Terry Etam’s open letter to Victoria city council on climate change lawsuit ambitions
Dear city council,
Humbly submitted for your consideration is the following. On January 22, 2019, Rhode Island’s governor declared a state of emergency due to a problem with natural gas delivery. Excess demand from cold weather reduced line pressure causing 7,000 customers to have service cut. A near-catastrophe was avoided through massive emergency response actions.
On October 8 2018, a natural gas pipeline exploded near Prince George. Residents of the lower mainland were warned to “turn down your thermostat” and “turn off your furnace if you can.” That was after one of two pipelines in the area was damaged; had both been put out of service, a minimum of 700,000 customers in BC (including Vancouver Island) would have been without a heat source as winter approached. BC was lucky that Enbridge worked so hard to resume operations so quickly (I presume you sent a thank you note?).
Last month, Chicago hit -50 degrees with wind-chill. Without natural gas, tens or hundreds of thousands would be dead in days. That is not hyperbole; without a heat source millions would have nowhere to go.
Rhode Island, Vancouver Island/lower mainland, and Chicago have no choice – life in those climates requires natural gas. That will not change for decades. And it is obviously not just those regions and people but literally a billion more that are using fossil fuels hand over fist.
Will you be suing these people for their nasty habits, which contribute so directly to greenhouse gas emissions?
Fossil fuels have enabled 7 billion people to walk the earth at the same time. Now, at the behest of people who understand very little about how the world works, you are showing interest in attempting to sue the entities that provide the world’s fuels out of existence (and don’t pretend otherwise; to hold a handful of companies responsible for the costs of rising sea levels is clearly designed to bankrupt them).
I am aware that you will have been told by activists/lawyers who have nested in your ears and whispered that, say, Chevron “stands at 3.34% of all human-caused GHG emissions.” The source for this tidbit is a pseudo-scientific analysis that takes global GHG emissions attributed to mankind then divides it by producers’ output, which is circular and pointless because all those emitters would never have existed without those fossil fuels. Nevertheless, I am sure you relied on that statistic so it is worth pointing out how ludicrous it is by reference to this chart:
In the context of this picture, consider that Chevron does not produce coal and it does not even produce 3 percent of the world’s oil (never mind the contribution from natural gas), and also consider that there are considerable (to put it mildly) other contributors to GHG emissions than the burning of oil.
The thought that you can pin a certain amount of atmospheric CO2 on a a single company, simply because they provided fuel, is absurd. Consider also a pertinent angle if one were to even try: would it not be necessary to know if that fuel was burned in an efficient and necessary manner, or on a frivolous one (more on that below).
Before threatening lawsuits, I would encourage you to learn a bit more about the topic from other sources who might have even a rudimentary understanding of industry, the world’s consumption habits, and everything in between (including how to reference documents – the 3.34% number is incorrectly referenced; it should be 3.52%, which is 5.39% dumber).
There is a relevant distinction to be made between fossil fuel usage to keep ourselves alive, and that which is consumed just for fun. So let’s bring up the elephant in the room, or, as circumstance would have it, in your harbour. As every coddled cruise ship customer waddles into your wonderful city to walk off the 5th consecutive day of colossal over-consumption, shouldn’t each be served with a mini-lawsuit?
Is there no value in trying to ascertain which fossil-fuel-burning activities are necessary to sustain life and those which are for unadulterated hedonism and gluttony, which, I believe, your city encourages through promotion as a cruise-ship destination? I’m sure you have been made well aware recently of the massive environmental footprint of those floating banquet barges.
Or are you talking about those who provide the pollution? Are you then fine with the providers of all the fecal matter that your local orcas swim through every day, including the voluminous and industrial-grade contribution of BS emanating from the BC legislature? Is it acceptable to try to shut down the petroleum industry while at the same time dismissing pollution of the world’s oceans on the pretext that ocean currents do a fine job of diluting the mess?
Your city, like many others, is making impressive strides towards being green, no doubt helped by your good fortune to have significant hydroelectric power. But consider your whole package. Consider the cruise ships and the raw sewage and the excellent standard of living in your city.
What if every other city acted as you do?
Oh, wait a minute, they do. That’s why we consume 100 million barrels per day of oil and over 300 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas. That’s why we have to fight pollution, because even though you see ocean currents as the solution to dirtying the ocean, we can’t all do that can we?
I understand that you are in your positions through mini-popularity contests, and are therefore more attuned to the perceived whims of public mood than most. You have been convinced by obstructionists that suing companies like Saudi Aramco and Shell is a good use of your time and resources. I am sure that lawyers, as God’s true gift to the environment, made a compelling case that nothing beats a good lawsuit to solve the world’s problems.
But look at that chart above, and the timeline, and consider the span of human life that went into those emissions, and sort out the benefits from the costs (which I’m sure the lawyers will be happy to do for you at competitive rates), and you will realize the senselessness of placing a value on any single company’s contribution to a single millimeter of increased sea levels.
You will have better luck assigning responsibility for a hurricane in China to a butterfly’s flapping wings in New Mexico, as chaos theory likes to speculate (and the lawyers will be happy to help with that also, I would suspect, and will nail that butterfly to the wall).
Proceed if you must; the buzzing in your ears pushing you to act must be substantial.
You might even find a judge somewhere that will grant you something, though thus far judges have had the good sense to throw these suits out for what are, to the world’s honest/non-hypocritical fuel consumers, obvious reasons.
Just please consider that, beyond the glorious assurances of righteousness that will be stapled to your legal bill, you will accomplish nothing, except maybe to make it that much more difficult for people in other parts of the world to access the fuels they need to survive and keep from freezing to death.
Terry Etam is a twenty-five-year veteran of Canada’s energy business and author of “The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity”. He has worked at a number of occupations spanning the finance, accounting, communications, and trading aspects of energy, and has written for several years on his own website Public Energy Number One and the widely-read industry site the BOE Report. Mr. Etam has been called an industry thought leader and the most influential voice in the oil patch. He lives in Calgary, Alberta with his family and, for some reason, a little dog. Mr. Etam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.