The oilsands are a symptom of the bigger problem of our dependence on fossil fuels – by Andrew Weaver (Toronto Star – February 22, 2012)

The Toronto Star, has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Andrew Weaver is a professor and Canada Research Chair in Climate Modelling and Analysis in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria. He was a lead author in the UN second, third, fourth and ongoing fifth scientific assessments of climate change.

Back in September the Keystone XL pipeline controversy was at its peak. Proponents of the pipeline were entrenched in their views that the suggested route was the only viable one. Opponents brought forward myriad concerns. Nebraskan ranchers pointed out the absurdity of building a new pipeline over the Ogallala Aquifer — the water source of much of the U.S. agricultural belt.

The National Congress of American Indians and Canadian First Nations brought forward compelling arguments that the pipeline jeopardized the potential health of their communities and resources. Others argued that it might be “game over” as far as global warming was concerned.

It was in the midst of this controversy that Neil Swart, a Ph.D. student in my lab, and I became engaged in a discussion as to the global warming potential of the oil in the Alberta tarsands. Our hunch was that it was big. We had heard the rhetoric and we wanted to undertake a quantitative assessment as to its veracity.

On Sept. 28, we submitted the results of our analysis for publication and after five months working its way through the peer review paper, the final article appeared in Nature Climate Change on Sunday. We received no funding for this research. It was initiated exclusively out of curiosity.

We asked how much global warming would occur if we completely burned a variety of fossil fuel resources. Here is what we calculated:

 • tarsands under active development: 0.01°C.

 • economically viable tarsands reserve: 0.03°C.

 • entire tarsands oil in place, which includes the uneconomical and the economical resource: 0.36°C.

 • total unconventional natural gas resource base: 2.86°C.

 • total coal resource base: 14.8°C.

Our overarching conclusion is that as a society, we will live or die by our future consumption of coal. The idea that we’re going to somehow run out of coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels is misplaced. We’ll run out of our ability to live on the planet long before we run out of them.

Some might point out that our published calculations do not account for the additional greenhouse gases arising from the extraction, transportation and refining of the tarsand resource. This was deliberate.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website:–the-oilsands-are-a-symptom-of-the-bigger-problem-of-our-dependence-on-fossil-fuels