One morning this May I woke before dawn with a small group of activists, climbed into a kayak and paddled across Burrard Inlet to confront a monster: Eser K, a massive oil tanker scheduled to load up at Westridge Marine Terminal, where the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline currently delivers 300,000 barrels of crude oil each day.
As we paddled out across the calm, glassy water, I recalled the busy scene that had overtaken these waters only a few days earlier. Hundreds of colourful kayaks had crossed the inlet and swarmed the tanker facility, joining protesters on land to surround the export terminal. It was a display of widespread opposition to the proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, which would triple the volume of crude transported from the Alberta tar sands to Burnaby for export and increase tanker traffic in Vancouver’s harbour from five to 34 tankers per month, each carrying about 550,000 barrels of bitumen and crude oil.
On top of the serious dangers of a spill along this coast and a failure to adequately consult First Nations along the proposed route, the enlarged pipeline would have dangerous climate ramifications. Expanding a direct artery from the Alberta tar sands to the west coast would lock us into further expansion of tar sands oil at a moment when we know that any further expansion of global fossil fuel industries would push our planet past 2 C of warming. This is the science-based threshold for global temperature change, beyond which we face catastrophic, unpredictable planetary changes. Two degrees is also the ceiling of global temperature rise agreed upon at last year’s COP21 United Nations climate summit in Paris.
In other words, building this pipeline would mean a failure on Canada’s part to honour the historic Paris Agreement, which was recently ratified and officially comes into force today. In spite of this, the Canadian government is making every indication that the Kinder Morgan expansion will be approved this December.
These risks were at the forefront of my mind this May as I paddled towards the hulking red behemoth, feeling like a sardine playing a game of chicken with a great white shark. As the tanker began to draw anchor, I paddled into its path and lit a marine flare in an internationally recognized signal of distress. The message our group came to deliver was simple: We are living in a state of emergency, surrounded by planetary alarm bells we can no longer afford to ignore.
In the four short months since we faced off with the Eser K, I’ve watched our federal government approve two major LNG projects in B.C. and seen the National Energy Board recommend the approval of Kinder Morgan despite enormous opposition. I’ve also watched our planet blow the top off the global average temperature charts and permanently surpass the 400 ppm benchmark of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. To put it in perspective, that’s a 13 per cent increase in atmospheric CO2 since the climate talks began in 1992 — the same year I was born. The climate crisis feels more urgent than it has ever felt before in my young life.
This November I travel to Marrakech with 17 young climate activists to face off with a different behemoth: the UN climate negotiations. At COP22, the Canadian Youth Delegation will fight to hold our government accountable to the promises made in Paris. That means recognizing planetary boundaries, keeping new fossil fuel reserves in the ground, halting expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, dramatically shifting to renewable energies, and committing to real and meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples.
It also means the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion can never be built.
As I arrive in Morocco for COP22, it is my greatest hope, shared by youth across this country, that our government recognizes the emergency we face and plots a radical, real change of course.
If not? I guess I might have another date with a tanker.