Dear energy board members,
In this submission I will address just one of your criteria for evaluating the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal: the need for the pipeline. I will not argue that the pipeline is not needed. I will argue that Canadians have a need for the pipeline not to be built. This does not mean that I have no concerns in relation to the other criteria. I am concerned about the direct impacts of the proposed pipeline on the environment but assume that these will be adequately addressed by others.
I did a little research into the NEB and read Mr. Gaetan Caron’s speech to the 14th Annual Arctic Oil and Gas Symposium. As a result I came to respect what you do and the principles which you uphold. I see that the NEB is concerned with how oil and gas infrastructure is built and operated, attempting to maximize safety and environmental protection in all cases. But these hearings are about whether or not the pipeline should be built.
When I worked as a professional engineer I realized that my job was to facilitate how projects would be built. My concerns about whether or not projects should be built were frustrated. These concerns had arisen to prominence in my mind after I read The Limits to Growth in 1972. This book, published in that same year by the influential Club of Rome, showed computer-modeled extrapolations of global growth trends in the economy, pollution, resource use and population. It made the clear, irrefutable point that unrestrained exponential growth in a finite system leads to catastrophe. It suggested that there is strong linkage between economic growth and growth in pollution, resource depletion and population. Its predictions have proved accurate in all except the timeline.
In the introduction to the book was a graph which showed that most people’s concerns are short-term and local. Only a small minority are concerned about global, long-term issues. It seems to be in my nature to be one of this minority, unheard by the majority. From my perspective, the Titanic is headed full-steam, towards an ice berg with not enough life-boats while most on board are busy having fun. I don’t want to be involved re-arranging the deck chairs.
You may say, “This is outside our frame of reference.” I know our head-in-the-sand government has sought to limit your purview to the direct impact of the pipeline itself with no reference to upstream or downstream activities but, in my opinion, it is your duty as citizens of this country and this planet not to ignore these issues. As I wrote in my application, “A decision made out of context is an unwise decision.” I have little doubt that your training, as was mine, was all about focussing on the details not on the big picture, all about analysis not about synthesis. This is ideal for examining how projects are to be built but woefully inadequate for deciding whether or not projects should go ahead. As neuroscience has demonstrated perception of context, the big picture, originates in a different part of the brain from perception of detail and its analysis. (The right as opposed to the left hemisphere.) But we are all endowed with two hemispheres even though the right is untrained. Humanity needs somebody to be concerned with the well-being of the whole, including the well-being of future generations. Somebody has to draw the line under the era of unrestrained industrial development.
Naming this era the Anthropocene has gained wide acceptance in the scientific community. The era in which most of the ecosphere has been modified by human activity, it is the era of industrial civilization which has been enabled by access to cheap energy. At first it was the energy of slaves and of water. Then it was coal. Currently it is more about oil and gas. But now we are in a position to anticipate the end of this era of oil and gas. We have creamed all the easy-to-get-to resources. Currently exploration and development is all in harder-to-get-to, expensive and environmentally risky areas: the Arctic, deep sea, fracking and bitumen deposits.
Environmentally risky is becoming politically risky as more and more people are concerned about environmental despoilation. Before long there may be calls for accountability for the despoilers and their enablers. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns us that, if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change most fossil-fuel reserves will have to be left in the ground and asserts that the transformation required to a world of clean energy is eminently affordable.
What are the implications of all this? Well it is clear to me that we need to make a transition from a globalized, high-energy-use society to a localized, low-energy-use society, using renewable energy sources in place of fossil fuels. Some European societies are already far along the road to this transition. Canada, largely because of the Alberta Tar Sands, lags way behind and has reneged on its commitment to the Kyoto Accords. So my objection to this pipeline is that it, together with other developments, represents a long-term commitment to a path with no future, a path of ever-more expensive, unsafe and environmentally destructive energy sourcing. As I wrote above, it is time to draw the line. Who has to draw it? You and me. When do we need to draw it? Now!
I am well-aware that, if the NEB recommends against the building of this pipeline, it will be over-ruled by the government. You might ask, “What difference would it make then?” One difference is that you would sleep better at night. I am concerned that our federal government represents the interests of large corporations more than it represents the interests of Canadian citizens. It represents short-term interests at the expense of the long-term. And like almost all governments it is obsessed with GDP-growth as the measure of its success. This is, in my opinion, delusional tunnel vision. The NEB recommending against this pipeline would help undermine this illusion, reveal the emperor has no clothes. It would be one small step in a giant leap for humankind.