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In late July, new B.C. Premier John Horgan and newish Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat down.
And while their meeting was pleasant on the surface, just beneath was a study in contrasts. With Trudeau, it’s become clear he’ll talk a good game and then bow to oil interests. Horgan has said the right things too — and with the haze from forest fires still hanging in the air it’s possible he may actually decide to walk the talk.
In fact, for those of us concerned about climate change, it's possible that B.C. will emerge as an actual leader, reaping the benefits that will come with pushing ahead into the 21st century instead of lingering in the 20th. So far, Justin Trudeau seems more like the kind of figure we’re used to: a rhetorical leader, who says all the right things and then keeps building pipelines and pushing fossil fuels.
But John Horgan, with his NDP/Green agreement, has promised to take a different tack: he’ll use “every tool in the toolbox” to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
If he does, he’ll be striking a blow for climate sanity: Alberta’s oilsands, if fully exploited, will produce more a third of the carbon necessary to blow past the Paris climate targets. But if people stand up across North America to the web of pipelines stretching out from Athabasca country, that prospect will keep diminishing: B.C. is a key cork in the bottle, keeping a giant share of the planet’s carbon underground. The numbers are astonishing: this one pipeline is the pollution equivalent of adding 34 million cars to the road.
So B.C. would be doing the planet an enormous favour.
And of course that’s very much in the province’s best interest, and not only because the hotter and drier climate is what triggers forest fires like the ones that drove 40,000 residents from their homes. It also cuts the chances of a disastrous tanker accident along some of the globe’s most alluring coastlines—just ask your Alaskan neighbours about the cost, economic and psychological, of a big spill. And if B.C. takes climate change as seriously as the new government has promised, it could leap ahead: by building on the already-existing carbon tax, it has the chance to build a clean energy economy much like the powerhouse California is assembling to the south.
In fact, the NDP/Green deal points to even more profound change: new transit money, a serious increase in the minimum wage, and other steps that recognize environmental progress and social justice operate in tandem. Of course he could as easily go the other way — and his early nod to press on with plans for big LNG infrastructure is a bad sign.
Even if he did want to really address climate change, the premier will of course face stiff opposition — the fossil fuel industry is relentless, mostly because it knows it has just a few more years to lock in its infrastructure before the ever-falling price of renewable energy renders it a relic. But he also has real allies, if he wants them.
The Squamish and the Tsleil-Waututh First Nations at the pipeline’s terminus have been putting up a courageous battle for years, and they’re being joined by Indigenous groups across the province. Last week, the Secwepemc Nation, whose terrain the pipeline bisects, issued a statement as profound in its urgency and scope as any climate policy I’ve ever read. Amidst the smoke of raging fires, they pointed out that the pipeline is a serious safety risk — how’d you like a superheated oil pipe in your backyard? And they added that because it poured carbon in the air it would up the chances for fires far into the future.
“We explicitly and irrevocably refuse its passage through our territory,” said the tribal assembly. “Investors take note, there is no Secwepemc consent for Kinder Morgan. Kinder Morgan will not pass through Secwepemc Territory.”
Let’s hope that the Horgan government acts with the same courage and consistency. The election has demonstrated that British Columbians want change — and the rest of the world would be immensely grateful.