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.
"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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Imagine if the federal govt had just announced plans to spend $4.5 billion on renewable energy and just transition for workers and communities in fossil fuel dependent regions. #KinderMorgan— Shannon Daub (@shannondaub) May 29, 2018
This moment will go down in Canadian history as a desperate last gasp of an industry that cooked our planet, and for the immense moral cowardice of @JustinTrudeau's government in the face of the climate crisis. #NotMyYouthMinister #KinderMorgan https://t.co/MdJv4tvhmZ— Sophie Harrison (@sophiehh14) May 29, 2018
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.