How ‘serious’ is a climate plan that relies on pipelines?

File photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa by Alex Tétreault

Sandy Garossino’s recent column, “The Serious $70 Billion Climate Plan You’ve Heard Nothing About,” purports to summarize the “extraordinarily compelling case” in favour of the federal government’s recent approval of the Trans Mountain expansion project, based on the pipeline’s contribution to climate action.

I’m not buying it. Let’s take Garossino’s main arguments one at a time:

Trans Mountain is ‘a wash’ in terms of greenhouse gases.

Garossino claims that in the pipeline’s absence, “the global supply chain would simply reshuffle and move ahead as if nothing happened.” There are both domestic and international aspects to this claim.

Garossino simply ignores the domestic emissions associated with production of the oil that will flow through the pipeline, The federal government’s own estimate is that the pipeline’s annual upstream emissions — i.e., emissions resulting from extraction, processing and transportation of crude within Canada — will be 13 to 15 million tonnes, equivalent to two million cars.

That’s a big deal because Canada’s current climate plan is not sufficient to get us to our 2030 Paris Agreement target. Indeed, the gap has been growing rather than shrinking. Adding another 15 million tonnes of emissions makes it a lot harder to meet our international obligation.

The tarsands have accounted for three quarters of Canada’s emissions growth since 1990. It’s also the sector that accounts for almost all projected growth going forward. Even the celebrated 100-megatonne cap on emissions from the tarsands — which was never legally binding and from which Alberta has withdrawn support — would allow a tripling of tarsands emissions from 2005 to 2030, thus demanding deeper compensatory cuts from other sectors and other provinces.

The longer-term challenge looms even larger. A pipeline is an investment in long-lasting infrastructure. Yet Canada’s 2030 target is just the first step. It will be ever-harder to make the deeper cuts needed after 2030 (if not before!) if we chain ourselves to new pipeline infrastructure and associated heavy oil production expected to operate for decades to come.

Now let’s consider the global context. Garossino’s assertion about the global supply chain recalls Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement — notably made in Alberta, not Paris — that “no country would find 173 billions barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there.”

But that is exactly what we must do.

As with fossil-fuel consumption, we face a collective-action problem in fossil-fuel production. Oil-exporting countries say they support the Paris Agreement, but hold out hope that their oil will be the last drop consumers buy. This is especially unrealistic for Canada: our oil is relatively costly to produce and carbon-intensive to refine, and thus likely to be the first to go.

Oil exporters, including Canada, may just be making a financial bet against the success of the Paris Agreement. Whether oil producers are unduly optimistic or hedging their bets, they have collectively created a growing glut of supply relative to the demand trajectory needed to mitigate climate change.

At best, Canadians will be saddled with stranded assets and economically ill-prepared when global customers shun our exports. At worst, excess supply will continue to depress global fossil-fuel prices, undermining the transition to cleaner energy, to the detriment of future generations.

Parliament recently voted to declare climate change a “real and urgent crisis.” Surely, that crisis calls for leadership, rather than the excuse that everyone else is doing it, too. MORE


Young people won’t accept anything less than a justice-centred Green New Deal

Catherine McKenna’s talk about ‘growing the economy while protecting the environment’ doesn’t pass the smell test.

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The rhetoric of Canada’s minister of environment and climate change doesn’t match the Liberal government’s record in office

This past Monday over 60 groups from across Canada — including Our Time, a youth-led campaign I’m organizing with — launched the Pact for a Green New Deal. It’s a call for politicians in Canada to present a climate plan in line with climate science and Indigenous teachings that creates millions of good jobs and addresses inequality.

Tens of thousands of people have already signed on in support, catching the attention of federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna. The same day the Pact went live, she published an op-ed about her and her government’s climate record. Reading it, I was struck by inconsistencies between McKenna’s thoughts and my own experience as a young person who has been organizing for climate justice throughout McKenna’s term in office.

One of my first organizing experiences was with a campaign called the People’s Climate Plan in 2016. We were organizing around the federal climate change town halls, doing outreach and providing support for people in our communities to show up and speak up for ambitious climate policy.

McKenna ignored our voices. Instead, she approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, along with other pipeline projects.

One of my first organizing experiences was with a campaign called the People’s Climate Plan in 2016. We were organizing around the federal climate change town halls, doing outreach and providing support for people in our communities to show up and speak up for ambitious climate policy.

McKenna’s pride in her climate record rings hollow when so many, especially frontline communities, have been fighting tooth and nail against the disastrous fossil fuel projects she’s approved.

I spent countless hours that spring and summer talking to people in Halifax and, as a result, Halifax MP Andy Fillmore’s town hall was packed, with 250 people in attendance. The people at that town hall were clear: they wanted climate action in Canada to end fossil fuel expansion, support workers in the transition to a renewable economy, and fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — including the right to free, prior, and informed consent for natural resource projects. And all across the country, the same demands emerged in other towns halls — we even wrote a report about it for McKenna. MORE



David Suzuki: Canadian pipeline push promotes false and misleading claims


An Angus Reid poll found 58 percent of Canadians think lack of pipeline capacity is a national crisis. They can be forgiven for this. The company that owns a near monopoly on newspapers in Canada, aided by politicians and fossil fuel interests, has put significant effort into convincing them.

That the number rises to 87 percent in Alberta, with 96 percent believing that not building new pipelines would have a major impact on the Canadian economy, isn’t surprising. All mainstream newspapers there are owned by the same company, political parties across the spectrum prioritize oil and gas interests over everything, and even educational institutions like the University of Calgary have been compromised by industry influence.

What won’t help is continuing to dig up, frack, and sell climate-disrupting fossil fuels as quickly as possible

The economic and societal costs from the pollution and climate impacts of rapidly digging up, shipping, and consuming these fossil fuels, whether the end product is burned here or in other countries, continue to rise along with global emissions and temperatures. That’s a crisis! MORE


Yes, climate change is a crisis: surveys

Canadian military personnel assist with disaster relief on May 10, 2017 in Gatineau, Que, as part of Operation LENTUS, a deployment of 2,200 troops dispatched following severe flooding in Ontario and Quebec. File photo by Alex Tétreault

After many people were buzzing about a new Angus Reid poll that concluded most Canadians believe the country faces a crisis due to a lack of pipelines, we did a few informal surveys of our own to ask the public some questions that we felt had been left out.

The results are in:

Out of 223 votes, 86 per cent of the respondents said that the Alberta Energy Regulator’s internal estimate of $260 billion in financial liabilities for the oilpatch is a “crisis.”

Out of 182 responses, a whopping 96 per cent said that a recent scientific assessment by the United Nations IPCC ( Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) that said the world had only 12 years left to prevent some of the worst impacts of climate change is a “crisis.”

Out of 193 responses, 89 per cent said that the Ontario government’s recent decisions to cancel green energy policies is a “crisis.”

And finally, out of 181 votes, 96 per cent said that the fact that large portions of Canada’s forests are at risk of dying off as climate change aggravates wildfires, droughts and infestations is a “crisis.” MORE


The Most Important Environmental Stories of 2018

The good, the bad, the ugly, and the ridiculous from the past year

..So, without further ado, here are the major environmental stories of 2018, as curated by Sierra editors and the leadership of the Sierra Club….

Keep It in the Ground Movement Plugs Oil and Gas Pipelines


For several years now (at least since Bill McKibben wrote his now-canonical essay, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”), grassroots environmentalists have been making the case that virtually any new fossil fuel development is incompatible with maintaining a stable climate, since we are rapidly burning through our “carbon budget.” This Keep It in the Ground movement has fought gas export terminalsdefeated coal export terminals, and waged pitched battles against the Bayou Bridge pipeline, the Line 3 pipeline, and, famously, the Dakota Access pipeline. Often the resistance takes the form of protests and rallies; sometimes it comes in the form of civil disobedience. And almost always there are some lawyers from the Sierra Club or Earthjustice or NRDC making arguments in court.

In 2018, some judges started to listen, and dealt a series of major setbacks to pipeline projects. MORE 

Year In Review 2018: It was another year of climate extremes

But pressure to build more pipelines to develop tar sands crude is fuelling a political calamity between Alberta and the rest of the country

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Flood that hit Toronto Islands in 2017 has been followed by more climate extremes.

The forest fires, floods and drought that destroyed the continent in 2017 were no anomaly, as Naomi Klein wrote here for us. But a year after the year from hell, nothing could have prepared us for 2018.

Hurricanes crushed the Carolinas causing an ecological emergency, contamination from flooding flowed into water supplies in New Brunswick, and in Ontario temps eclipsed 40°C more often than at any other time in history. Other parts of the country, meanwhile, shivered as British Columbia choked once again on ash from forest fires that blotted out the sun for weeks on end.

Closer to home, an ice storm packing 100-kilometre winds knocked out power for thousands and raised waves higher than any measured before on Lake Ontario a year after floods cut off the Toronto Islands. That was followed in September by a string of tornadoes in the Ottawa area. MORE


Political stumbles, savvy activists knock Canada’s oil sector to its knees

WINNIPEG, Manitoba/VANCOUVER (Reuters) – A decade ago, Canada’s oil sector was growing so fast it was predicted to become a global energy superpower, but a series of political missteps and formidable environmental activism has created a dysfunctional system requiring OPEC-style government intervention to move its oil to market.

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 Greenpeace protestors (C) occupy an oil storage tank at Kinder Morgan Energy’s pipeline terminus in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, October 16, 2013. REUTERS/Andy Clark/File Photo

…But Ottawa has failed under two governments to effectively counter the strategy of environmental activists to attack the oil sector’s heart by choking its arteries – pipelines. Roughly 35 million barrels, twice the normal amount, of Western Canadian crude used to produce diesel, gasoline and jet fuel is stuck in storage. MORE

Oil sands ‘Big Five’ making billions despite oil price crash and pipeline delays

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Despite the 2014 oil price crash and the ongoing hand-wringing over pipelines and the price of Canadian heavy oil, a new study from the Corporate Mapping Project shows the reality is that the Big Five oil sands producers have remained incredibly profitable corporations.

The study, released in November by the Parkland Institute and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – BC Office, finds that Suncor, CNRL, Cenovus, Imperial, and Husky banked or paid out to shareholders a total of $13.5 billion last year alone. These big five oil sands corporations produce 80% of Canada’s bitumen. MORE

Is the next Standing Rock looming in northern B.C.?

Ground zero in the global battle against climate chaos this week is in Wet’suwet’en territory, northern British Columbia.

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As pipeline companies try to push their way onto unceded Indigenous territories, the conflict could become the next Standing Rock-style showdown over Indigenous rights and fossil fuel infrastructure.

Since 2010, the Unist’ot’en clan, members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, have been reoccupying and re-establishing themselves on their ancestral lands in opposition to as many as six proposed pipeline projects. MORE