SULLIVAN: How to declare a climate emergency and approve a pipeline in the same breath

This really happened: On Monday, June 17, the federal government declared a climate emergency and committed itself to drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet its commitment to the Paris accord on climate change.

On Tuesday, June 18 – yes, the very next day – that same government approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which will triple the pipeline’s capacity to move Alberta tar sands petroleum to Burrard Inlet.

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Producing and processing this extra oil will add an extra 13-15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere annually. And that’s not including the so-called downstream emissions, like actually burning the oil for fuel.

Seems like an odd way to respond to a climate emergency.

It wasn’t really a surprise that Ottawa approved the pipeline. After all, they bought the damn thing when Texas-based Kinder Morgan decided to shut the project down because they were tired of waiting to clear all the regulatory hoops and protests. So the feds were sitting on a $4.5 billion “asset.”

The real surprise was the nerve required to declare a climate emergency and then the very next day exacerbate said emergency by increasing greenhouses gases by 13-15 million tonnes a year – and that’s just for starters.

If we think we have a climate emergency on our hands now, what will we call it if a tanker carrying 80,000-100,000 tonnes of oil sands sludge plows into the Iron Workers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge? I’m not saying it will happen; I’m saying it could happen, thanks to the increase in tanker traffic. The environmental damage to Burrard Inlet – our North Shore home inlet – would be impossible to calculate.

I’ve argued with everyone (it seems) until I’m blue in the face that increasing the capacity of the pipeline from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels a day is Going In The Wrong Direction. And you’d think that a federal declaration of a climate emergency would, er, fuel that argument. Yet in the magic mind of Trudeau the Second, it all fits into one grand harmonious plan.

Apparently the only thing that Trudeau values more than the environment is middle-class jobs, and this pipeline, he says, will create thousands of jobs. He pledges that all the tax revenue from the project, which he calculates could be as much as $500 million a year, could go to the transition to clean energy.

It seems too obvious to point out that the $4.5 billion of your money spent to acquire the pipeline could have stimulated a whole lot of transition, but it seems almost unfair.

The sad thing is, this is a popular move across the country, even in B.C., where polls show a slim majority supporting the expansion of the pipeline. Never underestimate the power of this brief incantation: middle-class jobs.

Of course, anyone in the actual vicinity of the business end of the pipeline is not so enthused. And that includes all the First Nations at the end of the pipeline, all three North Shore municipalities, Burnaby, Vancouver and the provincial government. It’s an unprecedented show of unity from a bunch that normally fights like cats and dogs over anything and everything.

And as for those middle-class jobs, B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman is worried that the threat of a spill puts tens of thousands of jobs at risk, so that jobs thing could be a wash. Maybe the spill response will generate some middle-class jobs – cleaning up shorebirds, dead salmon and whales – that sort of thing. And maybe to replace all the tourism jobs that will disappear instantly in the wake of a spill, resourceful entrepreneurs will launch “shame tourism” tours to demonstrate how Paradise was Lost.

Speaking of minds, I wonder about the state of mind of Jonathan Wilkinson, the North Vancouver MP and federal fisheries minister whose job it is to try to explain the inexplicable to the people who live here. Wilkinson is both a Rhodes scholar (so he’s smart) and a former high-profile clean tech executive. His mission in life until now has been to address the impending climate emergency, and not by making it worse.

Nonetheless, he’s borrowed from the federal reserve of nerve to declare that there are no inconsistencies in the government’s climate plan. Environmentalists condemn the pipeline/tanker traffic for its potential impact on the local orca population alone, but I can only assume because whales aren’t actually fish, the fisheries minister is OK with it.

So, it’s pretty much down to the doughty band of protesters who vow never to give up and are, as you read this, scheming to prevent the National Solution to the Climate Crisis. But when you’re faced with such blatant, breathtaking hypocrisy, it will take more than dought, or whatever that stuff is, to halt the inevitable.

Journalist and communications consultant Paul Sullivan has been a North Vancouver resident since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Madonna. p.sullivan@breakthroughpr.com

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