Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Mea Culpa

with 4 comments

I have been doing something I shouldn’t have, feel bad about it and will now stop.

I recently read Jordan Bateman’s book about how he – almost singlehandedly – defeated the transit referendum. You cannot get it from the library or indeed most bookshops except as a print on demand. Amazon has it as an ebook for Kindle, but I am not recommending it. His technique was to stick to two simple statements and two figures. And, the key point, is that it did not matter that they were not true.

We have, of course, now become used to the idea of a post factual political landscape since both Brexit and Trump followed a similar strategy. And even though it might be effective it doesn’t make it right. The ends do not justify the means.

I have wanted to defeat the Kinder Morgan Transmountain Pipeline expansion proposal. Mostly because the expansion of the Alberta tar sands defeats Canada’s commitment  to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change. But I have noted that most people here do not  pay much attention to that. Mostly it is – as you would expect – concerns about spills. Or the noise disturbing the orcas.  Local environmental impacts score more immediately with people than distant more widespread issues. So I have been writing – and saying – “Dilbit Sinks”. Good pithy slogan. But unfortunately, if you read any of the material cited in the previous blog posts, not exactly the whole story. In fact we have had a dilbit spill from the existing KM line into the Burnaby terminal and it did get into the Burrard Inlet, and the recovery rate was very good. Which is much better news than the ongoing problems from another dilbit spill into the Kalamazoo River – which is not at all like the Salish Sea. The problem is that, as usual, the behaviour of dilbit when spilled is largely a matter of conjecture based on modelling and laboratory type simulations. So the data is both incomplete and inconsistent – a wonderfully complex and nuanced message no-one is actually going to be bothered to read about until they have to. We do know that the recent oil spills that got so much attention here – the Marathassa  and the Nathan E Stewart – are not actually a very good guide to what might happen here with dilbit since they involved Bunker C and diesel respectively. And both those products behave differently in seawater to dilbit. But they did have an impact on the Government of Canada, and the commitments to improving spill response.

Since no-one is going to spill dilbit into the sea in bad weather deliberately, just to see what happens, we will not know until disaster actually strikes. Now, if we actually had a government in Ottawa really committed to data driven policy making the precautionary principle would apply, and the pipeline would not have been approved. And it is still not too late to defeat it. Indeed we must continue the fight against it. But important though that fight is, I cannot in all conscience employ the tactics of Donald Trump, Jordan Bateman or Nigel Farage. Indeed I reserve the right to lambaste them for their lack of integrity – and cannot do that if I am guilty of the same sin of commission.

UPDATE Max Fawcett in the National Observer

But jamming up a single pipeline does nothing to achieve CO2 reduction. The concerns that I think are fair are the ones around, you know, certainly the whale population in the … the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the spill concern.

I think the spill concern is being overstated. The risks are pretty insignificant. But if it happens, it’s a disaster, no question.

And now DeSmogBlog weighs in: Review of 9,000 Studies Finds We Know Squat About Bitumen Spills in Ocean Environments

Written by Stephen Rees

December 8, 2016 at 12:39 pm

Posted in blogging, Environment

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4 Responses

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  1. Very well said. Integrity is rare enough, without those of us committed to evidence-based stewardship abandoning our standards of evidence whenever it’s politically convenient.

    Every time I hear a nominally progressive person (a) demand low-carbon policies because ‘scientific evidence proves anthropogenic climate change’, and (b) demand a ban on GMOs because ‘laboratories are evil and food should be natural and I don’t care about the evidence I just have feeeeelings’, I cringe hard enough to retract my head below my shoulders. There’s nothing quite so painful as listening to well-meaning allies talking nonsense. You don’t want to tackle people on your own team, but how can you let it pass?

    So thank you, Stephen. We’ll defeat the oil business one day, hopefully by offering so many opportunities in geothermal energy that all those drillers and geologists will have good jobs and profitable companies doing something that helps the world instead of poisoning it. Meanwhile, we have to have standards.


    December 8, 2016 at 2:58 pm

  2. Except that scientific evidence does demonstrate anthropogenic climate change. At least that is what most scientists acknowledge

    Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position. .

    Source NASA

    Stephen Rees

    December 8, 2016 at 3:17 pm

  3. I could have been clearer, there. Yes, evidence does indeed prove anthropogenic climate change. (I wouldn’t even qualify that with ‘most scientists’; the rare dissenters seem obviously in the pockets of the fossil-fuel industry.) Trouble is, many progressives will ignore similarly copious evidence and scientific consensus in other areas, such as the controversy over GMOs. That’s my point—we have to accept sound evidence and eschew irrational prejudices, consistently. If we accept uninformed emotional positions on other issues, we don’t have a leg to stand on, when we demand acceptance of scientific evidence on climate change. We can’t insist on the legitimate authority of science, then turn around and claim that vaccination causes autism. Your posting was about intellectual integrity—I’m suggesting that the whole progressive project demands that integrity across all domains.


    December 8, 2016 at 4:13 pm

  4. That is a good point, Four. Mark Linus has been hammered by critics for his change of heart about GMOs. All he did was read the science, and then realized that his former stance against them was based on emotion and peer pressure mixed with ignorance of the good highly-productive crops can have. He also did the same with nuclear energy after seeing Germany opt for thermal coal (in the dirtiest form too) after their post-Fukushima change in their nuclear policies to appease the Greens.

    Both these areas require a respectable amount of caution. GMO science will not result in Frankenfood, like monster fish growing on corn stalks, but it does tend to ignore soil science to an annoying degree. Degraded soils are rampant with fossil-fueled agriculture, and rebuilding them with green manure, poly cropped nitrogen-fixing legumes and mulch could make highly-productive and bug-resistant GM food plants very dynamic not just for increased yield, but for decreased petrochemical inputs.

    Nuclear, like coal, is being out-competed on cost by wind and solar in temperate countries. Intermittency can be stabilized with regulators and inter-connections to stable base-load power from existing hydro, nuclear and geothermal generation. But the rush to cancel nuclear in Germany, as expensive as it is, was too quick and led to additional coal use. Coal has already killed hundreds of millions of people. Nuclear power is unfortunately saturated in nuclear bomb propaganda; the power component has not killed nearly as many as coal. Nuclear should be phased out on cost, radioactive waste, and on egregious human errors such as those that encompassed Fukushima and Chernobyl, but it needs to be incremental. However, I suggest research should continue on next generation small, modular nuclear that consumes the thousands of years of waste built up at current nuclear plants.

    Alex Botta

    December 8, 2016 at 5:03 pm

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