Let’s not be too quick to cheer for the market as oil prices slump

Another title for this piece could be oil prices and politics. The last few weeks have been full of worries about the fate of Canada’s oil sector. Global oil prices are falling, pipelines are stalled and a few prominent tar sands investments have been canceled. All of these stories have been accompanied by cheering from the barricades representing those who want to Canada ween itself off its high-carbon fossil fuel industry as quickly as possible.

I, too, won’t be shedding any tears for the tar sands but it is good to keep things in perspective. Questioning the market for allocation of investment towards more fossil fuel development and more climate change, the lesson of the week is not to cheer too quickly for the market’s changing fortunes. Here’s a few charts that provide some of that perspective. (more…)

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After Mount Polley disaster, time to question business as usual

There are many frames that can be used to try to understand the disaster that unravelled last week at the Mount Polley mine in central British Columbia when a dam holding in a tailings pond burst and spilled millions of litres of toxic sludge into creeks and lakes. My aim here is to make such an attempt using the metaphor of embedded, concentric circles that draw on broader and broader contexts of the spill.

At the centre is the mine. The very first reports and company statements claimed that the dam holding the tailings pond at Mount Polley mine was functioning correctly – that it was business as usual, interrupted by a freak accident. It has, however, quickly become clear that there is a history of significant negligence at the mine, specifically to do with the dam. Engineers, workers, a former foreman and government inspectors had all warned about small failures and violations that could easily lead to disaster. This week proved to be the proverbial last straw.

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