mean rapid reductions starting now, and an end to the fossil fuel economy worldwide around mid-century?
  • Are you aware that, if the budget for the (higher) 2 °C limit were shared out equally worldwide, Saskatchewan would blow through its share in about 4 years at its current rate of emissions?
  • Are you aware that Saskatchewan has the best solar resource and the best inland wind resource in Canada, and is one of the few places in the world where significant quantities of biomass energy could be produced in a sustainable way?
  • Are you aware of the enormous potential for job creation in clean renewable energy industries? – according to one recent report, between 6 and 9 times as many jobs per unit of investment than the oil industry. Canada already employed more people in greentech than in the Alberta bitumen sands even before the price volatility of oil precipitated mass lay-offs last year.
  • Do you recognize the right of Indigenous people to say no to development proposals which threaten their land and water?

We look forward to hearing your answers.

Yours sincerely

 

Town Hall meeting on climate change in Saskatoon, May 25th

PCP2

In late April the Canadian government signed the Paris Agreement in New York and announced that it would be seeking consultation with Canadians in the creation of the national climate change strategy, encouraging MPs across the country to hold town hall meetings with constituents. Canada has committed to unveiling its national framework for addressing climate change this fall, and has four working groups actively engaged in soliciting feedback and making recommendations. The town hall process is meant to give Canadians a chance to have a say.

Climate Justice Saskatoon is organizing a town hall meeting for Saskatoon in conjunction with the office of Sheri Benson, MP for Saskatoon West, and with the support of SEIU-West. The meeting will take place on Wednesday, May 25th, from 7:30-9pm at St. George’s Seniors Club Hall (1235 20th St W), and all are encouraged to attend. The meeting is a tremendous opportunity for the people of Saskatoon to provide direct feedback on how Saskatchewan and Canada ought to be addressing this issue.

In addition, CJS will be hosting a primer discussion from 6:20-7:30pm at the same location. The discussion will focus on the People’s Climate Plan, a national citizens’ movement to use the consultation process to advocate for bold climate action that respects climate science, plans for a transition to a fully renewable economy by mid-century, and which enshrines justice principles, respecting the rights of Indigenous and frontline communities as well as workers. CJS will be supporting the People’s Climate Plan at the town hall meeting, and invites anyone that is interested to come and learn more.

Town Hall poster

 

Release: Public consultation on TPP in Saskatoon

The following is a press release from Climate Justice Saskatoon and the local chapter of the Council of Canadians. More information and media to follow.

Locals to stage rally outside Trans-Pacific Partnership hearings in Saskatoon

Saskatoon – Climate Justice Saskatoon and the local chapter of the Council of Canadians are organizing a rally to coincide with Saskatoon’s public hearing on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), hosted by the Standing Committee on International Trade at the Radisson Hotel on Wednesday, April 20th from 8:00-11:45am. The rally will take place on Wednesday outside of the Radisson at 12:00pm.

The rally has been planned to highlight the concerns of local citizens in regards to the TPP and shortcomings of the consultation process itself.

Justin Fisher, from Climate Justice Saskatoon, says “The TPP is a deal that was negotiated in secret by the former Conservative government, and it puts corporate profits ahead of the concerns of everyday citizens. We’re concerned about undermining climate policy, Indigenous and workers’ rights, and public health care, among other things.”

The TPP was signed by Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland on February 4th, 2016, but the Liberal government promised to hold public consultations across Canada before deciding whether or not to ratify the controversial agreement.

Tracey Mitchell, a national board member of the Council of Canadians based in Saskatoon, says “The Liberals are clearly stretching the meaning of the word ‘public’ with these hearings. Saskatoon’s hearing has been poorly publicized, will include just 12 speakers, and is happening on a weekday morning. We want genuine public consultation, not a rigged process that reflects corporate pressure.”

The TPP has been signed by 12 countries but cannot enter into force until it is ratified by signatories. The agreement has been criticized by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz as the “worst trade deal ever.” Public consultations began on Monday, April 18th in Vancouver.

TPP and You
Infographic credit: The Council of Canadians

Sask. Sticking with Status Quo… For Now

You might not have known it, but Saskatchewan held a provincial election this past week, which turned out to be largely a re-hash of its last election in 2011. The Saskatchewan Party, led by Premier Brad Wall, maintained a strong majority government. For what it’s worth, in the run-up to election day we sent out a questionnaire to candidates of all parties in multiple ridings and attended as many candidates’ fora as we could in order to get a sense of where each party stood on issues related to climate change and climate justice. You can see our highlights on the graphic below. As the graphic makes clear, Saskatchewan has re-elected a government with an abysmal record on climate change and seemingly little concern for an issue of grave importance to this province, to Canada, and to the rest of the world. Disconcertingly, though, while the Sask Party clearly scored lowest among all parties in this year’s election, no one party stood out in viably addressing this critical issue. The highest grade we were able to bestow was a middling C+.

CJS Report Card

If you would like to see candidates’ answers in more detail, along with greater analysis from CJS, please take a look at our PDF here: Election grades. A big thanks is owed to Mark Bigland-Pritchard, who led this effort.

Climate Justice Saskatoon

Climate Justice Saskatoon is a group of people who care deeply about Saskatoon and want to help build a just and sustainable future for this city and the province of Saskatchewan. We are organizers, students, engineers, educators, artists, health workers and more. We are all deeply concerned about climate change and the social, economic and environmental injustices that make it the greatest challenge of our time, and we are all hopeful that by working creatively together we can not just survive but flourish and create a better society for everyone – a society based on cooperation and compassion, on meaningful reconciliation, on renewable energy and community.

Climate Justice Saskatoon (CJS) has been organizing events and initiatives in the city for several years, including helping to organize the Saskatchewan Citizens’ Hearings on Climate Change in 2013. In the wake of the Paris climate talks in December of last year, 2016 is a critical year for climate change around the globe, including in Canada and Saskatchewan. For CJS, that means the time is right to push for justice-based solutions to climate change here at home – solutions that will prioritize the needs of those most impacted by climate change, and solutions that create a more just, sustainable, and healthy society for all of us. We hope that this site will serve as a point of contact and an informative resource for those interested in joining this critical conversation.

This site is a work in progress and will evolve over time. You can also find CJS on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. We hope you’ll find these resources useful and that you’ll join us in working towards a more just and sustainable Saskatoon!