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On Line 9 and Toronto’s climate in the 2040s

On Line 9 and Toronto’s climate in the 2040s

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Published by Niko Block
This is a short essay on Enbridge Line 9, the National Energy Board, the Canadian mainstream media, and climate change.
This is a short essay on Enbridge Line 9, the National Energy Board, the Canadian mainstream media, and climate change.

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Published by: Niko Block on Mar 11, 2014
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11/10/2014

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On Line 9 and Toronto’s climate in the 2040s
The reversal of Enbridge Line 9 was approved by the National Energy Board on Thursday. The 40 year-old pipeline is the first to deliver diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands
en masse
 to Ontario and Quebec. Line 9 has been the focus of climate activism in Toronto for the past two  years. Image courtesy of Environmental Defence.
There is much to be desired in the mainstream media’s coverage of energy politics and climate change, but perhaps the single most important fact that gets consistently overlooked – that is scarcely apprehended by the general public and  yet comes to mind for me every time a new pipeline or oil field gets approved – is that greenhouse-driven warming operates on an extremely delayed timescale.  As with several aspects of climate science, that timescale is impossible to deduce  with perfect accuracy, but NASA climatologist James Hansen estimates that 60 percent of the total climatic response to a shift in greenhouse gas levels occurs after 25-50 years.
1
 This leaves us with the daunting reality that the increasing intensity of heat  waves, storms, and ecological disruption that we have seen in association with rising temperatures can be attributed simply to the elevated levels of greenhouse gases emitted by the mid-20
th
 century, or perhaps even earlier. Even if GHG emissions – which, mind you, have increased sixfold since then
2
 – were to halt today, the climate will nonetheless continue to warm for hundreds and by some estimates thousands of years into the future.
3
 We have only quite recently
1
 Hansen
2
 http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/emis/glo.html 
3
 Senes
 
reached a CO2 concentration of 400 p.p.m. – that’s up from under 320 p.p.m. in 1960
4
 – but we do not yet know what a 400 p.p.m. atmosphere really looks like.  Whereas we often assume that we are experiencing climate change in real time,  we are in fact experiencing a climate augmented by previous generations, while  we augment it even further for the next ones. There is, in other words, no system of justice or accountability built into the Earth’s climate.This reality was encapsulated in the findings of a 2011 report from the Toronto- based environmental research firm Specialists in Energy, Nuclear, and Environmental Sciences (SENES): “No plausible future scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions produce a cooling of the earth. These results mean we can be confident that the Earth’s climate will continue to warm throughout the 21st century. What we can control is by how much the climate warms.”
5
 That report, entitled “Toronto’s Future Weather & Climate Driver Study,” is by far the most comprehensive assessment of the future impact of climate change on Toronto – and indeed is among the most detailed local assessments ever. Working from an exhaustive climate model known as the HADCM3, (which has been cited extensively by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,) SENES built a regional model to estimate the climatic patterns the City of Toronto can expect to face in the decade 2040-2049 – a time when me and most of my friends will only  be in our fifties. To summarize the findings:
The average temperature will increase by 4.4 °C, (5.7 °C in the winter, 3.8 °C in the summer).
Overall precipitation will increase, with the month of July seeing an 80 percent increase in rainfall compared to the decade from 2000-2009.
Extreme weather events will decrease in their frequency but increase in their intensity. Whereas the maximum amount of rain in one day has been 66mm, it is anticipated to jump to 166mm.
The number of days with a Humidex greater than 40 °C will jump from 9 to 39, while the maximum Humidex will rise to 57 °C. (Yup, you read that right. 57 degrees Celsius.)
The number of days in which the temperature does not fall below 24 °C  will increase sixfold, to 180 days of the year, and heat waves will be about five times more frequent.
6
 In other words, the city will experience a more tropical climate: “more ‘comfort’ in the winter but less in the summer,”
7
 as the authors put it.
4
 http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/ 
5
 SENES vol. 1, ES-23 http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2012/pe/bgrd/backgroundfile-51664.pdf  
6
 SENES Outcomes Report 12-13 http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2012/pe/bgrd/ backgroundfile-51653.pdf  
7
 SENES vol 1. ES-13 http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2012/pe/bgrd/backgroundfile-51664.pdf  
 
Trading frigid winters for sweltering summers may not sound like such a raw deal, but it will be costly for Toronto, which is precisely why the report was commissioned to begin with. Our drainage system is already failing in heavy rainfalls, and the increased energy needed to cool buildings down in extreme heat is likely to strain our electrical grid. The real problem is that the report will only be used, if at all, to help guide a few of these infrastructural changes – not by any means to advise Toronto or Ontario on what we can do to help avert changes in the climate that by the middle of the century will certainly be worsening access to food and water in many of the  world’s most populous regions on an unprecedented scale.
 8
 And, given the shifts in energy production that are ongoing in Canada today, it’s clear that we have a lot to contribute – or, at least, to prevent. But not one word about the climate was mentioned at the National Energy Board’s hearings on Enbridge Line 9 last fall. The Board would only hear testimony from “persons who, in the Board’s opinion, are directly affected by the project,”
9
 thus forcing all of the critical discourse on the project into the important but limited subject of possible ruptures. It is important enough for those of us in the general public and in the environmental movement to educate ourselves about the science and ramifications of climate change, and yet we are confronting a system in which even the decision-makers themselves have  been institutionally separated from the very information that might help them understand the consequences of their actions. There were, in fact, several reasons to question the process from the outset, and even on its own terms it should be seen as a failure and a face. To begin with, six of the seven members of the NEB themselves come from high-level corporate positions in the energy sector.
10
 For these particular hearings, new bureaucratic regulations were implemented to make it extremely difficult for almost anyone to testify. The Board also demonstrated no interest in gaining the consent of First Nations which actually would be directly impacted by a spill.
11
 On top of all this, the federal government, the government of Ontario,
12
 and the government of Quebec all support the project.
13
 And so, throughout the past year there has indeed been a feeling that the game was rigged. Our marches through the streets, the signs on our front lawns, and even the six-day occupation of Enbridge’s facility in Hamilton
14
 were hardly acknowledged, because it was all too easy
8
 http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/international.html 
9
 http://www.neb-one.gc.ca/clf-nsi/rthnb/nws/nwsrls/2013/nwsrls07-eng.html 
10
 http://www.neb-one.gc.ca/clf-nsi/rthnb/whwrndrgvrnnc/rgnztnndstrctr/brdmmbr/brdmmbr-eng.html#s3 
11
 http://you.leadnow.ca/petitions/line-9-pledge-of-resistance 
12
 http://globalnews.ca/news/930295/province-wont-conduct-environmental-assessment-of-line-9-pipeline/ 
13
 http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/marois-upbeat-about-enbridges-west-to-east-pipeline-project/article14028888/ 
14
 http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/video-protest-at-enbridge-s-hamilton-site-ends-with-18-arrests-1.1308470 

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