Opinion » Eco Logic

The retreating tide of reason



When a diesel fuel spill took place on Jan. 31 near the Howe Sound community of Port Mellon, British Columbians were concerned. Though the spill was a small one from the sinking of a derelict barge — many of which constellate the coast — and of a type response teams deal with probably 20 times a year, it couldn't help but conjure the bigger questions swirling around the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that will see a 700-per-cent increase in supertanker traffic along the already busy South Coast, with its fragile salmon stocks and endangered resident orcas: what if the spill wasn't small?; what if it wasn't evaporative diesel, but the diluted bitumen (dilbit) piped from Alberta's tarsands, whose behaviour is far less predictable (http://www.macleans.ca/society/does-spilled-pipeline-bitumen-sink-or-float)? Enough what-ifs to make you wonder: if we're increasing the volume and frequency of transport of a dangerous hydrocarbon toxic to all life forms, therefore statistically increasing the probability of a serious spill, why wouldn't we know the answers beforehand?

Coincidentally, only two days day prior, B.C.'s NDP government had announced new regulations on the movement of dilbit through B.C. that include restricting any increase "until the behaviour of spilled bitumen can be better understood and there is certainty regarding the ability to adequately mitigate spills." (https://www.nationalobserver.com/2018/01/30/news/bc-announces-oil-transportation-restrictions-could-affect-kinder-morgan)

This seems entirely reasonable for a government with a fiduciary responsibility to its citizens and an environment that supports the provincial economy through everything from fisheries to tourism. But the inherent logic of something which should have been part and parcel of the proposal from Day 1 — not a forced ad hoc consideration — is, understandably for some, subsumed by this government's stated intention to do everything in its power to stop the pipeline. From those folks' point of view, this is more meddling designed to frustrate Kinder Morgan. And while that may prove a welcome knock-on effect, the government's announcement is, for it, a "proof" (along with missing community and First Nations' consent) for their continued opposition: proper provisions haven't been made, and may never come to pass. Again, reasonable.

What seems unreasonable is the reaction of Alberta premier Rachel Notley, who alludes to a non-existent "illegality," and is withdrawing from talks to purchase B.C. electricity (likely from the Site C dam — another can of worms). Also unreasonable is Trudeau's petulant repetition that no pipeline means no Ocean Protection Plan or national carbon deal — clear extortion that illogically blocks coastal protection in lieu of swallowing a pipeline pill that is the prime threat to that very coast, and further threatens delay national action on a global crisis.

As Sophie Harrison of Dogwood Initiative writes, building new pipelines to transition to clean energy is Canada's very own form of climate denial, "a scary reminder that Trudeau's recent pipeline and tanker project approvals are simply an extension of the oil patch status quo." (https://dogwoodbc.ca/news/climate-plan-oil-patch)

Alberta's tar sands drive the majority of Canada's carbon emission growth, and generations of governments have knowingly compromised the climate in order to expand them. "Trudeau's 'compromise' in 2016 — granting Alberta two new pipelines in exchange for a pan-Canadian climate plan — was no different," she argues, "a more palatable but almost as dangerous form of climate denial: believing that, as long as we acknowledge the scientific reality of our warming world, we can continue to expand fossil fuel production with impunity."

Some aren't so charitable. On Feb. 3, federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May tweeted: "Trudeau's claim we can expand oil sands and fight climate crisis at the same time (is) an update on 'we can suck and blow at the same time.'"

The federal position appears both hypocritical and nonsensical, and therefore impossible to reconcile according to Toronto Star National Affairs Columnist Thomas Walkom (https://www.thestar.com/opinion/star-columnists/2018/02/02/bc-pipeline-faceoff-underscores-justin-trudeaus-climate-change-contradictions.html): "The latest pipeline faceoff... is more than a constitutional tussle... it is a reminder that the core of (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's climate-change) policy — the assertion that carbon emissions can be adequately reduced without significant economic cost — is simply not true... If climate change is as dangerous as scientists say, then boldness is required. Compromises, like the one behind the ongoing Kinder Morgan political soap opera, just don't cut it."

In truth, when any sort of logic or calculus is applied to this debate, not building Kinder Morgan's pipeline would do far more for climate goals and spill prevention than any amount of federal money or horse-trading with Alberta ever could.