Category Archives: Ecology

TransCanada Under Investigation by U.S. State Department

The Athabasca river winds through tar sands production facilities at Fort McMurray. Fresh water in one end, toxic sludge out the other. (Photo: AP)

The Inspector General of the U.S. State Department has been asked to investigate improprieties in the promotion of the Keystone XL pipeline. The sponsor of the project, TransCanada of Calgary, faces the prospect that the State Department investigation will expose the details of its questionable conduct in assessing the environmental impact of the pipeline. The investigation will likely only encourage the steadily growing protests against Keystone XL. At the same time, the final decision about the project may be delayed by the Obama administration as the investigation continues. This will probably not sit well with the crony capitalists of the Alberta oil industry or their Conservative agents in Parliament.

The other day the Conservative house organ, the tabloid Toronto Sun — always working to whip up unending resentment and paranoia about events that have minimal importance as news — whined on its front page that delay of construction of the pipeline will cost TransCanada $1 million a day. This may turn out to be the least of TransCanada’s worries as a fuller understanding of its handling of the Keystone XL proposal emerges.

In tangentially related news, payback is a bitch.

From Think Progress:

INSPECTOR GENERAL LAUNCHES INVESTIGATION INTO KEYSTONE XL APPROVAL PROCESS | In response to a congressional request, the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General has launched a review of the Keystone XL pipeline approval process. The State Department is tasked with conducting the environmental review of TransCanada’s proposed tar sands pipeline from Canada to Texas for a Presidential Permit decision. Beginning with the Bush administration, the process has been largely outsourced to a contractor chosen and paid for by TransCanada, with only a single staffer overseeing the work. Meanwhile, lobbyists with close ties to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have aggressively pushed for approval on behalf of the foreign oil company. The request for an investigation was made by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and eleven Democratic members of the House of Representatives.

Report from Washington Keystone XL Protest

Above is an interview with Bill McKibben conducted just prior to yesterday’s Washington protest. TransCanada is a major villain here, as McKibben’s account makes clear. We now live in a world where Alberta oil interests, facilitated by the Harper government, have decided to make a leading contribution to the destruction of the global environment because it is profitable to do so. The amount of tar sands bitumen extractable on a daily basis is considerably less than one-twentieth of America’s daily needs, but producing it — that is, separating the tar from the sand — makes it the most toxic and environmentally dangerous oil in the world. As NASA’s James Hansen has put it, the large scale and long term production of Alberta tar sands means it’s “game over” for the climate.

Below is an email reporting on the Keystone XL protest yesterday at the White House that I received from McKibben.


There are days along any journey that stick with you, and today was one of them.

Under blue Indian Summer skies, more than 12,000 people from every corner of the country descended on Washington DC; then, with great precision, they fanned out to surround the White House and take a stand against the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Here are just a couple of pictures from the day, and you can see lots more by clicking here.

What speaker after speaker today made clear (and they came from every part of our movement: indigenous leaders, labor organizers, environmentalists, young people, preachers) was that today was in no way a grand finale — there’s lots more work to do.

I have no idea how this battle is going to come out — only that, together, we stand a chance to shut down this dirty pipeline and shift the flow not just of oil, but of history. This day was an important part of that history, and we’ll carry its power with us as we take this fight forward.

Thanks in advance for all the work we’ll do together,  shoulder-to-shoulder, on the road ahead.


Bill McKibben for the team

P.S. This movement milestone deserves to be shared, so forward along this email — and share it on Facebook by clicking here or share it on Twitter by clicking here.

Keystone XL White House Protest Sunday

Think Progess has a story here. Currently, 10,000 people have signed up to attend the protest at the White House this Sunday. A Q&A on the pipeline in the Guardian here.

The final decision is Obama’s alone, at this point. He can exercise an executive veto on the project. Rolling Stone reviews his recent remarks on the pipeline here. An excerpt:

“[The State Department] will be giving me a report over the next several months and, you know, my general attitude is, what is best for the American people? What’s best for our economy both short-term and long-term?  But also, what’s best for the health of the American people?” Obama said in a Nebraska TV interview. “Because we don’t want for example aquifers . . . adversely affected. Folks in Nebraska obviously would be directly impacted, and so we want to make sure we’re taking the long view on these issues.”

Greenhouse gas emissions rose by 6% last year, the largest annual rise ever recorded. China’s carbon dioxide emissions now exceed the U.S. by 50%. Story here.

Previous posts on Keystone XL here, here, here, here, and here.

Frye quote here.

Quote of the Day 2: Keystone XL

Martin Lukacs of the Guardian notes that the Ottawa protest may signal wider public protest:

The Canadian action heralds a new spirit of defiance in the broader climate change movement. It follows on two weeks of sit-ins at the White House in Washington last month where more than 1,200 people were arrested over Keystone XL – the TransCanada pipeline that would carry the dirty Alberta oil to Texas refineries. The Washington protesters successfully introduced millions of Americans to their No 1 source for oil imports, putting an ecological-disaster zone the size of Florida on the map; now, their Canadian counterparts showed they were neither silent nor passive on the issue. These are signs that the environmentalist community – professionalised and tame for too long – may have discovered a much-needed impetus for civil disobedience.

(Photo: Sean Kilpatrick, Canadian Press)

Levant, Harper and “Ethical Oil”’s campaign against Saudi Arabian oil with a message that is very simple: Muslims bad, Alberta good. This ad began appearing last week. 

Frye in “The Present Condition of the World” (1943) observes that North America is “a happy-hunting-ground of all forms of advertisement, propaganda, and suggestions. Advertising and ‘publicity’ are based on the fact that sense experience is involuntary and on the assumption that the mind does not possess enough selective power to resist a large number of repeated impressions.” (CW 10, 212)

As an illustration of the continuing relevance of this principle, Stephen Harper has taken to referring to Alberta’s tar sands as “ethical oil,” which also happens to be the title of a book by Ezra Levant, as well as the name of the oil advocacy group responsible for the television ad above.

Ezra Levant is a well-known right-wing activist with a connection to Harper dating back twenty years. Levant has been the subject of a number of lawsuits for libel. Most recently, he repeated in a column in the Toronto Sun a long-disproven slur against Holocaust survivor and wealthy liberal advocate George Soros. Sun Media was made to retract and apologize when confronted with the possibility of yet another Levant-centred libel suit. Levant is, moreover, a protege of Koch Industries, an oil production conglomerate which, among many other things, bankrolls global warming denialism.

His book, Ethical Oil, is morally idiotic. In it he makes the argument that the tar sands produce “ethical” oil because it comes from a nice place like Alberta, rather than from a nasty and unethical place like Saudi Arabia. The promotion of the idea of ethical oil is demagoguery that trades on resentment and ignorance while conveniently leaving out every other consideration, including a noxiously hypocritical self-interest, as well as the fact that, whatever else happens, we’re still going to be doing business with the dirty Arabs the ad above demonizes. Even so, the term has been adopted by Stephen Harper personally, and at just the time that the Keystone XL pipeline is awaiting American approval.

You can read David Suzuki’s review of Levant’s book here. A sample:

If this is the most “ethical” source of oil we can find, we need to ask other questions about the moral purity of our intensively processed bitumen. For example, if we sell the oil to countries with poor human-rights records, like China, does that affect the product’s “ethical” nature? And how “ethical” are the companies operating in the oilsands: for example, Exxon Mobil, well-known sponsor of climate-change disinformation campaigns; BP, responsible for last year’s massive oily disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, or PetroChina? There’s also the effect of greenhouse gas emissions on our children and grandchildren, which to me is an intergenerational crime.

It is distressing to see this dangerous notion being intravenously introduced into the public discourse by what seems to be a carefully-timed, co-ordinated effort. That Harper would use his office to shill so openly for it makes it that much more alarming.

Christian Love

Stephen Harper — who walked away from Canada’s commitments under the Kyoto treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — appears in a billboard campaign in Copenhagen, 2009

Our last few posts make this a good time to return to our ongoing “Frye on God” thread. Conservative politicians are the most likely to declare themselves Christians, but they are also the most likely to be missing any sense of Christian charity, especially with regard to the poor and the sick. Stephen Harper’s repetitions of “God bless Canada” do not otherwise appear to display much concern for the welfare of fellow Canadians in need, or for the vast expanses of nature that make up the Canadian landscape. Evangelical Christians, in fact, seem to possess a reckless disregard for the environment. Like other North American conservatives, they deny global warming in large numbers despite a virtually unanimous scientific consensus on the issue. Because big oil interests spend tens of millions of dollars every year to fund global warming denialism, it evidently is possible to serve both God and Mammon if you have a mind to do so. It’s as though a peculiar strain of Christian conservatism believes that, with the End Times coming, it doesn’t matter how much damage is inflicted along the way. As Tina Fey in her most recent rendering of Sarah Palin nicely put it, “I believe that global warming is just Jesus holding us closer.”

Those who cite the Bible as a strict source of authority often seem to have no idea what they’re talking about. The limit of their understanding is usually love. Here’s Frye in “On the Bible”:

[T]he response which the Bible itself insists on, the response of the spirit, is bound up with the conception of love, a word which perhaps means too many things in modern languages and may have rather a sentimental sound. But in the New Testament love is regarded not as one virtue among others but as the only virtue there is, and one which is possible only to God and to the spirit of man, a virtue which, in Paul’s language, believes and hopes everything [1 Corinthians 13:7], and thereby includes all the other virtues because, outside the order of love, faith and hope are not necessarily virtues at all. (CW 4, 164)

Frye Quote of the Day: “We are the grave robbers of our own resources”

The Keystone XL pipeline, where the Harper government meets Koch Industries. At this point, only Obama stands between them. From Rolling Stone:

Is it in our national interest to overheat the planet? That’s the question Obama faces in deciding whether to approve Keystone XL, a 2,000-mile-long pipeline that will bring 500,000 barrels of tar-sand oil from Canada to oil refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Greenlighting the $7 billion pipeline would help feed America’s addiction to oil – but it would also send a clear signal that Obama ranks cheap gas as a higher priority than a stable climate. Activist and writer Bill McKibben, who organized protests at the White House to stop the pipeline, calls the decision “a defining moment of the Obama years.”

There are two big problems with Keystone XL. First, mining and refining the tar sands of Alberta – the second-largest repository of carbon on the planet – requires huge amounts of energy. That’s why carbon pollution from tar-sand oil is up to 20 percent higher than from conventional crude. If we burn through the tar sands, warns NASA expert James Hansen, it’s “game over” for the climate. Second, an oil spill from the pipeline could devastate the Midwest: A recent study by the University of Nebraska estimates that a worst-case spill in the Platte River would create an oil slick that would stretch for hundreds of miles and contaminate drinking water for millions of Americans.

There are signs the pipeline may already be a done deal: The State Department’s environmental review of the project recently concluded that the pipeline would have “no significant impacts.” But Obama can still stop the project all by himself, simply by refusing to sign the certificate of national interest required to allow the pipeline to cross the U.S. border. But blocking Keystone XL means saying no to Big Oil. Among the companies with the most to gain if the pipeline is built: Koch Industries, a major backer of the Tea Party. To put pressure on the State Department, which must sign off on the pipeline, Keystone’s operator has hired the former deputy director of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign as a lead lobbyist.

Environmental choices don’t get much starker than this. “Obama is alone at the top of the key,” McKibben recently wrote. “Will he take the 20-foot jumper – or pass the ball?”

Frye in “Canada: New World without Revolution”:

Canada, with four million square miles and only four centuries of documented history, has naturally been a country more preoccupied with space than with time, with environment rather than tradition.  The older generation, to which I have finally been assigned, was brought up to think of Canada as a land of unlimited natural resources, an unloving but rich earth-mother bulging with endless supplies of nickel and asbestos, or, in her softer parts, with the kind of soil that would allow of huge grain and lumber surpluses.  The result of such assumptions is that many of our major social problems are those of ecology, the extinction of animal species, the plundering of forests and mines, the pollution of water, as the hundreds of millions of years that nature took to build up our supplies of coal and oil are cancelled out in a generation or two.  The archaeologists who explore royal tombs in Egypt and Mesopotamia find that they are almost always anticipated by grave robbers, people who got there first because they had better reasons for doing so than the acquisition of knowledge.  We are the grave robbers of our own resources, and posterity will not be grateful to us. (CW 12, 435-6)

An earlier post on the Keystone XL protests here.

Tar Sands Protest in Washington


Scores of people have been arrested at a protest in front of the White House against further development of Alberta’s tar sands, specifically a pipeline to transport more of the toxic product into the U.S. Time has a story here.

Canadians may not see themselves this way, but we now rank among the world’s worst environmental villains, thanks primarily to the Harper government abrogating its responsibilities under the Kyoto Accord: instead of being 6% below 1990 CO2 emissions as our treaty obligations require, we are currently almost 30% above them. Now Harper is aggressively pursuing his promise to make Canada an “energy superpower” — that is, to make Alberta an energy superpower — by escalating production of the world’s filthiest oil from the tar sands. Every day, somewhere in the world, there is a protest going on outside a Canadian consulate or embassy to protest tar sands development. Canadians may have become irresponsibly complacent about our good standing in the world as peaceful, reliable, and always honest brokers. Most of that reputation has been squandered in just the last few years. Per capita, we are in the top three of worst carbon polluters in the world. In terms of gross tonnage, we are always in the top ten — and we have by far the smallest population compared to the other nine. Villains is not a bad way to describe us.

Just how dangerous are the tar sands? James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institue says that if the development of the tar sands continues, then it means “game over for the climate.” (An interview with Hansen published today here.)

The underlying social problem appears to be primarily a generational one. The needs and expectations of the Baby Boomers define just about every social issue, and they undeniably drive the political agenda because they are such a large cohort and they vote in large numbers. However, their grandchildren, commonly known as the Millennials, seem to have a very different set of expectations, and they certainly will have to address the mess they are about to inherit. The triumphalism of North American “conservatism” is a mug’s game, and on some level “conservatives” must know that. Once the Boomers are gone, so goes the grasping panic that sustains our consumer society, which Baby Boomers seem to regard as a cradle-to-grave entitlement. One way or another such a society is doomed because it is not sustainable: we don’t have the resources, which are finite and are quickly being exhausted, and the effects upon the environment are catastrophic. With any luck at all, the Millennials will embrace the prospect of the change that must come rather than simply be victimized by the environmental and social disasters that will inevitably make change necessary. The very near future, therefore, is not the Conservative Party of Canada. It is much more likely the New Democratic Party (see Quebec) and the Green Party. The only prevailing issue is how much more political, economic, social and environmental damage the Conservatives and their American siblings the Republicans can inflict before they are done. Indications are that there is no limit to the damage they are willing to inflict.

Frye, as we’ve seen, includes care for the environment as a manifestation of primary concern. Here he is in “Canada: New World without Revolution” expressing an attitude that may well articulate the outlook of those who would have been his great-grandchildren:

Ecology, the sense of the need for conserving natural resources, is not a matter of letting the environment go back to the wilderness, but of finding some kind of working balance between man and nature founded on a respect for nature and its inner economies.  As part of natural human ecology, of conserving not only our natural but our cultural and imaginative resources.  Again, this is not simply a matter of leaving alone everything that is old: it is a way of life that grows out of a sense of balance between our present and our past.  In relation to the natural environment, there are two kinds of people: those who think that nature is simply there to be used by man, and those who realize that man is himself a part of nature, and will destroy himself if he destroys it.  In relation to time and human history, there are also two kinds of people: those who think that the past is dead, and those who realize that the past is still alive in us.  A dead past left to bury its dead ends in a dead present, a society of sleepwalkers, and a society without a memory is as senile as an individual in the same plight.  (CW 12, 441)