Caitlyn Vernon: One coast, one climate
On February 17 in Washington, D.C., over 40,000 people gathered in the cold, calling on President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline and address the climate crisis that has brought crippling drought, devastating wildfires, and superstorm Sandy to the United States.
Here in Canada, we are told, by our federal government, that climate change considerations don’t factor into our pipeline deliberations.
At the outset of the federally-appointed Joint Review Panel, mandated to review the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and tankers project, the panel denied requests to consider the end-use greenhouse gas emissions (that result from burning the tar sands bitumen carried in the pipeline and tankers) as part of the environmental assessment, declaring that climate issues were outside the scope of its work.
As if the consequences of burning the carbon carried by the pipeline (five billion tonnes of CO2 released over its 30-year lifespan) were somehow not connected to the pipeline itself.
At community hearings throughout British Columbia, the speakers were not deterred. Many determinedly brought our climate into the discussion, again and again.
"The carbon in the tar sands is like dynamite. And just because we aren’t the ones lighting the fuse doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible." – Kathryn Harrison, university professor
"We are on our way to six degrees warming. This is the science. We need to immediately de-carbonize our economies and the time for action is now." – Gordon Kenny, medical doctor
The community hearings are over and the score is in: 1,159 against, two for. The people of British Columbia have spoken loud and clear, saying no to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines and tankers.
From Haida Gwaii to Prince George, from Kitimat to Kelowna, from Victoria to Port Hardy, everywhere the Joint Review Panel heard from community members, the story was overwhelmingly the same. We don’t want this project. No pipelines, no tankers, no problem.
With family stories, with compelling research, with tears and humour, and with a deep connection to this place we call home, each presenter seemed to hope that they might be the one to reach the heart of the panelists, to soften and humanize the game face the panel somehow managed to maintain through it all.
The reasons for opposition varied but there were common underlying themes: oil spills, tourism economy, First Nations culture, salmon fishing, sustainable jobs, our children’s future—and our climate.
"On our industrial road of destruction, we're a car running off a cliff, and the car is run on oil." – Ta’Kaiya Blaney, 11-year-old from Sliammon First Nation
"We have to phase out fossil fuels. That is our moral obligation to our children." - Peter Nix, former researcher for the oil industry
"Mr. Harper has fired many of Canada's climate scientists, but that will not make global warming go away any more than the apocryphal ostrich prevents calamity by hiding its head in the sand." - Caspar Davis, retired lawyer
What does it mean when the panel set up to review such a major project isn’t factoring in the major issue of our times? It means that climate leadership must be found elsewhere.
Sierra Club B.C. is calling on the B.C. provincial government and opposition parties to commit to taking the urgent climate action required. Step one is to say no to the tar sands pipelines and tankers that would so massively increase our greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.
The climate impacts are not limited to Enbridge, and nor is the opposition. The near-unanimous opposition to the proposed Enbridge pipeline and tankers is just a taste of what is to come if Kinder Morgan moves ahead with its proposal to build a new pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to Burnaby.
Each major tar sands pipeline locks in a climate spill of five billion tonnes of CO2. This is equivalent to nearly a century of B.C.’s current fossil fuel emissions. It is like burning a third of Canada’s recoverable coal reserves.
So the proposed new Kinder Morgan pipeline would do more than just vastly increase the number of tankers a year navigating through the Vancouver harbour, across the Salish Sea, and through the Gulf Islands. It would lead to irreversible global warming. If we are to avoid the dire consequences beyond two degrees of warming, we need to stop building pipelines.
Concern about climate change has gone mainstream, and yet somehow our governments are not paying attention.
"A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided—we need to hold warming below 2°C." – Jim Yong Kim, president, World Bank Group
"Even doubling our current rate of decarbonisation would still lead to emissions consistent with 6 degrees [C] of warming by the end of the century. To give ourselves a more than 50% chance of avoiding 2 degrees [C] will require a six-fold improvement in our rate of decarbonisation." - PricewaterhouseCoopers
The science is clear. The choices are apparent and the solutions are known. All one needs to do is read through the smart, compelling, passionate testimony from the Enbridge community hearings to know that British Columbians understand the risks to our climate and are ready to do what is necessary to end our addiction to fossil-fuels.
Courage and leadership flowed abundantly at the community hearings. Will our political leaders take heed and find the courage and leadership to do what is needed? The time for climate action is now. Our future depends on it.