Trans Mountain pipeline protests continue as a new report estimates costs up to $13 billion for Canadian taxpayers

As construction of the Trans Mountain expansion continues and the British Columbia government weighs the risks of potential oil spills, protests against the project continue. “Tiny House Warriors And Braided Warriors Accomplices Lock Down On Trans Mountain Site” (Sparrow Project, April 3) describes the protest by those supporting the resistance of the Secwepemc First Nations – also as described in “ ‘We Will Not Stop’: First Nations Land Defenders Take Direct Action Against Trans Mountain Pipeline” in Common Dreams (April 3) . In what they call a “deep dive”, The Tyee and Investigate West co-published  “For BC’s Two Pipeline Fights, It’s Spring Forward”, which delves into the many actors in the continuing opposition to Trans Mountain and the Coastal Gas Link pipelines.  Also in The Tyee, “Youth Climate Activists Aim to Rally Support for Indigenous Land Defenders” describes the March 19 Global Climate March protest by Sustainabiliteens in Vancouver. The National Observer maintains an archive of articles documenting Trans Mountain developments, here. Amidst it all, the provincial government weighs granting an environmental certificate re protections for oil spills, as explained in “B.C. relying on the federal shoreline protections for Trans Mountain pipeline it previously called inadequate” in The Narwhal .

An academic report, released on March 31, supports the protests with financial and cost benefit analysis, as summarized by the CBC here.  Evaluation of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is written by lead author Thomas Gunton, Director of Simon Fraser University’s  School of Resource and Environmental Management. The report concludes that continuing the construction of the Trans Mountain Expansion project will bring a net cost to Canada of $6.8 billion under base case assumptions – with the possibility of costs running as high as $13.3 billion  “….because the TMEP capacity is not required and therefore does not generate a benefit. Oil transported on TMEP could have been transported on other pipelines without expending funds building TMEP. Therefore, continuing to build TMEP as currently proposed is not in Canada’s public interest and the project should not proceed further.”

Much has changed since Professor Gunton’s previous evaluation in 2017 of the Trans Mountain expansion project, including the federal government’s purchase of Trans Mountain in 2018. The 2021 report, Evaluation of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is highly critical of the previous assessments by the National Energy Board, used to justify the purchase – and makes specific note of how the NEB distorted job projections provided by the Conference Board of Canada to overestimate the job benefits. The December 2020 report of the Parliamentary Budget Office found that the Trans Mountain Expansion profitability was dependent on climate change policies – so the Gunton report updates the PBO analysis by taking into account the climate change policies announced in the December 2020 Healthy Environment Healthy Economy climate plan. Finally, it provides detailed cost benefit analysis both for completion and for termination of the TMX project – incorporating environmental costs, including the risks of pipeline spills. Regarding employment benefits, the analysis finds modest positive benefits, given the existing recession in the oil and gas sector.    

“A potential benefit of TMEP is providing employment to workers. As discussed in Section 3.2.6 of this report, the measure of employment benefits is not the gross number of jobs generated by TMEP but is instead the net employment and income gain of employees of TMEP relative to what they would have made if TMEP did not proceed. Historically, the economy of Western Canada has been characterized by tight labour markets in which most employees are employed. Under full employment, projects like TMEP would simply draw employees from other jobs with little to no net employment benefit. However, given the current recession and recent slowdowns in the energy sector and the potential of TM training and hiring employees through impact benefit agreements, there will likely be an employment benefit, with some hiring of persons who would otherwise be unemployed or employed at a lower wage.” (p.45).

How the U.S. Capitol mob threatens climate change activism everywhere

The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 has relevance for all climate change activists, including Canadians.  The overlapping universe of climate change denial and the political extreme of white nationalism is outlined by Eric Holthaus in The Phoenix on January 8 in his essay White nationalism gave us the climate emergency. Now, it’s our biggest obstacle. Holthaus argues: If we don’t acknowledge the racist roots of opposition to climate action, the world is going to keep spiraling towards chaos. It’s bad now. But it will get much, much worse…..Trumpism and the rise of “Big Lie” politics – climate denial, anti-masking, embracing conspiracy theory – is rooted in white supremacy. It’s rooted in the lie that “this world belongs to me, and not you”. …. white nationalism is not a case of rural, backwards hillbillies. It’s in boardrooms. It’s in the white exodus of public schools. It’s in the privatization of health care. It’s in the fossil fuel industry. It’s in the White House.”

One might also argue it’s in some police forces too, to explain the obvious differences in police tactics meted out to the Capitol mob vs. climate protestors. “Capitol Rioters Walked Away. Climate Protesters Saw a Double Standard” in the New York Times (Jan. 7) sketches out the issue and states, for example, that more than 600 arrests were made over the course of the non-violent Fire Drill Fridays protests led by Jane Fonda in 2020 – which in itself was treated very differently than the 2016 Native American protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, (never mind the extremes of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests!).  In Canada, we have our own recent examples: the RCMP violence against and arrest of 14 members of the  Wet’suwet’en First Nations for their protest against the Coastal Gas Link pipeline in 2019 . Media accounts of that struggle include  “No Surrender” (Feb. 20) in The Intercept .

Brian Kahn wrote “The Climate Crisis Will Be Steroids for Fascism” (in Earther, Jan. 7)   explaining: “It’s never been clearer that a large chunk of the nation’s top Republican leaders will embrace and even fuel this extremism and hate. The Venn diagram of people who push election denial and climate denial has near-perfect overlap, but even if these figures deny the climate crisis, they’ll still look to exploit it. At the end of the day, their goal is to use easy-to-disprove lies to build and consolidate power.”  This agrees with Melissa Ryan, who writes about the alt-right and white nationalism as editor of  the Ctrl Alt-Right Delete weekly newsletter and is quoted by Desmog Blog saying: “The goal isn’t necessarily to convince anyone of anything…. The goal is to sow so much confusion that it’s actually hard for people to tell the truth from fiction…..I feel like it’s a very clear end of the Trump administration, …but what’s terrifying is what it is the birth of.”   “Climate Deniers Moved Rapidly to Spread Misinformation During and After Attack on US Capitol” (Jan. 8) provides examples by  reproducing some shocking post-riot tweets and messages from prominent climate deniers such as the Heartland Institute and Marc Marano. (check out such individuals and organizations in DeSmog Blog’s Climate Disinformation Database).     

Meanwhile in Canada

And for Canadians in general who might feel we are in less danger from right-wing extremism, we are reminded that Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys, was born in Canada, in “Canadian government weighs listing Proud Boys as a terror group”. McGinnis led the first Canadian Proud Boys demonstration in Nova Scotia in 2017 . In 2018, the CBC warned us that “Three Percenters are Canada’s ‘most dangerous’ extremist group, say some experts”.  A very complete description and analysis of this Canadian scene appears in  “Meanwhile in Canada’: The Groups Inciting a Fascist Insurrection in Washington Are Here in Canada Too” in Press Progress on January 7.

U.S. Labour and climate justice activists advocate for recovery proposals which include the Care Economy

The THRIVE Agenda  is an economic renewal plan for the U.S., created by the Green New Deal Network and endorsed by more than 100 climate justice, civil rights and labour organizations –  including the American Federation of Teachers, American Postal Workers Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, Communication Workers of America, Railroad Workers United, Service Employees International, United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE) as well as the  Labor Network for Sustainability.

The website states: The THRIVE Agenda presents a bold new vision to revive our economy while addressing these interlocking crises of climate change, racial injustice, public health, and economic inequity with a plan to create dignified jobs for millions of unemployed workers and support a better life for the millions more who remain vulnerable in this pivotal moment.”   A 6-page Resolution document fleshes out these goals, and a framework of “8 Pillars” itemizes them. Regarding climate change, Pillar 5 is:  “Combating environmental injustice and ensuring healthy lives for all; Pillar 6 is “Averting climate and environmental catastrophe”; Pillar 7 is “Ensuring fairness for workers and communities affected by economic transitions” and Pillar 8 is “Reinvesting in public institutions that enable workers and communities to thrive” .

Modelling job creation in infrastructure, clean energy, agriculture and the care economy

The THRIVE Agenda claims that their proposals “would create nearly 16 million new jobs and sustain them over the next critical decade”, based on modelling by Robert Pollin and Shouvik Chakraborty.  Their report, Job Creation Estimates Through Proposed Economic Stimulus Measures , published by the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) in  September 2020, models the costs and job creation benefits of economic recovery proposals made by various groups in the U.S., including Making the Grade by the BlueGreen Alliance (2017, re infrastructure), and Sierra Club proposals to Congress (April 2020 ). The report offers projections in four categories: Infrastructure; Clean Energy;  Agriculture and land restoration programs; and notably, the “Care economy, public health, and postal service”.  The Care Economy modelling is based on proposals in the Joe Biden’s Plan for Mobilizing American Talent and Heart to Create a 21st Century Caregiving and Education Workforce released in July 2020.     

How human rights approaches can aid climate activism and litigation

Climate change, justice and human rights is a collection of ten essays, released by Amnesty International Netherlands in August 2020 (published in English). It is a thoughtful and critical discussion of the opportunities and problems of taking a human rights lens to climate change. “The language, policies and (campaigning) strategies around climate change and human rights are still in development, leading to new insights, (re) definitions, and new challenges for human rights and environmental activists.” The opening essay, “Amnesty’s approach to climate change and human rights” discusses whether Amnesty should become involved in climate change, and if so, how.  It concludes “Simply framing the crisis as a human rights crisis will by itself make only a modest difference. However, with determination, sound strategy and humility we can use our strengths to support and be guided by those who are at the front line of the climate crisis, and who have been leading the struggle for climate justice for a long time.” Specifically, when options for tactics were presented at a People’s Summit in 2019, participants voted for: Changing public opinion (25%); Civil disobedience (19%); Litigation (17%); Divestment (14%); Mass demonstrations (9%); Consumer boycotts (9%); or  something else (7%). Not all of these are tactics commonly used by Amnesty International, but the report discusses how they determine to go forward.

Besides the considerations of Amnesty’s future direction and tactics, the essays look at the concept of climate justice, and finally, at specific policies areas, in chapters such as “Climate change and the human rights responsibilities of business enterprises” by  Sara Seck, Associate Professor, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University; “The use of human rights arguments in climate change litigation and its limitations” by Annalisa Savaresi, one of two Executive Directors of Greenpeace Netherlands; “The climate crisis and new justice movements: supporting a new generation of climate activists” by Anna Schoemakers, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Law at Stirling University, UK; and “ Human rights and intergenerational climate justice “ by  Bridget Lewis, Senior Lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.   

  

Only 24% of Canadians willing to give up flying to fight climate change – compared to 41% globally

On Earth Day, public opinion polling company Ipsos Global Advisor released a survey  titled, How does the world view climate change and Covid-19? . The survey was conducted during March and April and so includes Covid-19 questions, along with measuring the top environmental concerns of respondents, and their willingness to act to combat climate change.   Top-line results show that:  71% globally agree that climate change is as serious a crisis as Covid-19 and 65% globally support a ‘green’ economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. Sadly, however, there has been no increase since the 2014 survey in the number of people willing to make sacrifices to combat climate change, and the changes they are willing to make are mostly low effort and low impact.

How do Canadian opinions compare to other countries?

Only 64% of Canadians agree with the statement that “In the long term, climate change is as serious a crisis as Covid-19 is” – compared to a 71% global agreement, and 87% in the highest country, China. Only Australia and the United States have a lower  rate than Canada.  Similarly, only 61% of Canadians supported the statement: “In the economic recovery after Covid-19, it’s important that government actions prioritize climate change”, compared to  81% in India and 65% globally.

Globally, the top-ranked environmental concerns reported are global warming/climate change; air pollution; waste; deforestation; water pollution; depletion of natural resources. For Canadians, when asked “what are the top environmental issues you feel should receive the greatest attention from your local leaders?”, 44% responded “global warming/climate change” – the third highest response in the world after Japan and South Korea.  A similarly high concern (44%) was recorded for the amount of waste we generate.  Other concerns ranked surprisingly low – for example, air pollution (23%);  water pollution (22%); future energy sources and supplies (20%); emissions (16%); depletion of natural resources (15%); deforestation (15%) ;  flooding (7%).

air canadaThe final section of the report reports on understanding of climate change and what changes respondents are willing to make to combat climate change. Globally, people are most willing to 1.avoid products which have a lot of packaging; 2. Avoid buying new goods in favour of mending or buying used; and 3. Conserve energy at home.   The three behaviour changes least favoured:  1. Not flying; 2. Eating less meat; 3. Eating fewer dairy products.  Canadians are the least likely in the world to give up flying, with only 24% willing to make that change – well below the global average of 41%. Similarly, only 28% are willing to eat less meat (28% – only 1% more than Australians and Americans) and 22% to  eat less dairy.

The Ipsos summary and press release are here.