the president and the pipeline

President elect of the United States, Barack Obama, could have a huge impact on the Yukon, and not in a good way.

President elect of the United States, Barack Obama, could have a huge impact on the Yukon, and not in a good way.

It is all to do with the proposed Alaska Highway Natural Gas Pipeline.

As part of his campaign the construction of this project was stated as a priority.

Now that he is actually going to sit in the White House, there are a couple of things to be reconciled.

First is revitalizing the economy, second is trying to achieve energy security and independence, and third is attempting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

That noise everyone is now hearing is the sound of Obama’s policy advisers desperately clearing their throats while they try to think their way forward.

They might be able to do the first one, the second is impossible and the third is a fool’s dream.

From an economic perspective, building a $40-billion pipeline from Alaska to Alberta would certainly pump some money into the North American economy.

Of course, it could also pump money into Asia and Europe, because some of the pipeline components have to be built there.

While $40 billion is not going to save the world economy, every little bit helps.

And spreading small portions of it around the globe cannot do any harm on the diplomatic front.

So, a big massive pipeline project could be a part of a Keynesian public-work type project.

The fossil fuel and pipeline companies will have to pay for it, but no doubt taxpayer dollars will be in their somewhere, probably as bond holders or debt guarantees.

One of the concepts behind shipping a lot of natural gas from Alaska to the main North American gas distribution system is energy security.

Most of the United States energy comes from abroad, and comes from countries that do not always have the best relations with the home of apple pie.

Iran and Venezuela spring to mind.

Of course, these countries are as addicted to oil revenue as North America is as addicted to oil, so there is not the slightest possibility of the fossil-fuel shipments being turned off.

But the perception is there, and in a sneaky way, energy independence would mean less money for Iran and Venezuela.

There are many minds within the US State department and other lesser known US government institutions who would welcome that.

So if more energy can be generated within the United States, fewer funds will go to foreigners.

It could also be safer than the supply from certain other countries.

The fossil fuel supply from Iraq these days is not the most consistent thing in the world.

And given that US military casualties are still running about a dozen solders a month, the cost in blood and treasure is high.

Having a pipeline run from Alaska through nice, quiet, safe Canada would be ideal.

Pipeline proponents would do well not to bring up the recent pipeline bombings in northeastern British Columbia to the Americans.

Energy independence is the concept that the US can generate most, if not all, of its energy independently of other countries.

Barring the invention of nuclear fusion reactors it is not going to happen.

But the conceit plays well with promoters of the project.

Finally, there is the major matter of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The only way the Alaska Highway Natural Gas Project will reduce greenhouse gas emissions is if the natural gas is used to displace a dirtier fossil fuel, such as oil or coal.

If the natural gas is burnt in addition to existing consumption levels of oil and coal, all this pipeline will do is pump more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Given current North American fuel consumption projections, even with what could be the worst economic downturn in living memory, the second scenario is more likely.

That is why promoting the Alaska Highway Natural Gas Pipeline is going to cause a lot of headaches for the Obama administration, at least on the environmental front.

It might revitalize the economy, it will pander to those who believe it will provide energy independence and security, but there is not a chance it will reduce North American greenhouse gas emissions.

Should the pipeline proceed, the campaign chant of “yes we can” will not apply to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

That means the impacts of climate change will continue to have massive negative effects on the Yukon.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.

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