Tag Archive | "Canadian tar sands"

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The Good, Bad & Ugly of Obama’s Climate Speech

Posted on 30 June 2013 by Jerry

In a major speech on climate change at Georgetown University Barack Obama showed us the risks that lie in our future.  While hailed as long overdue and somewhat underwhelming but positive, it outlined steps he is taking to reduce climate change.  Some people were enthusiastically supportive.  Al Gore was quoted in his blog as saying the Obama speech was “historic” and “the best address on climate by any president ever.”

His speech should give us pause however to see the political challenge that lies ahead.  He laid out steps he could directly order with his administrative powers.

Among the good things he said was that he would order the following:

  • the Environmental Protection Agency to develop and implement new pollution standards for new and existing U.S. power plants
  • the Interior Department by 2020 to use public lands and funds to install new green energy power sources that equal the power use of more than 6 million homes
  • the Department of Defense to install 3 gigawatts of renewable power on its bases
  • and that a budget be sent to Congress that contains funds to help with community projects and insure that they protect citizens from the negative effects of climate change

These are not the only steps the president has taken on climate change.  Without fanfare he logged positive accomplishments in his first term.  See our past post of 11/1/12 “Obama Stealth Objective: Reduce Greenhouse Gases.”

Among the bad things referred to in his speech were the positions taken by the climate deniers.  He argued, citing the scientific evidence and consensus that climate change is real, that human beings are contributing or causing our climate to deteriorate.  Further he said, “I don’t have much patience for anyone that denies this challenge is real.  We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.”

Unfortunately the ugly reality underlying the entire speech is that he does not expect the Republican controlled House of Representatives to allow any legislation to pass that would alter the present course we are on.  In fact, he acknowledged the significant pressure on him to allow the building of the Keystone XL pipeline.  This pipeline would provide a path for Canadian oil developers to get oil extracted from Canadian tar sands to market.

An article in the July issue of Scientific American entitled “Oil Sands May Irrevocably Tar the Climate” gives an excellent description of the entire project. These Canadian tar sands encompass an area that is about the size of the State of Florida.  Tar sand processing has created vast lakes of toxic water residues, with its bright yellow sulfur, that are so large they can be seen from space.

The article describes the open pit mining of the tar sands, the numerous Caterpillar 797Fs each carrying 400 metric tons of tar sands to conveyors to separation cells.  It explains multiple processes in use to show how it is cooked at high heat to remove carbon and create a hydrocarbon stew or mixed with lighter hydrocarbons to produce diluted bitumen.  Both processes make the tar sand oil liquid enough to flow in the long distance Keystone XL pipeline.

The environmental damage is not the critical issue however.  Physicist Myles Allen with six of his associates calculated in 2009 a “carbon budget” we must stay within in order to keep the worldwide climate change average temperature rise to just two degrees.  This budget sets a one-trillion-metric-ton limit on the amount of carbon human beings can burn by the year 2050.  Since CO2 lasts for centuries in the atmosphere, it doesn’t matter what (coal, oil or natural gas) we burn, where we burn it or when it is burned as long as it is before 2050 to affect the budget.

These facts have prompted James Hansen, a retired NASA climatologist, to be arrested multiple times at protest rallies opposing the building of the pipeline.  In an April 2013 op-ed he wrote in the Los Angeles Times he said, “Researchers now say that the Alberta tar sands contain 360 to 510 billion tons of carbon – more than double that of all oil burned in human history.  While only a fraction is considered economically recoverable right now, we humans are genius at finding new and better ways to dig junk out of the ground.”

Further his op-ed stated that “mainstream financial analysis and industry documents….show the Keystone XL is the linchpin for tar sands expansion in the next decade.”  He sums up by saying “The science on climate change has been in for a quarter of a century.  There are no more mixed messages, just catastrophe after catastrophe.  The president stands at a fork in the road: Rejecting the pipeline will show the world we are serious and determined to be on the right side of history.  Approving it will signal we are too entrenched with business-as-usual to do what’s right by the people, planet and future generations.”

Hansen argues it is time to draw a firm line in the sand beyond which we will not go.  We are fighting the avarice of capitalists we have encouraged.  They admit in private that climate change is real.  Their only hope however is that they can convince us to do nothing long enough for them to profit.  It is time to tell the buggy whip manufactures of our energy industry that their time has passed and they are being left behind by today’s better technologies, their own past plundering of our planet and our present need to insure a positive future for our children.

Use the following links to obtain more information on these subjects:

For a complete transcript of the President’s speech go to http://ens-newswire.com/2013/06/25/president-obamas-climate-change-speech-full-text/






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Ozone, Climate Change: Harbingers and Victims

Posted on 09 August 2012 by Jerry

For many decades canaries in coal mines were used for early warning of carbon monoxide, methane or carbon dioxide which would kill the canary before affecting the miner. It appears that fish may have replaced the canary in providing warning of ozone depletion and effects of these same deadly gasses on climate change.  This is of course, in addition to prescient scientists and climate activists who have provided similar early warnings that have been largely ignored.

A study entitled “Evidence of Melanoma in Wild Marine Fish Populations” in the August 1, 2012 issue of PLoS ONE, describes the first known cases of melanoma skin cancer in wild fish populations, in this case coral trout which inhabit the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) off Australia.  One hundred and thirty six fish were sampled and photographed and twenty fish, or roughly 15%, showed evidence of skin cancer.  Numerous other affected fish were sighted by divers.  The study however was performed only on fish captured via fishing.

Elaborate tests were performed on the affected tissues attempting to identify likely causes including bacterial, fungal, and ciliates or protozoan agents.  The observed dark growth lesions on the fish were similar in appearance to those reported in laboratory induced melanomas (cancers) using ultraviolet (UV) radiation.  See the identified link below.  In the absence of other identified causes, knowledge that the area is subject to high UV radiation as a result of the Antarctic ozone hole, and that UV radiation penetrates the ocean to a depth of 60 meters (200 feet), the scientists concluded the likely cause of these cancers was environmental exposure to UV radiation as a result of ozone depletion.

Scientists are surprised at the waning interest in depletion of the ozone above the planet.  This is thought to be because the world believed it had dealt with the problem with the signing of the 1987 Montreal Protocol where developed countries agreed to phase out use of chemicals that are damaging to the ozone.  Scientists moved on to study climate change and left ozone depletion as yesterday’s news.  Recent studies of ocean algae, coral, crustaceans and fish larvae and eggs however are showing a steep increase in the marine death rates from UVB radiation.

Moving to the Northern Hemisphere, fish are paying the price extracted by climate change, which accentuates weather highs and lows.  In the midst of the warmest 12 month period on record (see blog April 5, 2012 article “Record Warmest Year in U.S.”) and a nationwide drought with over half of the counties in America declared disaster areas, fish are dying by the thousands as rivers and lakes dry up and there are fatal increases in water temperatures.

Many scientists, who have become intimidated by the climate change deniers of the legacy energy industry and the political right, are reluctant to label this record drought a result of global climate change.  Instead, because of fierce criticism and pressure, they use the politically correct response which is “It is impossible to determine if any single phenomenon is a result of climate change.”   Only a few stalwarts and truthsayers have the courage to stand up to the intimidation.  They are our human harbingers.

A notable example of these brave scientists is James Hansen who directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.  In a recent NY Times Op-ed he warned that the Obama administration should oppose any effort of Canada to exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves.  He stated we should not cooperate in building a cross country oil pipeline giving Canada access to our Gulf Coast Refining.  He suggested instead that the U.S. and other countries should create incentives that rewarded countries like Canada for leaving their resources in the ground and choosing renewable energy sources instead.

In a long term outlook he stated, “Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history.  If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control.  Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities.  Global temperatures would become intolerable.   Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction.  Civilization would be at risk.”

In a subsequent paper presented to the National Academy of Sciences entitled “Perception of climate change” he focused on an element of basic statistics looking at recent higher temperature summer outliers of more than three standard deviations.  He stated “This hot extreme, which covered much less than 1% of Earth’s surface during the base period, now typically covers about 10% of the land area.  It follows that we can state, with a high degree of confidence, that extreme anomalies such as those in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010 were a consequence of global warming because their likelihood in the absence of global warming was exceedingly small.”

We need but look around us and listen to our scientists to know that the negative developments we are seeing are real and do not bode well for our future.  We must react as human beings have always reacted by recognizing the trends and deciding to change our course and minimize future negative outcomes.

Use the following links to access additional information on these topics:








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