Tag: Oil sands

True Independence.

Can’t believe a year has gone so quickly!

Last year, on this day, I published the transcript of the Declaration of Independence before Congress on July 4, 1776.  Part of one of the comments, left by Patrice Ayme, was this:

That the trust is gone is actually a good thing. We cannot trust a system where a few lead hundreds of millions, if not billions. Even if they come from the People, and especially if they come from the People. Because the less power where they come from, the greedier they are, and thus, the more eager to be bought.

Two thousand years ago, any grouping of a few thousands Germans got enraged when someone would proclaim himself a king. Now people venerate those who think they can do all the thinking in place of billions.

Hence we are facing the reality of a vastly incomplete revolution: Athens, at her apex, had direct democracy (OK, no women, no slaves…). We don’t.

Perhaps, what has changed most in the last year is the realisation, the growing realisation, as to where real power lies.

This highly subjective conclusion comes to me as a result of reading, very recently, two essays.

The first was an essay by ‘Gaius Publius’ seen on Naked Capitalism.  It was called: A Primer – What’s in a “Tar Sands” Pipeline?

In the wake of renewed interest in the Keystone Pipeline project and the likelihood that Obama will eagerly approve it unless we stop him, there’s a lot of interest in what actually flows through those pipes.

Van Jones has called it “planet-cooking goo.” I’ve called it “sludge.” But what is it really?

To answer that question, we need to look at:

▪ What is “tar sand“?
▪ What is extracted from it (answer, bitumen or “tar”)?
▪ What is done to the bitumen to make it “flow”?

All of which produces a great bottom line. Click any of those links to jump to that section.

The primary source, though not the only source, of this information is a great article and slideshow at the Scientific American website. Feel free to click and read as we walk through this material.

It is a thorough and very disturbing explanation of what Keystone XL is truly about; please don’t hesitate to read it in full.

It includes this video:

However, I will republish the closing paragraphs:

SO WHAT FLOWS THROUGH THE PIPES?

If you thought that diluted bitumen, as produced by the upgrading plants, is now capable of flowing through a pipeline to the cash registers in Texas (or wherever), you’d be wrong. Even in diluted form, bitumen doesn’t flow. To make it flow, it has to be heated — often to 150°–160°F — and then forced through the pipelines under high pressure.

So what flows through the pipeline? Keeping those cash registers in mind, you now have all the pieces. Tar sand pipelines contain:

A carbon-rich colloidal suspension …

Made up of lighter-than-water, easily-evaporated toxic liquids (like diesel) …

And heavier-than-water solids (the tar or bitumen itself) that sink to the bottom of rivers and below the mud in fields …

Which has been heated hot enough to burn your hand — or accelerate the external corrosion of the pipeline itself, including pinhole breaks …

Which has been forced to move under high pressure …

And which contains poisons and toxins like sulphur, arsenic, nickel, lead and mercury …

All so megalomaniacal carbon billionaires can make even more money.

That’s what flows through the pipelines. Or to put it more simply:

What flows through the pipes is the unmonetized assets of the try-and-stop-me CEO class, which if it spills, will poison everything it touches for decades or centuries, and if it gets into the air, will turn most of our grandchildren — the ones that survive — into hunter-gatherers.

Bill McKibben counts those unmonetized assets (proven reserves) at $27 trillion dollars. Add in reserves that are likely but not proven, plus the ones in the melting Arctic that are yet to be found, and you’re talking real money. The billionaire class won’t walk away from that in a hurry.

And that, kids, is Science Talk for today. We learned a little about a lot, didn’t we — everything from colloidal suspensions and bitumen “froth,” to billionaire psychopathology and cash registers in Texas. To those of you who got to this end of the post, my thanks!

So hold in mind the reference to the billionaire class as I cross the ‘pond’ to the old country for the second essay.

Recently, George Monbiot published an essay under the title of Robber Barons.

It opened, thus:

Why do we ignore the most blatant transfer of money from the poor to the rich?

It’s the silence that puzzles me. Last week, the Chancellor stood up in parliament to announce that benefits for the very poor would be cut yet again. On the same day, in Luxembourg, our government battled to maintain benefits for the very rich. It won. As a result, some of the richest people in Britain will each continue to receive millions of pounds in income support from taxpayers.

There has been not a whimper of protest. The Guardian hasn’t mentioned it. UK Uncut is silent. So – at the other end of the spectrum – is the UK Independence Party.

I’m talking about the most blatant transfer of money from the poor to the rich that has occurred in the era of universal suffrage. Farm subsidies. The main subsidy – the single farm payment – is doled out by the hectare. The more you own or rent, the more money you receive.

Later on mentioning:

The minister responsible for cutting income support for the poor, Iain Duncan Smith, lives on an estate owned by his wife’s family. Over the past ten years, it has received €1.5m in income support from taxpayers.

How much more obvious do these double standards have to be before we begin to notice?

Then Mr. Monbiot examines some of the cultural aspects such as how “A high proportion of the books aimed at very young children are about farm animals.” then closes with this thought.

Whatever the reason may be, it’s time we overcame these inhibitions and confronted this unembarrassed robbery of the poor by the rich. The current structure of farm subsidies epitomises the British government’s defining project: capitalism for the poor, socialism for the rich.

So examples from both sides of The Atlantic that reveal deeply disturbing issues.  However …….

I celebrate America this day.  I celebrate the power of the common man to achieve justice and fairness for the peoples of all nations. I celebrate the Constitution of the United States of America.

oooOOOooo

Preamble

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

oooOOOooo

The XL pipeline. What comes next?

Full copy of an email just in from Bill McKibben.

Dear Friends—

I’m writing this from the lawn in front of the White House.

In front of me there’s a sprawling rally underway, with speakers ranging from indigenous elders to the great Canadian writer Naomi Klein. In back of me, another 243 courageous people are being hauled away to jail — it’s the last day of Phase 1 of the tar sands campaign, and 1,252 North Americans have been arrested, the biggest civil disobedience action this century on this continent.

But we’ve been just as cheered by the help that has poured in from around the world — today, activists in front of the White House held a banner with a huge number on it: 618,428. That’s how many people around the world who signed on to the “Stop the Tar Sands” mega-petition to President Obama, including many of you in the 350.org network. Check out this beautiful photo of passion and courage on display:

(Photo Credit: Josh Lopez. If you can’t see the photo above, click here to see it and more inspirational photos from DC.)

But this movement does more than sign petitions: many of you stood strong in front of the White House risking arrest, and protesters on every continent have picketed outside embassies and consulates. That makes sense, for global warming is the one problem that affects everyone everywhere.

And the next moment to prove that is Sept. 24 for Moving Planet — the massive day of climate action that will unite people all over the world. We’ve heard news of amazing actions from every corner of the earth -— from a massive bike rally in the Philippines to an incredible eco-festival in Philadelphia. I truly can’t wait to see the pictures pour in.

But here’s why it’s important: we’re not just a movement that opposes things, we’re also a movement that dreams of what’s coming. And we don’t just dream, we also transform those dreams into reality. On September 24, on bike and on foot and on boards, we’re going to point the way towards that future. By days’ end, we’ll have shown why the bicycle is more glamorous than the car, and why the people have the potential to be more powerful than the polluters.

On some days fighting global warming means swallowing hard, mustering your courage, and making a sacrifice — other days it means getting all your friends up in the saddles of their bikes to have some fun and help move the planet forward.

September 24 is the second kind of day; it’s going to be powerful, it’s going to be beautiful, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.  Please find or join a local event to get involved. 

Onwards,

Bill McKibben for the whole 350.org team


350.org is building a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis. Our online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions are led from the bottom up by thousands of volunteer organizers in over 188 countries. You can join 350.org on Facebook by becoming a fan of our page atfacebook.com/350org and follow us on twitter by visiting twitter.com/350. To join our list (maybe a friend forwarded you this e-mail) visitwww.350.org/signup. To support our work, donate securely online at 350.org/donate.

What is 350? 
350 is the number that leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Scientists measure carbon dioxide in “parts per million” (ppm), so 350ppm is the number humanity needs to get below as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change. To get there, we need a different kind of PPM–a “people powered movement” that is made of people like you in every corner of the planet.

Feel free to circulate this as far and wide as you wish.  Thanks, Learning from Dogs

‘Big Oil’ will kill us all!

The powerful anti-democratic forces that will threaten civilisation.

In one sense this post today carries an underlying political message – and in another sense, it does not.  It does in the sense that if every American voter truly understood the risks of a continued relationship with oil then the tar-sands projects wouldn’t have a prayer of a chance of being allowed.

In the other sense, it does not.  Because the influence and power of ‘behind-the-scenes’ oil and money is beyond imagination and, just possibly, outside the reach of democracy.

So what’s got me so agitated?

Well first is that I have been quietly reading The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins, he of Transition Totnes fame.  Most readers will be aware that Totnes was the first Transition Town in the world and started what is becoming the greatest social movement of the 21st century.

In Rob’s book, on page 51, there is a diagram showing the relative energy returns from the energy invested to produce that energy – hope that makes sense!  Let me explain further.  For example, for every unit of energy invested in building tidal-range generators, there are eighty-seven units of energy returned.  I.e. this is a great investment for mankind in terms of the net benefit.

If we look at the generation of electricity from solar photo-voltaic (PV) panels then the return is about eight units from every unit invested.

The worst return of them all is from Tar sands: just one unit returned from every unit invested.  Investment and humanitarian madness!

Then next I came across this item about Tar sands on The Ecologist magazine website,

Emissions from tar sands seriously underestimated

Governments and companies making no effort to quantify the real climate impacts

Greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands operations are being significantly under-reported according to new research by Global Forest Watch Canada.

The report, ‘Bitumen and Biocarbon‘, says oil companies and governments are not accounting for emissions from deforestation. It says that when boreal forest is destroyed for tar sands development, significant amounts of greenhouse gases are emitted.

‘Governments and companies are working hard to downplay the impacts of tar sands operations, but it turns out that they don’t even know the full extent of the problem,’ said Christy Ferguson, Greenpeace climate and energy coordinator.

‘What’s worse, they’re doing nothing to find out. Denial is not a climate strategy.’

In addition, the report shows that biological carbon stored in living and decaying plants is lost when natural ecosystems are disturbed or destroyed through mining of bitumen and construction of roads, pipelines or facilities.

‘Peatlands are one of the world’s most important storehouses of soil carbon. Industrial activity in the tar sands is destroying peatlands, releasing carbon and eliminating a crucial natural mechanism.

‘Even if peatlands are reclaimed, the carbon released through industrialisation won’t be replaced for thousands of years,’ said Ferguson.

Finally, today (25th) I received in my in-box the latest TomDispatch offering.  (I am indebted to Tom Engelhardt for, once again, giving me permission to reproduce in full this TomGram.)

Tom’s latest piece is written by Bill McKibben (with an introduction by Tom) and I strongly urge you to read it – the implications are global.  If you read an earlier TomDispatch article by Bill re-published on Learning from Dogs on the 18th July, The Great American Carbon Bomb, today’s piece will surely make you sit up and fume; as it did me!  Here it is in full.

Tomgram: Bill McKibben, Jailed Over Big Oil’s Attempt to Wreck the Planet

What might have happened if John McCain had won the presidency in 2008?  One thing is certain: there would have been a lot more protest from Democrats, progressives, and the left.  Take it as an irony of his election, but Barack Obama has proved remarkably effective in disarming the antiwar movement, even as the use of war in American policy in the Greater Middle East has only grown.  That Obama, the supposed anti-warrior of the 2008 campaign, has paid less than no attention to his antiwar critics is no news at all.   It’s now practically a cliché as well that he seems to feel no need to feed his political “base” and that, generally speaking (and explain it as you will), his base has not yet pushed back.

This has been particularly true of Obama’s wars, especially the disastrous, never-ending one in Afghanistan.  Had Afghanistan been “McCain’s war,” you would surely have seen growing waves of protest, despite the way 9/11 ensured that the Afghan War, unlike the Iraq one, would long be the unassailable “good war.”  Still, as American treasure surged into the ill-starred enterprise in Afghanistan, while funds for so much that mattered disappeared at home, I think the streets of Washington would have been filling.  What protest there has been, as John Hanrahan of the Nieman Watchdog website reported recently, tends to be remarkably ill-covered in the mainstream media.

Obama, only two points ahead of Ron Paul in the latest Gallup Poll in the race for 2012, is a beyond-vulnerable candidate.  (Somewhere there must be some Democratic pol doing the obvious math and considering a challenge, mustn’t there?)  Fortunately, in another area at least as crucial as our wars, demonstrators against a Big Oil tar-sands pipeline from Canada that will help despoil the planet are now out in front of the White House — you can follow them here — and they haven’t been shy about aiming their nonviolent protests directly at Obama.  Will he or won’t he act like the climate-change president that, on coming into office, he swore he would be?  Time will tell.  Meanwhile, let Bill McKibben, TomDispatch regular, an organizer of the protests, and just out of a jail cell, fill you in.  Tom

Arrested at the White House
Acting as a Living Tribute to Martin Luther King 

By Bill McKibben

I didn’t think it was possible, but my admiration for Martin Luther King, Jr., grew even stronger these past days.

As I headed to jail as part of the first wave of what is turning into the biggest civil disobedience action in the environmental movement for many years, I had the vague idea that I would write something. Not an epic like King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” but at least, you know, a blog post. Or a tweet.

Heros

But frankly, I wasn’t up to it. The police, surprised by how many people turned out on the first day of two weeks of protests at the White House, decided to teach us a lesson. As they told our legal team, they wanted to deter anyone else from coming — and so with our first crew they were… kind of harsh.

We spent three days in D.C.’s Central Cell Block, which is exactly as much fun as it sounds like it might be. You lie on a metal rack with no mattress or bedding and sweat in the high heat; the din is incessant; there’s one baloney sandwich with a cup of water every 12 hours.

I didn’t have a pencil — they wouldn’t even let me keep my wedding ring — but more important, I didn’t have the peace of mind to write something. It’s only now, out 12 hours and with a good night’s sleep under my belt, that I’m able to think straight. And so, as I said, I’ll go to this weekend’s big celebrations for the openingof the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on the Washington Mall with even more respect for his calm power.

Preacher, speaker, writer under fire, but also tactician. He really understood the power of nonviolence, a power we’ve experienced in the last few days. When the police cracked down on us, the publicity it produced cemented two of the main purposes of our protest:

Eaarth

First, it made Keystone XL — the new, 1,700-mile-long pipeline we’re trying to block that will vastly increase the flow of “dirty” tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico — into a national issue. A few months ago, it was mainly people along the route of the prospective pipeline who were organizing against it. (And with good reason: tar sands mining has already wrecked huge swaths of native land in Alberta, and endangers farms, wild areas, and aquifers all along its prospective route.)

Now, however, people are coming to understand — as we hoped our demonstrations would highlight — that it poses a danger to the whole planet as well.  After all, it’s the Earth’s second largest pool of carbon, and hence the second-largest potential source of global warming gases after the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. We’ve already plumbed those Saudi deserts.  Now the question is: Will we do the same to the boreal forests of Canada. As NASA climatologist James Hansen has made all too clear, if we do so it’s “essentially game over for the climate.” That message is getting through.  Witness the incredibly strong New York Times editorial opposing the building of the pipeline that I was handed on our release from jail.

Second, being arrested in front of the White House helped make it clearer that President Obama should be the focus of anti-pipeline activism. For once Congress isn’t in the picture.  The situation couldn’t be simpler: the president, and the president alone, has the power either to sign the permit that would take the pipeline through the Midwest and down to Texas (with the usual set of disastrous oil spills to come) or block it.

Barack Obama has the power to stop it and no one in Congress or elsewhere can prevent him from doing so.  That means — and again, it couldn’t be simpler — that the Keystone XL decision is the biggest environmental test for him between now and the next election. If he decides to stand up to the power of big oil, it will send a jolt through his political base, reminding the presently discouraged exactly why they were so enthused in 2008.

That’s why many of us were wearing our old campaign buttons when we went into the paddy wagon.  We’d like to remember — and like the White House to remember, too — just why we knocked on all those doors.

But as Dr. King might have predicted, the message went deeper. As people gather in Washington for this weekend’s dedication of his monument, most will be talking about him as a great orator, a great moral leader. And of course he was that, but it’s easily forgotten what a great strategist he was as well, because he understood just how powerful a weapon nonviolence can be.

The police, who trust the logic of force, never quite seem to get this. When they arrested our group of 70 or so on the first day of our demonstrations, they decided to teach us a lesson by keeping us locked up extra long — strong treatment for a group of people peacefully standing on a sidewalk.

No surprise, it didn’t work.  The next day an even bigger crowd showed up — and now, there are throngs of people who have signed up to be arrested every day until the protests end on September 3rd.  Not only that, a judge threw out the charges against our first group, and so the police have backed off.  For the moment, anyway, they’re not actually sending more protesters to jail, just booking and fining them.

And so the busload of ranchers coming from Nebraska, and the bio-fueled RV with the giant logo heading in from East Texas, and the flight of grandmothers arriving from Montana, and the tribal chiefs, and union leaders, and everyone else will keep pouring into D.C. We’ll all, I imagine, stop and pay tribute to Dr. King before or after we get arrested; it’s his lead, after all, that we’re following.

Our part in the weekend’s celebration is to act as a kind of living tribute. While people are up on the mall at the monument, we’ll be in the front of the White House, wearing handcuffs, making clear that civil disobedience is not just history in America.

We may not be facing the same dangers Dr. King did, but we’re getting some small sense of the kind of courage he and the rest of the civil rights movement had to display in their day — the courage to put your body where your beliefs are. It feels good.

Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of 350.org, and a TomDispatch regular. His most recent book, just out in paperback, is Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

Copyright 2011 Bill McKibben

So perhaps you understand why every American reading this should make sure your voice is heard.  And in the last few minutes –  1.30pm MT 25th August – Reuters have just put out this news release,

Nation’s Leading Environmental NGOs Unified Against Tar Sands Pipeline

Update on Day 5 of Tar Sand Pipeline Protest at the White House

See past update and background.

275 people have been arrested so far and many have been released. Today, the largest environmental groups in the US joined to send a letter to President Obama voicing their unified opposition to the Keystone pipeline and asking him to block it.

Why is this important? “For those of us out there in front of the White House, the best thing about this ringing statement is that the administration won’t be able to play one group off against another by making small concessions here and there”; says protest organizer Bill McKibben.

“There’s only one way to demonstrate to the environmental base the rhetoric of Obama’s 2008 campaign is still meaningful – and that’s to veto this pipeline. Since he can do it without even consulting Congress, this is one case where we’ll be able to see exactly how willing he is to match the rhetoric of his 2008 campaign.”

The letter says:

Dear President Obama,

Many of the organizations we head do not engage in civil disobedience; some do. Regardless, speaking as individuals, we want to let you know that there is not an inch of daylight between our policy position on the Keystone Pipeline and those of the very civil protesters being arrested daily outside the White House.

This is a terrible project – many of the country’s leading climate scientists have explained why in their letter last month to you. It risks many of our national treasures to leaks and spills. And it reduces incentives to make the transition to job-creating clean fuels.

You have a clear shot to deny the permit, without any interference from Congress. It’s perhaps the biggest climate test you face between now and the election.

If you block it, you will trigger a surge of enthusiasm from the green base that supported you so strongly in the last election. We expect nothing less.

Sincerely,

Fred Krupp, Environmental Defense Fund

Michael Brune, Sierra Club

Frances Beinecke, Natural Resources Defense Council

Phil Radford, Greenpeace

Larry Schweiger, National Wildlife Federation Erich Pica, Friends of the Earth

Rebecca Tarbotton, Rainforest Action Network

May Boeve, 350.org

Gene Karpinski, League of Conservation Voters

Margie Alt, Environment America

New York Times Also Opposes Pipeline

In an August 21 editorial, the NY Times took a opposition against the pipeline, citing two main concerns: the risk of oil spills along the pipeline, which would traverse highly sensitive terrain, and the fact that the extraction of petroleum from tar sands creates far more greenhouse emissions than conventional production does.

Building the pipeline would clear the way for Canada to double tar sands production over the next decade to more than 1.8 million barrels a day. To do that, some 740,000 acres of boreal forest – a natural carbon reservoir – would be destroyed.

In addition to the emissions produced by tar sands extraction, would be emissions from the loss of this vast, crucial carbon sink, [editor’s note: not to mention the biodiversity it harbors.] Read the editorial:

Website: here with permission from Sustainable Business

Way to go, Bill.

Let me leave you with this picture.

Tar sands workings