A Free-Market Energy Blog

James Hansen's War Against Canada

By Kenneth P. Green -- May 16, 2012

“Hansen’s most recent editorial has received sharp criticism for the over-reach of his claims about climate science. But what the media isn’t covering is an unprecedented call for an environmental trade war with America’s largest trading partner. Let’s hope they catch up to that aspect of the story.”

In a recent editorial assault on Canada’s oil-sands, climate activist extraordinaire James Hansen (NASA) has basically declared war on Canada’s economy (not to mention our own). Hansen wrote:

Global warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.”

He goes on to suggest that the U.S. actually take actions against the interests of our neighbors to the north:

President Obama has the power not only to deny tar sands oil additional access to Gulf Coast refining, which Canada desires in part for export markets, but also to encourage economic incentives to leave tar sands and other dirty fuels in the ground.

This is truly astonishing: a high ranking official at NASA has taken to the pages of the New York Times to lobby the President of the United States to physically embargo Canada’s oil, and impose economic sanctions against Canada to force them to eschew tar-sand development and export.

Writing with a group of scientists (including Peter Gleick of pilfered-Heartland documents infamy), Hansen urges President Obama to block the Keystone pipeline that would move tar-sand oil to the Gulf, and find ways to avoid developing the resource:

The tar sands are a huge pool of carbon, but one that does not make sense to exploit. It takes a lot of energy to extract and refine this resource into useable fuel, and the mining is environmentally destructive. Adding this on top of conventional fossil fuels will leave our children and grandchildren a climate system with consequences that are out of their control. It makes no sense to build a pipeline system that would practically guarantee extensive exploitation of this resource.

When other huge oil fields or coal mines were opened in the past, we knew much less about the damage that the carbon they contained would do to the Earth’s climate system and to its oceans. Now that we do know, it’s imperative that we move quickly to alternate forms of energy—and that we leave the tar sands in the ground.

And Hansen is not alone. Climate activist Bill McKibben (350.org) is right there with him:

“The tar sands of Canada are the second largest pool of carbon on Earth, only after the Saudi Arabian oil fields. We plumbed those Saudi Arabian oil fields 70 years ago, when no one had heard of global warming.

If we do the same kind of thing, make the same kind of investment, produce the same volume of oils from Canada, then as Jim Hansen at NASA – our leading climate scientist – put it not long ago, it will be essentially game over for the climate. That’s about as strong language as you’re likely to get from a scientist, and it’s a reminder that we need to leave carbon in the ground.”

The crusade even has a song on YouTube:

Leave the tar sands in the ground;

The coal under mountaintops

Cuz we need clean air in our lungs;

and clean water in our cups.

Yes we can say no tar sands;

this pipeline points to hell

and true homeland security;

is something you don’t sell.

But as Bruce Carson, Executive Director of the Canada School of Energy and the Environment points out in the journal Policy Options, that would be unbearably painful for Canada:

The energy sector represents the largest single private investor of capital in Canada and continues to attract the single largest slice of foreign direct investment, and these investments are spread across the country. The energy sector is a major economic driver for Canada, accounting for 6.8 percent of Canada’s GDP in 2008 and directly employing 276,000 persons, or about 1.9 percent of total direct employment in Canada. In 2007, oil exports alone generated nearly $70 billion for the Canadian economy.

The Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI) estimates that the oil sands industry alone will add 3 percent to Canada’s GDP by 2020 and will create, during the period to 2020, 5.4 million person years of employment, 44 percent of which will be outside Alberta. Currently the oil sands industry contributes toward 112,000 jobs across Canada and, according to CERI, over the next 25 years it is expected to contribute over 11 million person years of employment to Canada and $1.7 trillion to the Canadian economy.

It would feel pretty bad on our end too:

  • Trade between the United States and Canada is huge and growing. Total trade between the two countries was worth $676 billion in 2008 — more than one million dollars a minute.
  • Canada is the biggest export market for U.S. products. Moreover, Canada ranked Number 1 in 35 states as the leading export market for goods in 2008, and Number 2 in 11 others.
  • Trade creates jobs in the U.S. More than 8 million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Canada. That’s 4.4% of total U.S. employment — 1 in 23 American jobs depends on free and open trade with Canada.

And the anti-Canada crusade is particularly shocking when you consider that Canada and the U.S. are a common market when it comes to energy:

Canadians and Americans share the closest energy relationship in the world. Energy infrastructure—including oil and gas pipeline networks and electricity grids—is tightly integrated. Canada is the United States’ largest and most secure supplier of oil, natural gas, electricity and uranium.

In 2009:

  • Canada provided energy exports to the U.S. valued at $76.27 billion, while Canada’s energy imports from the U.S. totaled almost $11.5 billion.
  • Recent data indicates that Canada supplies the U.S. with 9% of its total energy demand.
  • Canada exported almost 2.5 million barrels per day of crude oil and refined products to the United States.
  • Canada provided 87% of all U.S. natural gas imports, representing 12% of U.S. consumption.
  • Canada and the United States share an integrated electricity grid and supply almost all of each other’s electricity imports.
  • Hydroelectric power, a clean, renewable source, accounts for nearly two-thirds of Canada’s electricity generation, and is a significant component of Canada’s electricity exports to the United States.
  • Canada supplied approximately one-third of the uranium used in U.S. nuclear power plants.

Hansen’s most recent editorial has received sharp criticism for the over-reach of his claims about climate science. But what the media isn’t covering is an unprecedented call for an environmental trade war with America’s largest trading partner. Let’s hope they catch up to that aspect of the story.


  1. Penny Melko  

    I’ll believe a climate or atmospheric scientist over you, our ignorant politicians, energy company and you, the author of this story, for that matter. He isn’t critical enough apparently because the author is talking instead of listening.

    Either fossil fuel ends or our lives end. It’s pretty simple. I’m not an extremist. The extremists are the oil and gas companies who are willing to alter the atmosphere to get rich. http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/12/world/americas/chile-peru-dead-birds/index.html?hpt=hp_t1


  2. Scott Luft  

    Thanks for noticing, but …
    Perhaps something on protectionism preventing the expansion of hydroelectric resources?
    Maine has recently seen the failure of efforts to allow hydro projects greater than 100MW to qualify as ‘green’ – in order to prevent Canadian imports.
    California is currently having the same fight.
    Many states in between are also practicing this protectionism, often spurred on by the tale that domestic installations of wind and solar couldn’t compete with imported power.


  3. Eddie Devere  

    Canada and Russia are in the fairly unique situation where they are most likely to gain from a warmer climate. The land available for farming in these countries is likely to increase as the level of CO2 increases in the atmosphere.
    The question is: should those people who benefit from climate change be taxed in order to pay those people who will be negatively effected by climate change?
    I think that this is a fair question to ask because there may (or may not) be a legal case for stating that altering the climate is an attack on the property rights of certain individuals.
    There will be those people who benefit from climate change and there will be those people who will negatively effected by climate change. It’s important for those people who will benefit not to demonize those who will be negatively effected, just as it is important for those who will be negatively effected not to demonize those who will benefit.
    The issue of climate change is extraordinarily complicated. Unfortunately, what we are doing right now is pretty silly:
    Extremism on both sides of the debate, R&D and subsidies into really expensive technologies (some of which, like rooftop solar PV, actually consume more energy during construction than they will generate in total over their lifetime), and very little research into the actual expected economic damage of climate change (with the exception of Tol, Nordhaus, and a few others.)
    It would be nice if those people with a tendency to demonize people who have different philosophical viewpoints and/or different economic interests could calm down and focus on the real problems:
    1) Estimating the economic consequences of rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere
    2) Developing a legal means for those people negatively effected by climate change to be compensated for damages than can be conclusively attributed to climate change

    If we could discuss this topic in a civil way, then we could hope to continue to grow our economy and increase the population here on Earth in a way that such that people negatively effected from climate change have a legal (rather than being forced into an extra-legal) means of compensating for damages to their personal property. People need a legal outlet for filing claims (just as in the BP spill in Gulf of Mexico.)

    (Note: I think that insurance companies are doing a fairly good job of studying climate change in a professional, non-extremist way; however, their calculations rarely are covered by the media.)


  4. Penny Melko  

    Hydroelectric has huge impacts and isn’t the answer. Neither is industrial wind and solar. All are destructive to wildlife, valuable wetlands and AG. Research should focus on as close to zero impact energy development at the source of use.

    What we discuss is mute. There are no plans to get off of oil. Here is something that we all should stand against. I apologize for using links but reading these have me reeling.
    http://money (dot) cnn (dot) com/2012/05/16/news/economy/oil-pipeline-environment/index (dot) htm?source=cnn_bin
    http://oilshalegas(dot) com/bakkenshale.html


  5. Kenneth Green  

    Eddie – You raise interesting points about who stands to gain, and who stands to lose in a climate-changed world. I’m a lukewarmer – that is, I think the climate is only modestly sensitive to GHGs, so I’m not anticipating massive change to happen in the future.

    Jonathan Adler has, I believe, made similar arguments to yours regarding the winners compensating the losers, which I don’t have a problem with, but I think it’s extremely unlikely that one would be able to untangle who exactly caused what. And, as you mention, we’d need some transnational institution to make the determinations, and ensure compliance. Somehow, I don’t really think that the Chinese, for example, are going to compensate others at the behest of a world court, do you?


  6. Kenneth Green  

    Penny – Jim Hansen loves the nature in Canada, but clearly not the people, if he seeks to impoverish them, as he clearly does. Canada is, and always has been primarily a resource economy. Without constant use of their natural resources, Canada becomes a quite poor country quite quickly.


  7. Kenneth Green  

    Penny –

    Oh, and by the way, my doctorate is in environmental science and engineering (UCLA, ’94).


  8. Eddie Devere  

    You raise good points. Determining who is actually damaged by climate change will be very difficult because most of the time it is weather that does the damage. Differentiating between weather and climate will be extremely difficult.

    But we have to try to differentiate nonetheless because, in my opinion, we need a legal outlet for those people who will be impacted by global warming. Even if the major negative impact of global warming is not for another 50-100 years, I think that it’s important to set up the legal framework for compensating individuals within the next decade because I think that people need to know that there is an outlet for people to file claims (even if there are only a few claims to file for another couple of decades.)
    Another question you raise is: who will pay into the system and what are the mechanisms to force countries to pay into the system?
    I’m guessing that the U.N. would have to force payment. And as much as I would hate to give the U.N. the power to enforce payment from countries (based off off their benefits, emissions, and subtracting for damages), CO2 emissions is a global problem, and it requires a global solution. And since this is a global problem, China and India will have to join into such a system of payment/compensation.

    Do you have any ideas on how to compensate potential victims and to enforce payment from countries that benefit that don’t involve a global agency like the U.N.?

    I would like to see an increase in global electricity production and I think that this involves using more fossil fuels, but at the same time, I don’t think that it would be wise or fair to do this without either (a) CO2 capture/sequestration from new large power sources or (b) compensating the victims of global warming. (We should, of course, only do (a) or (b) if the other major economies of the world join us. It would be foolish to mandate emissions reductions here without mandating emissions reductions in China or India.)


  9. Roger Caiazza  


    If you want to believe an atmospheric scientist, maybe you will listen to a meteorologist with a BS, a MS from the University of Alberta, and 37 years of experience. Dr. Hansen has a pretty extreme view of the consequences and certainty of the impacts you apparently believe will occur when you say either fossil fuel ends or our lives end.

    I prefer to look at it as even the most extreme impacts will be incremental changes to what is already happening. For a fraction of the cost of mitigation we can implement adaptation measures that will reduce the impacts of a changing climate and, more importantly, make society more resilient to weather impacts that are going to happen with or without any climate change differences.

    I fully concur with the comments by Kenneth Green on the potential to impoverish the people of Canada by means of the trade war suggested by Dr. Hansen. Seriously the link you gave to the impacts to Alberta were for second order impacts that are very difficult to link to changing climate. In my naïve opinion Alberta would be better off with a little bit of warming as suggested by the comment suggesting that some places are winners with climate change by Eddie Devere. My recollection was that winter was very long and very cold 35 years ago and anything would be an improvement.


  10. nofreewind  

    Penny Melko say: The extremists are the oil and gas companies who are willing to alter the atmosphere to get rich.
    >>>No Penny that would very likely be you. You are the extremist that very likely drove your car today, heated your house with fossil fuel, purchased and used products created cheaply because of the energy fossil fuel supplies, and also, I noticed your words came were posted on the internet. The internet uses a tremendous amount of our electrical energy. So why don’t you Just Say No to fossil fuels! Do it tomorrow, see what it feels like.


  11. Penny Melko  

    Canadian and United States citizens have opinions and views about climate change based on our individual life experiences and knowledge. We seem to bash each other rather than teach, educate and unite. It will take a united front to address and decide on the course of action for our energy future.

    Cripe, Hansen is a respected scientist from NASA. I would trust his judgment over politicians and profit based corporations who fight every effort to make them stop polluting and heating the atmosphere. The net net is that if the pollution doesn’t drop by 75% we’re going to lose our ability to survive on this planet, plain and simple. It is what I believe based on what is see with my own eyes and read. It is going to take all of us to get our government and corporations out of the process. They are extremists who are heating the atmosphere just for riches.

    The focus must be on identifying best of breed solutions to reverse the heating of the planet. It will take a united effort to survive through the end of this century … just a few more generations away.

    There is probably a century worth of jobs for every person in some capacity to completely clean up the messes in our ocean, melting of glaciers,loss of clean water supply and erratic weather than continuing to pollute.


  12. Penny Melko  

    Here is a favorite article of mine that I read out loud to my husband every few months. On Sunday in early evening, the eve of the solar eclipse, read the entire article out loud to the people you love in your life. It’s the story of Charles Keeling – the keeling curve. http://www (dot) nytimes.com/2010/12/22/science/earth/22carbon (dot) html?pagewanted=all

    @Roger, 5000 birds along the shores of Peru are dead. Their scientists attribute it to the warming ocean. Heating up Canada might not be as desirable as it seems. There are major side effects caused by rapid heating. Isn’t there a strong possibility that when the Canadian arctic tundra and other tundras of north east Canada melt that lethal quantities of methane will be released?


  13. Eddie Devere  

    Methane isn’t lethal to breathe. It is a fairly strong greenhouse gas, but has a fairly short life-time in the atmosphere.
    Co2 emissions will not mean the end to life on this planet. Life can continue to grow and to thrive on this planet for quite awhile.
    CO2 emissions likely have a climate forcing function of around 2degC per doubling in concentration.
    This will mean a very slow warming to the planet. In some places, this warming will be net positive (such as in Canada and the Russian tundra.) But some places will have a net damages due to the higher temperatures (such as Northern Africa, the Middle East and populations near sea level.) In addition to just high temperatures, higher CO2 levels also means slightly less basic oceans (probably not a good thing, but that’s still for economists to determine.) Up to a point of roughly 800 ppm, high levels of CO2 are good for plants, but it seems that after 800 ppm to 1000 ppm, the benefits of higher CO2 levels flatten out, and then might go away depending on the temperature change in the particular environment. There are benefits and there will be damage. It’s important to not focus on either just the benefits or just the damages.

    This is what I mean by my prior statement “Climate change is really complicated.” There is no reason for people to get upset and to get angry with other people about the topic of climate change. The issue is extraordinarily complicated. Some people will benefit and some people will be damaged by higher emissions.
    There have not been enough studies of the economic impact of CO2 emissions in order for anybody to get angry about Climate Change. (Note: the Stern report did not do any independent calculations of the expected economic damage of Co2 emissions. They took prior studies of expected economic impact by Nordhaus and other researchers, removed some of the positive benefits, and then applied a 0%/yr time value of money to estimate what should be the price of Co2 emission.) What we desperately need is for more economists to estimate the expected impact of CO2 emissions…but before economists can do this, we need to develop and validate climate models. We have no validated climate model, which is unfortunate because CO2 is a known greenhouse gas and using satellites we routinely measure the exact amount of IR radiation Co2 absorbs in the atmosphere. It’s just that we don’t have a validated model for predicting how a change in CO2 levels in the atmosphere will effect the global climate. Even one of the best climate scientists (James Hansen) doesn’t have a validated model. He’s working off of an un-validated climate model, and so are many other people arguing for policy prescription before we have both a validated model and an economic estimate of the benefits/damage.)
    My person belief is that we are at least a decade away from anybody getting upset about climate change, let alone worrying about the collapse of civilization. We just don’t have the data yet to understand the economic or environmental impact of higher levels of Co2 in the atmosphere.


  14. Penny Melko  

    @kenneth. Do you work in the field of environmental science now and for what length of time, types of positions. I ask because it takes a long time in a field beyond education to develop broad expertise. Just to understand ecosystems is specialized.


  15. Don Vandervelde  

    Penny, m’girl, you and and your fellow warmists are victims and/or perpetrators of a great, vile hoax. Kenneth is mostly right. Did you know that the tiny fraction of 1% of CO2 in the air has increased significantly, by about 1/3 in the last half century, but the earth’s temperature has increased only by about an insignificant, but beneficial, one degree? Did you know that CO2 concentrations are now below their historic norm? Did you know the the increase in CO2 causes plants to grow about 10% faster increasing crop yields, forests and wild life, making our planet more green, lush and pleasant? Look it up, think about it, then use your own common sense. Cheers.


  16. Kenneth Green  

    Penny –

    I don’t work in the hard sciences now, and didn’t past my doctorate. My experience in the lab consists of 3 years of working in the lab on my Masters (molecular genetics), and then working in various labs at UCLA to pay for my doctorate (about 2 years). Still, at 10% of my life, I consider that enough to claim some understanding of how science works in practice.


  17. Slim934  

    “Do you work in the field of environmental science now and for what length of time, types of positions.”

    I’m sorry but how exactly is that even a relevant point? The premise seems to be that unless one has actively worked in this area or been given the Annointing of the Sheepskin, then their opinion and analysis of the objective data is moot. This is complete horse crap. Arguments from authority are what logicians call false arguments. Just because Hansen says this or that and he has a degree does not make him right. Either argue the evidence and the logic or do not argue at all. You do not do your argument any favors by calling people out for not having the qualifications you believe in.


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