Canada’s Environmental Shame
Last Updated on March 30, 2021
Buying Into Oil Pipeline Expansion
Yesterday the Canadian government announced its decision to nationalize the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Oil Pipeline at a cost of $4.5 billion (CBC). For many months now, the planned pipeline expansion had been repeatedly postponed. The delays were a result of significant and sustained protests on behalf of concerned Canadians.
Indigenous groups and environmentalists had been successfully challenging the projected oil pipeline expansion. Along with the evident climate science, Canadian law actually supported the protesters as well. This was due in no small part to Kinder Morgan’s failure to comply with existing environmental regulations.
Regardless of this, the Liberal government determined somehow that it needed to move ahead with the expansion. In fact, pumping out more oil was such a priority, that the government decided it had to nationalize the Trans Mountain pipeline. Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees!
This was wrong on so many levels. The world is currently undergoing a climate emergency as a result of our continued dependence on fossil fuels and our massive output of heat-trapping greenhouses gases. If that wasn’t enough, there were also a number of legal, ethical, and democratic failures in buying the oil pipeline.
The decision to nationalize the Trans Mountain pipeline was made despite considerable public resistance; contrary to the Liberal’s campaign promises to end fossil fuel subsidies; despite the lack of Indigenous consent; over the objections from the B.C. (provincial) government; and despite Canada’s Paris Accord commitments to mitigate climate change. Even after all those considerations, this government still thought that acquiring a problem-ridden oil pipeline from a US oil tycoon (billionaire Richard Kinder is the executive chairman and largest shareholder of Kinder Morgan) was the best use of government funds.
Down the Drain
In exchange for all those Canadian taxpayer dollars, the government will be acquiring a 65-year-old oil pipeline. It’s basically a conduit that connects the provinces of Alberta (where the bitumen oil is), with neighboring British Columbia (where the oil can be exported via tankers).
In theory at least, the goal is to get more Canadian oil out to Asia markets. However, there are a number of debunked myths surrounding this potential demand for Canadian bitumen oil. Furthermore, the government will likely have to invest an additional (estimated) $7.4 Billion to fund the proposed pipeline expansion (see Faulty Math). The government claims that this decision is in the best interest of Canadians. It justifies the investment with the explanation that it 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. It is doing so 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. Basically, if it actually had to cover the true cost of operations, it just wouldn’t be profitable.
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). 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.
Opportunity for Change
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.
Trudeau’s public charm now serves to heighten the frustration that concerned citizens have with their government leader. They certainly expected more of a supposedly empathetic Prime Minister who seeks to openly demonstrate his emotional intelligence.
To that effect, Justin Trudeau does seem like a sensitive and caring politician. Since coming to power, Trudeau has even cried and apologized on numerous occasions. He supposedly bared his feelings as he requested genuine reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations. The Prime Minister had committed himself and his government to sincere consultations.
Unfortunately, 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 Bitter Taste of Deceit
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 the Indigenous Canadians 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 fulfilling Trudeau’s pledge to provide clean water is $3.2 Billion).
A Better Way Forward
Canada can do better! I write this from a place of hope and affection for our awesome country. I’m proud to be Canadian. Our country’s natural beauty is breath-taking and our social progressivism is an example to the world.
Indeed, Canada is often admired internationally because of how we do things. How accepting and nice we are, and how diverse and progressive our culture is. We have a lot to be grateful for. 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. To extract it, we have already destroyed millions of acres of forest and consumed massive amounts of fresh water (3:1 water to oil ratio). The environmental cost continues to be incredibly high.
It is now 2018. The government should no longer be investing in fossil fuels. It definitely shouldn’t be spending on oil pipeline nationalization and expansion. Instead, Canada can actually work on becoming the environmental leader it’s reputed to be. It’s time.