As Bill McKibben told me recently, seated on Burnaby Mountain where we were sheltering in the shade of a Douglas fir on a blazingly hot May day, "Physics is remarkably disinterested in how the economy is doing right now, or where in the election cycle we are."

He was weary from jet lag, having just made a trip to the Great Barrier Reef where he had seen the vivid results of climate change. Half the coral in the reef has died in the last two years, he said. We were chatting about the Kinder Morgan pipeline project, but there's no chatting with Bill McKibben without the subject of climate change front and centre. Dylan Sunshine Waisman, was seated to his side, interviewing him for a Facebook Live and I was holding the camera.

As @BillMcKibben told me seated on Burnaby Mountain where we were sheltering in the shade of a Douglas fir on a blazingly hot May day, "Physics is remarkably disinterested in how the economy is doing right now." #KinderMorgan #cdnpoli

"All that matters is how much carbon there is in the atmosphere," he commented in his calm, preacher's voice. He squinted up at me with a furrowed brow, his eyes full of gentle intelligence. I'd interviewed him three years before in Fort McMurray when he dubbed the oilsands "the world's worst carbon bomb" with that same serene, vaguely disconcerting, demeanor.

The Trudeau government's announcement this morning that they will purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline, got me thinking about that chat with McKibben under the Douglas fir. That physics isn't political. But I was thinking that people are.

Pipeline Politicos

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley seems desperate to position herself to ride this pipeline conflict right over Jason Kenney into a second term. She's pumping every last drop of political capital out of this drama, and today, at home, she emerged a victor for casting herself as the world's greatest pipeline champion.

Over the Rockies in B.C., Premier John Horgan has taken a principled stand and fought hard for it. "Today's events do not change the risks of a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic, or the catastrophic effect a diluted bitumen spill would cause to British Columbia's economy and environment," he said in a statement as he reacted to Ottawa's pipeline purchase. "It does not matter who owns the pipeline. What matters is defending our coast — and our lands, rivers and streams — from the impact of a dilbit spill. Our government is determined to defend British Columbia's interests within the rule of law and in the courts. We will continue our reference case, to determine our rights within our provincial jurisdiction."

Despite all the emergency meetings and public blame from Ottawa and Kinder Morgan, Horgan hasn't flinched.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, there's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He apparently deemed sacrificing British Columbia votes a necessity to score a win with Bay Street. Even though some Canadian banks are facing up to the financial risks from climate change as they assess their investments, many investors continue to turn their heads away from climate responsibility.

The prime minister has time remaining in his mandate to sell Canadians on the idea that he is committed to larger climate goals. Get ready for it people, because he will trumpet over and over that buying the pipeline makes sense for his strategy to move ahead on climate and marine protection. That's exactly what he explained to Sandy Garossino in February. Watch it here — he is compelling, even if you don't find him convincing.

Greenwashed

It may seem like a hard sell when part of the climate package looks like a boost in oilsands production. But the prime minister is likely to be effective with some Canadians if his promotional campaign is amplified by Canada's oil producers who now surely owe him their loyalty. It's a government now swaggering in the role of big oil CEOs, and they're obviously trying to shake that icky, sticky label of 'weak' that the Tories have been trying to pin on them.

Today on social media, many expressed disappointment and outrage. But there was also a 'let's just get on with it' camp and of course there were Notley supporters talking about 'rah rah' and rolling up their sleeves and getting out their shovels.

Those who are outraged say Trudeau is 'cooking the planet.' And as McKibben commented, reefs are dying, we're losing species at an alarming rate, the ocean has overwhelmed communities in some parts of the world, and it threatens others as it warms and rises year by year. Glaciers are melting despite endearing efforts by people covering them with blankets or seasoning them with salt. Scientists tell us that if we don't start drastically reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, we are in for staggering human and economic costs.

Notley and Trudeau have both said we can have our pipeline and cool the planet, too. But for those truly worried about climate change, that calculation simply doesn't add up.

The City of Vancouver, the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation and other western coastal residents land in that latter category. For them, as National Observer has been reporting, the idea of increasing the risk of an oil spill in one of the world's most beautiful regions is just reckless and stupid. They point to impacts of global warming like rising oceans, deadly wildfires, and megastorms. They argue it's also unfair to other people around the world, to make policy that isn't forcing us into a transition off fossil fuels. Economist Robyn Allan points to the economics of the pipeline and argues it's never been financially sound. Allan notes that Kinder Morgan was founded by the Richard Kinder, formerly of the scandal-ridden Enron which left many of its employees and stockholders ruined.

Other massive questions hang unanswered. With the world moving rapidly to renewable energy and electric vehicles, how long will fossil fuels pay off? The pipeline will need to operate for many decades to make sense, but oil, gas and coal need to be on a steep phase out from now to 2050.

How will the ongoing court cases be decided? What if the Federal Court of Appeal rules that Indigenous consultation was inadequate just as they did on the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal? How will those decisions impact your new pipeline investment?

So many questions yet to be answered. But one thing is certain. By the time the questions have all been answered, the votes in Canada will already be counted.

Investigative journalism has never been more important. Will you help?

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Comments

I've run out. There's just so much to say about this, but I've just run out. When it comes to Trudeau, Morneau and gang, all I have left is: Those stupid bastards.

Excellent contribution to the National Observer's ground-breaking and desperately needed coverage of this issue. Most of the media treats this as a business story, with the environment an obstacle to be negotiated; or, a political story in which the fate of different players matters more than the health of the planet. Your clear-eyed analysis is particularly appreciated in this media climate.

Thanks for all you do. I voted for Trudeau as a way to defeat Harper - now I feel very sad that I was mistaken about this person who is sacrificing our planet for his political relationship with big oil and the horror of the tar sands.

Dear Linda,
Perhaps the traitorous Trudeau/Morneau combo will jolt Canadians into action. Will the courts deliver a result that will limit our loss to 4.5 billion, or roll over for oil and gas?
An early mentor, friend and lawyer, John Stanton, made it clear to me when I was a young union organizer of commercial radio stations in Vancouver that "You win or lose the the battles in the street, court is for damage control."

Thank you for your publishing integrity. I recommend your newsmagazine as often as I can. Smart journalists, who declare their bias, and give us a detailed, researched, relevant work, without the dramatic rage. It's very hard to witness these events, and your approach is much appreciated by people who care deeply about our beautiful planet.

Great summary. Doesn't look very promising for the planet though.

Really no comment this decision has left most of us speechless!

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