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Gateway pipeline part of climate crisis

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VANCOUVER -- Perhaps expectantly, a furious sturm und drang immediately exploded like a welder's blowtorch across British Columbia after the federal government approved the contentious Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline proposal.

Environmentalists, community groups and First Nations led the charge against the Enbridge dream of building a 1,177-kilometre pipeline to pump toxic bitumen oil from Bruderheim, Alta, to Kitimat, B.C. where tanker ships would take it to energy-hungry Asian ports.

In B.C., a provincial government wary of potential future oil leaks said its position on Northern Gateway had not changed and that only one of the five conditions laid down by Premier Christy Clark in order to approve the pipeline had so far been met.

Cheerleading business leaders and captains of industry endorsed the pipeline approval, saying it would be good for making money, providing jobs and letting the nation take its rightful place on the fossil-fuel alter of unrestrained capitalism.

Right-wing commentators clucked as NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau gave Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford's spear handling of the issue for Prime Minister Stephen Harper a loud thumbs-down, threatening they would immediately reverse the decision if elected prime minister in the next federal election.

Enbridge promised it would do everything possible to further engage communities along the pipeline while answering the 209 outstanding National Energy Board review panel conditions required before the $7.9-billion project could start.

What was not mentioned in all this sound and fury, or whispered if it was, was that most of Alberta's heavy oilsands shouldn't be developed at all if the world is to avoid the worst ravages of human-induced climate change caused by burning fossil fuels.

In the past several years, highly influential academic reports have concluded up to 80 per cent of the world's coal, oil and gas reserves have to be left in the ground if global temperature rise as a result of greenhouse-gas emissions is to be kept to two degrees Celsius, a target many scientists say humankind can likely adapt to.

The London-based Carbon Tracker found fossil-fuel reserves already far exceed the accepted carbon budget to avoid global warming of 2�C, but companies still spent $674 billion in 2012 to find and develop new potentially stranded assets.

Australia's Climate Commission produced its own report finding that not only do 80 per cent of fossil-fuels reserves have to be left untouched, global emissions need to trend downward by the end of the decade to keep temperatures at a "manageable" level.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency has stated, "no more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2�C goal."

Conveniently, these reports have been widely overlooked by fossil-fuel-embracing politicians who say they want to lower taxes, create jobs and balance budgets.

From this side of the Rocky Mountains, where Greenpeace was born and environmental protests are a badge of honour, Alberta has morphed into a horrifying symbol of exactly the opposite of a necessary and sustainable low-carbon future.

Enbridge is the leading edge of this discredited business-as-usual symbol.

The company seems oblivious to a recent public opinion poll that found 67 per cent of British Columbians want the project rejected or delayed for further review. It seems not to care a plebiscite in Kitimat revealed 58 per cent of local citizens voted against the proposal, which resulted in town council opposing the project. It seems unaware of the emerging protest power of the dozens of First Nations located along the route. And it seems unable to comprehend what its future carbon emissions will do to our already warming global atmosphere.

In the end, of course, Enbridge's plan may never materialize -- there are court cases already lining up to fight the proposal, widespread civil and not-so-civil disobedience protests will almost certainly occur, the NDP or the Liberals may win the next federal election, and Asia, tiring of waiting for Alberta's crude, may soon find other energy sources to fuel its economic needs.

Thanks to the federal government's approval, however, the elephant in the British Columbia room, already gasping for breath in an increasingly carbon-dioxide-soaked atmosphere, just got bigger.

 

Chris Rose is a Vancouver writer and the Winnipeg Free Press West Coast correspondent.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 23, 2014 A9

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