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Double-Speak on Climate Could Break Canada Apart, Homer-Dixon Warns

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It’s time to rethink the odd notion that Canada “can be a prosperous winner in a world that exceeds the Paris emission targets,” write Thomas Homer-Dixon of the Balsillie School of International Affairs and University of Waterloo doctoral candidate Yonatan Strauch in an op ed published last week in the Globe and Mail.

Homer-Dixon and Strauch lead with the proposition that efforts to balance increased fossil production with climate leadership could make Canada “the first country to break apart over the issue of climate change.”

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While that might sound like hyperbole, “the fissures in our federation over climate and energy policy are now extraordinarily deep, and there’s little sign that they’ll close soon,” they add. “The federal Liberal decision to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline project will likely just widen them. Worse, some provincial politicians—especially United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney in Alberta—are now exploiting these fissures for political gain.”

While much of the determined opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion focuses on environmental impacts along the route or in coastal waters, “most opponents also find the project’s implications for global warming to be a deal-breaker in and of itself,” Homer-Dixon and Strauch write. “For these opponents, further massive investment in the extraction and export of some of the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel on Earth is nonsensical—idiotic, even. In a dangerously warming world, we should be investing in a clean energy future, not entrenching Canada more deeply in the economic past.”

The two authors agree that “continued investment in the oil sands generally, and in the Trans Mountain pipeline specifically, means Canada is doubling down on a no-win bet. We’re betting that the world will fail to meet the reduction targets in the Paris climate agreement, thus needing more and more oil, including our expensive and polluting bitumen. We’re betting, in other words, on climate disaster.”

If that’s a miscalculation, “Canada will lose much of its investment in the oil sands and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, because the first oil to be cut will be higher-cost oil such as ours,” they add. “Heads or tails, we lose. That’s the idiocy of it. We can’t have our lucrative oil sands profits and a safe climate, too.”

Homer-Dixon and Strauch add that the reality of climate disruption won’t deliver the “new normal” Canadian politicians and commentators like to talk about when they’re confronted with today’s and tomorrow’s climate impacts. “That’s the lens through which many of the pipeline’s most adamant opponents see the issue. To them, adaptation measures such as better flood protection or a little economic tinkering at the edges, such as a modest carbon tax, don’t remotely cut it. We face an implacable imperative: Humanity either undertakes fast and deep cuts in its carbon emissions or, some time later this century, civilization starts to unravel.”

The two authors also suggest a strong moral imperative for Canada to get serious about cutting its emissions—because, unlike many less well-off countries, we can. [They could have been forgiven for adding: “Because it’s 2018.” – Ed.] “Canada should be doing what it can to help the world rapidly decarbonize, rather than hope its pipeline investments are protected from an energy transition gaining steam,” they write. Instead, in contrast to China’s decisive moves to decarbonize transportation and EU bans on gasoline and diesel vehicles, “the Trans Mountain project and the commitment to the oil sands are contorting our politics and encouraging our leaders to use double-speak and cynicism to hide the terrible nature of our gamble.”

But that path will be harder to maintain as the planet warms. “The more some of us try to hide that reality with double-speak and willful self-delusion, the more the fissures in our federation will deepen, because others will call out the lies,” they conclude. “So the path we’re on—the path we took another huge step down this past week, courtesy of the federal Liberals—only leads to a fractured country. It’s our choice whether to keep going.”