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Environmental mutualism.

Everglades National Park

The above image is a demonstration of mutualism. The bird cleans the alligator’s teeth and derives its sustenance from the effort.

It is a relationship between two organisms both of which benefit by the association.

It is a relationship too seldom witnessed in the human disciplines of economics, science, politics or environmentalism, which are hierarchical, prone to internecine squabbles, massive egos, petty jealousies, jealous guarding and defending of turf and cherry picking.    

Serialized however mutualism can lead to chain reactions that resolve the problems of the planet.

By way of example, the following Canadian paradigm is offered for consideration.

According to the EIA, as of the end of 2018, Canada had the third highest reserve of oil at 170.5 billion barrels or about 10.5 percent out of a global total of 1616.4 billion barrels.

Ninety-eight percent of Canada’s reserves reside in Alberta’s oil sands.  

The paper Un-burnable oil: An examination of oil resource utilization in a decarbonized energy system by  McGlade and Ekins, however, concludes  that the volume of oil that cannot be used in transitioning to a low-carbon energy system is between 500–600 billion barrels and that unconventional oil production, such as the oil sands, is generally incompatible with a low CO2 energy system.

Along with its dubious natural resources, the province of  Alberta has a provincial debt forecasted to hit $71.1 billion by 2019-20 on top of an unfunded liability for cleaning up past resource production its Energy Regulator calculated a year ago at $260 billion per the following graphic.

Source: Alberta Energy Regulator: “Liability Challenges Presentation”, Robert Wadsworth, Feb 28, 2018

To say nothing of the environmental damage that would accrue from the production of another 170.5 billion barrels of this unconventional oil.

Canadian governments collected $16.6 billion in royalties from oil and gas extraction in 2000, but that number shrunk to $6.8 billion in 2017, according to figures provided by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Yet the industry claims over the next 20 years it will pay $1.7 trillion in provincial and federal taxes – including royalties. At least 5 times the collection rate in 2000?

Although the energy sector’s liability is the highest of all Canadian industries the federal government liability alone surpassed $1 trillion about a year ago. Which pales in comparison to the US public debt of $22 trillion according to Treasuredirect, which in turn some experts estimate is almost 10 times higher in terms of net present value.

By comparison, the GDP of the United States for 2018 was estimated to be about $19 trillion.

One of the greatest unfunded liabilities of the United States is the cleanup cost of the radioactive contamination incurred developing and producing its nuclear weapons program, which a recent report of the General Accounting Office (GAO) estimated at $377 billion.

On top of that, the Bush administration estimated in 2008, to complete a repository for the country’s commercial reactors would require at least $90  billion.

Nuclear waste is dangerous because of ionizing radiation, fission products that might be diverted to weapons use and high thermal load that can damage the geologic integrity of a repository.

Thermal loading on the other hand is precisely what is required to impel highly viscous oil sands to move towards a collection point and ionizing radiation can break long-chain bitumen molecules into more valuable fractions.

The EROI for oil sands retrieved from deeper beneath the earth, through steam injection, is only 2.9 to 1.

The current Western Canadian Select price is about $45, so about $15 dollars of this is energy cost.

The United States $467 billion nuclear waste along with Canada’s $23.6 billion nuclear waste should, therefore, be able to produce about $982 billion in unconventional Alberta oil equivalents or about 20 percent more than the combined unfunded liability of the province of Alberta and the US and Canadian nuclear waste indebtedness.

As pointed here, about half of this windfall is sufficient to cover the initial engineering and start-up costs for a solution to global warming that ultimately can cover the unfunded liabilities of the entire planet thousands of times over as indicated in the second last graphic here.

The DOE Blue Ribbon report on the Disposal Options for DOE-Managed High-Level Radioactive Waste and Spent Nuclear Fuel of 2014 recommended focusing on research on technologies relevant to deep borehole disposal of small waste forms and the disposal of large waste packages with high thermal loads in mined repositories.

Both recommendations are fulfilled by the nuclear assisted hydrocarbon production method which reduces most of the CO2 problem endemic to the production of oilsands, though not the CO2 when this oil is consumed.

The Green New Deal (GND) states as a goal: obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples for all decisions that affect indigenous peoples and their traditional territories, honoring all treaties and agreements with indigenous peoples and protecting and enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of indigenous peoples.

Whether or not the GND ever becomes policy, the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples is a becoming prerequisite to getting anything done in many jurisdictions including Canada.

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation initially opposed oilsands expansion but have now signed an agreement in support of the most massive and expensive oilsands mine project ever proposed. And the Meadow Lake First Nation previously considered a repository on their land so a waste for oil scenario isn’t out of the question.

It seems even with First Nations the economy can trump the environment when push comes to shove.  

Or in the alternative, if something like the GND comes to pass a waste scenario alone is a possibility. Bitumen is a sealant that will confine nuclear waste within a heat chamber emplaced waste in a bitumen formation forever. In such a scenario, the cost of disposal would reduce both the North American nuclear waste liability and Alberta’s total unfunded liability by 40 percent and Calgary’s massive commercial property inventory could be depleted by an influx of currently unemployed energy engineers and technicians working on the global warming problem.  

A carbon tax does nothing to resolve Alberta’s financial predicament nor the North American nuclear problem nor for that matter global warming.

Only the synergy of the best elements we can muster pulling together can ever get the environmental job done.

The question is, do we have the acumen of the alligators and the birds?

Jim Baird's picture

Thank Jim for the Post!

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