Stop saying ‘bottoms up’ to oil

If we want it in the ground, we have to keep it there ourselves

Graphic by Kelly Campbell.

Peaceful protest took a violent turn in North Dakota when activists leapt across fences at a site of pipeline construction and were met by police dogs and pepper spray.

Meanwhile, protests in Montreal have disrupted meetings held by Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) that were convened to discuss the prospects of TransCanada’s Energy East project, a pipeline that would carry a little over one million barrels of crude oil daily from extractors in Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Eastern Canada.

The pipeline’s projected path through Manitoba has also triggered outcry in Winnipeg as activists ceased the flow of traffic on major intersection Portage and Main during a recent demonstration. Blueprints have mapped out Energy East’s path as crossing southern Manitoba in the Shoal Lake region, the source of drinking water for the entire city of Winnipeg and other nearby communities. This has drawn the ire of many First Nations groups who have been mobilizing since the pipeline’s conception in an attempt to halt those who would see it come to life.

What happens now?

Environmentalists have seen Energy East wracked with delays, where come December it will have spent a total of 27 months under review. Additionally, all three members of a review panel put in place by the NEB to oversee Energy East regulations have stepped down after two of the members were exposed as having privately met with TransCanada last year to discuss the pipeline. Another victory was the dismissal of the Northern Gateway pipeline, buried in bureaucracy by both the federal and British Columbia governments, who imposed hundreds of stipulations on the project.

Yet pipeline activity has not come to a halt, and the encouraging rhetoric backing it continues to move full steam ahead. City of Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman exemplified this when he appeared on CBC Information Radio and replied to concerns about Energy East compromising the integrity of Winnipeg’s drinking water with, “We want this discussion to be focused on science and fact, not ideology.”

“The reality is oil and gas will need to be transported in Canada. It’s not a question of if it will be transported, but a question of how.”

Elaborating, Bowman said he was simply concerned with transporting oil in the most “efficient” and environmental way possible.

The fact of the matter is that the development of oil resources exacerbates climate change. Bowman’s oil mongering, then, is the real ideology at play here. Unfortunately for him, contemporary studies on the effects of climate change are more damning than ever.


The impact

Governments across the globe were told they would regret it if the 90s-born Kyoto Protocol was not adopted and strictly adhered to. Well, it’s 2016, and the Kyoto Protocol was anything but adhered to, especially where it mattered most. Countries ranked as the top 11 greenhouse gas emitters in 2011 produced a little under 70 per cent of the global total, with China and the USA making up a little over 30 per cent of that on their own. I think you’d be more likely to find the signed documents in a landfill somewhere than existing as actual government policy in those states with the largest carbon footprints.

It’s now been a little over a decade since the Kyoto Protocol’s institutionalization. Global coastlines are more threatened than ever by a melting Arctic and rising sea levels, threatening to displace millions who live in coastal cities. Developing countries are trapped in simple yet dangerously unstable economies due to their largely agricultural base, the sector that has taken the most hits as global temperatures continue to fluctuate wildly and compromise farming communities.

If massive migratory disruptions and precarious labour situations don’t faze you, then take a moment to collect yourself before reading this one. The Arabica bean itself is being pushed to the brink by climate change. That’s right, latte aficionados and double-double enthusiasts: your ambrosia is teetering on the abyss. Coffee may near extinction by 2080 under current climate projections.

One study by a retired NASA scientist says superstorms of the future will be capable of producing wind speeds powerful enough to fling boulders into the air – rocks big enough to fit neatly through the gaping holes in Canada’s climate action plan, which effectively absolves the federal government of any responsibility through delegating the issue of climate change to individual provinces.


Canada’s climate action plan – or lack thereof

Were it serious, the federal government would be implementing more rigid accountability structures to hold both itself and provincial governments responsible when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to a green economy.

The federal government is looking at some positive initiatives, including a national carbon tax and the creation of a $2 billion trust fund with the aim of financing low-carbon projects. Not to mention, the crown jewel of the new governments green policies: a phase out of subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.

Unfortunately, we must ask ourselves about the likelihood of the government actually moving forward with this when natural resources minister Jim Carr has expressed reluctance on doing exactly that in light of low commodity prices. Meanwhile, the International Institute for Sustainable Studies has released a report that shows wealthy Canadian oil companies have been on the receiving end of $3.3 billion in government subsidies annually.

The federal government must move swiftly against those actors in the oil industry, but a simple phase out of subsidies for dirty energy companies is not enough. We should then redirect those resources to finance the aggressive development of the holy trinity of green technology: hydroelectricity, wind, and solar.

Instead, however, the federal government’s plans are best exemplified by its meek admission in February of this year that it is unlikely to have achieved reduced greenhouse gas emissions come 2020 compared to 2005 levels. The goal was a reduction of 17 per cent; instead, Canada is projected to increase emissions by two per  cent. It is further projected that come 2030, the promise to reduce emissions by 30 per cent will be broken as rates of emission on its current trajectory look to actually increase by nearly 17 per cent.

Ultimately, it is clear we cannot rely on our leaders, Conservative or Liberal, to champion the front when it comes to fighting climate change.

When looking to the left, there are few political allies to be found. The NDP, a party whose only provincial government, headed by Rachel Notley has come out as a staunch supporter for pipelines and the expansion of the Albertan tar sands. The Notley government’s magnum opus in its climate policy is the implementation of an economy-wide carbon tax. Yet if Alberta was serious about mitigating the effects of climate change, government policy would more aggressively target corporate emissions specifically.



The way forward must be through grassroots organizing. It is high time that our communities form a united front to show the powers that be, both political and corporate, that action on climate change is no longer a promise we will tolerate on the backburner.

We cannot continue to shrug off our obligations to this planet and the people who live off it onto the shoulders of First Nations tribes and environmentally minded political activists. Nor can we rely on Elizabeth May to keep the House of Commons’ conscience tinged green.

Starting now, the campaign for climate justice must be supported locally. On campus, we must continue the push for sustainability and boldly march forth with oil divestment.

Although reminding everyone of the dangers of climate change may seem like beating a dead horse with a stick, it is necessary – frankly, we’ll be the dead horse and climate change the stick unless we wake up and smell the coffee.