We desperately need to construct a new world. And we mean construct literally: affordable houses, more and better transit and heat pumps to keep people safe as temperatures rise. Building community safety, meaning safety from violence, is also a kind of construction project, demanding investments in housing, safe drug supplies, health care and education. Building these new safer worlds takes workers, machines, materials and, of course, money.
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project (TMX) is a giant vacuum cleaner sucking up these needed things, while constructing the very opposite of the world we need. Right now, there are thousands of workers, machines and trucks expanding the pipeline that crosses B.C. and Alberta, sometimes working alongside hundreds of other workers, machines and trucks repairing the flood-damaged Coquihalla Highway — flooding made worse by climate change and commercial logging.
And then the money. Staggering amounts of public cash is hoovered by the pipeline into a giant canister with no bottom in sight. When Kinder Morgan bailed from the risky expansion project in 2018, the federal government paid $4.5 billion for the existing pipeline, committing to the expansion project estimated at a cost of $12.6 billion.
The cost is now around $21.4 billion, a 70 per cent increase, with annual interest charges on government loans costing $700 million every year, according to economist Robyn Allan. After declaring no more public funds would flow to the pipeline, last month, the federal government announced a loan guarantee of $10 billion to entice private investment.
This guarantee means that if TMX cannot make good on any debt sourced in private markets, the public is yet again on the hook because the federal government ultimately bears the risk of TMX default.
Meanwhile, the government further subsidizes the fossil fuel sector by spending buckets on policing people opposing the pipeline, including Indigenous people defending their lands and waters. Figures for TMX are not available, but we know at least $1.8 million was spent policing protests on Burnaby Mountain and $22 million policing members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation on a remote service road who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
The same week that the federal government insured $10 billion more for the pipeline, the court shamefully sentenced Tsleil-Waututh Nation member William George to 28 days in jail for his role contesting the pipeline on his own land.
He breached the injunction to respect his nation’s way of life, their stewardship policy, knowledge, constitutional and inherent rights, and to protect the living infrastructures that keep them safe. Criminalization is Canada’s key form of denial that it is an illegal colonial occupation.
We need to remember, too, that in their efforts to stop emission-creating projects, land defenders are not just protecting their territories, but the safety of all of us. A groundbreaking report by Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International found 1.6 billion tonnes of GhG emissions either saved or delayed per year due to Indigenous land defence through blockades, lobbying and media campaigns in North America. If these movements succeed, Indigenous resistance would stop an estimated 24 per cent of the combined emissions of the U.S. and Canada.
We are doubly in debt to these defenders — as people occupying their land and again as beneficiaries of their courageous actions. Indebted to them, but yet our government prefers them in jail.
Opinion: TMX is what it looks like when we privatize the profits and socialize the risk of energy production, write @shiripasternak @jessicaadempsey. #cdnpoli #divest #WetsuwetenStrong #Pipelines
TMX is what it looks like when we privatize the profits and socialize the risk of energy production. In the same way that social divestments in mental health support, safe drug supply, affordable housing, education and community infrastructure create a direct pipeline from poverty to prison, this energy infrastructure creates a literal pipeline through ecological economies that support our actual capacity to survive on Earth to a death world of permanent crisis and catastrophe.
Time is not on our side, the leaders and scientists repeat, ad nauseam. Prisons and policed pipelines are the constructions of the old world that we need to abolish to make some room for the new one.
Pull the plug on TMX and deploy those workers, machines, trucks and money towards a world that can keep all of us safer.
Jessica Dempsey is an associate professor at the University of British Columbia and Shiri Pasternak is an assistant professor at X University.