Canada’s Environmental Shame
-Updated Nov 2018-
Buying into Oil Pipeline Expansion
Yesterday the Canadian government announced its decision to buy up the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline at a cost of $4.5 Billion dollars (CBC). For months now the expansion has been delayed due to its failure to meet environmental regulations and strong protests from Canadians, especially Indigenous groups.
Despite the considerable resistance, the current government’s campaign promises to end fossil fuel subsidies, the lack of Indigenous consent, objections from the BC (provincial) government, and the Paris Accord commitments, the government is planning to go ahead with the purchase.
Down the Drain
In exchange for Canadian taxpayer dollars, the government will be acquiring the existing 65 year old pipeline that connects the provinces of Alberta (where the bitumen oil is) with British Columbia (where they’re looking to export the oil via tankers).
On top of this, the government will likely have to kick up an additional (estimated) $7.4 Billion to fund the proposed expansion (see Faulty Math). The government claims that this decision is in the best interest of Canadians and will generate jobs.
The pipeline is not in the best interest of Canadians, as it’s not in the best interest of the environment on which we depend. In continuing its pursuit of pipeline expansion, the government is compromising the future of all Canadians in exchange for some very limited short term gain (see Alberta clean up costs estimated $260 billion). The notion of job creation is a weak one, and does not stand up to closer examination.
While some temporary jobs may be created in the construction of the pipeline, the actual number of permanent jobs is actually quite low given the tremendous financial and environmental cost (see Bogus Employment Numbers). Not only is it environmentally menacing, it does not present a worthy financial return.
Indeed, much of what is extracted is refined abroad (about a quarter is refined within Canada), which means Canadians get a lower price for their product, despite the considerable cost of extraction. This means foreign companies are gaining the greater benefit (see Koch Brothers), while Canadians will be forking the bill for the majority of the environmental clean-up.
The Weight of Responsibility
The proposed pipeline expansion is not a sound business model. The American-owned Kinder Morgan Inc. (founded by US Billionaire Richard Kinder, formerly of Enron, yes that Enron), recently acknowledged that the proposed expansion was no longer financially viable. This recognition was made after the NEB (National Energy Board) of Canada decreed that the company would be held financially liable for cleaning up any potential oil spill.
Renewables Make Sense
On the other hand, investing those pledged taxpayer funds in renewables would build Canadian capacity, cut down on carbon emissions, and generate long-term domestic employment. Thankfully, this transition to renewables appears to be the current international trend (see It’s Happening), and it’s within Canada’s economic and environmental interest to do the same.
Even oil sands workers have seen the forest for the trees, and are asking to be retrained to renewables. Check out Iron & Earth where you can also sign the pledge in support of those who are looking for assistance in the transition to renewables.
Renewables represent excellent opportunities for innovation and employment. They are the future. It doesn’t make sense to keep pouring billions into fossil fuels knowing now the consequences of such operations. That is exactly what was pledged by our current Prime Minister when he was campaigning for our votes (see How the Trudeau Liberals won a majority in the 2015 federal election).
I actually voted for him! After a decade of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, Justin Trudeau offered a fresh perspective and (supposedly) a better representation of what Canadians wanted. There was certainly a lot of cynicism around his good looks and positive message (see Sunny Ways).
Indeed, he faced sharp criticism from both sides of the political spectrum (his nice hair was brought up often as a source of ridicule, reflecting his youth and superficiality). Frankly, I couldn’t care less about his hair (or age). Rather, it was the Liberal’s Party’s proposed policy that concerned me. On that note, he and the Liberal Party were certainly saying the right things.
The Liberals had been thrashed in the previous federal election (back in 2011, when they were elected to the fewest seats in the party’s history), and were looking to change things around. As a result of their prior defeat, they had been holding consultations, trying to learn from Canadians what they felt was most important to them. I thought it a good sign, and even offered input on a number of occasions.
Although I had also strongly favored Elizabeth May and the Green Party (they certainly walk the talk, as demonstrated by Ms. May’s recent arrest at an anti-pipeline protest), I also knew that a majority government could actually hold the power to implement significant changes. After careful deliberation, I ultimately opted for the Liberal vote. Turns out so did the majority of Canadians.
I had sincerely believed that Trudeau would represent the hope and change that Canada needed in order to adopt greater sustainability and become an environmental leader. He certainly started off by saying the right things and selecting a diverse and gender-balanced executive cabinet.
When asked about this, Trudeau’s response was, “Because it’s 2015!” There was now a Canadian Minister of The Environment and Climate Change (the climate change part was updated by the incoming government), and Trudeau had even invited Elizabeth May to attend the Paris Change Summit.
It was looking good! Trudeau and the Liberals had often criticized the weak environmental standards and carbon emission caps that were set by the previous government (Harper pulled Canada from the Kyoto Protocol, the precursor to the Paris Accord, which actual required stricter emission reductions). With a majority government, the Liberals now had their chance to do something about it.
No Consent Given
Except they never did. Now approaching their 3rd year in power, Trudeau and the Liberals certainly talk a good game (see No Shortage of Hot Air), but they have yet to enact the changes needed. The Prime Minister’s eloquent speeches and selfies with citizens further exacerbate the difference between word and deeds and heighten the frustration that concerned citizens have with the government leader.
Since coming to power Justin Trudeau has cried and apologized on numerous occasions. He supposedly bared his feelings as he requested genuine reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations, and committed to sincere consultations. Yet these consultations were not sincere. First Nations have been vehemently opposing the oil pipeline expansions, and yet this government is going through it anyway.
The Way Forward
I had my own personal taste of the matter after attending a second Public Consultation on Combating Climate Change hosted by the Liberal government. Despite the attendees near unanimous vocal concern for the environment, the official response was “we have to represent all Canadians,” (aka the fossil fuel energy sector). I can only imagine how infuriated Canadian Indigenous are.
Not only are their ancestral rights and environmental stewardship being rebuked, but $4.5 billion dollars can go a long way to providing clean fresh water to First Nation reservations that are currently lacking it (estimated cost for Trudeau’s pledge to provide clean water is $3.2 Billion).
Canada can do better! I’m proud of our country, it’s natural beauty and our social progressivism. Canada really is a great place that is often admired internationally. The tar sands however represent a great and terrible blight over the country and our planet. Bituminous oil is an extremely dirty source of carbon emissions, for which we have already cleared millions of acres of forest and consumed tremendous amounts of fresh water (3:1 water to oil ratio). It is now 2018. The government should no longer be investing in fossil fuels, and definitely not expanding pipelines.