Sometimes it’s good to be prescient. CleanTechnica published a story today about two natural gas pipelines that have been held up for years by opponents. In that story, we suggested time may be working to the advantage of environmental activists. Renewables get cheaper every day, it seems, while public awareness that burning fossil fuels is endangering the planet increases. Given enough time, the economics of fossil fuel extraction and exploration will become so negative, the business will collapse.
Teck Resources has submitted a plan to create a new mining operation to extract oil from the tar sands in Alberta, a project The Guardian says would use up fully one-third of the world’s remaining carbon budget. If that budget is exceeded, the world could be on a path to warming by as much as 7º C above pre-industrial levels, triggering a massive die-off of many species, including humans.
The proposed mine has drawn furious opposition from the likes of Bill McKibben and others, but it seemed the Canadian government, under the so-called leadership of Justin Trudeau, was desperate to curry favor with voters in Alberta and British Columbia. But now, the boyish prime minister won’t have to make a decision. Teck Resources announced on February 23rd that it is pulling the plug on its Frontier mine project.
According to The Washington Post, Teck CEO Don Lindsay wrote a letter to Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s environment minister, which said, “Global capital markets are changing rapidly and investors and customers are increasingly looking for jurisdictions to have a framework in place that reconciles resource development and climate change, in order to produce the cleanest possible products.” He lamented that Canada did not have such a framework.
“The growing debate around this issue has placed Frontier and our company squarely at the nexus of much broader issues that need to be resolved. In that context, it is now evident that there is no constructive path forward for the project.” He complained that opposition from Indigenous groups had a large part in the decision to cancel the project and write off the more than $850 million his company has invested so far. “The nature of our business dictates that a vocal minority will almost inevitable oppose specific developments,” he sniffed.
Fossil fuel advocates were predictably disheartened by the company’s decision. Alberta premier Jason Kenney was especially tart in his reaction to the news. “It is what happens when governments lack the courage to defend the interests of Canadians in the face of a militant minority,” he said.
In a joint statement, Wilkinson and Seamus O’Regan, Canada’s natural resources minister, said they “appreciate that Teck has made a difficult decision. Important parts of Canada’s economy have been built on our natural resource sector and the workers across the country who have powered it for generations. Our government is committed to developing our natural resources sustainably and to creating good, middle class jobs. A strong economy and clean environment must go hand in hand.” They failed to explain how polluting the environment with millions of tons of fossil fuel emissions would amount to sustainable development of Canada’s natural resources.
Canada now has a chance to put on its big boy pants, stop whinging about the demise of 19th century technology, and build a renewable energy system that is the envy of the world. Study after study after study have shown that there are more good paying jobs to be had in clean energy than there will ever be in the imploding fossil fuel sector. The cancellation of the Frontier tar sands mine is a victory for the Earth, one that must be followed up with getting the message out that clean energy is the engine that will drive job growth in the future.
People are afraid of change. Always have been. The job for environmental advocates and proponents of the Green New Deal is to take away that fear and get people excited about the new zero emissions economy that is there for the taking. If we fail at this critical juncture, life on Earth as we know it could be in grave danger.
Hat tip to Dan Allard.