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General · 15th May 2013
Barry Saxifrage
Famed climate scientist James Hansen wrote an editorial called "Game Over for the Climate" in the New York Times:

"Canada’s tar sands … contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies … it will be game over for the climate."

"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 … If this sounds apocalyptic, it is … we can’t wait any longer to avoid the worst and be judged immoral by coming generations."

Leading climate activist Bill McKibben explained how Hansen's reasoning plays into the battle to stop the Keystone XL pipeline:

"One reason we’re fighting the pipeline is because Jim Hansen did the math to show that if we combusted the tar sands on top of all else we burn, it would be "game over for the climate"

For years, Hansen's central message has been that preserving a stable climate requires both rapidly phasing out coal emissions and leaving unconventional fossil fuels like the oilsands in the ground.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver however wants to rapidly expand the extraction of Alberta's oilsands. He recently lashed out at Hansen and his reasoning saying:

"[Hansen said] if we go ahead with the development of the oil sands it’s “game over for the climate.” Well, this is exaggerated rhetoric. It’s frankly nonsense. I don’t know why he said it, but he should be ashamed of having said it. It’s one-one thousandth of global emissions."

He reiterated this point later to the Huffington Post stating that the Alberta oilsands are:

"one one-thousandth of global emissions ... You're talking about, from a relative perspective, a minuscule amount."

So which is it? "Game over" or "minuscule"?

To help illuminate the answer I'll build a chart in three stages to represent the three key data points:

1) Remaining global CO2 budget to avoid dangerous climate changes
2) Oliver's argument
3) Hansen's argument

Here goes...

(note: this is just an excerpt from my full article published on the Vancouver Observer. Please click the link below to read the full article.)
Click here to read the rest of this article.