"I think the biggest takeaway is the urgency. We're at a critical juncture. We really only have a few years to turn things around...If we do not tackle climate change, the damages would outweigh any losses that we have from addressing it." - Kirsten Zickfeld, SFU associate geography professor and one of the lead authors of the recently released United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report 2018
It was strangely fitting that a professor at Simon Fraser University (SFU) was selected as a lead author of the massive new report on climate change and fossil fuels. SFU's campus sits on top of Burnaby Mountain, where the controversial Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project would terminate after bringing Tar Sands bitumen oil from Alberta to the British Columbia coast to be exported. “The Mountain” has been ground zero of the fight against the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion for almost a decade now.
While the IPCC report is the most comprehensive explanation of the overall global urgency of climate change and fossil fuel expansion, Zickfeld also knows a thing or two about the possible devastating local impacts of fossil fuel pipelines. She and about 40,000 other students, faculty and staff, would be trapped in a gigantic fireball if there was ever an explosion at the pipeline tank farm facility – one which would be expanded if the proposed expansion was ever built.
Despite this, Zickfeld is pretty modest to focus almost entirely on these global effects above her own safety, emphasizing the large-scale fossil fuel projects like the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion do not fit in with what is necessary to ensure a livable planet, “As a country, we are approving pipelines to move fossil fuels. This is totally moving in the wrong direction.”
What's This Report? Why the Urgency?
The IPCC report is comprehensive. It references over 6,000 scientific reports done by 91 authors and 133 contributing authors from over 40 countries. The report concludes that we have already seen the beginnings of the devastating impact of human-caused global warming from 1 degree Celsius with record-breaking storms, forest fires, droughts, coral bleaching, heat waves, and floods around the world - but this would get substantially worse with 1.5 degrees of warming and far worse at 2 degrees.
“Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III. The scientists all agree: the solutions all require cutting fossil-fuel use in half in less than 15 years and eliminating their use almost entirely in 30 years.
Quashed - One Step Forward
We saw an important victory against the pipeline expansion and in defence of the planet in August when Indigenous Nations and environmental groups won a Federal Appeals Court case which “quashed” the government approval of the Tar Sands pipeline project. The decision cited a flawed National Energy Board (NEB) review process which had not considered the marine impact of increased tanker traffic, and the government's failure to fulfil its constitutional requirement to “meaningfully consult” with Indigenous nations.
This was one high point in a decades-long struggle which has relied primarily on Indigenous nations-led grassroots organizing. Over $600,000 was raised over two years through community support for the legal challenge. Over 240 people have been arrested so far for blocking the gates to the Tank Farm where the expansion project was beginning to move forward. There have been constant actions across British Columbia with support across Canada and internationally. Tens of thousands have consistently taken to the streets in marches and rallies. While this hasn't terminated the pipeline project for good, it has succeeded in delaying the project by years and jeopardized construction. Texas oil giant Kinder Morgan, the original owner of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, demanded, and received, a government bailout because of the uncertainty.
While we celebrated, we knew it was only a matter of time before the government counter-punched. They had, after all, now bought the existing pipeline and expansion project for $4.5 billion taxpayer dollars.
NEB – One Step Back
It didn't take long for the government to announce that the National Energy Board (NEB) would do a marine impact specific review, and for that review to expose itself as a rubber stamping process. Here's a quick summary:
- The NEB review is limited to 22 weeks, and members of the public will have less than a week to apply for comment.
- The review is limited to marine impacts only 22 kilometres off the coast, rather than the 370 km requested by scientists especially given that oil tankers will travel though endangered Orca whale's habitat well beyond 22 kilometres.
- The NEB has arbitrarily said it will hold oral sessions starting in late November for Indigenous communities, but other interveners, regardless of relevant expertise or information, will only be able to submit written evidence
“From the get-go, it looks like a political exercise, not an environmental one,” said Misty MacDuffee, a conservation biologist at the Raincoast Conservation Foundation in British Columbia.
"We're astounded at the new NEB process that is more flawed than the process we fought so hard against when it was Kinder Morgan's pipeline project," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. "It's disgusting, disgraceful and shameful."
In the end, this isn't surprising. While the NEB is technically “independent,” it is made up primarily of appointed “former” oil, gas and mining executives, lobbyists and government bureaucrats. Take some time to read their biographies and you will see it is dominated by qualifications such as: “Alberta’s Resource Person of the Year, 2011”, “worked at Gaz Métro for over 29 years, serving 10 years in executive positions” , “Senior Principal at Purvin & Gertz, an international energy-consulting firm (1998-2006; Calgary)” , “Vice President, SNC Lavalin Capital”.
Probably the most telling part of the corrupt nature of the NEB: it refuses to consider any evidence of the large climate change impacts of building the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion, despite the broad scientific consensus that this is a life or death issue for the planet.
LNG – Another Step Back
While the BC NDP were elected on a promise to oppose the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion, their recent approval of a 40 billion dollar LNG Canada liquefied natural-gas pipeline with a very similar climate impact has many scratching their heads at the hypocrisy. The LNG Canada project will see a pipeline carrying natural gas from Dawson Creek in northeastern B.C. to a new processing plant on the coast in Kitimat. There, the gas would be liquefied for overseas export.
“Today LNG Canada has sent a signal to the world that British Columbia and Canada are open for business,” the BC Premier said. "I can't tell you how proud I am. I can't stop smiling."
At a technical briefing for media, a B.C. senior government official said the province’s total financial incentives for the project are at $5.35 billion - including a break on the carbon tax, the elimination of the LNG income tax it previously supported and cheaper electricity rates than those set by the previous Liberal administration.
The NDP had previously committed to reducing provincial greenhouse gases by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. They provided no information for how this LNG development could take place and still meet those commitments. It would require taking every gas-powered vehicle off the road to offset the new greenhouse gas emission.
Developing LNG is always controversial because, above and beyond the climate impacts of burning it as fuel, it is extracted by hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Fracking injects significant amounts of high-pressure water, often mixed with chemicals, into the ground to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas. This ruins water supplies and has been shown to induce earthquakes.
When asked how the province can justify supporting the LNG Canada project, given its huge carbon footprint, BC Premier Horgan justified the move saying, “BC is just 4.5 million people sharing a planet with seven billion others. We have to be realistic about what our impacts would be.” This is the same type of side-stepping of responsibility used to justify Tar Sands Expansion and building the Trans Mountain pipeline!
This decision also came after global warming aggravated wildfires in BC have burned more than 1.2 million hectares of the province, eight times more than the 10-year-average.
Most indicting of the terrible hypocrisy involved in approving the LNG project: both LNG Canada and the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion have a similar overall greenhouse gas footprints during their lifetimes. 100 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent for LNG Canada and 120 million tonnes for Trans Mountain - when considering extraction, transportation, processing and burning in other nations after export.
In response to the LNG Canada decision, the Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs whose traditional territories the pipeline would be built on, reaffirmed their opposition to the project. "The federal government talks about reconciliation, and they undermine their own words by trying to shove pipelines down our throat or industry down our throat," stated Dinï ze' Madeek, head chief of the Gitdumden Clan. "As we stated in 2006, there will be no pipeline to enter Wet'suwet'en territory." The Unitstot’en Camp built by Wet’suwet’en and supporters to stop pipeline construction on their territories also continues to grow and build permanent structures.
Who Will Lead?
Once again those in Federal and Provincial government who claim to be leaders are not just asleep at the wheel, they've driven us off the cliff. While the fight against the TMX pipeline and now against LNG Canada haven't entirely stopped the projects - we now have a much better idea of who our real allies are and who they are not. Every step forward has been the result of consistent campaigning and mobilizing. This must be continued and expanded. The IPCC Report gives us 12 years to turn the situation around or face catastrophic consequences. Our lives and the planet depend on it, so let's organize like it.
No TMX Pipeline Expansion! Not Now, Not Ever!
Stop LNG Canada!
Build Our Future, Not Pipelines!
System Change Not Climate Change!
Follow Thomas on Twitter:@thomasdavies59
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