Alberta's energy minister Sonya Savage was more than misguided when on May 20, 2020 she suggested, "Now is a great time to be building a pipeline because you can't have protests of more than 15 people," and "Let's get it built." Not only were these remarks cold and callous at a time when millions of people in Canada were suffering in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, but they were also greatly mistaken.
Less than three weeks later, three of North America's largest pipeline projects were either canceled or delayed indefinitely: the Atlantic Coast pipeline, the Keystone XL pipeline, and the Dakota Access pipeline.
3 Steps Forward for Climate Justice
The cancellation of the Atlantic Coast pipeline was announced first. This $8 billion, 970-kilometer natural gas pipeline was supposed to run across West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. However, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, canceled the project on July 5, even after it won a legal battle in June, would have allowed its construction to proceed.
The next day, a U.S. District Court ruling reversed the U.S. Army Corp's federal approval of the Dakota Access pipeline. This decision required that the shale-oil pipeline, which had been in operation for three years, be emptied in 30 days. One month later, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling extended the deadline. However, the extension is only temporary, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that gave the pipeline a Federal approval must now complete additional environmental reviews.
The final victory for the climate justice movement that week came in as the U.S. Supreme Court announced its ruling in favor of a lower-court decision to block a required permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. This 1900-kilometer pipeline is supposed to carry 35 million gallons a day of dirty tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries in Nebraska for export through the Gulf of Mexico. Its construction in the United States has been halted due to concerns over its endangerment to vital water sources.
These cancellations and indefinite delays are not a coincidence. All three pipeline projects have faced broad and ongoing opposition, through court battles in defense of Indigenous rights and environment, and most importantly, on the streets. When the Atlantic Coast pipeline cancellation was announced, Dan Brouillette, the Energy Secretary in the United States, "blamed the pipeline's cancellation on 'activists,'" as reported by CNN. The Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access pipeline brought over 15,000 Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together in a united and powerful struggle that first brought international attention to this climate destroying project. The resistance of people at Standing Rock in 2016 is why court challenges against it have continued to this day.
Capitalism, Covid-19 Pandemic, and Climate Crisis
Every time a major capitalist resource extraction project that is set to make the rich richer and further destroy the planet is delayed or canceled, it is a step forward for the climate justice movement. Major fossil fuel extraction companies and their henchmen in the government of the United States and Canada will do everything in their capacity to protect their destructive projects to make more profit. No matter how big or small, each step forward sends a message to the climate justice movement to fight harder for humanity's future on this planet.
The signs that we must fight harder in defense of mother earth are everywhere. In July, temperatures in the Arctic circle rose above 100˚F (38 ˚C) for the first time since recording began in 1885. In Baghdad, Iraq, people faced scorching 120˚F (49 ˚C) heat four days in a row – an almost uninhabitable temperature for human beings, especially people who live without air conditioners. At the same time, unprecedented floods raged through Japan, and wildfires erupted throughout California. In May 2020 global emissions of both methane and carbon dioxide greenhouse gases reached their highest levels before human beings walked on planet earth. These disastrous events are not isolated; they are the devastating result of a planet that has been knocked off balance by a system that prioritizes profits over human beings and nature.
In many ways, the coronavirus pandemic has illuminated the fragile relationship between human health, human existence, and the ecosystem. There is a close relationship between environmental degradation and the growth of pandemics, and undeniable links between pollution and exposure to toxins and the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Indigenous, Black and Latino people.
In the face of the climate and health catastrophe, Canada's government has continued to fund climate destruction throughout the pandemic at levels higher than any other country in the G20, except for France. As of mid-August, despite the science, the Federal government has committed over $300 per person to support the fossil fuel industry, as reported by the Energy Policy Tracker. This is not to mention that Prime Minister Trudeau has doubled down on his commitment to build the TMX expansion pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia. This pipeline expansion project, and the pipeline that it is supposed to twin, was bought by Canada's government $4.5 billion in taxpayer dollars. Ever since building the expansion, costs have ballooned from $7.4 in 2016 to over $12 billion today. Of course, the taxpayers are on the hook for the bill.
In British Columbia, Canada, the NDP government of John Horgan has pressed ahead with each one of the resource extraction mega-projects currently on the table. This includes the Trans Mountain Expansion dirty tar-sands pipeline and the Burnaby Mountain tank farm expansion, the Coastal GasLink fracked natural gas pipeline, and the Site-C hydro-electric dam. Each of these projects has put thousands of workers at risk of contracting Covid-19 as well as the surrounding communities and Indigenous-nations, many of whom have little to no healthcare access.
Suppose we need more signs that TMX pipeline is bad news. In that case, we only must look towards Sumas Mountain in Abbotsford, where a spill on August 14 from the existing Trans Mountain pipeline poured at least 1,195 barrels of oil onto the land of the Sumas First Nation and into the watershed.
From Vancouver, BC, to Brazil's forest, the arctic circle, and beyond, the struggle for humanity's future on earth is intensifying every day. Through all of this devastation, people who struggle for climate justice must recognize the critical moment we are in and continue organizing for a better world that is undoubtedly necessary and possible. Join us!
Follow Alison on Twitter: @Alisoncolette
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