What does climate change mean for Alberta’s growing dependence on a pipeline to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries?

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PHOTOS: U.S. Climate Change Denier in Chief Donald J. Trump. (Photo: White House.) A woman is rescued from her Houston area home (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense.)

“Wow – Now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500 year flood!”

So said an apparently astonished Donald J. Trump, First Tweeter of the United States and that country’s Denier in Chief of climate change.

Mr. Trump plans to travel to Houston today to witness and presumably Tweet wonderingly about the damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey, which continues to dump rain upon and cause unprecedented flooding in the fourth-largest city in the United States despite having been downgraded to a tropical storm.

Of course, thanks to the earthly effects of climate change, the U.S. Gulf Coast probably won’t have to wait another half-millennium to see more apocalyptic scenes like the disturbing photos taken in the Houston area last night.

Ten people are said to have died, but you can count on it that as the waters recede, the death count will rise. We have seen this movie before, and we are going to have to sit through it a lot more times thanks to people like Mr. Trump.

As an earth science professor wrote in the New York Times yesterday, “climate science has repeatedly shown that global warming is increasing the odds of extreme precipitation and storm surge flooding.”

“There is now so much evidence of increasing extremes that anyone who understands the science – or trusts the scientists in their government doing the research – should expect that records will continue to be broken,” said Noah S. Diffenbaugh of Stanford University.

President Trump, of course, is likely to continue to be astonished every time something like this happens – as our own political climate change deniers will be here in Alberta. This includes every single candidate to lead the United Conservative Party, each of whom has vowed to dismantle the NDP’s climate policies.

As for less influentially and more openly conspiratorially minded Albertans, no doubt angry letters denying climate change will continue to flood into the pages of our community newspapers in Alberta, if readers will forgive that turn of phrase in such serious circumstances.

A rising tide of evidence – be it in the form of water or fire – will not turn away the wrath of those inclined to fury at the thought someone in British Columbia or Quebec might not want our pipelines running through their countryside, whether they’re worried about the potential for spills in their backyard or the impact of all that released carbon on the whole planet.

Of course, Mr. Trump saw it much the same way – and moved quickly upon becoming president to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, which had been stalled by President Barack Obama.

That decision was widely cheered in Canada, on many sides here in Alberta, but we really should ask ourselves what the long-term impact of climate change will be on the future of the Gulf Coast refining industry, the basket in which Alberta increasingly is placing all its economic eggs.

Very alert readers will recall that, once upon a time, government analysts in Alberta admitted it made more economic sense to upgrade tar sands bitumen here at home, never mind the near universal enthusiasm nowadays for shipping the stuff to tidewater in the hopeful expectation it will fetch more money that way.

Be that as it may, the likelihood of more frequent and more damaging storm surges along the Texas Coast does not bode well for the long-term future of refining on the Gulf of Mexico.

Right now, about one quarter of the United States’ refining output lay in the path of Hurricane Harvey. Yesterday, CNN reported that 10 refineries had been closed in the face of the storm.

The obvious immediate impact will be a spike in the price of gasoline, diesel and similar products as supplies tighten.

Longer term, at the very least, refineries will have to be hardened to withstand increasingly fierce storms. More likely, though, over time the industry will have to move elsewhere – even if it doesn’t decline for other increasingly obvious reasons.

We Albertans really need to ask ourselves how soon it will be, thanks to business decisions resulting from change in the global climate so many of our local politicians deny, that Alberta’s precious pipeline to the Gulf Coast will become a white elephant.

If we’re going to think seriously about Alberta’s future, and maybe actually plan for it, it sure might help to connect the most obvious dots!

Categories Alberta Politics