Tag: Nexus

Dark Snow is “Not Cool” – Peter Sinclair on Climate Change and Showstoppers

Peter Sinclair is tall and brawny, and while the climate change communications expert looks like he could scale a mountain or scramble a glacier (and soon he will), he doesn’t look like a baseball player on steroids. What looks like a baseball player on steroids, he says, is climate change. While a baseball player on steroids may have an overall improved performance, like more home runs, it’s not possible to connect the steroids to any single home run.   Climate change and global warming is the same way, says Sinclair, climate change causes cumulative losses, sometimes devastating to earth and humanity.  The overall trend is that climate change contributes to weather extremes, and it is happening at a more frequent pace. But just like the ball player, it’s not practical to attribute climate change to any one specific weather event or another. Today’s cool rains, for instance, cannot disprove global warming. All you have to do is ask an insurance company’s actuary or risk analysis department. The extreme events and frequencies are rising fast.

Sinclair, a native of Midland with a family background in environment and energy activism, visited Traverse City Monday to give a presentation on global climate change issues. At lunch with Sinclair and water attorney-cum-nonprofit-policy-advisor Jim Olson, the conversation kept returning to the notion that the media and grassroots communications need to step up and drive home the reality that climate change is here, global warming is now and it is serious.

Our climate baseball player has been dosing for some time, and even if we successfully cut carbon emissions, we’ll still be dealing with the repercussions of the past, and the consequences are dire. Like addiction, the consequences of actions can take decades to subside. The actions of our past have created climate conditions contributing to significant issues, like warming average lake temperatures, making our Great Lakes more invasive species-friendly, and more apt to bloom with toxic algae. We might not see the greenhouse gasses of yesteryear, or of today, but the rippling impacts manifest in our everyday struggles. Sinclair and Olson are both acutely aware of is the invisibility of their respective fields, and the importance of bringing issues like climate change and the hydrological cycle out of hiding and into focus. FLOW’s work connects the dots between serious systemic threats like climate change to the impacts on water and the hydrologic cycle and our daily lives, and helps us understand the commons through which we must holistically address these threats.

Sinclair’s video series aim to make those kinds of connections, and his “Climate Change Crock of the Week” YouTube segments became so popular with politicians, journalists, and scientists, that now Sinclair contracts with Yale Climate Connections on a new series, “This is Not Cool.” Sinclair’s foray into the climate change video world was kick-started into gear after he was among the first to train with Al Gore in Nashville about seven years ago, an effort that has expanded globally into what is now the Climate Reality Leader Corps. The difference is Sinclair’s knack for irony, smart editing, and droll scripts that debunk the climate denial myths and translating without trivializing the science and scientists that prove climate change is indisputable.

Presently Sinclair is working with the “Dark Snow” project, a mission to Greenland led by expert climate scientists and a pro media and communications team. For two weeks, the team will weather intense sun, extreme cold, and a constant, slippery battle to get their data. Describing his experience from last year’s Greenland excursion, Sinclair says “it’s like climbing the Sleeping Bear Dunes for four hours before you can even get your first measurement… and it’s ice.”

Despite the challenges of battling the elements, they will help show the climate scientists in action and are trying to raise funds to set up a live stream from their encampment. All the ice core and surface water samples will be analyzed to measure the on-the-ground effects of climate change on Greenland’s ice sheet. The team is specifically investigating how and why dark snow is accelerating the ice melt there. Why? With causes of climate change running amok under a cloak of invisibility, it’s important to be able to identify tangible “showstopper” issues, says Sinclair. By finding out the cause of dark snow, scientists can identify a “limiting factor” that can be prevented or mitigated in a meaningful way. Rather than trying to stop the whole juggernaut of climate change, finding a lynchpin to stop the wheels of climate change from turning is just as important for avoiding critical catastrophes, like hyper-accelerated ice melt in Greenland.

At FLOW, Olson is working on gaining traction for identifying the “limiting factor” of phosphorus loading that is feeding the growing harmful algal bloom problem in the Great Lakes. Of course, climate change effects on the Lakes accelerate and increase the magnitude of the algal bloom problem. Which is why solutions for preventing further global warming is critical, too. Identifying the “showstoppers” is a critical mission for the Dark Snow project and for FLOW’s work in the Great Lakes, but these projects aren’t happening in a vacuum. Both Sinclair and Olson are studying and working on the “nexus” intersection of water, energy, agriculture, and climate change issues. Of these, issues like carbon tax regimes and price parity of renewable energy are increasingly relevant to Great Lakes water levels and Greenland’s ice sheet albedo.

As Sinclair points out, “we still have a choice” in our future, and we should choose climate change solutions like greening our energy supply and optimizing energy demand efficiency. Making small choices on a collective scale isn’t as difficult as moving – or in Sinclair’s case, climbing – mountains, and with leaders like Sinclair and Olson, solving essential, trim tab issues like dark snow and algal blooms can deliver a real home run for our shared environment and our future.

Require Cumulative Environmental Impact Statement for Keystone XL and Alberta Clipper Tar Sands Oil Pipelines

FLOW, along with a myriad of policy and environment groups throughout the Midwest led by Sierra Club, signed this coalition letter to Department of State Secretary John Kerry. The letter requests that the Department of State consider developing a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) for the Keystone XL pipeline that also accounts for the Alberta Clipper pipeline for the purpose of analyzing the “cumulative climate impacts” of both proposed tar sands oil routes. It got some recent news play via Bloomberg, which identifies that even if the petition letter to Department of State Secretary John Kerry was rejected, it “could be the foundation for a legal challenge.” (You can also read the full text of the Bloomberg article at the bottom of this post.)

In a nutshell: it is insufficient to evaluate the climate impacts of each of these pipelines independently through separate EISs, and we urge the Department of State to develop an SEIS for the Keystone XL pipeline that examines the consequences of both pipelines’ combined climate impacts before reaching a decision on either pipeline proposal.

Why we care: FLOW believes that legally requiring the consideration of both pipelines’ cumulative climate impact presents an opportunity to account for the potential risks and impacts that these pipelines pose to the Great Lakes. As these lakes are protected as a public commons and public trust, it is the duty of the Department of State to ensure that the proposed pipelines will not impair the Great Lakes with the destructive climate impacts they will surely create.

The letter argues that the Department of State’s Keystone XL Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statements (DSEIS) downplays the pipeline’s connection to the larger climate impacts of a fast-growing tar sands oil industry. The DSEIS posits that the tar sands industry would seek ways to increase oil development capacity even without the Keystone XL pipeline and will thus have the same, inevitable climate impacts no matter what. However, the Department of State announced that it will also consider a Presidential Permit for the Alberta Clipper tar sands oil pipeline expansion project. This proposal would contribute to a greater increase in tar sands oil development than that which is considered in the Keystone XL SDEIS. Therefore it is critical for the Department of State to consider the climate impacts of the Keystone XL within the context of an even greater increase in greenhouse gas emissions as a consequence of the proposed Alberta Clipper pipeline.

To summarize the points and legal analyses of the letter:

  • The National Environmental Policy Act requires an analysis of the cumulative effects of reasonably foreseeable projects,
  • the Keystone XL DESIS fails to consider the Alberta Clipper expansion,
  • the Department of State must evaluate the cumulative impacts of Alberta Clipper and other proposals in the Keystone XL EIS,
  • new information shows that Keystone XL will directly contribute to tar sands oil expansion and increased global carbon pollution,
  • new information shows that rail cannot replace Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines,
  • tar sands pipelines are inadequately regulated and unsafe, and TransCanada has demonstrated a dismal safety record, and
  • there are demonstrated contractor conflicts of interest and failure by the Department of State to ensure a thorough and unbiased analysis, which may invalidate findings of the DEIS.

FLOW applauds the Sierra Club for leading the way on this petition, and continues to engage with this coalition and through our own work to protect the Great Lakes and all our common waters from the risks of climate change and extreme energy development.

In addition to supporting this request for a supplemental environmental impact statement, FLOW is specifically interested in requiring that a primary goal of tar sands development be the protection of the Great Lakes. Haphazard tar sands oil development threatens devastating  effects on the water of the Great Lakes as well as its people, businesses, ecosystem, and economy.  The Great Lakes are irreplaceable and undue risks or overwhelming potential harms, such as these proposed tar sands pipeline expansions, are unacceptable and do not comport with the rights of the public under the public trust principles that protect the Great Lakes.

Follow our work on the “nexus” between water, food, energy, and climate change issues hereRead the whole letter here. Read the full Bloomberg article below or at this link.

Keystone Foes Say Two Pipelines Are Worse Than One

By: Mark Drajem, Bloomberg News

January 30, 2014

Opponents of Keystone XL now want to block its construction by showing that two oil pipelines from Canada to the U.S. are worse than one.

The Sierra Club said TransCanada Corp.’s (TRP) Keystone and the proposed expansion of Enbridge Inc.’s (ENB) Alberta Clipper should be reviewed together to account for how the combination would contribute to climate change. The San Francisco-based environmental group filed a petition today with 15 other groups, asking the U.S. State Department to revise its Keystone review.

“If you look at each project in isolation, it doesn’t present the full picture,” Doug Hayes, the Sierra Club lawyer who drafted the petition to Secretary of State John Kerry, said in an interview. “They need to look at the two projects together to see if there will be a climate impact.”

Accepting the petition could lead to further delays in the U.S. review of the Keystone application, which is already in its sixth year. Even if the State Department rejects the Sierra Club’s argument, the petition could be the foundation for a legal challenge, said Ethan Strell, associate director of Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University in New York.

TransCanada, based in Calgary, said environmentalists will never be happy with the State Department review, which has generated thousands of pages of analysis.

More ‘Ridiculousness’

“This is more of the ridiculousness from the activists who are trying to come up with anyway to” block Keystone, said Shawn Howard, a company spokesman. “At what point does this stop? At some point the process needs to come to a conclusion.”

The Sierra Club said the State Department has to account for its authority over oil sands development, because the two pipelines combined could carry almost 1.3 million barrels a day. By considering each application separately, it’s not taking into account the full impact, according to a copy of a petition to the government provided to Bloomberg.

The State Department reviews permit applications for pipelines that cross international borders. President Barack Obama pledged in June to approve Keystone only if it wouldn’t “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” Enbridge is seeking to expand its Clipper pipeline to carry more oil than is planned for Keystone.

Scientists say carbon-dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal contribute to global warming. Environmental activists say Keystone and the Alberta Clipper would lead to greater production of Canada’s oil sands, which are more carbon intensive than traditional crude.

Alberta Crude

A draft State Department report in March reached the opposite conclusion about Keystone. It said other pipelines or more rail transit would be developed to get the oil out to refineries even without the proposed $5.4 billion Keystone project, which would link Alberta crude to refineries along theGulf of Mexico.

Enbridge’s project runs from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin.

If the rejection of one pipeline would lead to greater use of the other, then the projects should be considered together, Hayes said.

Columbia University’s Strell said the Sierra Club argument has merit and could be the basis for a lawsuit under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

‘Cumulative Impacts’

Under the law, “you would have to consider the cumulative impacts,” Strell said. “Certainly, it’s a very common challenge under NEPA.”

Environmental groups separately have been pressing for the final State Department analysis to account for limits on another transport option, rail. If it’s not feasible to move the expanding quantities of oil using rail, the pipeline would become the culprit in worsening climate change, they said in a meeting last month with State Department officials.

New regulations proposed by transportation safety investigators in the U.S. and Canada last week after a spate of oil-train accidents could limit the ability of rail to haul more oil.

TransCanada filed its initial application for Keystone XL, which would carry 830,000 barrels per day, in 2008. Calgary-based Enbridge applied in November 2012 to add pumps and valves to a portion of its Alberta Clipper to increase capacity to 880,000 barrels a day from 450,000 barrels.

“The Alberta Clipper expansion is a very different project from Keystone XL, involving increasing the horsepower on an existing pipeline (Line 67) within a well-established right of way, with no new pipeline construction or ground disturbance,” Larry Springer, an Enbridge spokesman, said in an e-mail.

The State Department is working on the environmental reviews of each application. Once those are complete, the Obama administration must decide if each is in the national interest.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Drajem in Washington at mdrajem@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net

Bayfield: A community full of inspiring stewards of the Great Lakes

By Guest Blogger and FLOW Board Member, Emma Lui, Council of Canadians Water Campaigner.
Read the original post here.

Maude Barlow and I arrived in Bayfield, Ontario, the 15th stop of the Great Lakes Need Great Friends tour, on Friday evening. It is a beautiful village and Main Street is full of quaint, cozy and independent restaurants, inns, café’s, art galleries and stores.

Maude speaking in Bayfield ON Sept 2013Maude was invited by the Bayfield River Valley Trail Association, a group of dedicated volunteers that establish and maintain trails in the area.

A reception was held Friday evening with fellow water activists, conservationists, environmentalists and people who simply love the Great Lakes. On Saturday, Roger and Pat Lewington of the Trail Association invited Maude, Environmental Defence’s Nancy Goucher and Alanna Scott and I for a boat ride on the beautiful waters of Lake Huron. In the afternoon, we joined others for an Urban Pole Walk on the Saw Mill Trail to raise funds for the Alexandra Marine and General Hospital Foundation. There was also an art show and silent auction showcasing the talent of local artists.

madue with lower water levels in Bayfield ON Sept 2013 It didn’t take long to see the strong sense of community that Bayfield has. Roger explained how the community members are always helping each other out. And volunteers of the Trail Association understand the connection between protecting the trails and local waters and Great Lakes issues.

Bayfield is smack in the middle of Chemical Valley in Aamjiwnaang First Nation and Sarnia and the proposed nuclear waste dumps in Saugeen Shores and Kincardine. Bayfield is also faced with agricultural run-off, E. coli and drastically low water levels that plague much of Lake Huron’s communities. See Maude in the picture to the right where the wall behind her marks the receding lake levels in Bayfield.

The Saturday evening event was sold out and the Town Hall where the event was held was jam packed. The Town Hall is a beautiful old building that was saved by locals years back from being destroyed.

Maude gave an inspiring speech to a fully engaged crowd. She warned the audience that “we are a world running out of water” and talked about the “vicious new threats” to the Great Lakes are fracking and pipelines carrying tar sands and fracked oil and gas. Maude stressed the need for a new water ethic where water is at the centre of all policy including trade, economics, the environment and health, which she outlines in her new book Blue Future released Saturday night.

Bayfield ON Audience for maude sept 2013
Some ways of protecting the Great Lakes include helping to stop Line 67 that would carry bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to Lake Superior, urging Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to stop a pipeline project that would bring fracked gas from the Marcellus shale to Toronto, calling for a moratorium on fracking in Ontario and the Great Lakes and making Great Lakes communities Blue Communities.

Bayfield’s beaches and marina have their Blue Flag label. The Trail Association volunteers and others have been asking Mayor Bill Dowson for many years to ban bottled water as well as recognize the human right to water and promote public water services in order to become a Blue Community. After attending Maude’s talk on Saturday, we hope Mayor Dowson will consider making the town of Bluewater, which the village of Bayfield belongs to, a Blue Community.

Congratulations to Ray and Paula Letheren, Roger and Pat Lewington and the other volunteers of the Trail Association for organizing such an amazing event and for all the fantastic work they do to protect the Great Lakes. They are an inspiring example of what it means to be stewards of the Great Lakes.

The Greatest Threat to the Great Lakes that No One Seems to Know About

The Greatest Threat to the Great Lakes and No One Seems to Know About It: Expanding Enbridge’s Line 5 Through the Straits of Mackinac

Click here to read and download PDF

How often do you hear a story in the news and then feel utterly shocked that you didn’t know anything about it? Well, that’s how all 40 million of us living in the Great Lakes should feel about the Enbridge Line 5 expansion across the Straits of Mackinac—a pipeline expansion project that will transport tar sands oil directly through the heart of the Great Lakes. In a nutshell, this just may be the greatest threat facing the Great Lakes at this time in history. “An oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac isn’t a question of if—it’s a question of when,” according to National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) comprehensive report on this issue, Sunken Hazard.

What would a tar sands oil spill the size of Exxon-Valdez mean for the Great Lakes? Goodbye fisheries, aquatic food links, goodbye wildlife, goodbye municipal drinking water, goodbye Mackinac Island, goodbye tourism and property values, and goodbye to one of the world’s largest freshwater inland seas.

What company is stealthily completing this hazardous energy venture with limited public scrutiny? Enbridge—the same Canadian company responsible in 2010 for a million gallon tar sands oil pipeline rupture and a $1 billion cleanup along a 35-mile stretch of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. Known as the largest transporter of crude oil, Enbridge is requesting a permit from the State Department’s U.S. Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to expand its existing pipeline—Line 67 also known as the Alberta Clipper—to transport heavy tar sands oil originating from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. From there, Enbridge, according to company officials, has already expanded the capacity of a second existing pipeline—Line 5—that travels directly through the Straits of Mackinac to a refinery located in Sarnia, Ontario. The 1,000+ mile Alberta Clipper pipeline route will double the tar sands oil that it currently carries and will deliver even more tar sands oil than the highly publicized and controversial TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline.

Built sixty years ago in 1953, Line 5’s twin pipelines that cross the Straits of Mackinac—each 20 inches in diameter—were designed to transport light conventional crude oil, not Enbridge’s viscous, heavy tar sands oil or “bitumen” blended or diluted with volatile natural gas liquid condensate, also known as “dilbit.” Dilbit spills are particularly difficult to remediate because the bitumen and diluents separate, releasing toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy, sticky bitumen material. And in Lake Michigan, who knows how long it would take to actually clean up these pollutants. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that it takes an average of 99 years to rid of pollutants in Lake Michigan.

Now let’s dig a little deeper into Enbridge’s depressing track record. According to NWF, “Enbridge’s pipelines had more than 800 spills in the U.S. and Canada between 1999 and 2010, leaking 6.8 million gallons of oil.” So with the combination of strong currents along the Straits, Enbridge’s inexcusable track record, its weak emergency response, and a strong likelihood of mechanical pipeline failure in this fragile ecosystem, we must ask ourselves: is this a risk we as citizens, inheritors, and future protectors of the Great Lakes are willing to accept?

This Enbridge pipeline expansion is a perfect example of why we have the public trust in our navigable waters—an ancient legal doctrine dating back to the Roman times—designed to protect our common shared resources like the Great Lakes. The public trust empowers us as a democratic and thoughtful people to question the impacts of proposed actions like Enbridge’s and determine whether they will impair, pollute or irreparably harm our water resources, and jeopardize protected water uses like fishing, swimming, and navigation.

This proposed action is a clear violation of the public trust as the pipeline threatens to destroy the Great Lakes’ common waters, which support the region’s $62 billion economy with 1.5 million jobs, drinking water for 40 million citizens, as well as our very social fabric, quality of life and enjoyment, and shared ecosystem with wildlife. The unprecedented scale of such an ecological and economic disaster also would undermine the $1 billion already invested in the U.S. government’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. This is why the public trust and its protection of the commons is more important than ever.

What this debate really boils down to is a much-needed larger national conversation about our country’s future energy policy. Not only does President Obama need to have the Keystone XL pipeline on his radar, but all pipeline expansions like this project, in assessing the impacts of climate change. It’s time that our nation makes good energy choices that respect the Great Lakes as a shared common resource protected by the public trust. We need to put the safety of our water and our future generations before our overzealous energy development. If we do this, we can chart a future with clean and abundant water, food, energy and a prosperous economy.

Looking for something concrete to do about this pressing pipeline issue? Come join FLOW, TC350, 350.org, National Wildlife Federation, Michigan Land Use Institute, Food & Water Watch, and many other organizations and attend the Oil and Water Don’t Mix: A Rally for the Great Lakes on July 14th at the St. Ignace Bridge View Park, just north of the Mackinac Bridge. The purpose of the rally is to bring attention to the dangers of this pipeline and its expansion, and to organize a response to these risks. We want to pressure our leaders to put safety measures in place to prevent a devastating oil spill in the heart of the Great Lakes. Click here to sign up and RSVP via this Facebook event.

oil and water dont mix photo