Mitchell Anderson

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Mitchell Anderson is a Vancouver based researcher and writer.

He worked for eight years as a staff scientist at Sierra Legal Defence Fund and has written extensively on environmental and social policy issues for a variety of national and international publications.

His blog is found at: http://mitchellanderson.blogspot.com

US Chamber of Commerce Implodes on Climate Policy

us chamber of commerce logo

The wheels are falling off the US Chamber of Commerce’s long-standing opposition to meaningful American climate policy. Why? Because their own members are demanding this Capitol Hill powerhouse move into the 21st century.

Household names as Nike and Johnson & Johnson are apparently embarrassed by the dinosaur attitude of the nation’s largest commercial lobby group.

Johnson & Johnson sent a letter demanding that the Chamber to refrain from making comments on climate change unless they “reflect the full range of views, especially those of Chamber members advocating for congressional action.”

Nike has also been “vocal” with the Chamber’s leaders “about wanting them to take a more progressive stance on the issue of climate change.”

The Fantasy of "Green Bitumen"

The petro state of Alberta has outdone itself again. The Canadian province best known as home of the tar sands recently named former Syncrude executive Eric Newell to head up a multi-million provincial climate change fund. With no apparent irony, the province apparently felt that someone from the industry with the fastest growing emissions in Canada would be the best choice for this high profile job.

Newell now becomes president of the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corp, a provincial government scheme where companies that release more than 100,000 tonnes of CO2 per year are supposed to reduce their intensities by 12% or pay $15 per tonne above their target.

The Stephen Harper War on Climate Science

The government of Prime Minster Stephen Harper just appointed two “climate skeptics” with connections to the oil industry to important federal scientific bodies. The scientific community is appalled.

Mark Mullins, Executive Director of the right wing Fraser Institute has just been installed on the board of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), which funds university research projects including studies on climate change.

The Fraser Institute has a long history of unethical tactics around the so-called climate debate. Desmog blog readers will remember their ham handed attempts to discredit the largest peer-review exercise in scientific history, including a video targeted at youth. They have so-far received $120,000 from ExxonMobil.

Mullins (trained as an economist) makes no bones about his understanding of climate science: “the climate-change issue is somewhat sensational and definitely exaggerated.” You can listen to his entire wacky podcast here.

Besides his complete lack of scientific expertise, his obvious political bias and of course potential conflict with his current employer, Mullins does have one significant qualification important to the Harper government: his was a former policy advisor for Harper’s former party, the Canadian Alliance.

The other jaw-dropping intervention in the Canadian scientific community was the appointment of Harper’s “best friend” and climate denier John Weissenberger to the board of Canada Foundation for Innovation, which funds large research projects.

This is the second time that Harper picked a plum for his old buddy. In 2007, he appalled political observers by quietly appointing Weissenberger to be chief of staff to the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration.

Canada to the Rescue (of the Coal Industry)

Canada’s science minister, Gary Goodyear, was in Washington recently talking up how Canadian research may usher in a era of “clean coal”. Ottawa is shoveling $1 billion for research related to the dubious concept of “carbon capture and storage”, targeted largely at the Alberta tar sands.

Goodyear implied that the Canadian brain trust could develop technologies to keep the carbon party going on both sides of the border without any of those nasty emissions.

Is this good news? Hardly.

It’s more like a drunk trying to talk a drinking buddy out of going to his first AA meeting.

America under the Obama Administration has been making the first bold steps to getting serious about climate change. A cap and trade bill is moving through Congress. The EPA listed carbon as a “pollutant” opening the door for regulation under the Clean Air Act. Obama has pledged billions in tax dollars and incentive to double renewable energy production in US in the next three years.

Obama has also dedicated 3% of American GDP to research – the highest level of government investment in science in American history. There is a constellation of green energy research programs being nurtured in the US designed to make America a green technology leader.

Obama’s motivations are clear: “The nation that leads the world in 21st-century clean energy will be the nation that leads in the 21st-century global economy,” the President said. “America can and must be that nation.”

Meanwhile Canada is still on the barstool wondering where her old pal went. Carbon emissions in Canada ballooned by 4% in 2007 alone and are now 26% above 1990 levels, with no end in site. Rather than deal with a root cause of extraction and consumption, Canada has instead committed to the technological pipe dream of carbon capture that has already been rejected by experts as a solution to tar sands emissions.

Motivating Canada on Climate Change

Saskatchewan might be picking a fight with Uncle Sam in the latest wierd chapter of Canadian climate policy – or lack thereof.

Oil-producing Alberta and Saskatchewan just told Ottawa they will not tolerate a federal carbon system with anything more meaningful than “intensity-based” reduction targets.

No wonder. These provinces collectively have only 14% of the Canadian population yet crank out close to 45% of the emissions. So called “intensity” targets would keep the petroleum party going by allowing absolute carbon emissions to balloon for decades into the future.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government is finally being forced to draft meaningful climate policy - only because the US will impose trade sanctions if we don’t. With that ultimatum looming over Canada, the provinces presumably expect Ottawa to pass their ultimatum on to the Obama Administration.

Good luck with that.

Many lawmakers in the US might be hard pressed to find Saskatchewan on a map, let alone water down American cap and trade legislation for the benefit of a Canadian province with the same population Rhode Island.

“Depending on what comes out of Washington, the reality is the Americans may have the whip hand on this stuff,” observed Environmental Lawyer Doug Thomson. “And if they do, it’s not going to be a matter of keeping all sides happy but reflecting the reality of the situation. … We may have no choice.”

All this means Ottawa may have to deviate from the long-standing Canadian tradition of caving to pressure from regions or provinces. It also seems to be the unlikely and ignoble way in which Canada will finally get serious about climate change.

"Re-Branding" the Alberta Tar Sands

It’s always nice to get feedback on your work. That’s why we were heartened to see a comment from the Alberta Government on our post yesterday about the appointment of a tar sands executive as a “clean energy” envoy to the US:

David Sands of the Government of Alberta, here.

Mr. Anderson you certainly bring a lot of energy to your writing. While we can’t agree with most of your assertions, we certainly applaud you and desmogblog for promoting the discussion.

If any of your readers want a quick (12 mins, I think) look at what we are doing to address environmental impacts of oil sands development, we’ve got a new video. Real people, real pictures, no script. (“Conversation”) up at this site: http://oilsands.alberta.ca/

Thanks David. I did take the time to view the video yet failed to come away with any new information or insights that undermined my strongly held belief that the tar sands are an ecological nightmare, or that the Alberta government is doing much more than trying to massage their public image.

In fact, it is odd that the Alberta taxpayer is funding a team of on-line writers to troll the blogosphere for potentially damaging posts, at the same time as the government of Premier Stelmach just slashed $12 million from provincial environment programs.

These sophisticated PR efforts instead seem part the much-maligned $25 million “rebranding” campaign bankrolled by the Alberta taxpayer. Mr. Sands himself is on record as saying a “fair amount” of this money is being spent in Washington because “the oilsands are a large part of Alberta’s story.”

Shell Abandons Alberta Tar Sands Emissions Cuts - See You In Court

The Alberta tar sands just took another humiliating PR hit. Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell reneged on a legal commitment to reduce carbon emissions for a massive $13.7 billion tar sands expansion down to those of conventional oil.

Now why would Shell do that? Perhaps because it can’t be done.

Tar sands emissions are at least three times those of conventional oil and likely to rise as near-surface deposits are exhausted. So-called carbon capture and storage (CCS) for the tar sands have been panned both by experts and the marketplace. The Alberta and Canadian governments have been told it won’t work but that has not stopped them from plowing $500,000 a year into Washington-based lobbying.

Now comes word that Shell is abandoning a legal commitment that was a condition of their regulatory approval back in 2007. According to Pembina Institute, this backsliding will add an additional 900,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually or the equivalent of putting 200,000 more cars on the road.

You can bet that this mess is heading to court. EcoJustice Canada have already filed an affidavit with Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) and the federal government requesting that the approval of the Jackpine Mine and Muskeg River Mine expansion tar sands projects be overturned.

Canada's Prime Minister Installs Tar Sands Exec as "Clean Energy" Envoy to US

The Harper Government just sent a clear signal of the real agenda for the so-called “clean energy dialogue” with US government.

Under intense questioning from opposition politicians, Ottawa finally fessed up that former tar sands executive Charlie Fisher will represent Canada in these high level negotiations with Obama Administration.

Long-time observers of Canada’s already pathetic record on climate change were understandably apoplectic.

Appointing Charlie Fischer sends a clear signal that this is about promoting the tar sands, period,” said Stephen Hazell, executive director of Sierra Club Canada.

The government of Canada seems to be coming at this whole clean energy dialogue from the perspective of how can they get special exemptions for the tar sands industry so that, when a cap-and-trade system is implemented, the tar sands aren’t affected.”

Until last December, Fisher was the president and chief executive officer of Calgary-based oil giant Nexen, which has a huge stake in the continued expansion in the Alberta tar sands.

Just last December they ponyed up an additional $735-million in a property that has about 2 billion barrels of extractable crude locked up in tarry bitumen. The company also owns 7% of tar sands giant Syncrude.

If Fisher’s recent leadership of a major oil sands player is not enough to completely compromise his involvement in “clean energy” negotiations with the US, he also had (and may still have) a hefty personal stake in the tar sands.

As of December, Fischer owned over 500,000 common shares in Nexen, then worth about $9.5 million, as well as options on three million more shares. Since he is no longer required to report these trades, the public no longer knows what his personal involvement is.

Oh yeah, he was also a registered lobbyist up until January of this year.

In one of the better straight lines in modern Canadian political history, the Harper government deadpanned: “Every step will be taken to ensure the integrity of the working groups are maintained.”

More Australian Weather Records Tumble

The Big Dry Down Under just got a whole lot drier. The first three months of 2009 in the already parched Murray Darling basin had the least amount of rainfall since Australian weather records began 117 years ago.

This massive drainage supports $9 billion in agriculture but has been hammered by what some are calling the worst drought in 1000 years. Authorities in Australia make no bones about the cause of this freaky weather.

“We’ve had big droughts before and big floods before, but what we didn’t have was climate change,” said Rob Freeman, the chief executive of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

The Murray Darling is home to 2 million people who may not even have enough water to survive in the future. “I’d be loath to say that critical human needs will always be secure”, warned Freeman.

The recent rainfall record was not the only smashed. Water inputs for three-year period ending March 2009 were less than half of the previous record from the great drought of 1943-1946.

The drainage is so dry that Lake Alexandrina at the mouth of the Murray River is now two feet below sea level. The parched lakebed high in natural sulfides is now exposed to air and oxidizing into sulfuric acid – devastating local ecosystems.

Wilkins Ice Sheet Lost to Climate Change

The latest massive piece of evidence of climate change appeared this weekend - about the size of Jamaica.

The Wilkins ice shelf off the coast of Antarctica finally disintegrated after decades of melting due to global warming. Last year it shrank by 700 square miles of area or about 14% of its size. This huge shelf was held in place by a thread of remaining ice only 500 metres wide.

The Wilkins is by far the largest ice shelf to break away so far and scientists naturally worry that this is a sign of things to come. The southern continent has warmed by 3 degrees Celsius in the last 50 years and the pace is picking up steam

The collapse comes the same weekend as a new study from the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) showing one third of all Antarctic sea ice will disappear by the end of the century.

The report found that ice coverage on the Antarctic Peninsula alone has decreased by 27,000 square kilometres in the past 50 years.

Early numbers put out by SCAR suggest the collapse of Antarctic sea-ice not only pushes up anticipated sea level rises but will threaten the numbers of native animal species including emperor penguins, humpback whales and several fish species.

Their research also shows sea temperatures in the Southern Ocean are rising faster than in other oceans, and that ice melts in the Antarctic Peninsula and Western Ice Shelf will be greater and more rapid than expected.

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