It’s been a tough month for climate advocates, who at the close of last year would have been justified in feeling Canada had turned a corner on climate change, with even our laggardly politicians starting to grasp its uncompromising scientific realities.
Now the NDP premier of Alberta, the last elected New Democrat leader in the country after Tuesday’s rout in Manitoba, has wrapped herself in the mantle of pipelines or bust. According to the National Post, our new Liberal prime minister has instructed staff to make approval of the Energy East and Kinder Morgan pipelines a “top priority” and, like a zombie back from the dead, the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is suddenly the subject of negotiation between the governments of B.C. and Alberta.
Prior to her election last year, premier Notley described Northern Gateway as “not the right decision,” going on to explain to the Calgary Herald that "I think there's just too much environmental sensitivity there and I think there's genuine concerns by the indigenous communities, but I think from an environmental point of view, it's a problem and I think B.C.'s made itself very clear on that."
How times have changed.
Slammed by a major downturn in the extractive industry, Alberta is hurting right now, and one can understand the emotional support for pipelines as a way to reverse that trend, even if there is little evidence that building more pipelines will put thousands of laid-off Alberta workers back to work in a rapidly-evolving energy industry.
Instead, the truth is that the future prosperity of Alberta workers can only be secured by retraining them to meet the needs of the fastest-growing energy sector in the country: renewables. Pipelines are, at best, a short-term panacea allowing the problem to be punted down the road. They offer no solution to the long-term needs of Albertans, whose last government displayed a persistent inability to foresee changes to the industry and diversify their economy to prepare for them.
But jobs aside, the science is clear. As politicians condemn the inflexibility of the Leap Manifesto, which both Notley and federal environment minister Catherine McKenna have excoriated in the harshest terms, despite both admitting they haven’t actually read the three-page document, they miss the point.
The inflexibility of opposition is born of harsh and inflexible scientific realities, not ideology or dogma.
And if New Democrats and Liberals join forces to push for pipelines and tar sands expansion, they will be met with the same wall of resistance that faced the last government. Buckle up, because we seem destined for a new phase in the pipeline debate, one which pits provinces who see short-term benefits from the projects (Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick) against those whose populations overwhelmingly reject pipelines and their long-term consequences (such as Quebec and British Columbia). Ontario, and its large population base, will be crucial in determining the outcome of this debate.
The great Canadian pipeline debate: round two
But if the last few weeks have been depressing for those within the climate movement who took Trudeau at his word when he made a show of promising to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees in Paris, a goal which is indisputably impossible if major expansion of the tar sands goes forward, then here today comes a sign that this fight is far from over.
In a press release issued today at noon eastern, Canada’s climate movement announced its intention to fight back.
“A new coalition of grassroots, First Nations, religious, democracy and environmental groups today launched a new campaign to fill the Trudeau government’s upcoming national climate consultations with people from coast to coast.”
The “People’s Climate Plan” as it is being billed, has three priorities they wish to hammer home during the Trudeau government’s public consultations on their climate plan. The shape of those consultations will be announced tomorrow, with an eye to releasing a final plan in the fall.
“Canada’s last government let polluters write our climate strategy, now the Trudeau government needs to be bold and write a climate policy for the people,” said Aurore Fauret of 350.org in the coalition’s release. “Real climate action listens to the science saying we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground and respects the rights of workers and Indigenous Peoples.”
For the new coalition, which includes the United Church of Canada, LeadNow, Idle No More and over 25 other groups, there are three immutable realities which will differentiate a real plan from the often contradictory rhetoric our politicians like to offer on the issue.
There is a fundamental contradiction in the spiel of every politician, not least Trudeau and Notley, who argue that pipelines and tar sands expansion will fund the transition to clean energy. They can’t.
That’s not an opinion, but rather the finding of every credible scientist who has studied the issue. We can have pipelines, or we can meet our climate targets. We most emphatically cannot do both. Politicians are in the practice of promising voters they can have their cake, and eat it too. This time that willful blindness to reality is more than misleading, it’s downright dangerous to our survival as a species.
The coalition demands that the new climate plan ensure Canada does its part to hold warming to 1.5 degrees by following the scientific consensus and keeping many fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
Jobs and planning for the future
The coalition’s second demand of the climate plan is that it commits to the transition to a 100 per cent renewable energy economy by 2050, as scientists and analysts argue is both necessary and achievable, and uses the expansion of the renewable sector to create over a million clean, safe and rewarding jobs during this transition. These new jobs would help offset losses in extractive industries, and represent the type of shift in employment we have seen many times in our history when the stakes were far lower.
On this point the coalition calls for justice both for Indigenous peoples, whose right to free, prior and informed consent is fundamentally at odds with many pipeline projects, and for workers in extractive industries, calling on the government to ensure neither group is left behind in this transition to a clean energy economy.
The groups involved promise to organize communities locally to flood the consultations with these three key demands, and to engage in a mass mobilization in the fall of 2016 prior to the unveiling of the government’s new plan.
Get ready Canada, 2016 seems likely to be the year of the pipeline debate.