On the Trans Mountain Pipeline

Trans Mountain pipeline

Many environmental groups in my province of B.C. oppose construction of a new pipeline from Alberta to the west coast. The motives of these groups include:

  • preventing dirty oil from contributing to climate change;
  • preventing environmental damage from pipeline and oil tanker spills;
  • concern for First Nation rights.

While these motives are admirable, all of the groups lack an understanding of, and/or deny, the laws of thermodynamics that govern our economy, and our overshoot predicament.

It’s true that climate change is a serious threat. In fact it’s much more serious than most environmental groups acknowledge. We are already locked into a dangerous 2C higher climate with 10m of sea level rise no matter what we do. There are no actions we can take today to solve the climate problem and avoid future suffering. Our choices today are to try to maintain our current lifestyle and increase future suffering, or reduce our population and consumption, and constrain future suffering.

It’s also true that the pipeline will create some new risks for environmental damage, but these risks pale in comparison to the damage the human footprint is already causing. Habitat loss, species extinction, soil depletion, nitrogen imbalance, pollution, deforestation, overfishing, and non-renewable resource depletion are the real threats environmental groups should focus on. As with climate change, nothing can be done about these threats unless we reduce human population and consumption.

In addition, if you want to maintain our current lifestyle, and you are concerned about the risk of oil spills, then there is a good argument to build the pipeline.

With regard to First Nations rights, all 7.6 billion humans descended from one small tribe in Africa about 100,000 years ago, meaning we’re all basically the same. Environmentalists should focus on the rights of all future generations, including First Nations.

Our standard of living is completely dependent on the burning of fossil energy, especially oil. We have already burned most of the cleaner and cheaper oil. That’s why we are mining dirty expensive oil sands, and fracking. To reduce our use of fossil energy we must reduce our standard living and our population.

Put another way, new pipelines will be built for another decade or so, until even the dirty oil is gone, unless we reduce our consumption of oil, and the only way to accomplish that is to shrink our economy, standard of living, and population.

If environmental groups want to make a difference on the issues that matter, as well as lesser issues like preventing new pipelines, they must:

  • set good examples in their personal lives (no more than one child, no long distance travel, reduced consumption of everything);
  • advocate for a global one child policy;
  • advocate for austerity, conservation, and a smaller economy (the simplest and most effective way to accomplish this would be to implement a higher interest rate).

It’s true that our choices are unpalatable, but they are reality, and there is a key point that must be understood when weighing what to do. The remaining affordable fossil energy is depleting quickly. Extraction will, in a decade or so, become too expensive for us to afford, meaning fossil energy will be gone for all intents and purposes. When this happens, our lifestyles and population will collapse, thanks to the laws of thermodynamics, no matter what we choose to do.

The advantages of choosing to voluntarily contract today are threefold. First, we would constrain future suffering caused by climate change. Second, we could use some of our remaining wealth to prepare a softer landing zone and to orchestrate a fairer and more humane descent. Third, we might leave some oil in the ground for our grandchildren so they can enjoy some of the comforts we take for granted. The alternative of doing nothing until thermodynamics forces the issue is chaos, war, and much more suffering for all species, including humans.

This article today suggests that environmental groups may have succeeded in preventing construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline:


Kinder Morgan said it would halt nearly all work on a pipeline project that is crucial to the entire Canadian oil sands industry, representing a huge blow to Alberta’s efforts to move oil to market.

Here is what I predict will happen:

  1. Environmentalists will continue to deny reality and focus on the wrong things.
  2. We will not voluntarily contract the economy.
  3. We will not implement a one child policy.
  4. The Trans Mountain pipeline will be built, provided that our luck persists at avoiding an accidental crash caused by the instability we have created by using extreme debt to maintain an illusion of economic growth.

Let’s check back in a year to see if I am correct.

11 thoughts on “On the Trans Mountain Pipeline”

  1. I think that to accomplish anything close to what you prescribe (and I do not deny that your prescription is closest to what is needed) you will have to advocate serious redistribution of wealth, in the form of property and fossil fuel access. MAYBE, and I doubt it myself, some environmental types will then see the necessity of what you see as needing to be done. But, since I have asthma, holding my breath any more than 10 seconds takes a lot of effort.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL! Yes constraining the wealth gap will be required to maintain social order. However this needs to be done in a manner that many will not like. Excess wealth from the rich should be taxed away as a lump sum and used to pay down public debt (which will benefit everyone by helping to stabilize the currency during a contraction) or buried. It must not be redistributed to the less wealthy because then it would be spent which would only worsen the overshoot problems we are trying to correct.



      1. I should have been more specific I’m afraid. The wealthy among us are increasingly purchasing agricultural lands. Not just the Saudi bunch in Africa, but Gates in the Excited States. The only foreseeable outcome in the future is serfdom. Redistributing land so that some can survive on it without having to lick some “laird”s” boots is what has to happen, and the sooner the better.


        1. Interesting. My reading of history is that the serfdom structure is stable and works reasonably well for northern agricultural cultures with little exosomatic energy, and therefore little surplus wealth. Not sure what alternate structure would work better given the constraints.


  2. What a hoot. According to a few million hysterical Albertans, everyones heads will spontaneous combust then explode next Wednesday if the pipeline is not finished.

    It’s straight out of the Harper gov playbook – the entire Canadian economy will fall apart if we don’t all get on our bellies and lick the boots of team tar sands.

    The economic contribution from the entire Canadian oil industry is single digit. Sure it matters, but it’s not the be all end all industry the propaganda [industry and gov] makes it out to be.

    Drop in the bucket. Noise.


    1. Maybe. If you think of the economy as a pyramid with the wide end at the top having the yoga instructors and nail salons, the middle of the pyramid with manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, mining, etc., and the bottom point with energy supporting everything else, then you might be wrong.

      I predict the pipeline will eventually be built unless we crash. When push comes to shove we will do anything and everything including starting wars to try to maintain some growth.


  3. Oh it’s going to get pushed through. Just like the site C dam. I don’t even know if that dam matters. I stopped looking into it. According to the MPP, they will keep going until exhaustion.

    ‘Canadian Oil Production
    Canada is the fifth-largest crude oil producer in the world

    In 2014, Canada produced 3.8 mb/d of crude oil. Of this, 2.2 mb/d was produced from the oil sands and the remaining 1.6 mb/d was conventional, offshore, and tight oil production. Globally, only the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China have higher oil production.’


    See how they are bragging that tar sands oil sludge up as if it’s on par with the other countries they mentioned? Not all oil is created equal.

    I’ve seen EROEI estimates for oil sands as low as 2 to 5.

    Oil Sands Mining Uses Up Almost as Much Energy as It Produces
    Thanks to high global oil prices, industry can afford the large amount of energy needed to extract the oil and turn it into a usable fuel.
    By Rachel Nuwer, InsideClimate News
    Feb 19, 2013′


    Keeps en busy though eh? The MPP loves the tar sands.

    In the 1990’s, I spent the better part of 3 years living & in various camps North of Fort McMurray and building and maintaining boilers and a number of other vessels.

    The first time I saw the land stripped bare, Mordor popped into my head. It’s obscene. I have worked at many big ugly industrial sites before, but there is nothing comparable to that scene. You can look at the pictures of it all day, but they do not have the same effect as witnessing it for oneself.

    And then, after a few weeks, it becomes your new normal. Where’s my cheque?


    1. Thanks. That’s a good article.

      It seems a crappy EROEI can power society as long as debt can grow without constraints. I’m thinking debt constraints are starting to bite so things are going to get interesting.

      I remember reading a Scientific American article while in university during the early 80’s where they discussed the tar sands. I thought to myself, they’ll never extract that garbage.


    2. Having held the tar in my hands (and taking a long time to wash it off), I still must object to using the term “oil” for what is ‘unearthed’ in the tar sands. On the API scale of density/specific gravity, the tar is at 8-10. Asphalt is at 9! (And needs to be heated in order for dump truck beds to get all of it out!). Heavy oil is 18-22. It is tar. When Cenovus used to advertise about their efforts to get “oil” for ‘us’, they bragged that the stuff they were going after was as hard as a hockey puck! And still the ‘leaders’ of Alberta and Canada are convinced that it is the best thing for the environment in the long run.


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