Here in Hamilton citizens concerned about the Line 9 pipeline are making headlines by shutting down construction on the Westover pump station.
This construction would enable Enbridge to move diluted bitumen from the tar sands in Alberta towards the east, most likely to the coast where it can be exported and refined overseas.
Tar sands bitumen produces one of the most carbon intensive forms of transportation fuel on the planet. Many of the protesters who were risking arrest and many of the 17 who were arrested at the Enbridge facility were there partially because they are concerned about climate change.
The reversal of the Line 9 pipeline will allow Alberta’s Tar Sands development to grow exponentially.
For perspective, journalist and founder of the climate change organization 350.org, Bill McKibben, breaks the issue down into three key numbers.
The first is 2˚C, which is the average global temperature increase our civilization wants to avoid exceeding. The second number is 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions, which is the amount of emissions we want to avoid exceeding in order to keep warming below 2˚C.
The final number is 2795 gigatons which is the amount of carbon emissions associated with the fossil fuels the industry has in proven reserves that have not yet been burned. In other words, the fossil fuel industry has more than five times more carbon in their reserves than can safely be consumed.
If the Line 9 reversal project was given a full safety assessment then one of the considerations that should be made before reversing the pipeline would be the impact it would have on our climate. However, federal environmental review processes which are fundamental in a properly functioning democracy have taken a significant beating under Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government.
Just to be an intervener or to submit a letter of comment under the National Energy Board review process one was required to fill out an application form by a deadline that has already passed. If one applied to be a participant in the review process under the pretense that one has concerns about climate change or the economic impact that Dutch Disease might have on one’s local economy then this person’s concerns would be denied and excluded.
This is comparable to performing a safety assessment on a vehicle but excluding the considerations surrounding the consequences of a front end collision. Climate change is the most dangerous consequence associated with the expansion of the tar sands yet it is being ignored under the NEB process.
Ironically, nowhere in Canada are the dangers associated with climate change more evident than in Alberta, where historic floods have ravaged the province. The records show that flooding at this level traditionally happens roughly once every hundred years.
Unfortunately, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, increased greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere throws tradition out the window increasing the occurrence and intensity of extreme weather.
This means more extreme floods, hurricanes and droughts and that these more extreme weather events will probably happen more frequently.
The results of climate change are already deadly. The more greenhouse gas emissions humans emit into the atmosphere, the more deadly the consequences will be.
For those of us not caught up in the narrow, myopic worldview espoused by many in the oil industry and in Albertan and Federal Conservative politics, it is already clear for a variety of reasons that tar sands expansion is bad for Alberta, dangerous for our nation and disastrous for our civilization.
As a result of the floods, it should be especially clear that the protesters who occupied the Westover terminal are doing a great service to Alberta, and to Canada, and to the majority of the species who call this planet home.
Dante Ryel is studying Energy Systems Engineering – Clean and Renewable Energy at Mohawk College. He is a Co-chair of the System Change not Climate Change group in the Council of Canadians Hamilton Chapter and a member of the Hamilton 350 Climate Change Action Committee.