When Prime Minister Trudeau stepped in front of the media yesterday to announce the decision to approve the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, he personally owned it. Trudeau didn’t send out some sacrificial cabinet minister. Give him credit for that.
But Trudeau also now owns the consequences of this decision, and that doesn’t bode well for his political future. He’s created derision among members of his own party, broken his promises on climate and environmental leadership, and undercut his pledge to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples.
By rejecting the Northern Gateway pipeline through the Great Bear Rainforest to Kitimat, and approving the Kinder Morgan proposal, Trudeau said he tried to balance economic benefits for Alberta — a province suffering from the collapse of world oil prices — with the potential for an environmental disaster in British Columbia.
In other words, in order to prop up the struggling Alberta oil industry, Trudeau is willing to throw out Canada’s commitment at the Paris Climate Agreement and risk a catastrophic oil spill that could devastate the B.C. and Washington state coastlines.
The Kinder Morgan pipeline triples the capacity to move dirty Alberta oil to the B.C. coast, and increases oil tanker traffic from five ships per month to 34. That increases the inevitability of an oil spill sevenfold.
But the disastrous effects of an oil tanker accident on the B.C. and Puget Sound is only the short-term negatives of Trudeau’s decision.
Climate scientists have concluded that most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. If we have any chance of limiting global warming, the study says 80 percent of the world’s coal reserves, 50 percent of gas and at least 33 percent of oil must not be touched through 2050.
The tar sands — let’s not sanitize the name — produce especially dirty oil. Extracting the tar-like bitumen from Alberta soil burns more energy than it produces. It’s an energy-intensive process that pollutes rivers and turns large swaths of the province into wasteland. The tar sands generate the largest portion of Canada’s carbon emissions.
Canada cannot fulfill its commitments to the Paris climate accord while fueling ramped up production in the tar sands.
One of the most critical insights of the Paris agreement was to nudge societies toward accepting the concept of a warming planet and adapting to that reality. Trudeau’s Liberal Party had an opportunity to embrace that idea, however painful it might be to Alberta, and find alternate means of supporting their economy.
Instead, the prime minister has revealed that he’s not the visionary leader that many Canadians expected.