Pipelined

I wanted to comment a bit on this story. Kinder Morgan is apparently using an industrial lot in the Braid Industrial Area of New Westminster for staging and equipment storage as part of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Extension Project. That has caused some people to send me correspondence around why the City is allowing this, people asking me why I am not opposing the pipeline. I replied to a Facebook Post, but I think this issue is important enough for me to expand a bit on it here on my blog.

The site within New West being used by Kinder Morgan is on Port of Vancouver land, not land where the City has any jurisdiction. Council members were very recently made aware this was happening, but we do not have any regulatory authority around land use on Port lands, as only the Federal Government can issue or withhold those permits. We were not involved in the planning for this, and we have not had any formal correspondence on the issue from the proponent or the Port.

This City and this Council have been involved in the NEB review of the Kinder Morgan pipeline from the onset. The City acted as an intervenor in the NEB review, raised a number of significant concerns during the process, and continues to emphasize these concerns since. Not the least of these concerns is the potential for impacts on the Brunette River and its riparian areas.

We have supported court cases challenging this project and the process towards its approval. The NEB and the Federal Governments (past and present) have demonstrated no interest in our position, nor do I feel they have adequately addressed our concerns. It is actually worse than that, as there were recent hearings in Burnaby to review some of the still-unresolved questions about the routing of the new pipeline along New Westminster’s border (and within the Brunette River riparian zone) and the NEB didn’t even invite New Westminster to attend. I was refused entry to the hearings when I showed up. They were held behind closed doors, and as the routing was some 30m outside of our City, my being able to even listen to the conversation was not seen as relevant. At least the Harper Government invited us into the room to be ignored.

I cannot speak for all of Council, nor is this the “official position” of the City, but I have been involved in this process for several years now. I bring a significant amount of professional and technical experience to this, having provided expert evidence as an Environmental Scientist to several Environmental Assessments in my career. I am concerned about the pipeline, but I am much, much more angry about the unaccountable and unacceptable process that has taken us to this point. In the last Federal election we were promised that the industry-focused reviews brought in by the Harper Government would be replaced; that didn’t happen. We were told that community consultations would be opened up, and that consent from communities would be sought; that didn’t happen. We were told that a new era of reconciliation would be ushered in before we impose unsustainable and  damaging infrastructure projects to unceded lands; that didn’t happen. We were told that subsidies to sunset oil industrial development would end and a new energy vision would be offered; that didn’t happen.

We were lied to, and now we are ignored.

Pipeline Project

There is a lot to grab your attention right now when it comes to local government. Budget deliberations, mobility pricing, the ongoing housing crisis, election 2018; it is hard to pick your battles sometimes.

However, the pending start of construction activity along the proposed Kinder Morgan TransMountain Pipeline Expansion is likely to spend some time in the news this spring and summer. Although directly-impacted local governments such as Coquitlam and Burnaby have taken very different approaches to the project, there have been people in New Westminster raising alarm about the potential impacts on the Brunette River watershed, along our eastern border.

What has not been discussed as much in our local government context, is what this project means to the First Nations along the route and to the indigenous people upon whose traditional lands this project will impose itself. As our own City approaches reconciliation, we need to start thinking more broadly about how we engage the indigenous community when we are evaluating our support or opposition to resource projects – even ones we have little jurisdiction over.

Next week, the Massey Theatre Society is partnering with Savage Society and Itsazoo Productions to present “The Pipeline Project”, a multi-media theatre event and conversation that explores these themes. As part of the Massey’s ongoing “Skookum Indigenous Arts Program

By all reviews, it is a serious, but at times humourous and disarming discussion of pipeline politics, and the sometimes unrecognized push-pull between “environmentalism” and the ongoing fight for indigenous rights. There are even a couple of matinee performances/discussions for those who can’t get out at night.

Here is a (slightly NSFW, but funny when it is) preview:

I think it is pretty timely with where New West, the province, and the nation are on this discussion. It’s gut check time when it comes to defining what kind of place we want Canada to be. This is a good chance to start listening. Get tickets here.

Sharpshooter politics

You may have heard of anecdote of the Texas Sharpshooter. He is generally portrayed as a cocky fella standing in a farmyard shooting at the side of the barn. Once his bullets are exhausted, he walks over to the barn, identifies the tightest cluster of bullet holes, and draws a bulls-eye around them. He then speaks glowingly of his targeting skills.

We just witnessed the Premier of British Columbia play Texas Sharpshooter with our coastline.

About five years ago, the Premier was in a tough political situation with the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project. She didn’t know which way the political winds were going to blow as she approached her first election. She needed to telegraph general support to satisfy her political contributors, but didn’t want to be caught wearing that approval if things went south. So she pragmatically hedged her bets. She said she would approve the project only if 5 conditions are met. In other words: “I could be convinced”.

At first, the conditions sounded reasonable and concise: Federal environmental assessment approval, Adequate spill protection for land and sea, First Nations agreement, and financial benefit for BC. Five bullets shot towards the barn. It took 5 years for her to finally saunter over there and draw the targets, now declaring them hit.

The problem with what she describes as her “consistent and principled” stand on this project is that it wasn’t any stand at all. One of the conditions was a sure thing (the NEB approval of the project, and I could go on another entire rant about that one – I have in the past!), but the other 4 had no actual measures! They were phantom targets, a blank barn wall waiting for bulls-eyes to be painted.

To use “World-Leading” as the measure for the spill prevention and response plans is, of course, ridiculous. It would be difficult for the nations of the world to have a spill-prevention-off or an Oil Clean Olympics. That said, I have worked on both the Federal (marine) and Provincial (land-based) consultations as part of my previous job. I have reviewed what other jurisdictions do, have read and critiqued position papers, have attended workshops and spill response exercises, and have conferred with experts local and international. That there are major gaps and unaddressed concerns with the spill prevention and response plans is not a controversial opinion.

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No plan is perfect, but for them to earn the moniker “World Leading”, I would think you would at least meet the standard set out by Washington State, and it is clear these plans fall far short of those measures. There are places in the world where shipping Afrimax tankers full of diluted bitumen is against the law – a spill prevention measure that really can’t be exceeded. We do not measure up to many other jurisdictions yet, not even close.

But it’s OK. The Premier has drawn the target around the collection of half-baked plans the Province, the Feds and Kinder Morgan have, and has determined they meet her vague test of “World Leading”.

The First Nations condition included the meeting of legal and constitutional requirements, which will be measured by a judge, I guess, but also included undefined opportunities and benefits for First Nations. Despite the Premier’s confidence, we don’t know if the legal and constitutional issues are fully addressed, as many of the groups along the route appear to still be opposed to the project, nor has it been made clear who or what opportunities or benefits agreements have been made. This was tweeted out by a reliable newsgatherer during the announcement:shaneKM

So I guess the target was 50% of First Nations. Nice to find out after.

Finally, the economic benefit to BC was also never provided a measure. It sounds like the Premier negotiated with Kinder Morgan to assure pipeline jobs go to British Columbians first (which probably violates NAFTA and TILMA, but I digress), and Kinder Morgan will contribute $25-50 Million a year to fund various local environmental programs in the Province, providing the Premier many opportunities to stand in front of banners with her Haida print shawl in the future. The amount is significant, unless you compare it to the $1.5 Billion subsidy to oil pipelines recently announced by Trudeau.

Again, this target was never defined or openly discussed until the day it was announced as being hit. If it sounds like I wanted more, maybe it is because hard negotiations to get money out of oil companies is apparently a BC Liberal strength when it serves their purposes. But that’s just politics.

Recently, a poll was released that showed 54% of BC are in favour of the pipeline. My Facebook algorithm keeps spamming my feed with that poll, and it always seems a shockingly small number to me. This was a poll conducted by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, an organization with extremely deep pockets that has served as the primary public speaker in favour of the project. Not only have they and others spent hundreds of millions of dollars on print, internet, radio and tv ads trying to convince us this pipeline is a great idea, They no doubt were able to frame the poll questions in as favourable a light as possible to push towards their desired result. Yet they still only got 50% plus the margin of error in support. Describing this support as anything but tepid would be disingenuous.

However, the Premier has clearly done the math. The ridings in Greater Vancouver and Vancouver Island that most opposed to this project were not likely winnable next election anyway. This approval may even boost Green Party support enough in areas like North Vancouver to assure a few quiet, obedient Liberals can still squeeze through. The great thing about drawing your targets afterwards – the real strength of Texas Sharpshooter politics – is the flexibility. We can have no doubt if polls showed an electoral advantage to opposing this project, those targets would have been drawn on another part of the barn, and our “consistent and principled” Premier would be standing in opposition to the project now. Like she was only a year ago:

Capture

Cazart!

Cursory apology for not writing enough or answering my queued “Ask Pat”s. Things will change in January, I’m not promising much until then. However, something this newsworthy requires comment, and I’m not going to sleep tonight until I write something down. No time for editing, let’s go.

“Cazart!” is a word invented by the Doctor of Gonzo Journalism, Hunter S. Thompson. He defined it as “Holy Shit! I should have known.” However that definition lacks the sense of fatal acceptance and calm that the second clause must be spoken with in order to hit the true feeling. It is the shock of surprise at something that was always obvious; we knew it was coming, but perhaps we hoped against.

To quote the esteemed Doctor himself:

“Cazart” goes far beyond mere shock, outrage, etc. If Bill had a better grip on semantics, he would have told you it meant “Holy Shit! I might have known!” Fatalism, I’d say. It’s a mountain word, but not commonly used……In contemporary terms, we might compare it to the first verbal outburst of a long-time cocaine runner who knew he was bound to be nailed, eventually, but when it finally happens he instinctively shouts “Cazart!”

A good friend of mine succinctly summed up in a tweet much of my thoughts  – not just about the approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Extension Project, but about the way we continue to dance around the edges of serious issues in this province and this country:

Stickers

The profundity of that comment needs a whole new blog post. so instead, I’m going to write about the completely predictable failure represented by the approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Extension Project.

I am not a distant observer of the Trans Mountain project. I worked on the Environmental Assessment National Energy Board Review. I read and critiqued the Project Description, and the reams of correspondence from stakeholders, intervenors, commenters. I was a participant the Review Process, and could see how the cards were stacked. I attended the protest camp at Burnaby Mountain and wrote about the impacts on New Westminster. I spent a bunch of time converting tonnes to barrels to cubic metres to understand the throughputs of the existing and planned pipelines, what it means for tanker traffic, for our domestic fuel supply in the Lower Mainland, and for Pacific Northwest refineries. I attended emergency planning drills at the Westridge Terminals when they ran boom boats around showing how easy a clean-up was (a very different experience that folks up in Bella Bella had with the Nathan E. Steward spill). I have talked with my colleagues from across the Pacific Northwest at the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance. I attended the Trudeau government “Panel Review” that was meant to get to the bottom of the conflict about the project, and found it wanting.

All this to say my opposition to this project is not uninformed, knee-jerk, or equivocal. Providing a Texas-based tax-avoidance scheme the right to threaten what is most sacred to British Columbia, “Splendor Sine Occasu”, makes no economic, social, environmental, moral or practical sense. It is a betrayal of our communities, of the nations that were here before us, and of the generations that will (hopefully) come after. It is a failure to lead and a failure to dream.

I admit that I believed that when Trudeau’s refreshed Canada walked into the Paris meeting and said “we’re back”, we were telling the world that we were ready to lead again. I hoped (dreamed?) we were ready to take a role respective of our technological and economic advantages, catch up with true global leaders, and begin beating our energy swords into plowshares. At the least, we would begin respecting our commitments to ourselves and the world. Instead, it is clear we are going to continue to subsidize the industry that provides all those fragile eggs to Alberta’s wobbly basket. We will subsidize it directly through our tax dollars, we will subsidize it through infrastructure investments like 10-lane bridges that lock a generation into unsustainable fossil-fuel-dependent transportation choices, subsidize it through forsaking future opportunities and risking the ultimate destruction of everything we value in our spectacular BC coast.

It doesn’t really matter if that destruction comes from a single “72-hour spill response time” incident or from gradual and inexorable rises in temperature and sea levels. We have sold our legacy, forgiven our opportunity, failed to find a vision that would allow it to exist.

Justin Trudeau was elected because people saw something akin to a new vision. We had enough of the stuffy old white guy with the 19th century solutions, and were not compelled by the other stuffy old white guy and his 20th century solutions. Dickens and Steinbeck (respectively) had nothing on Copeland and Klosterman. The promise was a new direction from the new generation. Fresh ideas and approaches, more personal politics, dare I say “Sunny Ways”. Traditional ideas like fearing deficits, letting oil companies tell us what’s what, or keeping your sleeves buttoned at your wrists were tossed aside. Canada’s back, baby, with a sexy swagger. We convinced ourselves that we could dream more hopeful dreams, that our ambitions to be something better would be realized.

Alas, before the election ballots were counted, long-time observers were asking how soon the Liberals would course-correct to the right with hackneyed neo-liberal (made so quaint now by a Trump-based reality) policy decisions that blur the distinction between them and the Conservatives they campaigned far to the left of. Campaign left, govern right, stay the course. It has worked for the Natural Governing Party because that’s the Canadian way, and has been since… well, I’m too young to know any other form of Liberal.

They campaign to govern, and govern to campaign. Perhaps under P.E. Trudeau that meant serious discussions about Public Policy, the Role of Government, and the Meaning of Nationhood. In 2016, public policy is a hassle, because it is hard to sound bite and some noisy people or potential donors might not like the results. The need to break promises of last election are an issue only for the crisis communications department; after all, they present opportunities to become promises for next election! Voter cynicism? A political machine this size, if properly greased, can work that to their advantage. For one more cycle, anyway.

When Trudeau II showed up on the scene, many voters jaded by a series of abusive relationships received a glimpse of a new beginning. The honeymoon is now over for people in BC concerned about the environment, about our natural legacy. It is important to note that we are a little late to the game out here on the West Coast.  The honeymoon already ended for Civil Liberty types, as Ralph Goodale seems to support giving rights to CSIS that the Courts denied them making fights over C-51 antiquated. It already ended for human rights activists as selling citizen-crushing machines to brutal dictators became unavoidable in bureaucratic doublespeak. From the stall on electoral reform, to the laissez faire on TPP and the claw-back of public pensions… the reasons for buyer’s remorse are broad and all-encompassing.

Cazart, indeed.

Naturally, we are seeing the same thing here in BC, and it extends far beyond this pipeline (that we know Christy Clark is coyly equivocal about, as she schemes to assure its development as long as she gets a tidy deficit-reducing revenue cut). The same failure to lead / failure to dream leaves us in a place with an economy that is ostensibly the Greatest on Earth, except for the shocking number of homeless, the working poor being made destitute, then the destitute dying of addiction or violence with no apparent support or escape alongside the creeping failure of our public education, public health, and public transportation systems. Even the financially stable are seeing the cost of living creep up through faux-taxes hidden in the costs of basic services while local governments are scrambling to find the funds to putty over the cracks in the social net that has made us a civil society – if not the Best Place on Earth.

It’s an election year, so casual political observers are going to forget about disability claw-backs, about the past-critical housing crisis, about forgotten promises to make schools safe, about privatization of public assets to meet short-term budget goals, about feet-dragging over regional transit funding, about tax breaks for private schools and forgotten promises to provide family doctors. Instead, we are going to hear a few populist news stories about how the Liberals are claiming a lead in housing or education or health care (“It is time to invest”) and we are going to be distracted from the abject failure to provide not only those things for the last 15 years, but any form of public good through their neo-liberal trickle-down economics. Some of us might be convinced they care about us and a brighter future is just around the corner…

That’s the winning formula when winning the job is more important that doing the job. How long until they, too, disappoint us? Will we say “Cazart”?

The TransMountain Panel

For reasons probably not relevant to this discussion, I attended a couple of the “Trans MountainPipeline Expansion Project Ministerial Panel” public meetings in Burnaby and Vancouver.

For those who have not been keeping track, here is the TL;DR background condensed to a single run-on sentence:

An American tax-dodge scheme called Kinder Morgan bought a 50-year-old oil pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, and now wants to replace and twin it, tripling capacity, and shipping mostly diluted bitumen for quick export via daily Aframax tankers berthing in Burrard Inlet, which previously would have required an Environmental Assessment, but the Harper Government changed the rules in 2012, giving an Oil and Gas Regulator/Booster in Calgary called the National Energy Board the ability to review and approve the project, which they unsurprisingly did in May 2016 despite significant local and First Nations pushback, causing the new Trudeau government to say “hold yer horses, Cowboys” and strike a new “ministerial” panel that will be doing further stakeholder, community, and first nations outreach to “seek additional views that could be relevant to the Government’s final decision on the project”, a panel whose validity is being questioned by many critics, as its Chair was, until recently, working with Kinder Morgan.

I went to the meetings as an observer, not a presenter, so this post is made up of my impressions of the presentations of others. You may not agree with them (me?), and although the public meetings are pretty much wrapped up now, you can still take part by sending your comments or filling out a questionnaire here.

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The roundtable I attended in Burnaby took place in one of those familiar hotel convention rooms, all crystal chandeliers and pukey carpets, which was essentially empty for most of the day, with many more seats than participants. Right from the get-go, it was hard to determine what the actual plan for the day was.

The morning session was meant to feature “Environmental NGOs” (I counted three), with two later sessions featuring “Local Governments” (a total of four, including New Westminster, who were well represented by City staff). There was no fixed agenda, so there was no idea who was presenting when, and any member of the public was apparently able to sign up and get their time at the microphone after the pre-designated speakers were finished. There was a polite request that each of the speakers would have 5 minutes, but there was no timekeeping, and some presenters went on for better than a half an hour.

In her introductory remarks, the Chair instructed the audience that this was meant to be an “informal dialogue”. They appeared to have perfectly nailed in the “informal” part, but the dialogue was distinctly lacking. In three sessions totalling almost five hours, I can recall a single instance where a Panel Member asked a follow-up question of a presenter. Even when directly asked questions by presenters, the Panel members seemed unable (unwilling?) to answer, but more on that later.

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The Vancouver event was crowded and went well into the night, where the lack of any formal organization led to the inevitable. There was a significant presence of the patchouli and gorp crowd that, as usual, had a frustratingly hard time keeping on topic. Concerns were expressed about everything from Site C to salmon farming to LNG. At one point, a gentleman came to the microphone cradling what was, apparently, a plastic doll swaddled in a blanket and finished his talk with a short a cappella folk song of sorts. Perhaps I missed the point. No, I’m almost positive I missed the point.

However, there were also several compelling arguments offered, including the failure of the NEB process to address significant concerns with this project, questions about the ability of the Federal Government to respond to a significant spill in the Canadian half of the Salish Sea (the risk of which will clearly increase if this project is approved), and questions about how Canada will meet its stated GHG emission goals if Oil/Tar/Bituminous Sands developments proceed at the pace outlined in the business case for this project. The one question hanging over the entire proceeding was clearly “Why?” How is accelerating the extraction of a non-renewable resource for rapid export in the “National Public Interest”?

It was the sparsely-attended Burnaby event that was actually more interesting. Mayor Corrigan of Burnaby, love him or hate him, can be a hell of an effective orator, and he was on his game this day. He spoke clearly without notes for about a half hour, and despite his reputation for, uh… being outspoken, he was respectful and calm for the length of talk. He started by talking about the history of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, and how 50 years ago Burnaby consented to a cooperative-owned pipeline to supply the 5 refineries around the Burrard Inlet because of the important local jobs and domestic supply needs it represented. He also spoke of the history of Burnaby gifting Burnaby Mountain to the University, then buying large portions of it back 40 years later to protect the conservation area that had become so important to Burnaby and the region.

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He went through how his Council and Staff evaluated the Kinder Morgan proposal to “twin” the pipeline, primarily for export, and in comparing the significant costs and limited  offsetting benefits, determined it was not in the interest of the City. They then learned about the National Energy Board, a non-elected body in Calgary made up of (mostly) former energy executives, who would be tasked with reviewing the project to determine if it was in the “national public interest.” They identified fairly quickly that there is no national plan to develop our hydrocarbon industries or to manage our non-renewable resources over the short or long term, making determination of how any project fit within something called the “national public interest” a very difficult thing to determine. At no point was there an explanation of what the “national public interest” was, nor a discussion of how one would measure it. For a Municipal Politician, whose job it is to plan and make those plans a reality, the complete lack of planning or even a clear definition of a goal, was shocking.

Further, going through the process with the National Energy Board, the City of Burnaby (along with most everyone else involved) soon discovered that the hearing process was cumbersome, chaotic, and lacking in some pretty fundamental protections that a formal hearing should have, such as the ability to cross-examine witnesses and test the evidence that has been presented to assure it was credible and had merit. In challenging the process, Burnaby discovered that Kinder Morgan’s legal fight was funded by a special surcharge on the pipeline use approved by the NEB, a source of funds not available to local governments and other stakeholders in the process, and that the NEB was not made up of a broad representation of citizens from across BC and Canada who can fairly evaluate what is reasonable to the general public, but are drawn from within the Oil and Gas industry and friends of the (at the time) oil-soaked federal government.

After discussing some of the technical and safety concerns the City of Burnaby has, and the inadequate responses to these risks provided in the “conditions” to the NEB approval, Corrigan compared these to the inferred benefits: maintaining some jobs in Alberta to accelerate the removal of harder- and harder-to-extract oil reserves so they can be exported faster for the benefit of a few multinationals,with little or no long-term evaluation of Canada’s long-term petroleum needs. Are the needs of future generations included in “the national public interest”?

He summed up by calling the Panel out for what they really are – a political body comprised of two former politicians and a former Deputy Minister – and the review for what it is – a political process to correct the fundamental flaws of the NEB process that Prime Minster Trudeau recognized prior to his election. In summary, the Mayor quoted the Prime Minister, stating “Government can grant permits, but it’s communities that grant permission.”

He then put a period on that point: “Well, we don’t.”

I was also fortunate to have heard Kai Nagata from the Dogwood Initiative ask some rather pointed questions to the Panel, for which he received respectful non-answers. To paraphrase heavily from my memory, the exchange went something like this:

Q: Who was invited to speak? Is there a list of which organizations were sent invitations? What efforts were taken to get the word out to impacted parties, so they can take time from their summer schedules to take part? Was there any vetting of the people who wished to take part?
A: There is no list. Everyone was invited. Anyone can speak.

Q: So you are taking anything from anyone. How are you vetting the information received? With no opportunity for cross-examinations, how are you assessing the strength of evidence? What measures are you taking to determine if the voices you are hearing represent a fair cross section of stakeholders, or the general public. What processes have you brought to weigh the evidence you have received, and where is that process explained?
A: We are here to listen, and we will produce a report summarizing what we hear.

Q: There does not appear to be any official recording or video of these hearings, nor does it appear that official transcripts are being produced. Some presenters have provided you written materials, how will the record of these hearings be entered in to the official record, and how with the public know what transpired here? What process exists to assure the public input is fairly reflected in the report you provide to the Minister, or that the written evidence you have received has been vetted for accuracy?
A: We are here to listen, and we are taking notes, there are no official transcripts.

Q: So with no formal process to solicit input or assure the presenters are representative of the community, no vetting of the information you hear, no process to determine the validity of evidence, and no official record of what transpires – how will this Panel, to quote the Prime Minister “restore public trust and confidence in Canada’s environmental assessment processes”?
A: Hrrm…

I don’t mean to come down hard on the Panel Members. They were hastily called up and thrown into a hastily assembled process, with a mandate that may appear simple, but suffers from a lack of definition or process. Their job is to report to the Minister with some ideas or impressions of whether this project, a narrowly defined pipeline delivering and extra 600,000 barrels a day of products to the Pacific Coast primarily for export through Burrard Inlet, is in the “National Public Interest.” Unfortunately, they have not been provided the tools to define, never mind measure, such an ethereal concept. This “informal” and apparently ad-hoc process is not going to get them any closer to that definition.

Nor will this process restore the public trust in the way the Prime Minister anticipated. The only question remaining is whether he has the political courage to stop this project based on this failure, because it has not moved him any closer to receiving a mandate to approve it.

On the Election

Why am I going to hate this election (and you should too)? It’s not the falsehoods, the equivocation, or even the lies. It is the willful and purposeful denial of any kind of objective reality.

There was a blip of faux outrage last week when a prominent NDP candidate in Toronto suggested that the secret NDP plan was to shut down Canada’s oil industry (the sarcasm there is mine). In the Conservative social media echo chamber, this is how it played out:

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Now compare this faux outrage to the actual quote:

“A lot of the oil sands oil may have to stay in the ground if we’re going to meet our climate change targets”

This is about as innocuous a statement as can be made about the future of the Bituminous Sands and their impact on Canada’s greenhouse gas targets. Nothing in that quote is the least bit controversial, except perhaps to the small number of people who still think Anthropogenic Climate change is a hoax.

Our current government, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has committed to reducing our greenhouse gasses, meeting internationally-agreed-upon reduction targets by 2030, and to transitioning to a carbon free economy by the end of the Century. Those are the stated aspirational goals of the Canadian government, announced by the Current Prime Minister back in June. These targets exist, and every party running in this election wants to meet or exceed those targets.

Similarly, there can be no dispute that the complete extraction of all 168 Billion barrels of proven reserves from the Bituminous Sands of the Alberta Basin will result in greenhouse gas emissions that would not allow us to meet those targets – the ones set by the current government of Stephen Harper. If we take them out of the ground, those oil reserves will represent all of our countries’ GHG emissions in 20 years, where currently, oil and gas only represent about 25% of our total emissions. So if we want to extract all of the oil and gas and meet our targets, we will need to do none of the other stuff… no cars, no agriculture, no aircraft, no cement plants or burning coal or heating our buildings. If we wish to keep doing those things, and if we plan to meet our GHG targets, then, sorry, folks, some of the bitumen is going to have to stay in the bituminous sands. It is simple math.

Back to that quote, though. Note the statement “A lot of the oil sands oil may have to stay in the ground if we’re going to meet our climate change targets” is not a policy statement, it isn’t an aspirational goal or a controversial idea – it is a simple statement of mathematics. How can this be controversial?

If there is a controversy to be found here, it is in the fact that no-one from the current government (or, for the most part, the opposition parties) has yet made this math explicit to their supporters: the plans of this government are fundamentally at odds with the stated goals of this government, once you take the time to do a little math. Perhaps the controversy here should be that she equivocated by saying “may” instead of “must”, and “if” instead of “when”.

After watching the interview, it was clear that the concept was goaded out of the NDP candidate by the Conservative on the panel by placing a quote from arch-conservative former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed into her mouth in an attempt to re-direct the discussion from the topic at hand (that the Prime Minister had shifted his position on the existence of a recession). When confronted with the math, the Conservative somehow thought admitting that math to industry sends the wrong message, she suggests we should somehow “stand up for the energy sector” in the face of this math.

Which, I presume, means lying about the math. To the Industry, to the Canadian public, to your voting base, to pretty much anyone who will listen.

But when the social media took over, this was somehow a reckless “policy” that was going to cost Canada 100,000 jobs, a number either pulled out of someone’s arse, or (more likely) an appeal to Ontario voters who still remember the “100,000 Job Cut” quote from the disastrous Tim Hudak Conservative campaign in that province (which circles us back to here, ugh).

The entire meme is as idiotic as it is predictable. Instead of having a discussion about what our international commitments mean to Canada, instead of talking about what those commitments mean to our employment prospects, instead of discussing the multitude of other jobs that could be created by investing in the climate change solutions instead of doubling down on the cause of the problem, we have this stupid meme where people are raging about how admitting the math of the problem is Bad for Bidness.

Fortunately, since the “story” broke, a few sources have called out the math-denying tactics of the Conservatives here, but not enough. This raises the question of how our discourse degraded to the point where stating a simple scientific fact, even one littered with weasel words like “may” and “if”, really so controversial? Is it any wonder that message control is so tight in this new era? And what does that mean for representative democracy?

So as much as I want you to pay attention and get informed this election, I don’t want that topic to dominate this blog site, so after this post, you will (probably) not read much about the Federal Election here. If you really want to hear my updated and ongoing opinions on this topic (Hi Mom!), go over to my Facebook Page, where I will be counting down the days to the election, with a thought of the day. Or, you know, buy me a beer and ask me.

Divestment

I have been putting up boring council reports for so long, that I figure it is time to get back to a good old-fashioned NWimby-style rant here. It is about global warming, which I believe am convinced by the overwhelming scientific evidence is currently happening at a rate unprecedented in the last 2 million years, due directly to the accelerated introduction of fossil carbon into the atmosphere by human activities. If you are still in denial about this, you are either deluded or not paying attention, so before commenting here, please check your irrefutable factoid against this before trying to make your case.

That caveat on the old debate aside, we are not past the real debate about what to do about it. There is an argument that we should do nothing, but that is the deeply sociopathic side of the spectrum when we start to look at the seriously bad implications for the next generation of humans if we take that path (where do you plan to put 150 million Bangladeshis, not to mention 10 million Floridians?)

I also think there is a personal responsibility part – we (especially those of us in the rich industrialized world) need to take individual actions to address this real problem. We need to burn less fuel; we need support more sustainable farming practices; we need to stop buying so much disposable junk. But these individual actions will be meaningless without a coordinated government action, and societal shift to support those individual actions.

The Montreal Protocol was a good example of how this problem should have been addressed. Less than 15 years after the concept of ozone depletion by long-lived chlorofluorocarbons was proposed (and only a few years after that theoretical effect was demonstrated with a high level of certainty to be actually happening) the world’s governments took action, much to the protestations of DuPont and manufacturers of aerosol cans, and it worked. We have turned the corner on ozone depletion, DuPont still exists, as do aerosol cans. Industry adapted, society shifted, but it took government action.

However, those mid-80’s were simpler times. We had those socialist hippies Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan running the free world like a commune, and Russia were our best friends yet. So world governments getting together to legislate an industry-constraining action to prevent life-altering damage to the earth’s atmosphere was a doable thing. Thirty years later, almost all of which have seen the world’s science community increasingly pleading for the world’s governments to do something about a slowly-emerging disaster, the progress on greenhouse gasses has been dismal. If we cannot count on the governments of the largest economies to fix the problem, we need to shift the economy.

A couple of years ago, the NWEP held a showing of the Bill McKibbon short film ”Do The Math” that made the case for fossil fuel divestment. If interested, I wrote a long piece about it at the time. The short version: investing in stranded hydrocarbon assets is a bad idea for long-term financial reasons, and for ethical reasons.

So back to the question of what we can do. As a municipal government we can shift to greener fleets and more efficient buildings, we can encourage energy efficiency in the community and in our corporate functions. We can encourage a form of development that results in lower GHG production: transit instead of freeways and compact, pedestrian-friendly mixed-use city centres instead of sprawling suburban expanses. We can even ineffectually express concerns about pipelines being built to facilitate the export of bitumen, and try to resist the expansion of thermal coal exports through our ports. But these will not be enough if we are continuing to fight the tide of an economy that does not serve our future.

The City can, however, divest from the companies that are pushing that unsustainable future. We can make the choice to not invest our money in the stranded assets that will, if dug out of the ground and burned, diminish the ability of the next generation to prosper. It isn’t just something we can do, it is something we should do.

So I moved the following at the June 22 Council Meeting:

WHEREAS: The City of New Westminster’s financial assets are invested with the Municipal Finance Authority, which includes pooled funds and direct investment in hydrocarbon extraction and pipeline operation companies;

WHEREAS: The City of New Westminster recognizes the global concern and risks of Anthropogenic Climate Change and has taken efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas impacts of its internal operations and in the community in general, and

WHEREAS: Investments in fossil fuel extraction carry numerous risks, including economic risk to market value of fossil fuel companies based on stranded assets through increased worldwide transition to renewable energy sources, including Canada’s own commitment to moving towards reduced GHG emissions and the G7 commitment to a carbon-free economy by the end of the Century;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That New Westminster support ongoing efforts by communities and public institutions across Canada and North America to divest public investments from fossil-fuel related assets by calling upon the MFA to develop a plan to divest from these assets.

We are also not alone.

On Thursday, the City Council in Victoria will debating a motion to divest their assets from fossil fuels, and I suspect it is going to be successful.

As is typical these days, Canada is lagging behind the United States on this important environmental and social justice issue, as San Francisco, Seattle, Eugene, Boulder, an many other US Cities Seattle have already committed to fossil-fuel divestment.

Divestment does not have to be a sudden move to be effective. Although it represents less than 5% of our GDP, the oil and gas industry is still important to some regions of Canada, and we are going to be using hydrocarbons for the foreseeable future. However, if we agree that we need to continue to improve the quality of life of people on earth, we need to start the transition away from burning of coal, petroleum, and gas for our energy needs right away. We also need to give the industry, and the customers, a chance to adapt to the new reality, while easing the market forces into the right direction. A broadly-supported divestment strategy that rolls out over five or ten years will change the economics of the industry, and allows investment in alternatives, instead of continuing to invest in squeezing the last bit of prosperity out of last Century’s energy sources.

Pipelines and Strawmen – UPDATED!

Sorry to be out of touch, I’m still on the steep part of the learning curve, and have a variety of tasks to get done, while trying to recover from one of the busier months of my life. All good stuff, just time consuming. Also still working on the post-got-elected plan a far as social media, and will have that worked out by the new year. Until then, I will still be writing occasional rants here as things bug me enough that I stay up late writing about them. Like this one.  

In rhetoric, there is an argument technique called “the strawman”. This is a logical fallacy where one reduces one’s opponents’ argument to a single ridiculously simple argument, then beats that argument to death. This is meant to make it appear that you have beaten your opponent’s actual argument, which might not be so weak. Except you are not beating your opponent, you are beating a weak and easily defeated parody of them; hence “strawman”.

There are a myriad of examples of this technique; if you at all pay attention to modern media-driven politics, it is hard to go through a day without hearing someone beating down the strawman version of their opposition. Unfortunately, the dumbing down of journalism, driven by the one-two punch of cost reduction (so fewer traditional media can afford to pay highly skilled professional journalists to do a proper job) and social media dominance (where the narrative is often reduced to a compelling photo and 140-character missives) only serve to push strawmen to the front of the argument. It is much easier and cheaper to push forward the extremists and their strawman arguments and feed the conflict that attracts eyeballs than it is to tell the full complex story of conflict that underlies so much of today’s political landscape.

As a consumer of media, and a person interested in politics as a solution to conflict, I find it useful as a first step to determine if the rhetoric you are hearing is an extreme position. All political arguments have extreme positions, and rarely (never?) is the solution found at those extremes. However, it is important to understand where those extremes are, if only so one can work their way between them, and see where in the vast field of grey between the black and white the solutions may be found.

So I went to Burnaby Mountain last week.I talked to people standing at the line, demonstrating their concern about the introduction of a crude oil pipeline to the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area. I talked to one person I know well, who was arrested a few days previously for crossing the arbitrary court-ordered “line”, because (and I am paraphrasing based on previous discussions I have had with him) he feels that it is his moral imperative to protect his children’s future by taking whatever action he can to slow anthropogenic climate change. I also talked to a few other people of varying walks of life who showed up, some to see what was going on, some who were opposed to this project in particular, and some who had wider-ranging opposition to the political direction of the country, with this project being a local manifestation of this. There was a lot of variety of ideas in that crowd.

(disclosure: I actually know the scientists overseeing this drilling investigation on Burnaby Mountain from my time at SFU; we worked together, and I consider them friends, so I effectively knew people on both sides of the police tape!).

I found that visit more informative than reading the silly extreme arguments you might normally be exposed to by “responsible journalists” like those at the Vancouver Sun or Black Press. So I thought, just for fun, I could outline strawmen being deployed in the biggest political story in British Columbia right now, one from each side of the debate, so we can be clear on what the “extreme” position is, and waste less time arguing against those strawmen and instead spend our time more usefully mucking about in the grey in between.

Extreme Position #1: We need to immediately end all use of hydrocarbons, and natural resources extraction in general.

Extreme Position #2: Any act that curtails or slows Canada’s expansion of natural resource extraction and export using the current model will destroy our fragile economy.

These arguments are both, unfortunately, commonly used in “opinions” expressed by such mainstream media as our local PostMedia Newspapers of Note(tm).

The first may be held by a vanishingly small number of environmental activists, but it is implied in every social media (or other) comment that says (I paraphrase) “the protesters use nylon tents made from petroleum – therefore they are hypocrites”, or more subtly when one opines “the world needs oil, therefore we need to build this pipeline”.

The second is the natural counterpoint to the first, and is commonly expressed, sometimes rather indirectly, by varied groups from the Dan Miller to the Fraser Institute. In social media comments, this manifests as something along the lines of “BC’s economy has always relied on resource extraction” (which is not the least bit apropos to this pipeline project, but I digress).

I think (hope?) we can agree that these are the extreme outer points of the argument, and there is a world of grey where solutions will be found, and where the useful politics are. I see the middle ground as including a discussion of national goals are as far as energy and resource extraction, especially considering we only have one chance to take this stuff out of the ground and make money from it. We need to figure out how we are going to catch up to our major trading partners, the United Nations, the World Bank, etc. in our approach to Climate Change policy. We need to figure out what type of growth is sustainable, when the current pace is creating both labour shortages and ginormous profits, while corporate taxation hits an all-time low and basic services of government suffer for funding. I would even love for us to have a discussion about a national energy policy, just to find out if the approach taken by Norway, Iceland, or even the UAE, makes better long-term sense for the citizens of Canada than our current course. I suspect we would be well served to better isolate our economy from volatile hydrocarbon price shocks, and increase, not reduce, or energy sovereignty. I would also like to be confident that the long-term environmental consequences of these large and unprecedented projects are considered, that protections are in place where needed, and that the revenue generated by these project will fund these protections.

These are not “extreme” ideas, but are instead rational approaches that should inform good governance. But it is hard to fit those in a tweet, and short of the very few longer-form examples of journalism still around in Canada (mostly easily dismissed as the ramblings of intellectual elitists), these discussions are hardly occurring in the public realm. God forbid anyone raise them during an election.

Now, go back and read the two “extreme” arguments above, and ask yourself who is making those extreme claims? Note than one is being made by a small fringe of the environmental movement. The other is being made, today, by the government ruling Canada. You should be scared of both, but only one is a clear and imminent threat to good governance in this country.

Or maybe I’m just beating on a strawman.

UPDATE – There is nothing else to say about this long piece by one of our Province’s most unimaginative climate-change-denying industry apologists except to say it demonstrates clearly my point about the ubiquity of the silly “you need oil, therefore this pipeline” line of reasoning. Thanks Keith, I knew I could count on you to pull out a strawman and give it a good old fashioned thrashing!

On Enbridge, and editorial failures.

I haven’t said much about the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline semi-announcement. Frankly, there have been too many column inches wasted on this story already, as the project is a non-starter. After all is said and done, the millions of dollars wasted by Enbridge and our Federal Government to promote an ecologically and economically indefensible project will be just one of the sad legacies of the Harper years.

So this post isn’t about Enbridge, it is about another monumental failure: this “Editorial” in one of the local Post Media Serious Newspapers of Note (which itself has become the AM Sport Radio of Print Journalism). There is so much wrong in this very short 250 words that it needs to be addressed line-by-line:

“Setting aside, for the moment, the tremendous economic opportunities and wealth creation that resource extraction has always meant to B.C. and this country…”

Point 1: We cannot simply set aside the economic opportunities of the Northern Gateway, or other resource extraction activities in BC, because that is what this entire issue is about. From the start, the people up and down the coast of BC have been critical of this project specifically because of the risk it poses to their economic reality and the threat it poses to the very resources that their economy relies on, while providing almost no offsetting economic benefits to the communities most at risk.

Point 2: By lumping in an oil pipeline in with “resource extraction” is to be disingenuous to the real concerns here. Yes, BC and Canada were built on resource extraction: furs, mines, forests, fish, and energy. But not all resources are the same, and they do not contribute equally. Some are renewable, some are not. Some we extract high value with value-added industries, some we don’t. Some we balance against significant environmental harm, some we do not. By any measure, an oil pipeline transporting diluted bitumen for immediate export through our parks, watersheds, forests, shorelines and seas provides the least extracted value from a non-renewable resource with virtually no value added, few jobs, and a potentially huge environmental impact. When compared to Canada’s largest-value of exports (automobiles and machinery) Oil and all hydrocarbons pale in comparison, both in the GDP contribution to our economy, to the amount of trade dollars, and in the amount of employment income derived by the industries.

Canada’s exports by sector, a proportion of GDP. Click to enlarge.

“Resource Extraction” built Canada, but manufacturing and services are our future.

“…when it comes to the Northern Gateway pipeline Canadians had better start asking themselves a very fundamental question: Are we going to be a nation of citizens who respect the rule of law, due process and democratic governance or are we going to descend into anarchy and mob rule?”

Wow. I mean f***ing wow (sorry Mom). The false dichotomy and broad-brush idiocy of this statement is one thing, but it’s the inherent hubris that makes me want to swear. To be lectured by cheerleaders of this project about “due process” and the “rule of law” when the proponents had many of the laws that would have provided said due process stripped away, when the persons employed by the Government to provide the scientific basis for that process have been fired or silenced, when the scientific community comes out with a comprehensive list of the ways the process was not based on scientific review of its own criteria, is, I think, a little offensive to those who believe in democratic governance and science-based policy to be accused of being an anarchist mob.

To suggest that people in a democracy, standing up for injustice, speaking their minds, providing opinion, ideas, and (yes) criticism of the government is akin to “mob rule” or “anarchy” sounds like the hyperbole of a totalitarian state – or just the regular missives of a Petro-State, I suppose.

“The decision by the Harper government Tuesday to approve the pipeline — critical to unleashing vast wealth for Canada by allowing Alberta oil to be delivered safely to world markets — has been met by predictable opposition.”

The parts on the outside of the dashes read like a reasonable comment, and are about the only truthful part of this entire editorial. The part in the middle is just more Petro-State approved gibberish. Because it paints over the reasons the opposition exists. Some suggest this pipeline is not “critical” to the ongoing development of the Bitumen Sands, it only serves to accelerate their development and make the entire operation less sustainable. Some further suggest too much of the “vast wealth” is currently going to multi-national corporations and state-owned oil companies from Norway to Malaysia, and not to the people of Canada who own the resource being rapidly depleted and exported. Mostly, people are concerned that this project will not in fact get the product “safely to markets”, but will spread a little too much of it around valuable natural resource territories, and on lands never ceded by the aboriginal inhabitants.

“In a democracy, this is healthy. But the too-common rhetoric from some quarters of taking direct action against the decision of a democratically elected government is appalling, especially after years of public process into the merits of the project and the imposition of 209 conditions to ensure the environment is as protected as is possible.”

Read that again. A major newspaper is suggesting that the Majority of Canadians who didn’t vote for the Conservatives, or even those who are part of the plurality who voted for someone other than them, you should just shut the hell up and take whatever you are given. You may say the process never demonstrated the merits, and are not assured the conditions are sufficient or will be met, but it is “appalling” that you would question a duly elected government.

“Critics talk of the need for “social licence” for projects like the pipeline, a new term created by people who can’t win elections, but think they have some right to run the country. They don’t.”

Since I am one of the majority who did not Vote for Harper’s band of thieves, perhaps I should defer to their greatest shadow-organizers, the Fraser Institute on the topic of “Social License”. You see, according to the oft-quoted free-market “dink-tank”, that term was not a term “created by people who can’t win elections”, it was invented by a successful Canadian Mining Executive, and it is described very well in this Fraser Institute article under their ”MiningFacts.org.” astroturf organization:

Allow me to quote extensively: “[social license to operate (SLO)]…is an essential part of operating within democratic jurisdictions, as without sufficient popular support it is unlikely that agencies from elected governments will willingly grant operational permits or licenses. The SLO can be revoked and it should never be taken for granted. The Social License to Operate refers to the acceptance within local communities of both mining companies and their projects. Social acceptance is granted by all stakeholders that are or can be affected by mining projects (e.g. local communities, indigenous people) and other groups of interests (e.g. local governments, NGOs). The SLO does not refer to a formal agreement or document but to the real or current credibility, reliability, and acceptance of mining companies and projects. The SLO is granted by stakeholders based on the credibility of a mining company and the type of relationship that companies develop with the communities. Stakeholders tend to grant an SLO when they feel that their values and those of the company are aligned.”

Typical Fraser Institute radical lefties. I wonder how Enbridge is doing on that Social Licence thing?

“Opponents will take heart from the demonstration in Vancouver that occurred Tuesday or from petitions with several thousand names criticizing the pipeline’s approval. But they need to remember that most British Columbians who support projects like the pipeline aren’t generally available mid-afternoon to express it. They’re working, but they do vote.”

What a load of bullshit. The Province was there, and should know that protest was held, and reached it peak, on a Friday evening – the largest numbers appeared well after the close of business Friday – and I know several people who went down there AFTER WORK to assure their voices were heard. And these people vote. And the unemployed and underemployed vote.

The best part of about that protest was the numbers that showed up after work on a Friday of a sunny weekend on very short notice – there were more people at that protest than there are jobs promised the people of BC for the entire Northern Gateway Project. To me, that is a sign of a healthy democracy, and the Province’s Editorial board is a demonstration of a failure of journalism in that democracy. Not because I disagree with them, and not just because of the specific problems above, but because of what their approach is to the entire topic, in light of the role of journalism in a functioning democracy.

What does it mean when the “Fourth Estate”- they who are meant to hold Government and Corporate feet to the fire and assure that oversight was provided outside of government in the service of the people – read too much from the government play sheet? Read this opinion piece above, and ask yourself who is being protected, and from whom? Here we have the media telling people who do not agree with the current federal government and the few corporate interests that are proposing this project not that they are wrong; not that they are factually incorrect; not that their concerns are misplaced; but to SHUT UP, YOU LOSERS!

Of course, we can’t be sure it is their editorial position at all. Considering the history of PostMedia newspapers selling advertising space to Enbridge proponents while making them look like editorials.

I used to think the dead-tree large corporate media were no longer relevant to our democracy, now I am starting to suspect they are actively trying to undermine it.

On Fort Mac and Dr. No

A short post related to my last one on Neil Young, Fort Mac, and Integrity.

For people who like to read long-format journalism as opposed to Maclean’s style photo-caption writing on the latest “hot trend story”, Canada has the Walrus. It is usually interesting, often brilliant, always worth reading. The NWimby household has been a subscriber since the first edition.

I raise it now because an article about Fort McMurray in the November edition should be read by everyone in Canada. The author clearly brings his anti-tar sand biases into the discussion, but the best parts of the article are not his writing, but the quotes of the Mayor of Fort Mac, Melissa Blake.

It all starts out friendly enough, the Mayor tries to dispel some negative impressions about the City and its livability, and talks about the big plans to build an integrated, sustainable, and full-service community. It only gets weird when the author questions the Mayor about the potential disconnect between building a low-carbon sustainable City fueled completely by the carbon-intensive and unsustainable extraction of oil from bitumen.

“Blake doesn’t miss a beat. ‘I’m a big believer that, yes, the climate is changing. If the climate goes up by two, three, four degrees in the future, we’re lucky to be here in Fort McMurray. We’re lucky not to be in California or BC. They’re going to fall in the ocean. In a place like this, we’re going to survive a lot better.’

You mean digging up bitumen is a good thing, because it will make Fort McMurray’s winters milder?

With a nervous laugh, she assents: ‘And that means my real estate becomes a very important asset in the future, so I’m not selling my house anytime soon.’ “

OK, let’s get something straight. This young person with a young family clearly believes in anthropogenic climate change, and she is talking liltingly about a time in the near future when California and Vancouver will “fall in the ocean”. That is no doubt a bit of fanciful hyperbole, but it has to be put into perspective. With no check on our greenhouse gas emissions, we could see, in her lifetime, global sea levels rise enough to displace hundreds of millions of people from low-lying cities like Miami and Shanghai, Osaka and New Orleans, Bangkok and Mumbai. California and Vancouver don’t need to “fall”, the ocean is coming up to meet them. Climate disruption at this scale will also cause widespread crop failures, mass migrations, unprecedented famines and unimaginable human suffering.

It takes a certain kind of sociopathy to think about the death and suffering of hundreds of millions of humans and say “Wow, that’s going to be good for my real estate value”, nervous laughter notwithstanding, if you are not the one causing these events to take place.

However, when you say that with a giggle at the same time as you are leading a community of people hell-bent on accelerating the very activity that will cause all of those bad things to happen for a little short-term profit?

That is a level of truly evil sociopathy usually reserved for Bond Villains.