When Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, it was heralded as a victory by people the world over including myself. But as I looked more into the issues, I found they were more complex than I initially expected. Several important questions still remain, especially on the issue of what happens next? One thing is certain Trans Canada is not going to give up their agenda and will continue to push for the Keystone XL pipeline, both in terms of the existing proposed US route and other alternatives.
An informed individual on this issue is Greenpeace International co-founder Rex Weyler who has worked tirelessly behind the scenes on this campaign alongside Greenpeace Canada. I took the opportunity to contact him to gain some insider knowledge on what I feel the most pressing questions and challenges facing us now are.
Anders Lorenzen: What would you advise we do now, what’s the most powerful thing we can do from here?
Rex Weyler: In the Tar Sands, climate battle, we have to keep pressure on Canada to close the Tar Sands, keep pressure on all the pipelines and tanker routes. But simultaneously, we’ll need to address the globalized industrialized nations — US, EU, Russia, China — who are still trying to burn more hydrocarbons and build giant industrial infrastructure. We need to choke off the demand for hydrocarbons by resisting and replacing the systems of consumption, with lower-consumption communities.
Consume less, and encourage others to consume less
Localize sustainability, build resilient, local community strength; food security, energy security, low-technology systems that can be managed locally; prepare for large-scale (globalized) system breakdown.
Resist the conventional perception of society and nature: the high-consumption, capitalist, industrialized, globalized market-based system is inherently unsustainable and is severely corrupted. Avoid systems that rely on global industrialism. Help develop systems that rely on and support and empower local community-scale sustainability.
Defend every last vestige of wildness, wilderness, non-human nature;
Help link ecology to social justice; simultaneously build equality and low-impact social structures.
AL: What do you think will happen next with the pipeline?
RW: The hydrocarbon industry is desperate for oil production because every major oil field in the world is in decline. Oil production has been flat since 2005. This is a crisis in the industry. They are desperate for the Tar Sands so this battle will not go away. We will be fighting this battle for decades, or at least until the power of the oil companies collapses. They will not give up attempting to control the US and Canada governments
However, the hydrocarbon-based industrial, global system is in a process of collapse. That collapse appears slow now, but it is inevitable, and well under way. Industrial giant nations are fighting wars over the last resources, burning up valuable resources to fight over what is left. Their costs of maintaining the complex systems that enable their giant military power and infrastructure exceed their return on investment. The giant industrial nations — US, UK, Russia, China, India — etc. are already experiencing diminishing returns on investments in complexity (See J. Tainter). This is prelude to collapse.
We are now at peak oil production, and therefore at peak energy production on a world scale. We will have to build alternatives, but we must be aware that energy sources — solar, wind, biomass, etc. — have much lower Net Energy than hydrocarbons, and will be limited in scale by supply chain and replacement issues. Energy drives all economy, so as global energy supplies decline — and materials also decline, copper, phosphorous, etc. — economies will be restrained. Without growing energy supplies, continued economic growth is not possible on a global scale. Growth in economies will be local and severely limited. Peak energy per capita occurred in 1979, over thirty years ago.
In any case, on a finite planet, with finite material and energy resources, endless economic growth is not possible. Continued population growth is not possible. Ideas of “decoupling” economics from natural materials and energy are delusional. Particularly, economic growth needs energy growth.
So we are now in the age of resource limits, scarcity. The future will be in robust steady-state economies (if we’re smart and lucky), otherwise it will be collapse and chaos. This is why we need to put our resources into localized, community-scale resilience and sustainability, food & energy security, etc.
In the hydrocarbon era, the western world eats 1:15 Negative Net Energy food. I.e. our food costs more calories than the food contains. In any natural system, this is not remotely sustainable. We are doing this by burning up a billion years worth of stored solar energy (hydrocarbons). Most of the human world today is eating negative net energy food because of the use of hydrocarbons in agriculture. This is not sustainable, not with solar, wind, or any “alternative.” So we must learn to consume less and localize food production.
What this means in the Tar Sands battle is that why we are attempting to close the pipeline routes and shut down the Tar Sands, we need to be building resilient local communities that can learn to exist and create healthy lifestyles on much less energy and materials.
AL: Do you think Obama turned down pipeline to please environmentalists in advance of the forthcoming US election? And will the rejection of the pipeline alter the relationship between the Canadian and the US government, will the Harper administration now further ally themselves with the US Republicans who have been in favor of the pipeline?
RW: The Oil companies are controlling both the US Republicans and the Canadian Conservatives. Those alliances will continue because they are based in the power of petroleum producers — Shell, Sinopec, BP, etc.
AL: Is this just a delay of the inevitable or can Tar Sands be stopped or even halted?
RW: Obama’s action is just a delay until after the election. It means nothing for the long term.
Nevertheless, Yes, we can stop the Tar Sands by stopping the pipelines: Keystone, Kinder-Morgan TMX, and Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. By stopping the pipelines, we help to choke off the tar sands. Yes, if the world rises up, we can force Canada to reduce and eventually close the Tar Sands project. This may take a long time, but global economic collapse will likely contribute to the decline of tar sands projects.
AL: What is the mood is within Canada about the rejection of the pipeline?
Most people in Canada oppose the Tar Sands — 60-70% opposed — but we are under the dictatorship of a government that got in with 36% of the vote and are financed and controlled by the oil companies. I have a lot about this in my article: “Canada: climate criminal.”
AL: Related to that, can you give us a geographical picture of the opponents and supporters of the pipelines and the Tar Sands project? Which areas are experiencing the biggest opposition versus support and why?
RW: The support is in the oil companies and a few people who benefit. The oil companies are the known, usual suspects: Shell, Imperial, PetroChina, Sinopec, and so forth. They have outright bought the Alberta and Canada governments and they control the US Congress, and they control much of the UK and EU govts. They’re everywhere.
The opposition to the Tar Sands is everyone else who is paying attention; internationally, the Tar Sands opposition are the people and nations who want to halt global warming. In Canada and the US this opposition is strong. In Canada, opposition exists everywhere, but is concentrated on the west coast, in BC, with both indigenous groups — Yinka Dene Alliance and Coastal First Nations — and in environmental groups: Wilderness Committee, Tanker Free BC, Greenpeace, and others.
AL: Of the three routes you have mentioned, where do you think the biggest environmental destruction is likely to occur?
RW: The single worst case scenario would be a major oil tanker spill on the West Coast. But even before such a spill, pipelines and tankers continually spill oil during normal operations. So everywhere there is a pipeline and oil tankers, there are oil spills. Constantly. the entire ecosystems suffer, water tables are contaminated, etc.
Meanwhile, keep in mind, every drop of oil that goes through the pipelines is spilled into the atmosphere eventually (if it isn’t spilled onto land or water first). So the greatest destruction is global.
AL: If the EU, as has been discussed, was to ban Tar Sands oil from the fuel mix in Europe, what impact would that have of the overall development of the Tar Sands?
RW: It would have some valuable impact, but would not be enough. The Tar Sands producers want pipelines to tankers so the heavy bitumen crude can be refined in China and US for world markets. Both China and US need all the oil supply they can find, so they don’t necessarily need EU markets. Still, if the EU bans Tar Sands oil, this will be a huge help for us here in Canada, because it will have a powerful impact on our political process, and some economic impact on the companies.
AL: Could you envisage NGO’s and indigenous groups pulling together a lawsuit against the Tar Sands project?
RW: Yes. We are working along those lines in Canada. The Indigenous nations here in BC are already working on legal challenges to the pipelines. See the Fraser River Declaration; Yinka-Dene Alliance, and so forth.
AL: As a Canadian Environmentalist who do you consider to be your allies and opponents in the local and international media?
RW: The conventional media are rarely helpful, and in most cases are also controlled by economic interests, oil companies, large multinational corporations.
Our media allies exist primarily on the Internet. Here in Canada, the Tyee, Rable.ca; in the US Democracy Now, Counterpunch, etc.
We have to be our own media. This is one reason I write the Deep Green column.
Further reading and information:
For more information Rex has kindly provided following links:
Info about the 3 proposed pipelines: http://fredericacade.wordpress.com/2011/11/14/enbridge-and-kinder-morgan-like-transcanadas-keystone-xl-are-also-trying-to-transport-canadas-extremely-highly-toxic-crude-oil-in-pipelines-through-several-states/
More info at all sands truth: http://oilsandstruth.org/projects-region/enbridge-gateway-pipeline-bc
The Common Sense Canadian: http://thecanadian.org/item/1271-ethicaloilorg-and-the-harper-government-enbridge-china-joe-oliver-gillis
Canadian Pipelines: http://wildernesscommittee.org/tankers
To not forget Rex’s own blogs:
This also appeared on Greenpeace get active site:http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/groups/south-west-london/blog/rex-weyler-tar-sands-and-keystone-xl