I realize that there are a lot of good reasons to want to leave last year’s politics behind us. But, history will judge 2017 on how well we untangle the mess that we, willingly or not, got ourselves into this past year. So it’s important we revisit it.
In November 2016, only weeks after the UN Convention on Climate Change entered into force, Prime Minister Trudeau approved two pipelines. Together, Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement and Kinder Morgan’s expansion of the Trans Mountain system could increase the productive capabilities of Canada’s oil industry by approximately one million barrels per day. 890,000 barrels per day would travel from Alberta’s oil sands to the B.C. coast, through Indigenous lands, via Kinder Morgan. While Trudeau claims that this approval is consistent with a responsible transition from fossil fuels, as well as with the UN climate convention, the evidence to support this claim is largely nonexistent. Trudeau has now made two promises that make an overt contradiction that no political manipulation can hope to overcome. Somehow, we are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2030, while doubling production in our largest greenhouse gas source, the oil sands, by 2040. This, in a world in which, even if coal were phased out immediately (the phase-out of Canada’s relatively insignificant coal sector being one of Trudeau’s primary climate policy selling-points), the use of our oil and gas reserves would still take the world beyond 1.5°C of global warming. There is no room for any more fossil fuel infrastructure. This is true even before acknowledgement that Trudeau has declined usage of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ requirement for “free, prior, and informed consent” from Indigenous communities for development projects.
How is it that when policy flies so blatantly in the face of logic, when it is so clearly inconsistent with campaign promises for “real change,” that there can be so much public passivity? Perhaps, as much as we need to fear the normalization of dangerous mindsets espoused by euphemistically labeled groups like the “alt-right,” we need to worry about what we have already normalized to the extent that we can no longer comprehend the danger it presents. In a moment in which our system is entering crisis, the only hope we have of coming out the other side with human civilization intact, is if we examine what we have come to accept as normal, and withdraw our acceptance wherever necessary. The fight for climate justice will require as much de-normalization as the fight to maintain civil rights south of the border.
Take, for example, a statement made by Trudeau on his recent visit to British Columbia, where he attempted to defend his decision to accept the Kinder Morgan pipeline: “[British Columbians] understand that a grandson of B.C. like me…is not going to endanger these coasts,” was the appeal he made. As touching as Trudeau’s personal connections to B.C. might be, the suggestion that they constitute a reason to trust his climate policy is indicative of the skewed mindset we are being asked to use. A person can love the coastline, and they can legitimately believe that a company building a pipeline has undergone enough environmental assessments to make it safe to risk an oil spill for the sake of the economy. But that does nothing to address the fact that this project is inconsistent with a common-sense analysis of climate change. The mindset that allows us to compartmentalize issues into neat lists of pros and cons that can be isolated and manipulated at will, obscures any realistic understanding of the weight of the problems we face. It also contributes to the assumption that any issue is best solved by tallying up the pros and the cons presented by both sides and trying to calculate a middle road.
There are some issues that cannot be compartmentalized, that are simply unacceptable if you accept a basic premise like the reality of global warming. To try to follow some middle road between the interests of every person who wants to continue to have a livable planet on one side and a few fossil fuel corporations on the other is absurd. The fact is that the fight against Kinder Morgan is about a lot more than the B.C. coast. To pretend that it can be separated from threat of catastrophic global warming with a sentimental reassurance from the Prime Minister is to set up a straw man that can and will be beaten back by cries to “strengthen the economy.” When we accept the battering of this straw man as legitimate argument, when we allow the Prime Minister to present himself as the reasonable alternative to an imaginary group of people who want to “shut down the oil sands tomorrow,” we deny our responsibility to understand the problems facing us on their own terms.
The approval of these pipelines has left Trudeau with shaky foundations on which to base the credibility of his promise for climate leadership. The year ahead will see him forced to confront massive opposition both to Kinder Morgan itself and to the duplicity this approval reveals. It is unclear how Trudeau can hope to repair this broken promise to those who voted him in with hopes of real climate policy and government reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. But I might propose a hint; it will not be by working with Trump to revive the 830,000-barrel-per-day Keystone XL pipeline. And it will not be without removing himself from the middle-of-the-road mindset that is leading us to destruction.