Protect the Inlet is really about preventing future generations from enduring climate hell

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      This week, Alberta premier Rachel Notley threatened to cut oil shipments to B.C. if the province interferes with Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

      And today, Coast Salish spiritual leaders and their allies will be launching a project called Protect the Inlet to prevent it from being completed.

      The Texas energy giant wants to triple shipments of diluted bitumen from Alberta to B.C. for export on 400 supertankers per year travelling through Burrard Inlet.

      "Since this pipeline was first conceived, Tsleil-Waututh members have been protecting our territory from proposed oil flowing through our lands, and tankers intruding into our Inlet," the Protect the Inlet website states. "Now, we are asking you to stand with us in our defence of the lands and waters."

      One of their most vocal allies is Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. 

      He will be among thousands gathering at 10 a.m. at Burnaby's Lake City Station for a Protect the Inlet march.

      "There is no jail, injunction, or police or military force that will stop us from protecting our future generations," Phillip has declared over Twitter.

      The Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion includes 150 First Nations and tribes.

      Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has often stated that the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is in the national interest.

      He's also claimed that Canada's climate change objectives under the Paris climate agreement can't be achieved without the pipeline. That elicited scorn from Straight contributor Martyn Brown, the long-time chief of staff to former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell.

      UBC geographer and climate-change researcher Simon Donner has also questioned this claim in a blog post.

      He stated: "in the most conservative estimate, with only 20 years of operation and no incremental upstream emissions, the pipeline expansion would lock in oil sands emissions at a level that would make it challenging for Canada to meet its commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement."

      That's because oilsands development would gobble up a higher percentage of Canada's share of the world's "carbon pie" if the average global temperature were to be contained to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.

      The national mainstream media in Canada rarely talks about climate change in connection with its coverage of the dispute over the Kinder Morgan project.

      But the math can't be ignored forever.

      Donner noted that even in a low-end scenario with the pipeline replacing diluted bitumen shipments by rail over just 20 years, "oil sands emissions would represent 34% of Canada's 1.5 °C carbon pie, or 9-37% of Canada's 2 °C carbon pie."

      The numbers increase sharply if the pipeline is in operation for 50 years, which is what's expected.

      In the low-end scenario, according to Donner, the oilsands "use up virtually all of the 1.5 °C carbon pie, and 21-83% to all of the 2 °C carbon pie" over a 50-year period.

      As sea ice melts, it will result in less heat being reflected back into the atmosphere.
      NASA/Jane Peterson

      Humans lose control with a 2 °C increase 

      So what's the big deal about the average global temperature rising 2 °C above preindustrial levels as a result of higher carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere?

      A year ago in a lecture at SFU Woodward's, author Gwynne Dyer explained it this way: "We lose control. Up till then, we are in complete control, if we choose to be, of the emissions we put into the atmosphere and the warming that they cause."

      After the temperature rises 2 °C above preindustrial levels, Earth's feedback levels kick in.

      The loss of Arctic Sea ice reaches a point where the ice cannot reflect nearly as much sunlight back into the atmosphere.

      The Arctic Ocean then absorbs more heat. According to Dyer, it becomes "a planetary warming mechanism that you can't turn off".

      We had a glimpse of this unpredictability in late February when temperatures north of Greenland shot up by 20 to 30 oC in a week.

      Next, there's the melting of the permafrost. It's "a ring of frozen ground anywhere from 10 to 40 metres deep, around the Arctic Ocean".

      Once that accelerates, it will start freeing massive amounts of methane, Dyer said. Methane has 85 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, albeit over a far shorter time frame.

      The next problem that can't be controlled at 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, according to Dyer, is the warming of global oceans.

      This will enable massive amounts of carbon dioxide currently dissolved in oceans to escape into the atmosphere.

      Dyer likened it to beer that goes flat when kept out of the fridge for too long.

      "The carbon dioxide has come out of the beer because it warmed up to room temperature," he stated. "That will happen with the oceans as well and all of the carbon dioxide they've absorbed in past years will be put back into the atmosphere as they warm."

      Alberta premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau say the pipeline is in the national interest, but protesters don't think the release of more greenhouse gases is in anyone's interest.

      Doomsday scenarios debated

      These scenarios have some fearing for the future of humanity on earth in the coming centuries.

      At one extreme is Guy McPherson, a former University of Arizona natural resources and environment professor who has written that human beings could go extinct within the next decade.

      Gaia theorist and author James Lovelock used to say the same thing. But last year, he told the Guardian that anyone who predicts what might happen more than five or 10 years into the future "is a bit of an idiot, because many things can change unexpectedly". 

      Others, like Grist staff writer Eric Holthaus, have insisted that climate-change scare tactics often backfire.

      That's because the stress that comes with thinking the planet will kill us overwhelms the emotional centre of the brain. This inhibits logical thinking, leading to inaction.

      Noted climate scientist Michael Mann stated last year that he's also "not a fan of this sort of doomist framing".

      In a Facebook post, he declared that a New York magazine article entitled "The Uninhabitable Earth" "paints an overly bleak picture by overstating some of the science".

      "It exaggerates for example, the near-term threat of climate 'feedbacks' involving the release of frozen methane (the science on this is much more nuanced and doesn't support the notion of a game-changing, planet-melting methane bomb)," Mann wrote.

      He insisted that it's "unclear that much of this frozen methane can be readily mobilized by projected warming".

      That said, the New York magazine article by David Wallace-Wells is still enough to scare the daylights out of anyone.

      Drawing upon numerous scientific references, Wallace-Wells links a warming planet to heat death—a.k.a. "the bahraining of New York"—as well as the end of food, climate plagues, unbreathable air that suffocates millions, perpetual war, permanent economic collapse, and poisoned oceans.

      This is what the Coast Salish spiritual people are trying to prevent with today's launch of Protect the Inlet.

      They will be supported by many Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies from across North America.

      When Alberta premier Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau talk about the "national interest", they're speaking a completely different language than those who are prepared to put their personal liberty on the line for the sake of future generations.

      It's time for the national media in Canada to wake up to that reality and give these courageous activists the respect that they deserve for trying to protect all that Mother Nature has given us.

      Even if these national media commentators disagree with their tactics or their beliefs, it's indisputable that the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is going to have long-term ramifications for Canada's ability to meet its commitments under the Paris climate agreement.

      That's to say nothing of the potential impact of a major oil spill on marine life and the tourism economies of Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria.