Tar sands – Canada’s dream of a richer life, are about to disrupt changes so dramatic in the global climate that 20 to 50 percent of the planet’s species could go extinct and civilization as we know it could reach the edge of peril. However, those tar sands filled with bituminous fuel aren’t seeing daylight without the Canadians’ help.
James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies wrote an article on this in the New York Times and quoted Barack Obama saying that Canada will start drilling for the oil “regardless of what we do.”
Now a bit of science: tar sands are bitumen-filled sand deposits, and only recently have been categorized as an alternative to conventional oil wells. Because the bitumen is thick, it has to be liquefied by other organic substances to be used in fuel applications.
So far so good. The other side of the story involved amounts of energy greater than those used for processing conventional crude, and hence 10 to 45 percent more carbon dioxide emitted into the air.
Hansen says that if Canada pursues its plan of drilling for this oil, and does it to the last drop, we’ll be polluting our environment with more carbon dioxide than ever before, with levels outrunning those from 2.5 million years ago, when the sea had been at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That’s that, but let’s also count the increasing desert area, higher food prices, poverty, starvation etc.
“That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk,” says Hansen.
The tar sands contain at least 240 billion tons of CO2. So far, the CO2 concentration has risen from 280 ppm (parts per million) to 393 ppm during the last 150 years. The 240 gigatons will add another 120 ppm to the air CO2 concentration.
But the Canadians need the U.S. Gulf Coast refineries to help with the exports. Obama can stop them proliferate by denying access to those refineries and by providing incentives to leave tar sands and other carbon-heavy fuels where they are.
Be them Canadians, Russians or any other nation in the world, they will still be seeking to drill for energy, consume it (or as well sell it) and dig further. If the politics don’t go hand in hand with what scientists keep discovering about the climate change, it’s all in vain. Cheaper batteries, widespread electric vehicles and stringent pollution norms are a must. Let’s hope someone will start doing something, while it’s not too late.