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I am pleased to welcome Mitchell Beer as a first time contributor to BoomerWarrior. Mitchell is the President of Smarter Shift, an Ottawa-based firm that specializes in content marketing and management, social media strategy, sustainability communications, conference content capture, and low-carbon meeting design. Following are excerpts from the article previously featured on TheEnergyCollective. (Editor: Rolly Montpellier)

It was big news earlier this month when CBC News revealed that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had written to President Barack Obama in late August, proposing “joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector” if that’s what it takes to win approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

But it’s hard to imagine what Harper can offer to meet Obama’s bottom-line condition for the project. “The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward,” he said in a speech at Georgetown University in late June, where he unveiled his climate action plan. “It’s relevant.”

This is Stephen Harper’s problem

All the reputable science sets an immutable 2050 deadline for an 80% reduction in industrialized nations’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

No low-carbon energy scenario has ever reconciled a dramatic drop in emissions with a dramatic increase in fossil fuel production.

Yet Stephen Harper leads a government whose economic agenda is singularly devoted to extracting and exporting as much tar sands oil as possible, as quickly as possible.

So if Obama stands by his position that “our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” Harper has only a few options. And none of them supports the energy policy he has pursued since he took office in 2006.

Option #1: Downplay Keystone’s GHG Impact

Keystone proponents have tried hard to make the case that the pipeline won’t lead to a significant net increase in greenhouse gas emissions. It hasn’t worked. That’s why Harper is scrambling for a Plan B.

Option #2: Put a Price on Carbon

A carbon price is widely seen as a way to connect the dots between the price of fossil fuels and the mounting societal costs of fossil fuel production. The U.S. government made its own contribution to that conversation when it updated its calculation of the social cost of carbon earlier this year.

After seeing that technical update published on the White House website, Harper could offer to adopt the U.S. calculation, or put forward his own version.

And if Canada agreed to apply a carbon price to tar sands oil, it would make the product less competitive against renewable energy resources that are already plummeting in price.

Option #3: Promise to Capture the Carbon

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology was patented in the 1930s, and it’s the great, green hope of Canada’s oil and gas sector. If only the industry could build enough CCS plants, quickly and cost-effectively enough to scrub its raw product and store the carbon dioxide underground, fossil fuels could lay claim to a bright, low-carbon future.

Or so the story goes.

Option #4: Make North America an Energy Productivity Supergiant

If Harper really wanted to align with the national interest that Obama laid out in his Georgetown speech, he would put forward an ambitious, North America-wide effort to take advantage of the energy savings that are just beyond our reach.

It would be smart policy. Even visionary policy. It would build Canada’s cleantech industries and help both countries catch up in the global race for clean, green energy.

But Harper won’t do it.

What Do You Do When There’s Nothing to Do?

And yet, the Prime Minister’s Office did write to the White House to open a dialogue on greenhouse gas reductions. If it really turns out that there’s nothing substantive for Harper to do, his only remaining option will be to spin an emissions plan that still has a place for Keystone. Low-carbon researchers and anti-pipeline activists will certainly be paying attention. But the White House, too, had best be watchful for a plan that is destined to collapse within minutes, once it begins to circulate in the online communities that played such a major role in both of Obama’s elections.

You can read the entire article at TheEnergyCollective.


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