Thus far pipeline debates have focused on immediate dangers, including the potential for explosions or ruptures, versus the benefits of job and wealth creation, specifically in Alberta.
Obviously pipelines are an easier, safer, smarter way to transfer oilsands bitumen than railroad tanker cars that pass through urban centres. This is not really about pipelines. It is about leaving the oil in the ground. It is about the clear and cumulative detrimental effect taking fossil fuels out of the ground is having on the planet.
Last month was the warmest January on record, ever. The rate at which polar ice is melting is increasing dramatically. The “monster” cyclone that just hit Fiji, “a storm of a lifetime,” had wind gusts up to 300 kilometres per hour. Severe weather seems to be the “new normal.”
Evidence continues to mount that “the greenhouse gas effect” stemming from the use of fossil fuels is indeed the main culprit. Our planet has been benign and accommodating to our species for so long; are greed and ignorance changing that, making it into a hostile place? What kind of world will we leave our children’s children?
A background sense of concern is growing. We do not have the luxury to slowly transition from the use of fossil fuels to accommodate the shareholders of industry. It is becoming obvious in people’s minds that immediate and drastic action is needed.
There is no political appetite for drastic action anywhere, however. Even the Trudeau Liberals, swept into power in part on the promise of action on climate change, now seem almost complacent in the post COP21 world where their extra-large delegation at the climate conference in Paris late last year led the way in promoting a “bold plan.” Esoteric debates over “cap and trade” versus a carbon tax and whether or not to bolster the oil industry in Alberta are all that is happening across Canada.
How can the Liberals be leaders in climate change when they have so many campaign promises to fulfill, so little money to work with, a faltering economy, regional and provincial demands and huge expectations from different groups of Canadians? They simply can’t. The problem is similar everywhere, yet with no concrete action from governments, the level of concern will grow, and that will turn into desperation. There have already been protests for several years, some of them violent. The movement will expand worldwide as emotions amplify.
“Right now there’s nothing we can do,” said a spokesperson for the Montrose 9, a US group fighting to keep fossil fuels in the ground by opposing a pipeline. “Our elected officials are refusing to take action, the regulatory structure has been basically putting us in a time-out … and we have no other option but to turn to direct action.”
In a recent interview, award-winning journalist and Canadian social/environmental activist Naomi Klein mused that this has to be the way forward for opponents of climate change and the industries that are principally contributing to it.
“We find ourselves in this moment where there are no non-radical options left before us,” she said. “Change or be changed, right? We can’t do it gradually.”
Drastically reducing the “central role of frenetic consumption” engrained in our culture, adjusting our collective attitude toward regulating corporations which, since the 1980s have benefitted greatly from a free market philosophy among political decision-makers and, in the same vein, changing the role money plays in politics and our political systems are all needed. In short, “we would have to change our guiding ideology,” says Klein.
The time to deal with greenhouse gases by allowing companies to sell each other carbon credits or to declare an activity carbon-neutral because they bought a tree stand somewhere else in the world is behind us. The same goes for the debate on which pipeline route or method of transporting oil is “safe.”
The world is changing, and not in a good way. Last year was the globe’s warmest on record and 2016 is projected to follow that trend. Without drastic, concrete action weaning us from fossil fuel dependence, moving to new supplies of power from truly green sources, direct action will escalate within a few years to violent protests on a large scale. This ramping up of emotion with more and more people who have less and less patience, until things snap, is predicable. It happened in the ‘60s, again during the “Arab Spring,” and in every revolution. It takes a while until people get “mad as hell and (won’t) take it anymore,” but they eventually do. The tipping point is not far away. Any government ignoring this inevitability is naive and/or foolish.
Action is needed now, and time is of the essence. If a tangible and serious move off fossil fuels is not implemented soon, Islamic State terrorists will be the least of our worries. The destructive forces of nature combined with groups outraged over the lack of action on it are our coming crises, and it is heading this way fast.