Last weekend as British Columbians were hacking and wheezing because the southern half of their province was blanketed by forest-fire smoke, a member of the Canadian elite was calling for another pipeline.
In an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, Derek Burney promoted fast-tracking the Energy East project to deliver 1.1 million barrels per day of diluted bitumen from Alberta to refineries in Eastern Canada.
Burney was once chief of staff to prime minister Brian Mulroney and has been advising the Trudeau cabinet on trade talks with the Trump administration. Burney was also Canada's ambassador to the United States from 1988 to 1993.
In his Globe article, Burney pooh-poohed the Paris Climate Agreement, calling its targets "more aspirational than real".
"Despite their noble intent, the goals endorsed by the Paris Accord on Climate Change have become somewhat illusory over time," he declared.
It was political spinning of the highest order. An international treaty ratified by Canada is now "somewhat illusory".
This week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the creation of an ad hoc cabinet committee to help British Columbians cope with wildfires and promote rebuilding efforts.
The media have overlooked that Trudeau announced exactly the same thing last year in the midst of brutal wildfires that covered the province in smoke.
In the meantime, Trudeau has agreed to spend $4.5 billion to buy Kinder Morgan's aging Canadian pipeline network.
The federal Liberals have also pledged to complete a $9.3-billion expansion that will triple shipments of diluted bitumen to B.C. to around 890,000 barrels per day. That's nearly $14 billion of taxpayers' money to bail out a Texas energy giant.
That's what you get from the Canadian elites when it comes to climate change: more pipelines and more ad hoc cabinet committees.
To members of the Canadian elite, pipelines are what's in the national interest, not the Paris Agreement.
Global targets to contain greenhouse gas emissions to stave off mass extinctions and widespread famines are merely aspirational when there's money to be made in the Alberta oil patch.
And if more British Columbians suffer heart attacks, more people with asthma die, a bunch of outdoor sporting events have to be cancelled, and the B.C. tourism industry is savaged, those are mere "externalities" that the country must absorb to fatten the wallets of oil-industry shareholders.
Air pollution can be fatal
Last year, UBC's Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies published a book of essays called Reflections of Canada. In one chapter, "Clearing the Air", UBC air-quality experts Michael Brauer and Chris Carlsten pointed out that nearly 8,000 Canadian deaths each year are caused by air pollution.
That exceeded the combined annual total of motor-vehicle collision, suicide, and HIV fatalities. And air-pollution-related mortality can be expected to rise as a result of more forest fires.
That's because wildfire smoke "is clearly linked to increased deaths and exacerbation of lung disease".
"Over a relatively short period of time, we have witnessed growth in the frequency, magnitude, and severity of wildfires in Canada, along with an extension of the length of the fire season," Brauer and Carlsten wrote in their essay. "Devastating fires in Fort McMurray and Slave Lake are recent examples, while generation of huge smoke plumes that affect major cities, and indeed large portions of the continent, are now becoming regular occurrences."
The forest fires are more intense as a result of hotter summers and changing precipitation patterns brought on by climate change. It's a problem from Portugal to Russia to Australia to California to B.C., caused by humans burning more and more fossil fuels.
This wasn't supposed to be a bad forest-fire season in our province. Last year, a record number of hectares of land burned, so many expected a return to more normal conditions. But they were wrong.
And still, the Canadian elite and their cheerleaders in the media keep beating the drum for more pipelines.
"Governments are remembered best for getting big things right," Burney intoned in his article calling for the Energy East pipeline. "It is ultimately a matter of choice and political will."
When you read a quote like this, it's clear that Canadian federalism is ill-suited to address climate change.
Our decentralized political system yields an incredible amount of power to provincial warlords, i.e. premiers, to advance what's in their best economic interest at the expense of the health of Canadians.
They threaten and bully their way forward by approving industrial projects to mine bitumen or frack natural gas that fatten their provincial treasuries.
Then the Trudeau cabinet comes to their rescue when they need pipelines to ship this gunk across provincial and national boundaries or federal environmental approvals for liquefied natural gas plants.
People like Burney help frame the debate. If he submits an essay, the editor of the Report on Business section surely isn't going to say "no".
Liability arises from civil wrongs
This raises an important question: at what point does the negligence of politicians and the media to Canadians' overall health become a criminal act?
That topic was explored in detail in a 2018 book called Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival, by B.C. authors Peter D. Carter and Elizabeth Woodworth. I highly recommend it.
Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer aren't blind to the climate crisis. They just have other priorities, like winning seats in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
A DARA International report concluded that there are already 400,000 deaths per year as a result of climate change. That's expected to increase to 600,000 annually by 2030.
These numbers don't account for other deaths caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
Creating an ad hoc cabinet committee to address the impact of B.C. wildfires—while undermining the Paris Agreement and promoting more pipelines and LNG plants—is like handing out aspirin to deal with an outbreak of Ebola virus.
Carter and Woodworth write that the belief that things will return to normal "is obstructing our view of the gathering climate disaster".
Within a few weeks, the air over B.C. will clear up and memories of this wretched month will fade. Then, it will happen again next summer.
And there will be catastrophic flooding in the spring. And more tornadoes on the Prairies. And more hurricanes moving farther north in the Atlantic Ocean.
Weather forecasters will increasingly pepper their reports with terms like "atmospheric rivers" to describe unprecedented deluges.
And, of course, we'll continue to hear more calls for pipelines from so-called elite Canadians.
In the U.S., climate scientist James Hansen launched a public-trust lawsuit against the U.S. government on behalf of children who will feel the greatest impacts of climate change.
There have been unsuccessful efforts to have the case thrown out of court, but the 21 young plaintiffs will finally have a trial date on October 29.
In this case, Juliana v. United States, a judge has already ruled in a preliminary decision that there is a "right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life".
The trial in Eugene, Oregon, will explore whether the U.S. government must adhere to a science-based plan to ensure that future generations will not have to endure potentially fatal changes to the climate.
Charter offers protections
In our country, section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to life, liberty and security of the person.
But given the magnitude of B.C. wildfires over the past two years, one might wonder if the Trudeau government's eagerness to approve pipelines and LNG projects is infringing on this guarantee.
Are we seeing wilful negligence on the part of the country's rulers?
If so, does this create legal and financial liability?
History is not kind to world leaders who take actions that fly in the face of evidence.
Former British prime minister Tony Blair and former U.S. president George W. Bush will always be remembered for launching a war of aggression against Iraq based on false premises. They have blood on their hands. It's been the subject of several books and film documentaries.
In a similar vein, the evidence is in with regard to the impact of fossil fuels on the climate. There's no debate about this apart from the ravings of conspiracy theorists.
The forest fires are real.
The widespread flooding is real.
The melting of the Arctic ice and the permafrost is real.
The threat to species is real.
The climate crisis is real.
Yet Trudeau barges ahead by supporting the fossil-fuel industry, no matter what the human consequences might be.
And his cabinet ministers, not to mention most of the Canadian media and Derek Burney, can only be viewed as his accomplices.