Two Canadian climate-change scientists from the University of Victoria say the public reaction to their recently published commentary has missed their key message: that all forms of fossil fuels, including the oilsands and coal, must be regulated for the world to avoid dangerous global warming
Growth in Alberta's oilsands industry is only one symptom - of many - of the planet's unhealthy dependence on fossil fuels, say two Canadian climate-change scientists. Photograph by: TODD KOROL REUTERS FILE, Postmedia News
"Much of the way this has been reported is (through) a type of view that oilsands are good and coal is bad," said climate scientist Neil Swart, who co-wrote the study with fellow climatologist Andrew Weaver.
"From my perspective, that was not the point ... The point here is, we need a rapid transition to renewable (energy), and avoid committing to longterm fossil fuel use."
The commentary, published in the British scientific journal, Nature Climate Change, estimated the impact of consuming the fuel from oilsands deposits - without factoring in greenhouse gas emissions associated with extraction and production - would be far less harmful to the planet's atmosphere than consuming all of the world's coal resources.
"The conclusions of a credible climate scientist with access to good data are very different than some of the rhetoric we've heard from Hollywood celebrities of late," said Travis Davies, a spokesperson from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
"However, it clearly doesn't absolve industry from what it needs to do: (To) continue to improve environmental performance broadly, and demonstrate that improvement to Canadians and our customers ... in terms of GHG emissions, as well as water, land and tailings facilities."
Swart and Weaver also note that growth in Alberta's oilsands sector and recent debates over a major pipeline expansion project in the United States represent a symptom of the planet's unhealthy dependence on fossil fuels.
The commentary said policymakers in North America and Europe must avoid major infrastructure of this nature since they are pushing the planet dangerously close to more than 2C of average global temperatures above pre-industrial levels, which is considered to be a threshold of dramatic changes in the Earth's ecosystems.
Swart also said their estimates revealed that the relative impact of the oilsands on the climate, per unit of production, would push the average Canadian to 75 per cent of what would be considered their maximum allowable carbon dioxide footprint for an entire lifetime.
In other words, this would mean that after factoring in oilsands emissions, the average Canadian would not have much room left to consume fossil fuels for other energy needs if that person wanted to do his or her fair share of reductions when compared with citizens from other countries, Swart explained.
"If we go down this path, the amount of warming will be massive," Swart said.
Governments from around the world have agreed that scientific evidence shows that humans are causing global warming through land-use changes and the burning of fossil fuels, but that it is possible to avoid dangerous impacts of climate change by dramatically cutting levels of greenhouse gas emissions that are trapping heat in the atmosphere.