Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘climate action

Fighting the climate wreckers

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The article that I am going to point you to is concerned about the fight against fossil fuel companies in the United States.

“The Climate-Wrecking Industry—and How to Beat It” appears in Sierra Magazine copied from The Nation

While acknowledging that there is strength in numbers, some legal observers say the magic number for success is one: A single judgment against the oil companies would be enough to change their political calculus about the value of continued intransigence. “I think, in some respects, it’s less about how many cases are filed, [and more about] whether a judge rules in favor of a city or county or state. That will open the floodgates,” says Ann Carlson, a professor at the UCLA School of Law who has followed the climate-liability cases closely.

Well, we may just have seen that success here. The decision by The Federal Court of Appeal at long last recognises that the approval process for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion was fundamentally flawed. The case did not, however, turn on climate change but on two other considerations – the failure to consult First Nations adequately and the impact of the project on the resident orcas of the Salish Sea. And it was not an American Company (Kinder Morgan) that lost, it was the governments of Canada and Alberta. In fact the Premier of Alberta was so angry that she withdrew her province from the federal climate plan. As though that makes any real difference.

Kinder Morgan of course is jubilant. Justin Trudeau bought their old, leaky pipeline and lumbered himself with the apparent obligation to complete an expansion which they long ago realised was not only very risky environmentally but also highly unlikely to be viable. They get pockets full of our cash and slide away from the liabilities.

Trudeau and Notley between them have both – in post decision speeches – announced their determination to proceed with pipeline expansion which immediately throws huge doubt on their ability to convince anyone that their subsequent commitments at the negotiations over First Nations rights and the long term survival of the orcas are being conducted in a fair or objective manner. It seems that they are adopting the negotiating tactic adopted by 45 over NAFTA known as Boulwarism. Whenever anyone sits down at the table to talk about the pipeline they will have to accept the precondition that the government has committed to seeing it built no matter what.

Sooner or later the realisation has to dawn in Edmonton and Ottawa that they are both wrong. There cannot be action climate change and tarsands expansion at the same time. The tarsands are one of the worst fuels in terms of emissions. Equally, just getting the dilbit to saltwater does not solve the issue of the low price that diluted bitumen achieves on the world market. There are plenty of other sources of petroleum that are easier to deal with and currently the market is over-supplied. In future the rapidly declining costs of solar and wind alone will make renewables even more attractive, and better technologies than burning liquid fuels are going to take over the transportation industry as well as many others. If other places do want heavy oils, there are better placed suppliers. After all, only relatively small vessels can load at Burnaby and get under the Second Narrows Bridge. The project plan was actually to tranship into larger vessels on the west coast somewhere – as though that were an attractive option for preserving fragile marine ecosystems.

Much of the current mainstream media is, of course, trying to play down the significance of the decision – and I am not going to point to any of it. The big players are all in the same game, and outlets like PostMedia recognise their dependence on big oil and the related organisations. These are the same people who maintain the fiction that we are dependant on fossil fuels.

the ultimate responsibility lies with the general public and its appetite for energy. The rhetorical sleight of hand perfectly captures the climate wreckers’ classic talking point: Since you can’t live without us, we’re innocent.

Actually we can live without you and many are already moving convincingly in that direction. It is sad that the Government of Canada has decided to invest so much in a pipeline that is not needed, but then governments both provincially and federally continue to subsidize fossil fuel production: we are just throwing good money after bad. Jack up the the royalties to the same level as Norway and insist on adequate protection of the sources of water that get destroyed by tailing ponds and fracking and the market would start to transform at a much faster pace. All that is happening right now is that North America is falling ever further behind the rest of the world (except Australia) which is showing us how we can tackle climate change.

We have had a terrible summer – and the fires are still mostly burning even if the local smoke has blown away for now. The ice is melting in places where we have never seen it melt before. The weather is getting worse faster than anyone predicted.  Even the oil companies themselves are asking government to commit to building dykes to protect the refineries which are actually creating the sea level rise they are worried about. Climate change is not a problem for the future, it is a major problem here, now. Yet we are currently committed to increases in greenhouse gas emissions – not the reductions we signed up for in Paris, which were anyway wholly inadequate to deal with the problem.

Perhaps the next court victory will actually deal with the broader issue of environmental protection rather than just the sorry state of the resident orcas. Because it seems clear that at the moment neither Notley nor Trudeau has a grasp on reality, and not only will the big fossil fuel companies be in court on these issues, but so will our governments.

Yes, that includes BC since we are still committed to Site C, which is designed mostly to promote LNG exports to Alberta to melt more tar.