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There are some hard days in the work to protect and stabilize our climate. Yesterday was one of them.
First, Gavin Schmidt, NASA’s chief climate scientist, confirmed that we have now passed 400 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere and that we will never again drop below that in our lifetimes. Then our new Canadian government approved a massive new gas plant that will become the largest source of carbon pollution in our country.
As I watched our new Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna stand with B.C. Premier Christy Clark and announce the approval of the Petronas LNG plant at the mouth of the Skeena River, I felt heartbroken.
As a lifelong environmental advocate, I am used to seeing good governments make bad decisions - yet this decision really shook me. Some part of me was deeply invested in the hope that this new government, led by a young Prime Minister who marched at the front of the pride parade and who passionately articulates the need for reconciliation with First Nations, was going to do things differently. But this decision makes me truly question their commitment to act on climate change.
I was in Paris at the UN climate summit with Minister Catherine McKenna. I watched her listen to the plight of India, Bangladesh, and the low-lying South Pacific islands states who repeatedly described their massive populations at risk.
I thought I watched her truly grasp what climate change means for the most vulnerable people on our planet. I watched her lead the charge to move the goal of our global climate treaty from a two degree target to a 1.5° target, which was a huge and significant shift. In that moment, I was proud to be a Canadian.
Yesterday I watched the same Catherine McKenna announce the approval of the Petronas liquefied natural gas plant on the west coast of Canada. I don't understand, how can this be?
Building this plant is the carbon pollution equivalent of putting 1.8 million new cars on the road. By itself, it makes it impossible for BC to hit our already weak climate targets as this plant alone would take up 80 per cent of B.C.’s share of greenhouse gas emissions in 2050. It makes it extremely difficult for Canada to reach the insufficient Harper climate targets that the Trudeau government have now embraced as their own.
Minister McKenna repeated that they had placed a cap on emissions from the plant at a level 20 per cent below the original estimate. But that completely ignores the upstream emissions from fracking to get the gas out of the ground, which is where most of the emissions related to this project will come from.
Her own ministry’s assessment of the project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, found that the carbon emissions of the proposed terminal and associated upstream natural gas development would be “high in magnitude, continuous, irreversible and global in extent.” Yet yesterday she described the project as an example of sustainable economic development.
This plant is to be built at the mouth of the Skeena river, Canada’s second largest salmon river. The eel grass there is a nursery for spawning salmon, but will be dredged to make room for tankers. Many First Nations, fishers, and local communities are opposed to this plan solely because of its devastating impact on salmon. Salmon is the lifeblood of the region.
The gas will be fracked in northern B.C. and then transported across the land by pipelines to this facility, which will use huge amounts of energy to cool the gas enough to turn it into a liquid. Then, the liquid gas will be placed onto tankers that will either head north around Haida Gwaii or south through the Great Bear Rainforest.
Either route is hugely problematic. The Trudeau government has promised to enact a ban on oil tankers in this entire area. So, they are going to ban oil tankers only to flood the region with tankers carrying explosive natural gas. Is this the best we can do?
In Canada, we live in a relatively rich country with a stable democracy. I know that many people working in this Trudeau government understand the global climate challenge facing us - they want to do the right thing. But if this is the best we can do as a rich country led by a progressive government, what does this mean for India, for China, for developing countries who are faced with similar decisions while also trying to lift their people out of poverty and provide enough power for heat and light? Faced with so many pressures, how do they choose between a short-term economic boost and the potentially disastrous long-term impacts of climate change when faced with similar decision? If this is the best Canada can do, what does that mean for other world governments and for our children's children?
Climate change is the issue that defines this time in history. We are living through a period that will define the future of humanity in a way that no other period has. While our government knows this, they have yet to find a way to reconcile this reality with short term economic and political interests. That is the work that lies ahead.
Yesterday was a bad day for the climate. But today we are back at work, doing our research, organizing, mobilizing, educating, and tomorrow will be a better day.
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