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Who trusts Marcia McNutt?

After informing us of her environmentalist cred — she drives a hybrid car and has solar panels on her home! — Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of Science magazine, makes a remarkable statement.

I believe it is time to move forward on the Keystone XL pipeline to transport crude oil from the tar sands deposits of Alberta, Canada, and from the Williston Basin in Montana and North Dakota to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Environmental cred…blown.

She’d better have a really good argument for why an environmentalist ought to support the Keystone XL pipeline, given that it is a great big leaky pipe full of death that will feed America’s oil addiction. Really good. Blow my socks off with an ultra-potent, evidence-based argument, please. And here it is.

Even after accepting that Keystone XL would not accelerate extraction of the Canadian oil sands, I still opposed the project because the pipeline would cross environmentally sensitive regions, such as the Sandhills of Nebraska, a natural wetland that supports many species, including migratory birds, and the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest groundwater resources. The project’s developers, the TransCanada Corporation, modified the pipeline to avoid sensitive areas and have promised comprehensive monitoring and state-of-the-art shutoff valves to reduce risk to the environment. No method for moving hydrocarbons can be considered completely fail-safe. At least the current permitting process can, and should, be used to ensure that Keystone XL sets new standards for environmental safety.

That’s it? The Canadians are going to continue to turn Alberta into a toxic craphole even if we don’t build the pipeline, they made a slight detour to avoid the most sensitive parts of our environment (but it’s still a great big dribbly fragile source of poison bisecting the US from Canada to Louisiana), and…

…and…

Fuck me, Transcanada promised to be really, really careful.

We all know that no fossil fuel company would ever, ever, ever lie.

Then she makes the tepid suggestion that we ought to let them build their colossal douchehose of noxious blight, and ask them nicely to contribute some small fraction of their pollution profits towards research in alternative energy.

Seriously? That’s it? That was so pathetic and unconvincing, it couldn’t possibly persuade anyone. But somehow, that’s enough to get the editor-in-chief of one of the most prominent science journals in the world to change her mind.

This does not add up.


McNutt M (2014) Keystone XL. Science 343(6173):815.

Comments

  1. numerobis says

    She lost me at accepting that the pipeline wouldn’t accelerate Alberta’s self-destruction. It’s such an obvious lie; how could she possibly buy into it?

  2. Tom J says

    PZ is absolutely right, all of that Canadian oil – as well as other oil from places like North Dakota – should be transported by scientifically established safer means: rail or barge. No chance of spillage or environmental using those means.

    http://www.fraserinstitute.org/uploadedFiles/fraser-ca/Content/research-news/research/publications/intermodal-safety-in-the-transport-of-oil.pdf

    That increased rail shipments of oil in lieu of a new pipeline may perhaps financially benefit one of the Obama administration’s friends and financial contributors, Warren Buffet, well that’s just a bonus.

    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304914204579393591258673368?mod=djemMER_h

    PZ is absolutely right. This does not add up.

  3. Markita Lynda—threadrupt says

    I have yet to see any analysis of the environmental damage caused by manufacturing and using a pipeline as opposed to moving the same amount of oil between the same endpoints by manufacturing and running tanker trucks on roads. And perhaps the roads, too.

  4. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Yeah, I’ve seen this before. Fois-gras poisoning. Folks start attending parties inside the beltway and the rich food and champagne make them start thinking like rich people. Very hard to cure.

  5. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Tom J., when you start quoting the Wall Street Urinal, we know you’re a shill. You might as well quite Forbes.

  6. Raskos says

    So she thinks that Nebraska’s environmentally sensitive areas trump Alberta’s? Tar sands extraction is devastating the NE corner of the province and it looks as though the tailings ponds are leaking into the Athabaska River after all. Meanwhile the reclamation efforts remain a joke.

    Our PM, Harper, has staked a lot on getting the US to OK this pipeline. That alone is sufficient reason to shitcan it. But those of us here who want to see some brakes put on this rampant, irresponsible ecological devastation, and the warping, deformational effects that it’s had on our politics, have even further reason.

  7. moarscienceplz says

    I heard her interview on NPR. She makes the additional case that a pipeline saves the carbon costs of shipment by truck or rail (of course the pipeline will cost a lot of carbon to build, and it will require some sort of energy for the pipeline pumps).
    She goes on to assert that a pipeline is the cheapest way to transport the oil (probably true, since Canada wants it so badly) and that we should force Canada to spend some of the savings on renewable energy projects.

    The devil is in the details of course, but at first blush she doesn’t appear quite as nutty as PZ makes her out.

  8. Tom J says

    @8 and 10 – I’m a skeptic, I’m willing to be persuaded. Read through the study I cited in the first link and then provide your science based evidence/counter-argument that transportation via pipeline – and specifically the proposed Keystone pipeline – is more dangerous to life, property, and the environment than other existing forms of inter-modal oil transportation. Show me where I – or the people who wrote that study – went wrong.

    Canada is going to extract that oil no matter what “good environmentalists” in the US do. Which public policy alternatives would you propose to react to this?

    Or is this all about politics and compassion, and not so much about science and evidence and stuff?

  9. moarscienceplz says

    Let me make clear that I am totally against digging up the tar sands in the first place, but given that Canada seems hell-bent on destroying Alberta for a short-term game, maybe McNutt has a point.

  10. badgersdaughter says

    I got laid off yesterday in a staff reduction after 12+ years in the oil industry working for a single company. I’m leaving Houston. I really don’t want to be part of it anymore; the company I worked for was honestly the best of a bad bunch.

  11. chigau (違う) says

    Does any Albertan reading remember which politician said (paraphrase):
    “There’s nothing up there. It’s a wilderness.”
    Was it Doug Main?

  12. says

    Markita Lynda #6,

    I have yet to see any analysis of the environmental damage caused by manufacturing and using a pipeline as opposed to moving the same amount of oil between the same endpoints by manufacturing and running tanker trucks on roads. And perhaps the roads, too.

    Tom J #12

    Canada is going to extract that oil no matter what “good environmentalists” in the US do. Which public policy alternatives would you propose to react to this?

    Well, there’s the alternative of, you know, not moving the oil between those endpoints at all, and letting the Canadian oil companies build their own damn refineries if they insist on drilling that shit. Meanwhile, we could be spending the money on refurbishing our infrastructure to reduce fossil fuel dependence overall. I know, crazy, right?

  13. elrondhubbard says

    First time post here, love this blog. It would seems to me like she was probably bought off, obviously. You don’t go from environmentalist to corporate shill unless you have at the very least several hundred thousand not-so-good reasons. I mean, what would be better for the big-oil turdblossoms than an environmental scientist saying that what they are doing is a great idea/more-or-less safe. It just doesn’t seem quite kosher.

  14. Merlin says

    Apparently people are not following the environmentalist reasoning. Let me lay it out:
    We do not want the Keystone XL pipeline because we do not want the oil. Full stop. We do not want that stuff in rail cars, barges, pipelines, or trucks. Do. Not. Want.
    If Canada wants to destroy its territory, let them do it on their own.

  15. Tom J says

    @16 – Spending what money?? The US Government (i.e. taxpayers) wouldn’t build the pipeline, TransCanada would. Once extracted, that Canadian oil becomes part of the global oil market. I suppose the US could boycott oil from Canada…but then if we’re going to do that while accepting oil from South America, the Middle East, etc., we would soon run into a foreign policy conundrum.

    I agree that an alternative energy source to fossil fuels is the most desirable option, but implementing that solution nationwide (or world-wide) using current technologies is fantasy. Current alternative energy sources are not capable of handing the energy needs of a developed economy (which is why some countries in the EU are dialing down their commitments to these technologies), without taking into account emerging economies currently trying to build their way out of poverty.

  16. Anthony K says

    People, please, enough with the hyperbole. Nobody is hell-bent on destroying Alberta. Alberta contains both Calgary and Edmonton, each of which have more than a million people in their respective metropolitan areas, and you can’t swing a dead duck in Calgary without hitting an oil exec who has no desire to see their home destroyed.

    What is being destroyed is northern Alberta. No southern conservative-party supporting rancher will be harmed.

  17. chigau (違う) says

    Dalillama #16

    …letting the Canadian oil companies build their own damn refineries…

    I’ve been saying this for years but there are apparently Very Good Reasons™ why this won’t work.
    (the hand-waving accompaniment could, itself, generate gigawatts of power)
    We do have some refineries but I guess they’re the wrong kind.

  18. says

    The KXL will create 35 permanent jobs. Wind and solar will create thousands.
    The KXL will be the death knell for climate change. Wind and Solar will stave it off.
    The KXL will destroy hundreds of acres of land in Canada and the USA. Wind and solar will at most use up hundreds of acres but I would hardly consider its effect on land as destruction.
    The KXL will primarily channel billions of dollars into the pockets of a few dozen people making a few dozen billionaires. Thus a stronger 1%. Wind and solar will channel billions of dollars into the pockets of thousands of people, thus creating a stronger middle class.
    The KXL will probably help keep the price of oil down, thus impeding further research into wind and solar and battery technology. Wind and solar are approaching parity with oil. Wind and solar have already passed parity with coal. Thus you see the urgency for the Koch brothers and Exxon and other fossil fuel conglomerates to get this KXL going. Every day delayed increases the chance for wind and solar and battery power parity, which will be the death knell for their cash stream.

    But lets face it, the decision on the KXL will not be made on the basis of what is in the best interests of the USA or the planet or in safe drinking water and in nature preserves. The decision will not be made on the basis of the best science. The decision will be made on the basis of who stands to make the most money the quickest.

    So KXL it is.

  19. monad says

    @5 Tom J:

    The Fraser Institute colors everything it writes with a particular viewpoint. Here pipelines come out on top because it focuses on injury and fatality rates associated with things, and right now most pipelines don’t go near as many people. If you actually cared about volume spilled, though, table 11 shows they are vastly leakier than rail.

    And this goes with the problem of how they are actually put into practice. We have seen lots of examples of companies trying to underreport or downplay damage that happens.

    And how much does happen depends on how the particular pipeline is maintained, and there are lots of reports about how the makers of Keystone XL have been reluctant to employ even things like EPA-recommended safety equipment. Add their reluctance to go around sensitive areas, and you can see that this is not going to be a particularly safe pipeline.

    In short: even if you accept the premise that the oil needs to flow, this is still not the way to do it, the spin from a think-tank notwithstanding.

  20. elrondhubbard says

    A bunch of other people have thrown this out there, but why doesn’t Canada build its own refineries. Sure the short term investment would be higher, but why on earth are they so eager to let the US extort them? It seems to me that if they built their own infrastructure, the Canadians would actually be in charge of their own oil. That being said, I’m totally against the tar sands oil extraction. I’m just trying to understand all the sides of this nonsense.

  21. mothra says

    No one has yet mentioned that the oil so produced will be shipped overseas, so Canada and the United States take the environmental risks and the sure to happen environmental damage, the oil goes elsewhere and contributes to global warming. Gee, such an obvious win-win, why would anyone oppose it? /sarcasm

  22. Tom J says

    @24 – OK, you’ve charged the Fraser Institute with bias, and having only a passing familiarity with Canadian think-tanks its a charge I’m not capable of answering.

    However you’ve not argued that their data or their analysis is faulty/incorrect.

    You’ve said only that table 11 is, in your view, the key table, specifically focusing on volume spilled. Fair enough, that’s your value judgement. In that case oil transportation via road should be your real target, as that mode of transportation releases more oil per billion-ton miles than pipelines do.

    Were the US to act on your policy advice and shut down all of its existing pipelines, oil would still flow via one of the other modes of transportation (unless you intend to shut down all oil transportation) – and perhaps my earlier sarcasm was ill-founded because based on table 11 rail transportation releases the lowest amount of oil per billion-ton miles (albeit with a much smaller sample size).

    Assuming you accept the argument that in the short term the oil needs to flow, is this what you would argue? That all oil in the US should be transported via rail?

  23. says

    Tom J#16

    Spending what money?? The US Government (i.e. taxpayers) wouldn’t build the pipeline, TransCanada would.

    The U.S. taxpayers/residents (we’ll end up on the hook bot will wind up paying, for eminent domain claims when someone doesn’t want the pipeline through their land, lawsuits regarding same, cleaning up after the inevitable spills and dealing with the assorted after effects( medical expenses, damage to crops, the list goes on).

    Once extracted, that Canadian oil becomes part of the global oil market. I suppose the US could boycott oil from Canada…but then if we’re going to do that while accepting oil from South America, the Middle East, etc., we would soon run into a foreign policy conundrum.

    Who’s talking about a boycott? If Canada wants to drill, refine, and sell oil, that’s Canada’s decision, although it’s a bad one in the long term. The amount of U.S. real estate devoted to drilling, refining, and/or selling oil is a U.S. decision, however.

    I agree that an alternative energy source to fossil fuels is the most desirable option, but implementing that solution nationwide (or world-wide) using current technologies is fantasy. Current alternative energy sources are not capable of handing the energy needs of a developed economy (which is why some countries in the EU are dialing down their commitments to these technologies), without taking into account emerging economies currently trying to build their way out of poverty.

    <jpg>Aw jeez, not this shit again </jpg>
    Seriously, fucking educate yourself already, I haven’t near the energy to tutor you. Suffice to say that renewable energy sources are perfectly capable of powering a 21st century nation and economy, but doing so will require significant restructuring of our infrastructure and built environment as well as an adjustment in modes of generation per se. These changes include but are not limited to changes in zoning laws allowing/requiring destinations to be closer together, such that foot or other nonmotorized travel is sufficient for for most needs, short and long term transit infrastructure for other needs, refurbishing existing buildings for energy efficiency and requiring same in new construction, smart grids, distributed generation, and a number of more detailed proposals that you can easily learn about with a few google searches.
    chigau#21

    I’ve been saying this for years but there are apparently Very Good Reasons™ why this won’t work.

    Not to sound harsh, but that’s TransCanada’s problem, not mine.

  24. says

    I think North American oil should be kept in the ground for strategic reasons. Lets use up the oil that subsidized 9/11.

    When that oil is gone then we can drill ours out of the ground. We would then need less wars to protect the supply lines.

  25. chigau (違う) says

    Dalillama
    Not to sound harsh but I think that we (Canada) should keep the almost-oil.
    Fossil fuel will get us through times of no money better than money will get us through times of no fuel.

  26. mbrysonb says

    TomJ: Canada (at least our current gov’t) i.thinks we’re going to produce the oil come what may. But the big guys are playing for speed: the opportunity to burn the resource is a one-time-only deal, and the time is now or never. Of course a pipeline makes a difference to how much oil will be produced– we know already we can’t burn all the reserves we have, and developing the most expensive and CO2 intensive among them will only be possible for as long as prices are high and emissions are free. If the transport isn’t in place, investment and production will slow– which will be good news for our kids and grand-kids. I don’t know how you feel about it, but I prefer to leave them a planet that isn’t in the throws of another major extinction event.

    BTW, quoting the Fraser “Institute” is like quoting any Tea Party astroturf bunch you like– these guys are a tax-subsidized propaganda organization representing corporate interests. So of course our government wasted its money investigating real environmental groups for ‘foreign connections’ rather than look into this so-called ‘institute’ and the other corporate propaganda operations that grease PR wheels for their tax-deducting funders.

  27. says

    Tom J @27:

    OK, you’ve charged the Fraser Institute with bias, and having only a passing familiarity with Canadian think-tanks its a charge I’m not capable of answering.

    Having spent a great deal of time in Canada, watching and reading Canadian news, for about 25 years now, I’ve learned that the Fraser Institute is as wacko as US equivalents such as the Heritage Foundation. The only times they’ve made any sense at were of the stopped click sort, only not so often as a stopped clock. They are regularly on the anti-science side of virtually all issues, and just by by the most amazing coincidence this happens to coincide with the views of their sponsors, such as Exxon and Phillip Morris.

  28. Raskos says

    mbrysonb @ 31

    Tax-subsidized in the sense that they are sheltered by the tax laws. It’s also worth mentioning that they are financed by foreign interests, which seems to be the occasion of much right-wing pearl-clutching when it’s said about Canadian environmental organizations, but appears to be quite alright when it comes to this propaganda mill.

    anthrosciguy @ 33

    Wouldn’t change a word of this. Enemies of the people. A real takedown of these bullshit merchants – a thorough audit of their books, for starters – is devoutly to be wished.

  29. mbrysonb says

    Raskos @ 35: Exactly. Well-funded with tax-deductible contributions from the corporate sector whose interests they (by amazing coincidence) consistently support with their ‘research’. (Of course our gov’t threatened to take tax-deductibility away from real environmental groups, spending tax revenues to harass them over their supposedly political activities, but paying no mind at all to how various privileged private interests funding the Fraser’s work stood to benefit from the ‘conclusions’ the institute so predictably reached.)

  30. mbrysonb says

    Chigau– keeping it in the ground is the best idea. We can’t afford to burn all the reserves, and the tar sands belong on the ‘leave it be’ side of the equation. The reason there’s such a rush to get it out and sell it off is that the time limit on free CO2 pollution is fast running out. And if it isn’t free, the tar sands become even less economically tenable (even now massive tax subsidies are needed to keep things rolling in AB– royalty holidays to cover capital costs up front, low, low royalties to support profitability over the long run…) Even if it all ‘works out’ profitably, they’ll leave the place a dry husk when they’re done.

  31. feministhomemaker says

    We claim no environmentalist bonafides, my husband and I, since he works for an oil and gas company. Yet he is absolutely opposed to keystone pipeline, like myself. What is she thinking? Is her journal the same one that published so many papers claiming to have sequenced DNA millions of years old when in fact it was human DNA from contamination strands? Sorry, but I read this post right after reading the first four chapters of Svante Paabo’s new book where he discusses that history of hyped ancient DNA claims published by Science. So she sounds even less credible to me than her poor reasoning alone seems. Has she seen the photos of the tar sand pits? Who would wish that on anyone? Has she seen the news about Duke Energy and the coal sludge leak damage to the Dan River? With that kind of track record and so many others like it why would anyone trust an oil company to say they won’t let their pipeline leak? That is hilarious.

    Some companies have a good track record for spending the money to safely drill and move fossil fuels from point a to b but even those companies can have accidents. We don’t need tar sand oil. We have lots of shale oil in the USA already, and natural gas to transition us until we can get to renewable fuels. Why would anyone want to bring the dirtiest oil down here with the awful risks involved only to compete and flood the market or just ship overseas. Doesn’t make sense. Even oil and gas oriented people can see that. No need to be an environmentalist. But being one certainly makes her support for it completely nonsensical.

  32. lesherb says

    Tom Clog, the plumber. Sally Baker, the baker. Once in a while, a person’s last name is appropriate.

    Marcia McNutt, ______________ (feel free to fill in the blank).

  33. Raskos says

    @mbrysonb 36.

    Yes, a real non-Euclidean idea of even-handedness the Harpos have when it comes to this sort of thing. It seems to be getting worse in the last couple of years, too – I think that he realizes that his promise to give us “a Canada you won’t recognize once I’m through with it” is running out of time, and he’s doing as much damage as he can in what remains to him.

  34. Holms says

    We all know that no fossil fuel company would ever, ever, ever lie.

    Unfortunately, this snark applies perfectly well to every type of company ever. If there is a corner to be cut legally, they will do so. If there is a corner to be cut illegally, they will consider it.

  35. monad says

    @27 Tom J:

    However you’ve not argued that their data or their analysis is faulty/incorrect.

    As usually happens with think tanks, it’s not so much incorrect as disingenuous. It’s not that I have an intrinsic preference to volume spilled, but their other measures ignore externalities. Consider: if a train exploded and killed the engineer, that would be a death; if a pipeline flooded an aquifer and nearby cancer rates quadrupled, it wouldn’t show up in what they consider problems.

    So yeah, among the options they give, it looks like train is probably best. But that hides something important too, which is that these are not really homogenous methods. Depending on how you maintain them, you can make trains a lot more or a lot less safe, and the same goes for pipelines. Keystone XL looks like it is going to be a total nightmare in this regard, and if it isn’t, it will only be because bad publicity forced them to add some token safety measures to it.

    Regulations and actually holding companies responsible for externalities would be key here, but are ignored in that paper in favor of claiming pipelines as safe the way they are. And of course, all that is given the assumption that more and more oil needs to flow, though I suspect that without externalizing so much cost people would be less keen on that too.

  36. anuran says

    Threadjack alert!!!

    Here’s what happens to a scientist who actually is an environmentalist and is willing to take on the Big Boys. Tyrone Hayes of UCBs’ research showed that Syngenta’s herbicide atrazine caused serious developmental problems in animals. They spent money greenwashing. They followed him. They tried to destroy his family. They tried to destroy his professional reputation. They hacked his emails. They threatened his life.

    And the wrote it all down.

    What’s amazing is that the story isn’t in some whack-a-doodle Alex Jones site. It’s in the New Yorker.

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/02/10/140210fa_fact_aviv?currentPage=all

  37. Useless says

    I turn my lights off at night, recycle, and turn the thermostat down when I’m not at home, so you can see that I’m sensitive to environmental concerns. TransCanada sold me with their state-of-the-art shutoff valves. That means the pipe can’t possibly leak, so how can we complain? I’ll bet their record must be at least as good as BP’s, ranking them as a leading corporate citizen. Let’s close our eyes and let them build.

  38. Maureen Brian says

    Sorry about any hurt feelings but seriously, guys, only a set of very greedy people in search of the fastest profit by any means necessary would send an oil pipeline – no, that technology’s not perfected, either – through a country with (a) a very weak grasp of the cumulative effects of industrial pollution, (b) a poor set of controls and an execrable record in enforcing them, (c) a system of governance which allows small-scale local corruption / incompetence to impact long term and hundreds of miles away and (d) which is unduly influenced by religious extremists, the most recent of whom – cf. Rachel Maddow – argues that the oil in the ground is inexhaustible because god makes it anew every day.

  39. says

    I heard her on the radio this morning, and her argument was basically that:

    1) We’ve lost, so I’m going to ride the winner’s train

    2) We should shift focus from losing this fight to eventually losing the fight for a safer pipeline, since Marcia McNutt is going to sell you out then too, just like she always does.

  40. David Marjanović says

    Current alternative energy sources are not capable of handing the energy needs of a developed economy (which is why some countries in the EU are dialing down their commitments to these technologies)

    Details, please, because I live in Germany and see something different happen.

    Is her journal the same one that published so many papers claiming to have sequenced DNA millions of years old when in fact it was human DNA from contamination strands?

    Possibly. I don’t see how this is connected, though; that’s why I didn’t mention that Science was the last big-name holdout of the Birds Are NOT Dinosaurs! people.

  41. Tom J says

    @28 –

    US taxpayers are NOT on the hook for eminent domain claims, TransCanada pays landowners with whom they were not able to come to an amicable agreement. Taxpayers would pay for the court time to settle disputes, but that’s about it. The federal and state governments would also see increased revenue in the form of taxes and increased development along the route of the proposed pipeline. I haven’t done the math but my sense is that it would more than offset the cost of court time.

    And in all seriousness, you’re the one who needs an education if you think this isn’t fantasy: “These changes include but are not limited to changes in zoning laws allowing/requiring destinations to be closer together, such that foot or other nonmotorized travel is sufficient for for most needs, short and long term transit infrastructure for other needs, refurbishing existing buildings for energy efficiency and requiring same in new construction, smart grids, distributed generation, and a number of more detailed proposals that you can easily learn about with a few google searches.” So essentially, an entire nation of 300+ million people would have to change everything about how it lives, eats, works, plays, and travels. Sure, that’s doable…

  42. Tom J says

    @49 Couple of things.

    First, there is this: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/eu-renewable-energy-targets-to-be-significantly-scaled-back-1.1658122

    “The European Commission is to significantly scale back its mandatory renewable energy targets from 2020, which could undermine a key aspect of the Government’s rationale for the construction of pylons and its move towards wind energy as part of the strengthening of the national grid.”

    Specifically relating to Germany there’s this:

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/e6470600-77bf-11e3-807e-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2u3tMhK3C

    “Brown coal electricity production in Germany rose last year to its highest level since 1990, despite the country’s campaign to shift to green sources of energy….Ms Merkel’s decision to phase out nuclear power has left a gap that only fossil fuels could fill quickly.”

  43. Anri says

    Tom J @ 50:

    So essentially, an entire nation of 300+ million people would have to change everything about how it lives, eats, works, plays, and travels. Sure, that’s doable…

    a) Society in the US has, in fact, changed before. More than once, in fact.

    b) Society in other countries appears to be changing to fit new environmental models – is the US so special it can’t do likewise?

    c) Society is going to change regardless, as cheap portable energy becomes harder and harder to come by. We can either recognize that and work towards a more conscious change while we have options, or just toss up our hands and assume it’s Future Spike’s problem. Your call.

  44. Tom J says

    Finally – as a general comment to the many commenters who have asserted that the Fraser Institute is biased, I’ll simply note that you’re using an ad hominum logical fallacy. Under your logic we should also discount every study produced by an environmental group due to their left-wing slant.

    The Fraser Institute is conservative, it is so stipulated. Only in a world where to be a conservative means you’re always and forever wrong about every subject would this count as an argument.

    I would suggest – and this is just a suggestion – that we deal with the data, methodology, and conclusions instead of disparaging people we don’t like because we don’t agree with them politically.

  45. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I would suggest – and this is just a suggestion – that we deal with the data, methodology, and conclusions instead of disparaging people we don’t like because we don’t agree with them politically.

    But when the data is regularly manipulated, selectively chosen and ignored, on a regular basis, the conclusions based on ideology rather than facts, then yes, the think-tank can be dismissed as a propaganda generating machine.

  46. dutchdelight says

    @50 Tom J

    Sure, that’s doable…

    Ok, enjoy living in a society based on cheap fossil fuel, without the cheap fossil fuels.

  47. David Marjanović says

    “The European Commission is to significantly scale back its mandatory renewable energy targets from 2020, which could undermine a key aspect of the Government’s rationale for the construction of pylons and its move towards wind energy as part of the strengthening of the national grid.”

    Yes, but why is it scaling back?

    All I can find in the article is its last paragraph: “The high cost of energy for consumers in the EU – particularly in comparison with the US – has focused attention on the renewable industry, which is heavily subsidised in most countries. With subsidies pushing up the price of energy for consumers, some member states are concerned about the impact of this on European competitiveness.”

    Well, how well is this concern supported by evidence? If it is warranted, could it be averted by, say, an EU-wide program to insulate buildings and/or put solar panels on every roof, the opposite of “scaling back”?

    “Brown coal electricity production in Germany rose last year to its highest level since 1990, despite the country’s campaign to shift to green sources of energy….Ms Merkel’s decision to phase out nuclear power has left a gap that only fossil fuels could fill quickly.”

    First, I can’t see how replacing one non-renewable energy source with another counts as “dialing down their commitments to” “alternative energy sources”.

    Second, the keyword is “quickly”. Open mines for brown coal and all the infrastructure for transporting and burning it already exist, so the consumption of brown coal can be scaled up overnight. The infrastructure for renewable energy mostly still has to be built, and that takes a little longer. (…Isn’t Germany building a big north-south electricity connection right now?)

    If the article says anywhere that renewable energy can’t ever cover Germany’s needs, I can’t tell; Financial Times doesn’t let me access it. (Giving them my e-mail address just for reading an article? WTF? Why would they do that, unless they want to sell it to spammers?!? And if the article happens not to belong to “Alphaville”, whatever that is, I’d have to pay.)

    Under your logic we should also discount every study produced by an environmental group

    How many such studies are there? How many “environmental group”s can afford to finance one?

    The Fraser Institute is conservative, it is so stipulated.

    Not just that. It’s financed by oil corporations, or so it is stipulated.

  48. anteprepro says

    The Fraser Institute is conservative, it is so stipulated. Only in a world where to be a conservative means you’re always and forever wrong about every subject would this count as an argument.

    You are hopelessly naive if you don’t think being accurately labeled “conservative” isn’t sufficient reason to be suspicious of the arguments.

    OK, you’ve charged the Fraser Institute with bias, and having only a passing familiarity with Canadian think-tanks its a charge I’m not capable of answering.

    Jesus Christ, just wikipedia that shit, you lazy ass.

    The Institute has been criticized by trade unions for its recommendations to abolish minimum wage.

    In late 1997, the Institute set up a research program emulating the UK’s Social Affairs Unit, called the Social Affairs Centre. Its founding Director was Patrick Basham. The program’s funding came from Rothmans International and Philip Morris.[42] When Rothmans was bought by British American Tobacco (BAT) in 1999, its funding ended,[43] and in 2000 the Institute wrote to BAT asking for $50,000 per year, to be split between the Social Affairs Centre and the Centre for Risk and Regulation.[42] The letter highlighted the Institute’s 1999 publication Passive Smoke: The EPA’s Betrayal of Science and Policy,[44] “which highlighted the absence of any scientific evidence for linking cancer with second-hand smoke [and] received widespread media coverage both in Canada and the United States”.[42] At this time the CEO of BAT’s Canadian subsidiary, Imasco, was also on the Fraser Institute’s Board of Trustees.[43] The Fraser Institute ceased disclosing its sources of corporate funding in the 1980s.[43] In 2000 the Institute published another industry-friendly paper, a History of Tobacco Regulation by Filip Palda.[45]

    In 1999, the Fraser Institute was criticized by health professionals and scientists for sponsoring two conferences on the tobacco industry entitled Junk Science, Junk Policy? Managing Risk and Regulation and Should Government Butt Out? The Pros and Cons of Tobacco Regulation. Critics charged the Institute was associating itself with the tobacco industry’s many attempts to discredit authentic scientific work.[41]

    In 2002, a study by legal scholar Neil Brooks of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives concluded that the Fraser Institute’s widely promoted Tax Freedom Day (described as the date each year when the average Canadian’s income no longer goes to paying government taxes) included flawed accounting. According to Brooks’ study, the Fraser Institute’s methods of accounting excluded several important forms of income and inflated tax figures, moving the date nearly two months later in the year.[46]….

    A report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2007 stated the Fraser Institute received $120 000 in funding from Exxon Mobil

    Still want too BAAAAW over us meanly pre-judging the institute?

  49. Marc Abian says

    #44 anuran

    They tried to destroy his family. They threatened his life.

    Is there any evidence of this? I didn’t see any in the article you linked.

  50. numerobis says

    Tom J, thanks for the Fraser Institute report.

    They cite the Royal Bank as saying:

    In the event that Keystone XL is declined by President Obama, our analysis suggests that approximately 450,000 bbl/d, or one-third, of Canada’s oil sands growth could be temporarily deferred in the 2015–16 timeframe, with production remaining nearly 300,000 bbl/d (6%) lower than our base outlook by 2020

    So, according to the pro-pipeline Fraser report (and their source RBC), building the pipeline means you increase tar sands bitumen production quite significantly over not building it. This will surprise McNutt and the US State Department, who follow the transparently stupid argument that the pipeline won’t affect production rates. No, of course it will — why else would so many fossil fuel companies be pushing so hard for it?

    Then, in the conclusions, we see something that surprises me — Fraser isn’t able to figure out how to make pipelines look less leaky than rail. I had bought hook, line, and sinker the claim that pipelines were safer. And here Fraser points out they aren’t: you get more than 3x as much oil spilled with pipelines than with rail. Fraser claims you can recover a third of the spilled oil, which means pipelines are only twice as bad as rail (you can recover some from rail, too, but let’s ignore that).

    So we must build the pipeline because it’s safer (only leaks 2x as much oil) and besides it won’t increase tar sands production (well, except for a 6% increase).

  51. feministhomemaker says

    David, I intended the connection to be along the lines of: whatever bump in credibility she hoped to experience based on her being an editor at Science, perhaps hoping it would lend her surprising support for Keystone Pipeline despite her environmental creds a reasonable/objective aura, it did not work for me, knowing how her journal was known for some pretty sloppy/unreasonable publications. My question was rhetorical, yes, Science was the journal that published those papers asserting millions year old DNA from dinosaurs had been sequenced when in fact it was wayward human DNA. Your additional info helped to make my point. Science, the journal, is associated with other clueless judgements as well that did not keep up with the research and knowledge that was accumulating. They missed the boat so to speak, just as she is doing now with her support of Keystone. I appreciate the additional info you gave and it seems connected in the same way mine was meant to suggest: she, like her journal on several other occasions, has displayed poor reasoning/judgement/ and will get no bump of credibility from her association with it.

  52. Tom J says

    @57

    Being “suspicious” of their arguments is entirely different than dismissing them out of hand because of the political slant of the institute.

    I originally read the Fraser study without knowing or understanding what the institute itself stood for, I’ve since (in between my comments) done the same google search as you and found out that they are, indeed a conservative institution. Hence my stipulating their slant.

    None of the above, of course, changes their data, methodology, or conclusions. They could be Satanist Nazi Zombies and still be correct on this issue. So show me where the Satanist Nazi Zombies went wrong.

  53. Tom J says

    @56 –

    You asked me for evidence to support my assertion that “some countries in the EU are dialing down their commitments to [alternative energy] technologies.” I provided you with that evidence. Doing an analysis of why the EU and Germany are doing this would, in my opinion, be outside of the scope of this post which deals specifically with Keystone.

    But specifically on the question of nuclear power – correct me if I’m wrong but most of the objection to fossil fuels rests on the theory that CO2 contributes to global warming and our use of fossil fuels increases the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Nuclear power would contribute much less CO2 than, say, a coal mine, so on that key issue it would seem to me that one energy source would be clearly preferable to the other.

  54. Tom J says

    @52

    You’ve hit upon what I consider to be one of the key issues in this energy debate. In thinking through this problem set, I always go back to this quote from Michael Crichton, “Let’s think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If they worried about people in 2000, what would they worry about? Probably: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horseshit? Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses? But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport. And in 2000, France was getting 80% its power from an energy source that was unknown in 1900.”

    When the world changes – and it will – it will not be because governments invested in wind and solar energy while enforcing restrictive and punitive energy caps on individuals and industries. This is not how the world changed from horse driven carriages in 1900 to jet planes in 2000. It will be because scientists and entrepreneurs – who were incentivized to do so – thought outside the box, created an entirely new way to generate power, and then sold that idea to people who, of their own free will, decided to change their lifestyle for the better.

    If history teaches us anything it is that paradigm shifting events do NOT come about due to government mandate. Government rarely creates anything of value – rather it regulates, preserves, protects, and punishes (among other things) very well. Think about the things you use today on a daily basis: computers, cell phones, the internet, even the food you’re going to eat. Government may have had a hand in some basic research to enable it or may have an even greater hand in regulating it, but it did not create it, it did not sell it, and it did not force consumers to buy it. Can you imagine a government trying to create and market the iPhone?

    So it will be with wind/solar/other current renewable energy sources. When the energy revolution comes, it will come from people (perhaps working in a field other than energy) who will figure something out that will change the world – and those people will become incredibly rich as a result, which is wonderful.

    Throughout the history of the human race, change has been the only constant. Thousands of years ago that change came slowly, in my lifetime that change has come much quicker. I don’t know what that “something” which will change the face of the energy debate will be, but if history has been any guide that “something” cannot be stopped.

  55. David Marjanović says

    You asked me for evidence to support my assertion that “some countries in the EU are dialing down their commitments to [alternative energy] technologies.”

    Sorry for the misunderstanding. Let me repeat:

    Current alternative energy sources are not capable of handing the energy needs of a developed economy (which is why some countries in the EU are dialing down their commitments to these technologies)

    Details, please, because I live in Germany and see something different happen.

    I do see Merkel dialing down, but not because “current alternative energy sources are not capable of handing the energy needs of a developed economy”. Instead, the reasons I’m aware of are short-term and shortsighted things.

    But specifically on the question of nuclear power – correct me if I’m wrong but most of the objection to fossil fuels rests on the theory that CO2 contributes to global warming and our use of fossil fuels increases the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Nuclear power would contribute much less CO2 than, say, a coal mine, so on that key issue it would seem to me that one energy source would be clearly preferable to the other.

    If that’s the only criterion we’re applying, yes. Fortunately it’s not the only criterion.

    Besides, you were talking about “alternative energy sources”. Nuclear power is well established – what sense does it make to call it “alternative”?

    scientists and entrepreneurs – who were incentivized to do so –

    Cutting the funding of universities and grant agencies is a pretty good way to deincentivize scientists. I’m speaking from personal experience here.

    Government may have had a hand in some basic research to enable it

    See? :-)

    Can you imagine a government trying to create and market the iPhone?

    No, why? I do, however, remember when the country was the only phone company in the country. Same for electricity and mail. Worked pretty well.

    Back to the topic. Should, or should not, the EU start an EU-wide campaign of insulating buildings and/or installing solar panels on every roof, incentivized by the union budget?

  56. numerobis says

    Think about the things you use today on a daily basis: computers, cell phones, the internet, even the food you’re going to eat

    Computers: government-funded research; their initial use was military (code cracking, computing ballistics tables).

    Internet: seriously? This is basically the poster-child of government-funded development.

    You’re as good as Fraser is at torpedoing your own argument.

  57. numerobis says

    Finally, you say that change is inevitable and cannot be stopped. So why are you dead set on stopping it?

  58. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    None of the above, of course, changes their data, methodology, or conclusions. They could be Satanist Nazi Zombies and still be correct on this issue. So show me where the Satanist Nazi Zombies went wrong.

    I don’t have to. You are making the claim they are right. There is a host of evidence available here to back your arguments one way or the other. Otherwise, the null hypothesis is that you are wrong. See how it works both here and in a court of law?

  59. Tom J says

    @64 –

    You assert that the reasons Merkel is “dialing down” (after you originally told me you saw something different) are shortsighted. That’s a value judgement, and others (including Merkel in all likelihood) have a different opinion.

    And perhaps I’m using the word “alternative” incorrectly, but I’ve always taken it to mean alternative to fossil fuels, which nuclear power clearly is. It is also clearly distinct from a “renewable” fuel, which of course nuclear power isn’t.

    Science funding at universities is clearly a piece to the puzzle, but it’s not the only – or even the most important in my view – piece. This dovetails with my next comment below.

  60. Tom J says

    @65 and 66

    The gentleman considered to be the inventor of the computer is Konrad Zuse. He created his first computer, the Z1, with no government involvement, in his parents house. He was then called into military service following the outbreak of WWII and the government – the Nazi German government – continued to finance his work. IBM optioned his patents in 1946 to help enable their development. The home computer – which transformed how we work and play and communicate – was popularized by Gates and Jobs, most decidedly non-governmental employees.

    So Al Gore did invent the internet, huh? Yes it was a DARPA initiative but in the last 20 years it has grown, spread, and transformed the US and perhaps the world in a way it’s inventors could not have conceived of. This happened not because of government, and in some ways its happened in spite of government.

    Now, I am not disparaging government funded research in the least. It has been, is now, and will continue to be important. But it is not the end all-be all, as these examples illustrate. If the internet had been a government operation from start to finish it would look decisively different than it does today – and I’ll go on record saying I think it’s a good think government only had a limited involvement. If you’d like to argue the converse I’d be more than happy to listen.

    But we’ve gotten way off topic now, which was at the start of this thread the Keystone pipeline.

  61. Tom J says

    @67

    I don’t think you understand how null hypotheses work. I asserted a claim, and backed it up with evidence to support my claim.

    Others then argued that the source responsible for the evidence was biased because of their political views, and as a result their data, methodology, and conclusions on this issue were not valid.

    I pointed out that those commenters were not attacking the evidence, but instead attacking the messenger.

    And then you wander in and say that I’m the one who has to prove my case. Interesting argument indeed.

    I would think that someone not inclined to believe the Fraser study would offer up some evidence to contradict their results…but college was so long ago maybe I’ve forgotten how these things work.

  62. numerobis says

    I would think that someone not inclined to believe the Fraser study would offer up some evidence to contradict their results

    And people have.

    The argument is basically:
    1. the oil will come out whether or not pipelines are built
    2. pipeline is safer than rail

    Monad@24 and @42 pointed out that (2) is not proven by the Fraser study: fewer people are injured and killed in obvious ways using pipelines, but more oil is spilled, so it’s not clear cut, even given their data.

    I pointed out the Fraser study contradicts (1), and various others have brought other arguments against the “need” to be pulling oil out at all.

  63. Anri says

    Tom J @ 63:

    Development driven by government?
    Westward expansion.
    The railroads
    The highway system.
    Space technology.
    The university system.
    The internet.

    If you think government has no serious role in guiding industrial and technological development, what would you say to halting all government-funded science programs, and all tax exemptions for tech companies? If you’re correct, it shouldn’t make a noticeable difference, right?
    John Galt is not a real person. Really.

  64. ck says

    So Al Gore did invent the internet, huh? Yes it was a DARPA initiative but in the last 20 years it has grown, spread, and transformed the US and perhaps the world in a way it’s inventors could not have conceived of. This happened not because of government, and in some ways its happened in spite of government.

    If it weren’t for the U.S. government, we’d still have the little fiefdoms of AOL, MSN, and Compuserve (or their successors). All incompatible with each other, each trying to squeeze out the rest in the vain hope of controlling the entire market. Bill Gates infamously predicted that the internet would fail in his book “The Road Ahead”, and that the future was integrated online services like MSN, which coincidentally was the service provided by his company.

  65. lpetrich says

    felidae #68: the Wall Street Journal has a copy of Mr. Tillerson’s legal brief. Among his fellow plaintiffs is Republican politician Dick Armey.

    ck #74: that’s right. I never participated in any of those proprietary online services, but I’ve yet to find any evidence that they had tried to connect to each other.

    The biggest were CompuServe, America Online, Prodigy, GEnie, Delphi, and eWorld. The latter was Apple’s brief excursion into this business.

  66. anteprepro says

    Being “suspicious” of their arguments is entirely different than dismissing them out of hand because of the political slant of the institute….
    None of the above, of course, changes their data, methodology, or conclusions. They could be Satanist Nazi Zombies and still be correct on this issue. So show me where the Satanist Nazi Zombies went wrong.

    Have you ever researched anything? Ever heard of looking for credible, reliable sources for information? Trying to avoid relying on information that is exclusively coming from blatantly biased sources? Sure, from a strictly logical perspective, they might not necessarily wrong just because they have a blatant, obvious bias. But if I asked “what color is the sky?”, you got the answer “blue”, but got it from a research agency with an obvious bias and conflict of interest and history of letting their conflicts of interest and politics infringe upon their research…I would say “got a better source”.

  67. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I don’t think you understand how null hypotheses work. I asserted a claim, and backed it up with evidence to support my claim.

    What evidence to support your claim? All you have is argument by your assertion. And I don’t believe a word anybody who uses that argument says. By the way, I have been a professional scientist for 35+ years. You don’t understand why the null hypothesis is a powerful means of sketpicism. You just didn’t like it being directed at your argument from your authority.

  68. David Marjanović says

    Interesting comment at the ScienceBlogs version of Pharyngula.

    You assert that the reasons Merkel is “dialing down” (after you originally told me you saw something different)

    WTF, no. As I just explained, I had just failed to express myself well: I do see she’s “dialing down” (that’s a quote from your own comment 19); I see her give reasons; I do not see anyone except you claim that one of those reasons is that alternative energy sources just can’t sustain a First World country.

    That’s why I asked for details.

    are shortsighted. That’s a value judgement, and others (including Merkel in all likelihood) have a different opinion.

    …So?

    And perhaps I’m using the word “alternative” incorrectly, but I’ve always taken it to mean alternative to fossil fuels, which nuclear power clearly is. It is also clearly distinct from a “renewable” fuel, which of course nuclear power isn’t.

    I accept that this misunderstanding is my fault.

    AOL

    More commonly called AOHell.

  69. Tom J says

    @78

    All I have is an argument by assertion??

    I didn’t cite some asshole off the street willing to say anything I agree with, I cited what I appears to be a well researched and well written study. Their data, methodology, and conclusions are transparent and replicable – I’m assuming they are replicable, I haven’t replicated their analysis to ensure that what they’ve written is correct.

    But that’s the point – neither have you. Or anyone here who is criticizing their work. You and others have criticized the fact that they work for a conservative/libertarian organization – that’s it. If your sole argument is that you don’t agree politically with the people writing the study then you don’t have an argument (i.e., I don’t agree with the theory of relativity because Einstein was a Jew).

    If the Fraser Institute study is as shoddy as some people here seem to believe, it should be quite easy to refute, should it not? So why don’t you – or anyone else here – do it?

    Or do you not want to find out the real answer because it would conflict with your own political views?

  70. numerobis says

    If the Fraser Institute study is as shoddy as some people here seem to believe, it should be quite easy to refute, should it not? So why don’t you – or anyone else here – do it?

    So you’re just flat out denying that anyone here is refuting their study in any way? Nice way to prove to all that you are, in fact, full of shit.

  71. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    If the Fraser Institute study is as shoddy as some people here seem to believe, it should be quite easy to refute, should it not? So why don’t you – or anyone else here – do it?

    You make the claim it is correct. We have shown you that the Fraser Institute gives industry who pays what they want to hear to justify their bad behavior and greed. Which is why we are totally skeptical of the study, and you keep refusing to back up your claim it is an honest paper with third party evidence. Hmm….what is wrong here? Your lack of skepticism.