Tag Archives: Environment

Would pipelines even solve any of Alberta’s problems?

Image description: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley speaks at a podium, with an Alberta flag and a picture of mountains and a lake in the background. Notley recently advocated for the use of pipeline revenues to fund Canada's transition away from fossil fuels. (Image credit: Premier of Alberta/Flickr)

Image description: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley speaks at a podium, with an Alberta flag and a picture of mountains and a lake in the background. Notley recently advocated for the use of pipeline revenues to fund Canada’s transition away from fossil fuels. (Image credit: Premier of Alberta/Flickr)

It’s early days yet, but already it looks as though the great debate over pipelines will be one of the defining issues of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s time in office.

The pipeline issue is hot right now. Opposition to pipelines from the pro-Leap Manifesto faction of the NDP played a significant role in unseating leader Thomas Mulcair earlier this month and may yet lead to a splitting of the party. Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, long presumed dead, is poised for a potential last-minute revival thanks to the campaign-promise-breaking support and behind-the-scenes machinations of several prominent politicians. And pipeline fever won’t be going anywhere soon; with the NEB due to deliver its recommendations on Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain in just under a month, the issue will be widely discussed and debated this summer. Meanwhile, the NEB’s final report on TransCanada’s Energy East isn’t expected until March 2018, with a cabinet decision due three months later, guaranteeing that pipeline politics will feature as prominently in the run-up to the next election as they did in the last one.

This is also an issue on which our Boy Wonder PM just can’t catch a break. He finds himself attacked on all sides for his opaquely unsatisfying position. Pipeline proponents like Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, and Conservative Party interim leader Rona Ambrose have slammed Trudeau for being insufficiently enthusiastic about pushing the issue, despite the seemingly unending litany of statements from senior cabinet ministers that this government is “committed” to “getting Canada’s resources to market” – indeed, that this is “one of the fundamental responsibilities of any Canadian Prime Minister”. Meanwhile, although the government has taken steps to make the pipeline review process at least appear more impartial and thorough, activists and environmentalists have slammed the piecemeal reforms as woefully insufficient, with some charging that they amount to little more than a fig leaf designed to provide cover for pipeline approval.

Pipelines occupy the precise intersection between economic issues and environmental concerns. The issues is therefore a kind of proxy war, a struggle over what kind of future we want to work towards. Concerns about catastrophic climate change clash with worries for the plight of the suddenly impoverished workforce of Alberta and Saskatchewan, who are facing a once-in-a-century economic calamity.

And this really does need to be stressed – things are BAD out west.  Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: Why did green groups endorse Alberta NDP’s plan to increase tar sands production and build pipelines?

When Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley announced her government’s plan to combat climate change late last month, it was widely perceived as bold and ambitious. Hailed by green organizations across Canada and embraced by many in the business community, the plan seemed to be a major breakthrough on the contentious issue of tar sands extraction.

But the unholy alliance of oil companies and environmental advocates should have been a clue that all was not as it seemed.

To be sure, there’s a lot to like about the NDP’s plan. The total phasing out of all coal-burning plants in the province over the next fifteen years is laudatory, as is the government’s commitment to dramatically increase sustainable energy generation in Alberta.

But Alberta doesn’t have a bad rap on climate issues because of its coal plants or dearth of windmills. By far the single greatest source of Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions is the oil and gas industry, and for any Albertan climate plan to be effective, it would have to successfully tackle this well-financed behemoth. However, the initial hype surrounding the Premier’s announcement of a cap on tar sands extraction is looking increasingly misplaced under closer scrutiny.

The fact that a cap had been imposed at all was, the government and its boosters insisted, cause for celebration in and of itself – “one of the first times that an oil jurisdiction has placed a limit on growth,” gushed Greenpeace campaigner Mike Hudema. “The days of the infinite growth of the tar sands are over and investors should take note.”

Caveatting that the significance of the cap “cannot be overstated”, Hudema did also point out that, from a scientific point of view, the cap’s limits aren’t remotely sufficient. But the size of the cap was obscured in media coverage, partly by the unwieldily scale of the numbers involved. A 100-megaton annual limit was imposed on tar sands production in the province – and if you can calculate, off the top of your head, whether or not that allows for tar sands expansion, and if so, by how much, then you get a lollypop.

Thankfully for those of us who aren’t environmental scientists, the Edmonton Journal did the math – and it’s not exactly encouraging: Continue Reading

Surprise! The TPP is gonna screw us over!

From the CBC:

At the initial briefing offered to journalists, TPP negotiators said Canadian health and safety regulations would apply.

“The TPP fully protects Canada’s right to maintain and implement measures to ensure food safety for consumers, as well as to protect animal or plant life or health,” a trade department spokesman wrote CBC News.

But further clarification recently revealed that doesn’t mean dairy producers outside Canada have to follow the same rules Canadian farms do.

Most notably, it’s illegal in Canada to administer bovine growth hormone (rBST) to boost milk production in dairy cattle. But there’s no such restriction in the U.S.

No new certification or inspection regime appears set to screen milk destined for import into Canada. It’s also unclear whether U.S. milk would be segregated at Canadian processing facilities, or simply mixed with Canadian product.

Aside from being yet another compelling reason to go vegan, this latest revelation clearly demonstrates the power of the TPP and similar “trade” agreements to undercut the power of the Canadian government to regulate products on the market based on legitimate safety concerns.

Want more? Check this one out: Continue Reading

Corporate hubris hits an all-time high – so why aren’t we hearing more about it?

It seems like you can’t walk a block without tripping over a headline about corporate wrongdoing or scandal these days.

One that flew below my radar for several days was the ongoing fury surrounding Volkswagen. I saw vague headlines about recalls and fines, but figured it was just another of those all-too-common shoddy manufacturing stories. When I finally heard the details, I was shocked.

In case you missed it, Volkswagen engaged in a multi-year conspiracy to cheat on emissions tests for its diesel vehicles. Over eleven million vehicles were programmed to detect when they were being tested for emissions, and to engage a special filter in those circumstances to bring their emissions in line with government standards. Outside of e-tests, though, the vehicles went back to emitting up to forty times as much as the legal limits of dangerous emissions – a practice that has likely results in the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of asthmatic folks and other people with lung conditions, as well as contributing immeasurably to the pollution of our atmosphere.

This isn’t a case of a few bad apples. This is a widespread, deliberate attempt by engineers, designers, executives, and scientists at Volkswagen to do an end run around regulations, all so they could market their cars as being more fuel efficient.

As the CBC points out, this isn’t the first time that car companies have known about a dangerously fatal flaw in their vehicles and not taken action. To my knowledge, though, this is the first time that such a flaw has been deliberately engineered into the design of vehicles. Volkswagen has put their profitability ahead of the health and lives of the public with this action – it’s a disgusting affront and it shouldn’t be allowed to go unpunished.

A big question a lot of people have is: how widespread is corporate behaviour like this? Lambert Strether at Naked Capitalism points out that Volkswagen’s model could have a broad application: Continue Reading

“A massive campaign of serious disruption” – the way forward for the environmental movement?

Next Sunday, July 5, Toronto will play host to a March for Jobs, Justice, and the Climate. The march aims to unite labour, the environmental movement, and activists from First Nations and racialized communities, and organizers hope to draw thousands of people to the streets. From their call to action:

This July, Toronto will host a Pan American Climate Summit and an Economic Summit, where politicians will face a choice: listen to corporate leaders from across the Americas gathering to advance an economic austerity agenda that is increasing inequality and causing a climate crisis felt disproportionally in the global south – or listen to the people.

On the eve of those summits, let’s make sure they hear our demands:  a justice-based transition to a new energy economy, in which corporate polluters pay and ordinary people benefit.

The only way to overcome a small, powerful group who have a lot to lose is to build a massive movement of people with everything to gain.

That final line got me to thinking about an excellent piece on mass movement building by Steve D’Arcy I read earlier this week. The article, titled “A Path to Victory Against Austerity in Ontario?”, examines the history of resistance to the Mike Harris government’s austerity regime in the mid-1990s in an effort to create strategies for anti-austerity activists going forward. One of his main points is that large numbers of people in the street is not by itself sufficient to force governments to alter their policies:

Big business would never allow an elected government, of whatever party, to reverse the policy trajectory of recent years — the “austerity” agenda — simply because that agenda is unpopular and lots of people are protesting it. No, only a massive campaign of serious disruption could force the hand of elites and raise the political cost of austerity to the point where proceeding with austerity would be judged by big business to be too dangerous to their interests.

This is critically relevant for the environmental movement to take note of. The past year has featured numerous massive marches for the environment, and precious little actual progress.

Last September, hundreds of thousands of people around the world took the streets for the People’s Climate March, coordinating the action with an international summit on climate change in New York City. Unlike the march, which was the largest climate-focussed rally in human history, the summit was a failure, with no major action announced.

In March, Londoners again took to the streets in the tens of thousands to urge action at this winter’s Paris Climate Summit. Naomi Klein, speaking by remote video link, urged protestors to be the change they wanted to see: Continue Reading

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