The federal appeal court in Canada ruled on August 30 that the application process for the Trans Mountain Pipeline was legally flawed. In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that the Canadian government failed to engage in meaningful consultations with the indigenous people who will be affected if the pipeline is built. They also declared the failure to consider the environmental impact of oil tanker traffic was unjustifiable, especially because the National Energy Board was “legally obligated” to consider all environmental effects, according to a report in the Vancouver Sun.
The decision is already sending shock waves through Canada’s political landscape at a time when it is being battered by the “take it or leave it” approach adopted by the Trump maladministration over trade policies and NAFTA. Canada recently offered to purchase the pipeline from its current owner, Kinder Morgan, for $4.5 billion. Presumably, the government is prepared to pony up the additional $5 billion that will be required to complete it. The day before the court ruling, shareholders of Kinder Morgan approved the sale, so now Canada is stuck with the deal it made, even if the pipeline is never finished.
Saddling the taxpayers with a $10 billion white elephant has exposed fault lines in Canadian politics which have been hiding in plain sight for generations. Part of that is Canada’s uneasy relationship with its indigenous population — a problem that has afflicted other countries including the United States and Australia since they were founded. Another part of it is the tension that has always existed between Canada’s provinces.
Alberta is the repository of the vast tar sands that are the basis of its current economy. It needs the pipeline to get the oil from those tar sands to market. But British Columbia to its west is none too pleased about having all that oil flowing through its seaports. BC is celebrating the court decision while Rachel Notley, Alberta’s premier, is condemning it.
Meanwhile in Ontario, Doug Ford and his band of merry pranksters are doing everything in their power to put the kibosh on anything and everything to do with clean energy and climate initiatives. Further east, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia continue to feel like poor relations unloved by the central government and wishing they had joined up with the American colonies when they had the chance.
Just as Australia looks longingly at all that lovely coal it possesses and dreams of powering the world for 1,000 years while banking enormous profits, Alberta sees its tar sands as its path to economic survival. The tar sands represent jobs for the people of Alberta and prosperity for the province. Rachel Notley’s response to the ruling has been more of a snarl than a decorous utterance. She says her province is pulling out of the carbon tax plan previously negotiated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with all the provinces.
“As important as climate action is to our province’s future, I have also always said that taking the next step, in signing on to the federal climate plan, can’t happen without the Trans Mountain pipeline,” Notley told reporters after the decision was announced according to a CBC report. “So today I am announcing that with the Trans Mountain halted, and the work on it halted, until the federal government gets its act together Alberta is pulling out of the federal climate plan. And let’s be clear, without Alberta that plan isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”
Cities on Canada’s west coast have long opposed the pipeline. British Columbia premier John Horgan told the press the ruling proves the National Energy Board approval process was flawed because an increase in marine traffic was not adequately considered. He said it was a good day for the Tsleil-Waututh and other First Nations who mounted this fight. When asked if the pipeline project is dead, he said it will no longer be “top of mind for British Columbians.”
For its part, the federal government is trying to put a brave face on after the court’s decision. Trudeau has phoned Notley to assure her that the pipeline is still a high priority for his government.
The situation in Canada is a microcosm of what is happening around the world as the true extent of the horrors of climate change begin to sink into the public consciousness. After a summer of unprecedented heatwaves, massive wildfires, and melting sea ice, it is becoming abundantly clear that the continued burning of fossil fuels is a death sentence for humanity and most of the flora and fauna that currently exist on Planet Earth.
The Alberta tar sands oil is some of the dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet. Not only does extracting it and turning it into fuel release more carbon emissions than other forms of oil, it also creates more emissions when it is burned. The Earth has a carbon budget, which humanity is about to exceed if it has not done so already. Alberta tar sands are a carbon bomb that will drive global emissions far beyond what the environment can tolerate. It is nothing short of being a weapon of mass destruction.
Yet, what will people do for employment if the world does not exploit its fossil fuel resources? And if there is no employment, what happens to governments and social stability? Burn the oil and destroy the world. Don’t burn the oil and create havoc in world economies. We have seen what happens when some members of society feel they are being unfairly deprived of economic opportunity, especially if those people are accustomed to being on top of the economic food chain.
Donald Trump and his nativist policies are merely a symptom of the malaise that awaits. For as much as people write reams about the clean energy revolution, unless it brings new economic opportunities and protects those who will lose their livelihoods as a result, it is dead on arrival. In the final analysis, the war of words between Alberta and British Columbia reveals the fault lines in every society that must be addressed if humanity is to avoid a total environmental collapse.
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