The Conflict Between America’s Energy Needs and Climate Change

President Obama Visits Canada Amid a Heated Debate Over Tar Sands

There’s a major conflict brewing between two policy objectives in Washington; energy security (relying on Venezuela and the Middle East for oil) and the Obama administrations commitment to stop global warming. These two stated objectives of the current administration were put to the test on Obama’s first trip abroad as President of the United States.

Energy and global warming were at the top of the agenda when President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper met in Ottawa on Thursday. The two leaders emerged from their meeting saying they agreed to establish a “clean-energy dialogue” to cut greenhouses gas emissions and fight climate change. The use of such ambiguous language allows both Barack Obama and Stephen Harper to side step any concrete obligations to deal with the issue of tar sands and global warming. However, whatever ‘clean-energy dialogue’ the leaders do have, will continually be tested by internal U.S. politics concerning climate change and new environmental regulations. Developments surrounding tar sands and climate change in the United States including; low carbon fuel standards, a cap and trade system (climate change legislation), and targets for greenhouse gas reductions all pose serious threats to the importation of dirty tar sands oil from Canada, and the ‘clean energy dialogue’ that both leaders promised to on Thursday.

As Greenpeace Canada pointed out,

In January 2007 California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger established a Low-Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) by Executive Order. This unprecedented greenhouse gas (GHG) standard for transportation fuels requires fuel providers to ensure that fuel sold in California reduces GHG emissions measured on a “full fuel cycle” basis (i.e. upstream feedstock extraction, fuel refining, and transport to market). This will clearly discourage the use of tar sands oil. Schwarzenegger has also called for the U.S. to implement a national Low Carbon Fuel Standard. ( [In addition,] in June 2008, 1,000 mayors at the U.S. Conference of Mayors supported a “High Carbon Fuels” resolution which called on mayors across the U.S. “to track and reduce the lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions from their municipal vehicles by preventing or discontinuing the purchase of higher-carbon unconventional or synthetic fuels. (

These strong environmental regulations continue to move from the state level to the federal level, and will face fierce domestic and foreign opposition from an array of special interest groups ranging from the Canadian government, to global warming deniers, to major oil companies that have huge investments in the tar sands. The tar sands remains the most capital intensive project on the planet, and continues to expand production even in the midst of a global recession and falling oil prices — thanks to the United States unrelenting demand for oil.

Since 1999, Canada has been the largest supplier of oil to the United States, providing 2.4 million barrels per day, with approximately 75% coming from the tar sands (1.8 million barrels per day). The tar sands hold an estimated 1.7 trillion barrels of oil (bitumen), the second largest deposit of oil reserves in the world (the size of Florida), trailing only Saudi Arabia. The problem embroiling the tar sands, President Obama, and the Canadian government lies within the production of tar sands oil and its effects on global warming.

The extraction and production of oil from the tar sands is incredibly energy intensive; generating three to five times as much greenhouse gas pollution as conventional oil production, and it has single handedly made Canada’s Kyoto protocol targets for greenhouse gas emissions impossible to attain. Whole ecosystems, including the Boreal Forest and the Athabasca River Delta are threatened by tar sands oil production through practices such as clear cutting and water depletion. For instance, it takes 3-5 barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil. In addition, the extraction and upgrading of this synthetic crude oil also releases dangerous toxins into the air and water, greatly affecting air quality, and jeopardizing the health of indigenous communities downstream and downwind from tar sands operations.

The major effects of oil imported into the U.S. from the tar sands, on the climate and environment in general, continues to create a major fault line between what the Obama administration says it wants to achieve in regards to stopping global warming, and what is actually possible. Mitigating climate change in both Canada and the United States will be impossible unless U.S. fossil fuel consumption levels fall.

Moreover, the argument that an increased reliance on oil derived from the tar sands is self-evident under the guise of national security, is a shallow argument at best. Considering that the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), a Pentagon-funded think tank, issued a report last year calling climate change a “serious national security threat,” and that Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Lawrence Farrel recently stated in the Washington Times that climate change “is not just a foreign policy issue …it is a national security issue” should raise eyebrows among those who advocate continued development and importation of oil from the tar sands.

If the Obama administration decides to increasingly rely on oil from the tar sands to fulfill our energy needs; they’ll be sidestepping his commitment to wean America off its addition to oil, to address global warming, and to work towards achieving world stability while protecting America’s national security. The road we must take in order to achieve all three of those goals will take courage, dedication, and sacrifice from all Americans combined with unprecedented leadership from Washington.

Andrew Thomaides is a freelance writer and activist. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Andrew, or visit Andrew's website.

13 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Max Shields said on February 24th, 2009 at 1:12pm #

    Dear writer,

    I think you are asking too much here. First, Obama pledged he’d escalate in Afghanistan and extend the “war on terror” into Pakistan.

    He has kept his word on that. BUT you must understand, in order to keep that promise he needs as much of the world’s fossil and yea that includes our dearest trading partner Canada to pitch in (no pun intended) to keep the machinery of war going. I mean you expect him to do this with wind mills or sunbeams!!

    Back off. One campaign pledge at a time. If we’re all still here by the end of his first term and if the numbers look good, he’ll revisit your concerns.

    How’s that? Fair? Reasonable? He thinks so.

  2. bozh said on February 24th, 2009 at 1:50pm #

    in rating my psychosis in econo-politico-military level with that of any US prez, senator, congress [wo]man and their respective advisers/backers, i’d rate myself at 1C and a prez such as O at 98C.

    on the gregariousness/sociability levels, i am sick at about 80C and O at 3C.
    i do not know why i am so psychotic but i do have social phobia. thnx

  3. Max Shields said on February 24th, 2009 at 2:35pm #

    bozh, from what can be told from your posts, you are handling your psychosis very well.

    Have a great day!

  4. Dudley Ferguson Archer said on February 24th, 2009 at 3:23pm #

    First of all, anyone who thinks Barack Obama is going to do anything remotely positive about anything is a deranged doofus. Barack Obama is George Bush in blackface. They are wierd cousins, the left and right wing of the same wretched buzzard; together they are the smiling, blood-drenched face Civilization, a rapacious disease that seeks to destroy every living creature on earth. This is the Fourth Reich people! You’ve all been duped. Soon our bloated, dimwitted, children will be making tar sand castles with bar codes tattooed on their foreheads, snacking on genetically modied, radioactive, rice cakes purchased at the Curch of Walmart. Its over. Sleep well, for ye are the doomed children of Babel.

    Palin 2012!

  5. Andrew said on February 24th, 2009 at 5:48pm #

    There could be no better investment in America than to invest in America becoming energy independent! We need to utilize everything in out power to reduce our dependence on foreign oil including using our own natural resources.Create cheap clean energy, new badly needed green jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.The high cost of fuel this past year seriously damaged our economy and society. The cost of fuel effects every facet of consumer goods from production to shipping costs. After a brief reprieve gas is inching back up.OPEC will continue to cut production until they achieve their desired 80-100. per barrel.If all gasoline cars, trucks, and SUV’s instead had plug-in electric drive trainsthe amount of electricity needed to replace gasoline is about equal to the estimated wind energy potential of the state of North Dakota.There is a really good new book out by Jeff Wilson called The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence Now.

  6. Jon said on February 24th, 2009 at 6:31pm #

    Stopping the Iraq War and bolstering the Afghanistan war will lower the Department of Defense’s daily oil consumption, not by a whole lot. But by some.

    We all want the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to stop but you’re asking a politician to stand up to the very large, and very powerful lobbying wing of America’s Military Industrial Complex.

    That’s simply, a beast that I’m afraid Obama won’t mess with, and no one in the future will.

  7. Max Shields said on February 24th, 2009 at 7:14pm #

    I’m about ready to shed a tear or two for O. That terrible “beast”. You know O personally? I mean, you know the beast?

    I wouldn’t mess with the beast….nooooooowaaaaaaay.

  8. Ramsefall said on February 24th, 2009 at 8:22pm #

    Max and bozh,

    you got me laughing more than Andrew’s naive glimmer of hope in something once referred to here on DV as shit for leadership — and then some — brewing in Washington.


    I think you presented a well-supported argument against the likelihood of the O-bomb conceivably pursuing anything along the lines of adherence to his environmental campaign jargon, which I was enjoying by the way right up to the very end. Despite the following, I appreciate your contribution:

    “The road we must take in order to achieve all three of those goals will take courage, dedication, and sacrifice from all Americans combined with unprecedented leadership from Washington.”

    That limb on which you went far out, just fell out from under you, friend. In order to have unprecedented leadership in Washington (makes me laugh just thinking about it, try it, say it out loud, especially if you’re alone), there would first have to be something in Washington which truly represents leadership. I think you’re either forgetting or overlooking the fact that the US political system is no less corrupt than the MIC, bankers and Wall Street quick-talkin’, money flashing pimps and whores with whom they associate.

    Surely you’ve reviewed Amerikan REALity 101?

    Best to all!

  9. Jeff said on February 25th, 2009 at 8:26am #

    Well, the Saudi princes have accumulated an obscene credit imbalance with the US (of what used to be) A. Let we Canadians have a crack at it. Maybe then the US will have a reason to attack Canada as we would hold too much credit. Seems we would be the easier target. Then again, we have the ‘prince of [Harper] darkness’ cavorting around Manhattan. Ya, that is where the leader of your country should go. As for the tars sands and climate change, subject at hand, lets just do it for we are doomed anyway. I personally lean toward the microchip. May help solve our communication problems. Maybe if they had not literally destroyed Tesla’s body of work (they didn’t but that is another story) and used it as was intended, we all would not be in this mess. Thank the J.P. Morgans of the world. The 20th century was the glory of the modern era. Let us all once again plunder and rape at even a greater rate. That is where all the fun is. Just ask those that control your mind, body, and soul. They are laughing all the way to their banks, and their history.

  10. Doug said on February 25th, 2009 at 9:58am #

    Mr Thoimaides clearly has some strong opinions. Too bad they are not backed up by factual information. There are flaws in almost every statment he is making about the Canadian Oil Sands.
    The one that strikes me is that picking on this target seems to be ignoring the much bigger problem closer to home.
    Obama calls the US the “Saudi Arabia of coal”. In 2006, Canadian oilsands mining, extraction and upgrading produced 33.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. Coal-fired plants in the U. S. pumped 1.9 billion tonnes of GHGs into the atmosphere.
    Focus on the biggest issue and work your way to the lesser ones. Don’t just pick on the easiest target.

  11. Barry said on February 25th, 2009 at 10:00am #

    This is what I was just reading:
    “In his address to a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama…asked Congress to send him legislation “that places a market-placed cap on carbon pollution.” The new president has pledged to set annual targets that put the nation on course to an 80 percent reduction (from 1990 levels) in fossil fuel emissions by 2050. ”

    The article went on to say:
    “A Center for Public Integrity analysis of Senate lobbying disclosure forms shows that more than 770 companies and interest groups hired an estimated 2,340 lobbyists to influence federal policy on climate change in the past year, as the issue gathered momentum and came to a vote on Capitol Hill. That’s an increase of more than 300 percent in the number of lobbyists on climate change in just five years, and means that Washington can now boast more than four climate lobbyists for every member of Congress.”

    So between Obama’s modest goals, 2,340 congressional lobbyists, and the fact that it is alrady likely too late to turn this climatic ship around – what’s left to argue about?

  12. Sam said on February 25th, 2009 at 11:00am #

    Considering in 2008 the IEA for the first time EVER released a date for peak oil (2015 non-opec, 2020 opec) I think we have no choice but to let it happen.

  13. Sam said on February 25th, 2009 at 11:03am #

    Considering in 2008 the IEA for the first time EVER gave a date for peak oil (2015 non-opec, 2020 opec) I’d say we have no choice but to let it happen.