Environment: Time for Justin Trudeau to Pick a Side

There’s an old adage that says when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. I imagine sayings like these are on Justin Trudeau’s mind as he coifs his hair each morning and wonders where his “sunny ways” went wrong. Or maybe he’s not concerned, because he’s too busy doing one-armed push-ups and taking selfies and trying to insist that the “middle ground” is actually a fertile place from which to grow our future.

I don’t mind that Justin Trudeau is part of a political “dynasty”. I don’t mind that he and his wife are young and good-looking. I don’t mind that they are from Quebec. I don’t mind that Trudeau used to be a drama teacher before his political career (teachers and artists are often exceptionally selfless and intelligent people and I think many of them would make great leaders). I don’t mind that he smoked pot. I don’t care that part of Trudeau’s household budget is being spent on nannies (Mulroney’s household did the same). I don’t mind that he wants to take selfies with people and seem “accessible” to Canadians (actually, I do mind the photos a little because I’d rather see Canada known for policy, not personality). I don’t care that he’s a bit of a ham and I don’t even care that he’s a Liberal.

What I DO mind is that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trying to please everyone–is trying to claim a “middle ground” in several either/or situations and is, simultaneously, pissing off just about everybody on both sides of the issue. Nowhere is this more obvious to me than in his government’s position on the environment.

At the moment, folks on the “right-wing” or “conservative” side of the political environmental debate are pissed at Trudeau because he does things like sign Paris climate deals, spout a lot of hot air about Canada being “back”, and because, when the country’s reliance on the oil industry resulted in a lot of lost jobs and financial uncertainty as oil prices plummeted, he was tone-deaf enough to say that those communities left out of the federal government’s EI benefits “should be pleased that they are not hit as hard as other parts of the country and indeed the province have been”. Cold comfort when you’re trying to keep food on your family’s table and shoes on your kids.

At the same time, folks on the “left-wing”, or rather (since the environment we live in affects both right and left), the “green” side of the issue, are pissed at Trudeau because he signs Paris climate deals, spouts a lot of hot air about Canada being “back” as an ally in the fight against global climate catastrophe, and then goes ahead and lets undemocratic, ethically suspect, Harper-appointed bodies like the National Energy Board (NEB) go ahead and approve the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion (which will, incidentally, have a profoundly negative impact on the communities in which I live and work). A lot of people (including me) have called Trudeau a dummy in the past, but surely not even he actually believes that supporting crude oil pipelines (i.e. increasing the amount of oil sands bitumen that will be extracted, transported, and burned as fuel) will somehow lead to a “greener” future for this country.

Spectacularly, that is exactly the claim that Trudeau is trying to make, and a claim SFU professor of sustainable energy Mark Jaccard had no qualms about eviscerating when interviewed by Maclean’s. When it comes to Trudeau’s wishy-washy statements on pipelines being used to fund a green transition:

Jaccard can only shake his head and chuckle. “What we’re beginning to hear from the federal government now—‘We’re going to fund green infrastructure and innovation’—those are faking-it policies. You’ve got to either regulate or price.” Asked specifically about Trudeau’s vision of a “transitional period”—an era when new pipelines would be built and oil sands production encouraged, apparently all to pay for the advent of the post-carbon economy—Jaccard forgets to laugh. “It’s bunk, total bunk,” he says, “and please quote me.”

No problem, professor. I’m quoting you with relish. “Total bunk,” says an expert on the subject, YOU HEAR THAT, JUSTIN, YOU LILY-LIVERED BUFFOON?!

I despised Stephen Harper as much as I can despise any person who didn’t actually murder or maim someone, but at least he had the conviction to just come right out and say (I’m paraphrasing) that he didn’t give a shit about the environment and that he didn’t think climate change was a problem. It takes guts to stand up in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus and the devastating effects of human-caused climate change (like last year’s typhoon in the Philippines which killed 20 000 people) and just be like, “Nah, I don’t care. Kyoto’s for losers.” What pisses me off so much about Trudeau is that he not only pretends to care about climate change, he actually goes on the international stage and takes credit for caring, and then turns around and gives crude oil pipelines the ol’ thumbs up, as if we aren’t watching. But we are, and we’re disappointed.

Oil companies don’t give a shit about Canadians. But our government should. Oil companies don’t think about the long-term interests of the nation they’re digging up and traversing, but our government really should. It’s time for Trudeau to stop leaving it up to unelected morally bereft bodies like the NEB and foreign corporations and actually take a stance based on what he believes is  the best way forward.

So what’s it gonna be, Prime Minister: is Canada truly “back”, or just back to the same old oily tricks?

Let's hope he meant it!

Let’s hope he meant it!

[Note: leadnow.ca has a petition circulating to ask Trudeau to reject the NEB’s approval of the Kinder Morgan expansion. Please consider signing here.]

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Sometimes I Dream That Nothing Can Burn

I’m sure we all have fantasies in  our quiet moments–maybe we fantasize about what we would do if we won the lottery, or if we had superpowers, or maybe we furnish our dream home in our minds, right down to flower boxes in the windows and the happy old dog on the porch. We fantasize about nice things, good things, things that show us a small part of the world as we wish it could be.

For several months I have been visited by a different kind of fantasy–I dream that nothing can burn, or more specifically, that some kind of strange Deus Ex Machina situation has occurred that has indefinitely suspended the physical/chemical ability for all matter on earth to ignite (note that I am excluding extraterrestrial bodies like the sun; I really want the sun to stay on fire).

What does this mean? This means, of course, that no one would be able to burn fossil fuels, since they wouldn’t ignite. We would have to find different ways to power our homes and our vehicles (and our machines of industry, for such industries that would still exist). We would need to adapt, and we would need to adapt quickly. Though it would be very hard at first (and I do worry about those poor folks who depend on wood or peat fires for their cookstoves), we would find another way to live, one that didn’t destroy our planet and ourselves along with it. It’s a nice idea, and I wish that we could all start living as if things don’t burn, as if fossil fuels aren’t an option (which they someday won’t be, but once we realize that it might be too late). We know change is coming, we know we can’t live the way we do now indefinitely, and I wish we could start bringing this change into our present. The future you choose is better than the future that is forced upon you.

My fantasy would also mean that guns, which rely on the ignition of gunpowder to send the bullet out of the gun and ripping through some family’s heart, wouldn’t work. Guns wouldn’t work. Desperate angry people would put on their masks and their hatred and they would arrive at the Bataclan in Paris or at a Planned Parenthood centre in Colorado Springs or the Inland Regional Centre in San Bernardino or at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston or the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown or the École Polytechnique in Montreal and they would pull their triggers and nothing would happen. No one would be a victim that day and no one would be a murderer.

We would still hurt each other just as we always have–with sticks and stones and steel and fists–and in some new ways too (such is technology). But it wouldn’t be so easy. It wouldn’t be so ridiculously, ludicrously, horrifyingly and heart-breakingly easy.

Why can’t we live as if killing each other, and ourselves, is not such an easy thing? If you’ve ever loved anyone, you know that their life, human life, is the dearest gift there is.

The forests are burning (your children are burning)

Photo: Brayden McCluskey

Photo: Brayden McCluskey

Sometimes I wonder why people still have children. I wonder when the sky fills with smoke and the air tastes like ash, when the heat comes in and sits, indifferent to the presence of the sea, indifferent to the ceiling fan, indifferent to everything that should shoo it out again. I wonder when I start to describe the blue sky as “relentless”–another day without rain. Another day without rain.

I wonder when I hear how many of these wildfires were started by discarded cigarettes, one person’s slow careless suicide ripping like a whip-crack across the tinder-dry grass and into a forest of–firewood, now–hot coals, now–charcoal, now–ash, now.

And still the heat envelopes me in bathwater arms, hot dishwater arms, drowns me in dry air, and still the sky, behind the smoke, relentless. Blue.

I wonder at our gleeful march towards death, our species hell-bent on fashioning this hell-scape on earth. And I know, we did this. We’re doing this. I wonder why I should have children. I wonder, if I did, what they would grow to see–their childhood home, consumed by the flames? Their spiral-shelled shorelines slick with the entrails of tankers, slick with the oil that should have stayed in the ground? And, if they live to be old, the sunny backyard where their parents were married, submerged in the rising sea? The ice caps are melting. The ocean’s expanding. We’re doing this.

Do you, you avaricious elders, deserve my children, deserve their flesh (my flesh) and their hope (your hope) and their bright new shiny spotless souls? When I was a child you told me that I was the future. You–teachers, government–told me that what you were doing was for me, for my own good, for me and my children and my children’s children. But I am grown up now and no one has saved the planet for me. And when I say, I want to save it, please help me try, you say I am naive, you say we all need jobs, you say “dollars and cents”, that we need to pull the oil out of the ground because it is worth too much, we need to ship the oil and sell the oil and burn the oil, you say money is more important than life.

Your children can’t eat money. We can’t draw money cool-sweet from the ground and drink it. Money can’t buy us rain or stop the hot beating of the blue sky, relentless.

Come now, you rich people, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. [James 5: 1-4]

Show me, wasteful citizens of a wasted planet, that you deserve my children. Convince me that you will not throw them into the flames as you have done with yours. Promise me you will not tell them that their hunger, their thirst, their choking for a clean gasp of air is naivete. Show me that you need them as more than just a bandage made of hope, as more than just a witness to our final ashy breaths.

People’s Climate March Vancouver: I came, I marched, I blogged

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First we gathered at CBC Plaza

If you’ve at all been paying attention to the news lately you probably know that approximately 400 000 people marched through the streets of New York last Sunday to demand that the world and its leaders (125 of whom were meeting this week for a UN summit on climate change) to take meaningful action against climate change. What you may not have known was that this historical event (the largest climate march in history) partnered with marches in more than 130 cities all across the globe, including here in Vancouver. Though I’d received a phone call from the lovely people at leadnow.ca inviting me to take part in the upcoming march, I was feeling overwhelmed by various urgent and not-so-urgent obligations and wasn’t sure I was actually going to attend until I came across an opinion piece by Dr. Lynne Quarmby in the Vancouver Sun that morning (the piece was actually from the previous Friday; I just didn’t see it until Sunday morning). And that settled it. If you’ve ever read my blog, you’ll know that there are a lot of issues I care about. To name a few that I’ve written about at least once: I care about women’s rights and gender equality. I care about marriage equality and the rights of LGBT people. I care about the integrity of our democratic institutions. I care about the arts.

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After some speeches, we’re on the move!

Until recently, if you’d asked me if the environment was a top priority of mine I would have said no. Not because I didn’t care about the environment, but because defending it seemed impossible, especially in the face of my own complicity in the causes of climate change (I sure do love using electricity, driving cars, and buying cheap products about whose production I know nothing). I thought, “Why does this have to be my fight? Can’t it be David Suzuki’s fight? I mean, I recycle, don’t I?”. Even though I always knew I was against, for example, the proposed Northern Gateway crude oil pipeline, my reasons at first had more to do with not wanting diluted bitumen sloshing around in my backyard than about the planet as a whole.

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Gorgeous sign art by a talented marcher.

But then I realized that the crisis we are facing is so much bigger than my own backyard. It’s not just that we need to find a less controversial and more democratic way to review and approve energy projects, it’s that the oil actually needs to stay in the ground. It’s not just that Canadian ports have no business shipping the U.S.’s coal overseas (we don’t–we really shouldn’t be helping U.S. companies skirt around new American environmental regulations), it’s that the coal needs to stay in the ground. It’s not just the thousands of jobs in agriculture, aquaculture, and the tourism industry that will be lost if a pipeline leaks  or a tanker spills, it’s the thousands of human lives that have already been lost due to extreme weather events caused by climate change over the past few years. Our selfish actions, and our indifferent attitudes, are killing people.

And you know what else? We’re killing ourselves too. Do you think a drought, or a hurricane, or a flood, or an ice storm, gives a crap that you live in Canada, or work really hard at your job, or are rich, or are devout? Nope. Not at all. We’ve messed with a balance that is pretty important to our survival and now this imbalance is messing with us. We can stop it. But we need to act now. We need to stop being defeatist and thinking there’s nothing we can do. And we need to demand that our politicians stop selling the ground we stand on out from under us.

So that is why I marched. That’s why I chanted and cheered and, once or twice, cried a few tears because hope is so heartbreaking, especially hope in the face of such powerful and insidious forces.

There is no room for dismissing me or my fellow marchers around the world as radicals or foreign agents or whatever the hell Joe Oliver and Stephen Harper and Ezra Levant would have you believe. We are regular people from all walks of life who have read the writing on the wall and know that something needs to be done.

It’s not even about our children’s future anymore. It’s about ours. You don’t need to be an environmentalist or a leftist or a Democrat or a hippie to know that you can’t eat money, or drink investments, or live in a city that’s under water or buried in snow. Common sense (and the consensus of the scientific community) tells us that you can’t essentially burn down your house and still live in it.

There are a lot of things I want to achieve and fight for in my life, but none of that will matter if this fight is not won. I’m trying to save my own home. What’s so radical about that? As my favourite sign from Sunday’s march read, “There is no ‘Planet B'”.

Think about it.

P.S. Maclean’s did a great interview with Naomi Klein that is well worth a read.