Last week, I learned firsthand that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is better at acting in touch with millennials than he is at actually listening to what we have to say. On his way out from a United Nations event in New York City, I approached the prime minister and asked him a simple question: “Will you reject the Kinder Morgan pipeline?”
It was clear that he was not expecting the question to come from this smiling millennial, but it’s time politicians understand that my generation cares about more than Internet memes.
After all, record numbers of young people turned out for last year’s election, in which 45 per cent of people between the ages of 18 and 25 voted Trudeau. My generation is largely responsible for electing a Liberal majority in Canada for the first time in 15 years. And we did so because we care about our futures — which are uniquely threatened by climate change.
I didn’t use my ten seconds with the prime minister to take a selfie with our good-looking leader. No matter how much Trudeau plays up shirtless photo-ops and meme-ability, young Canadians like myself are keeping our eyes on his policies — and his decision on the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion is one of the most important choices he has faced so far.
The Kinder Morgan pipeline would carry 890,000 barrels of tar sands per day. Each one of those barrels has a very real chance of spilling into our ground and waterways, contaminating our drinking water and poisoning our communities. Since 2006, 3.4 million litres of fossil fuels have leaked from pipelines in Alberta, according to a study by Conversations for Responsible Economic Development.
But pipelines are more than just a risk of a spill -- they are an existential threat both to native culture and to the future of young people like me. The fossil fuel industry’s insistence on expanding its tar sands operations is a direct attack on First Nations sovereignty. Pipelines cross over lands traditionally belonging to First Nations, in direct opposition to their will. Just last week, more than 50 indigenous nations signed a treaty alliance committing to work together to fight all forms of Alberta Tar Sands expansion, including pipelines.
Pipeline expansion is a perpetuation of colonial attitudes towards indigenous peoples — that is, it is a continuation of a legacy of exploitation of territory for economic and political gain.
The prime minister’s decision to build or reject the Kinder Morgan pipeline, then, is a matter of climate justice. Nothing against polar bears, but what gets me angry is that the fossil fuel industry is already devastating communities across Canada and the world.
Climate change is not just an issue of the Arctic. It’s not an issue of the future. It’s an issue of injustice happening right now. Every day, while Prime Minister Trudeau works away in his climate-controlled office, Pacific Islanders get closer to losing their entire nations to rising sea levels, indigenous communities in Alaska continue to lose their land, and low income communities and communities of color still fight to recover from climate disasters like 2012’s Superstorm Sandy.
If Trudeau signs off on the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, he would show Canadian youth that he’d rather roll over to industry lobbying and double-down on a commitment to climate violence than jumpstart a renewable and just economy in Canada. Case in point: expansion of the pipeline will make it almost impossible for Canada to meet our climate commitments for the 2015 Paris Agreement.
When I asked Prime Minister Trudeau if he would reject the pipeline, he walked away quickly, uttering something about a “proper process.”
If he had listened for even as long as it would have taken to snap a picture, I would have asked him how young Canadians like me can feel like our voices and lives matter when our government puts fossil fuel interests above our futures.
Prime Minister Trudeau, when you tell me that the Kinder Morgan pipeline will be reviewed with a “proper process,” I wonder if that process involves a consideration of all the lives -- Canadian and otherwise -- you put at risk by expanding the destructive tar sands economy.
I know construction of the Kinder Morgan pipeline will lead only to the destruction of my future, and add to the pain of indigenous communities in the present. That is why, when I saw an opportunity to meet you, I didn’t want an Instagram-able selfie: I wanted to ask you a question that haunts me every day. And I urge all young people to ask you that same question. In fact, there is an opportunity to do just that this October 24th in Ottawa. Canadian youth, let’s get angry.
Alexandra Dahlberg is a 22 year-old Montreal native studying Environmental Studies at New York University. She is a community organizer for NYU Divest, a campaign demanding her university removes its $139 million investments from the fossil fuel industry.