Why a world-renowned climate scientist sees hope in the tar sands

During a recent trip to Alberta, climate warrior Tim Flannery sat at down with oil executives — and he emerged feeling a little hopeful.

When you consider the statistics, the author of the 2006 groundbreaking book The Weather Makers: The History & Future Impact of Climate Change has little reason to be optimistic:
  • The tar sands are Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution, and have surpassed transportation as Canada’s biggest generator of global warming gases.
  • Industry plans to more than triple production from 2010 levels by 2030, resulting in a 250% increase in carbon pollution.
  • The projected growth in emissions from the tar sands will cancel out every other effort in Canada to reduce GHGs.
  • Tar sands companies do not have the technology to significantly reduce emission.
  • The extra energy needed to process tar sands oil makes it much more expensive to produce and up to 80% more polluting than conventional oil.

So why would Flannery feel any sense of hope?

Well, the industry resembles an old man, the Australian explained in a talk earlier this month at the Spur Festival in Toronto, a national festival of politics, art and ideas.

"It doesn't have the flexibility to cope with price shocks anymore. It’s got to trade in a very narrow price band or it’s going to fall over," Flannery told the audience. And Big Oil, he said, views innovation as "the enemy."

As new technologies make renewables cheaper, fossil fuel producers continue to feel a price squeeze. In other words — trouble for the costly extraction of oil from the tar sands.



Photo: h-k-d. Used under a Creative Commons BY-2.0 licence.

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