Vancouver Sun Letter

LetterFor what is likely to be my last letter to the editor of 2016, see today’s Vancouver Sun (fourth letter from the top). The gist of my argument is that Kinder Morgan is bad.

Fun fact: this ain’t the first time I’ve responded to a pro-Kinder Morgan op-ed by former NDP Premier Dan Miller.

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It’s the Climate, Stupid!

Portland protestNot two weeks since the federal government’s long-anticipated approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline, the magnitude of the obstacles faced by the project are becoming clearer by the day.

There is widespread public hostility — both in Kitimat, envisioned as the pipeline’s end location, as well as across British Columbia more generally. First Nations and environmental groups have launched several court challenges, with more expected to come. Massive protests and civil disobedience are inevitable. Efforts will soon be underway to initiate a province-wide referendum. The government of BC, which must provide about 60 permits, is ambivalent about the pipeline at best, while federal opposition parties are promising to reverse the project’s approval if they win next year’s election.

All this in addition to the much-ballyhooed 209 conditions.

Nevertheless, as rosy as matters may look from certain angles, victory is far from assured. The entrenched power of Enbridge and its political backers in Ottawa and Edmonton is nothing to scoff at, and pipeline opponents would do well to take a step back and consider why exactly they are opposed.

I say this because in the coming months, British Columbia will be bombarded by relentless propaganda (as though we haven’t had enough already) claiming that Enbridge has heard our cries of protest and will commit to building the greenest, most environmentally responsible pipeline it can build. The threat of bitumen spills on land and at sea will be neutralized. The company will meet and exceed provincial demands for “world-leading” response, prevention, and recovery systems.

Never mind for a moment the disingenuousness of such attempts to deflect and to co-opt. Never mind Enbridge’s less-than-exemplary record on oil spills. Such promises, even if true, are irrelevant because they fail to address the proverbial elephant in the room, climate change. The fight against pipelines is not just about our wilderness, our rivers, our coastlines — vital though these are. It is about the planet-wide impact of dangerously accelerating tar sands expansion, a process that Northern Gateway is meant to facilitate.

According to current projections, if warming is to be kept within the two-degree limit pledged by world leaders at Copenhagen, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak some time before 2020. Such a scenario is not consistent with the continued building of large-scale fossil fuel infrastructure with decades-long lifespans (at least not here in the developed world). Virtually every new pipeline, oil refinery, LNG facility, or coal-fired power plant is another nail in the coffin of climate stability.

It is possible to disagree reasonably about how rapidly to phase out existing infrastructure, how aggressively to tackle the transition to wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, and other renewables. But at the very least, at this stage in our history, to continue full speed in the opposite direction without a care for the consequences should be unthinkable.

That — in addition to the risk of spills — is what’s wrong with Northern Gateway. That is why we can’t let them win.

This post appears on rabble.ca.

Referendums on Pipelines?

Northern GatewayThe longstanding “will they or won’t they” dynamic existing between BC premier Christy Clark and Alberta premier Alison Redford took a turn for the depressing recently when they announced they had come to a framework agreement on pipelines. While short on specifics and not making any firm pledges, the deal appears intended to bring Enbridge’s controversial Northern Gateway project, which seeks to transport diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to BC’s North Coast for export, one step closer to fruition.

With Enbridge and its prospective pipeline gaining momentum, opposition to the plan is not far behind, and proposals abound for how best to defeat this and other fossil fuel-related developments. Political commentator Rafe Mair, for instance, in two recent columns in The Tyee, has challenged the BC government to hold a referendum asking voters the simple question: “Are you in favour of oil pipelines and oil tankers in British Columbia?”

Mair has been a passionate defender of the environment for many years, taking on such foes as salmon farming and private power production (more than making up, in my opinion, for his participation in the Social Credit governments of old), so when he speaks up, it is worth listening to what he has to say.

Yet I cannot help but feel a little ambivalence — a tinge of skepticism even — towards this particular proposal. If the government could be convinced to go down the referendum route, the major advantage — and it’s a big one — would be that Enbridge would probably lose. Fossil fuel boosters may have the ability to outspend environmentalists, but public opinion polls in BC have consistently shown more people opposed to the pipeline than in favour. And it is a truism in politics that negative emotions are more motivating than positive ones, meaning that all else being equal, pipeline opponents would be more likely to show up and vote than supporters.

However, though probable, victory is far from assured. As a general rule, one should not support a referendum unless willing to accept its results when things don’t go according to plan. No electoral majority would be large enough to make me comfortable with the Enbridge project, and I suspect others feel the same way. To say this is not to give in to dogmatism or reject democratic decision-making, but simply to acknowledge that the referendum, though it has its uses, is not the ideal tool for resolving environmental issues. After all, most of the relevant stakeholders — including future generations and non-human animals — cannot possibly be part of any electorate. Then there is the question Indigenous rights, a constitutionally enshrined principle which ought never to be subject to this or that majority whim. Environmental governance by referendum sets a dangerous precedent.

For these reasons, my instinct is to say no to a referendum on Northern Gateway. The sad truth, however, is that pipeline opponents have the odds stacked against them and are not exactly spoiled for choice with respect to winning strategies. Rafe Mair (along with the Dogwood Initiative which, I understand, is considering a similar proposal) is to be commended for contributing to an important debate. A Northern Gateway pipeline would threaten the rights of First Nations communities, risk oil spills on land and at sea, and bring us closer to the edge of runaway global warming. (In the words of Mark Jaccard, “the impacts of climate change are local — everywhere!”)

Concerned citizens would do well to inform themselves and make their voices heard. A series of events under the banner of “Defend Our Climate” (including an anti-Enbridge rally in Vancouver) will be held across the country this Saturday.

This post appears on rabble.ca.

What the NDP Is and Isn’t Promising on the Environment

Adrian DixIn the wake of the NDP’s Earth Day announcement unveiling its environmental platform in Kamloops, BC’s environmental movement has been falling all over itself in praise of the party sure to form the next provincial government. Environmentalist Tzeporah Berman, a vocal NDP critic in the last election, has now offered her enthusiastic endorsement of the party — this in addition to previous votes of confidence of a more qualified nature from the likes of Mark Jaccard and Rafe Mair. And let us not forget former Sierra Club BC executive director George Heyman, who is running as a candidate for the NDP in Vancouver.

So what exactly does the NDP have to offer on the environment? Well, let’s look at what it said in Kamloops yesterday. Contrary to media reports, leader Adrian Dix did not quite assert his unwavering opposition to Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline “twinning.” But he came closer than he ever has before. As stated in a release on the NDP website:

The Kinder Morgan proposal as we understand it, would dramatically transform what that pipeline does and would dramatically transform the Port of Vancouver. The Kinder Morgan pipeline would become a pipeline designed for oil sands bitumen export, with [sic] increasing dramatically the barrels per day passing through the Port of Vancouver via tankers.

We have to wait to see a formal application, but I don’t think that the Port of Metro Vancouver, as busy and as successful as it is, should become a major oil export facility.

We will conduct a made-in-BC review of the Kinder Morgan proposal and decisions will be made here in BC.

Our position is clear: we do not believe any proposal should transform Vancouver into a major port for oil export.

Read over that statement again. If Adrian Dix had wanted to pledge explicitly that an NDP government would block Kinder Morgan’s application, then he would have done so. But he and his team are choosing their words carefully. Without doubt, the party’s increasing negativity of tone with respect to the pipeline proposal is reducing the future government’s wiggle room (and environmental groups are right to celebrate this small victory), but some room for manoeuvre does remain.

This fine line being walked by the NDP is reflected on other environmental issues as well. In contrast to their Kinder Morgan position, Dix and co. are unequivocally opposed to the more well-known Enbridge pipeline proposal. They also favour a ban on cosmetic pesticide use. They have promised to broaden BC’s carbon tax to some (not all) currently exempt industrial emissions, and to devote a portion of its revenue to initiatives like public transit, but they will not raise the tax rate. On natural gas, they are calling for a review (not a moratorium) on the practice of fracking, but their position on liquefied natural gas development and export is otherwise mostly indistinguishable from that of the Liberals, despite evidence that BC will fail to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets if current plans go ahead.

The NDP has certainly come a long way since its “axe the gas tax” campaign of 2009 (and an even longer way since Premier Glen Clark called environmentalists “enemies of BC” in 1997). Without question, New Democrats are now miles ahead of the governing Liberals on environmental policy, and their announcement in Kamloops yesterday is justifiably greeted with cautious optimism.

But now is not the time to ease up the pressure. Environmentalists must remain vigilant against all who seek power. In fact, barring some truly spectacular flip-flops over the next three weeks, enterprising voters would do well to remember that there are more than just two parties competing for their votes on May 14.

Bring Your Boomers: How BC Candidates Fare on Climate Change

Enbridge pipelineAlthough the writ for the upcoming BC election won’t be dropped for another two weeks (yes, this campaign has been going on forever), I had the pleasure yesterday of attending an all-candidates meeting on climate change organized by Gen Why Media.

The forum seemed geared primarily towards the young ’uns, despite being billed by organizers as part of their ongoing “Bring Your Boomers” intergenerational dialogue series. A few older voices in the audience could be heard complaining about the darkness of the venue and the frenetic Twittercentrism of the onstage decorations. And though I am ostensibly still part of the youth demographic (I think) for whose benefit all this was being done, even I felt that the ambient electro-rock band Au4 which opened and closed the evening, while very talented and entertaining, was a bit loud for a political event.

Window dressing aside, however, it was a lot of fun. Five candidates running in the upcoming election from across the province shared the stage with three young people (Sam Harrison, Caleb Behn, and Andrea Curtis) who drilled them on their environmental commitments. Former Quebec City Bureau Chief for CTV Kai Nagata served as moderator.

The consummate star of the evening was independent MLA and former New Democrat Bob Simpson from Cariboo North. He drew by far the most applause by coming out strongly against both the Enbridge and the Kinder Morgan pipelines, and declaring the phrase “green LNG” (liquefied natural gas) to be “nonsensical.”

Green Party leader Jane Sterk seemed like somewhat of a kindred spirit, and it is no wonder she is not running a candidate against Simpson in his riding. She unsurprisingly took the strongest environmental stances of the four party representatives onstage, echoing Simpson on pipelines and natural gas, and adding that a Green Party government would raise BC’s carbon tax from thirty to fifty dollars per tonne.

NDP environment critic Rob Fleming got his fair share of love from the audience too, but he had to put up with some minor heckling whenever the room noticed him waffle on an issue. While the Enbridge pipeline got a firm “no,” Kinder Morgan was a “maybe,” pending a new review process. He spoke favourably of liquefying natural gas for export using renewable energy, so as to avoid the in-province emissions that would result from the current government plan, and stressed the potential role of BC gas in weaning China off of coal, a common claim by both major parties which critics find questionable.

More than a few eyebrows were raised by punk rocker and Conservative candidate Duane Nickull. Running against the Premier in her riding, he touted the importance of geothermal energy and repeatedly emphasized that the BC Conservatives are not the Harper Conservatives.

Finally, drawing a large majority of the evening’s heckles was youthful first-time provincial candidate Gabby Kalaw of the governing Liberals. He definitely came across as the phoniest of the bunch, the way he earnestly greeted everybody onstage by name and kept transparently trying to “relate” to people. He also had the toughest job of anyone at the forum, considering the palpable hostility that virtually the entire audience felt towards his party. But I was unable to shed a tear for him once he started spouting nonsense about using a “Prosperity Fund” of natural gas revenue to help us finance the fight against climate change in some unspecified way.

The high point of the evening came at the very end. Since the main event ran long, there was not as much time for questions from the audience as expected. So when Kai Nagata began wrapping up, a revolt almost broke out. One sweet little old lady in the back had her hand up for a very long time, and members of the audience began insisting that she be given the chance to speak. Nagata apologized, informing us that there just wasn’t time, and the audience’s displeasure grew more and more feverish. Finally, Nagata gave in and allowed the sweet little old lady in the back to have the last word, whereupon she stood up and, in her sweet-little-old-lady voice, launched into a rambling, incoherent proclamation about chemtrails.

Best. Ending. Ever.

Of Petrostates and Patriotism

Alison RedfordIf Alison Redford gets to define Canadian patriotism, then I don’t want to be patriotic.

The Alberta premier yesterday accused federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair of “a fundamental betrayal of Canada’s long-term economic interests” after the latter took a trip to DC in what is being widely interpreted as an effort to convince the Americans not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta.

Other Conservatives at the federal level have adopted the same rhetoric. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver — of “foreign-funded radicals” fame — implied that the Opposition leader was unfit to govern, stating, “Governing means standing up for Canada’s interests and Canada’s jobs.” Heritage Minister James Moore taunted, “It’d be nice for once if the NDP leader could put the country ahead of his own ambition.” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, meanwhile, went for the trifecta, accusing Mulcair of “bad mouthing Canada,” “trash talking Canada,” and “running down Canada.”

The message is clear: because he is not quite as keen on expanding the tar sands and exporting bitumen as the red-and-white Tories of Edmonton and Ottawa, Thomas Mulcair is nothing but a Canada-hating socialist antichrist.

Patriotism is usually defined as love of country, but fossil fuel enthusiasts prefer to conflate the notion with love of whatever the government happens to be doing on the international stage. This redefinition, historically, is a common one, eagerly leapt upon by all who agree with the government line and seek an easy way to demonize their opponents.

Others take a different approach, conceiving patriotism as something more akin to identification rather than unquestioning acceptance. A true patriot, in other words, identifies with her country to such a degree that she feels proud of its accomplishments and, equally, remorseful for its wrongdoings. A patriot believes he shares responsibility for all that his country does in his name. A patriot refuses to stay quiet when her government puts climate stability and the well-being of future generations at risk. By this definition, protest is patriotic. Critical thinking is patriotic. Dissent is patriotic. Under some circumstances, even civil disobedience is patriotic.

In the words of Ralph Nader, “A patriotism manipulated by the government asks only for a servile nod from its subjects. A new patriotism requires a thinking assent from its citizens.”

It is clear which kind of patriotism Alison Redford et al. stand for. How about you?

An Open Letter to Barack Obama and John Kerry

Dear President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry:

As a concerned Canadian, I am writing to urge you to reject TransCanada’s application to build the Keystone XL pipeline for purposes of transporting dirty oil from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries in the United States.

I assure you that not all Canadians are quite as eager to export climate-busting bitumen as our federal government seems to be. Many of us recognize that the high energy demands required to exploit this unconventional resource give it a dangerously large carbon footprint. For this reason, we consistently oppose similar projects, such as proposed pipelines to the Canadian West Coast by Enbridge and Kinder Morgan.

According to estimates of greenhouse gas trajectories needed to avert runaway climate change, global emissions need to be peaking right about now (if not earlier). That means that we as a planet need to start drastically decreasing our use of coal, oil, and natural gas. At a bare minimum, we must not engage in further expansion of existing fossil fuel infrastructure — especially when it involves something so exceptionally dirty as tar sands bitumen.

Many Americans seem to recognize this too. Barely a week ago, tens of thousands gathered in Washington for the country’s largest ever climate rally. Earlier this year, the Sierra Club agreed for the first time in its 120-year history to adopt the use of civil disobedience. Any jobs that may or may not temporarily be gained from the proliferation of pipelines are more than outweighed by the jeopardization of the climate system upon which agriculture, forestry, and our very ways of life depend.

So please reject TransCanada’s application once and for all. To do so would benefit both of our countries, as well as the world at large.

Sincerely,

David Taub Bancroft

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada