SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. On Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved the highly controversial CAD$6.8 billion Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline. The project would nearly triple the amount of Alberta Oil Sands that will be transported to the Vancouver area port which is just across the water from a First Nations Reserve on the Pacific Coast. But just because the Prime Minister signed off on it, does not make it a done deal — at least not when it comes to the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, as many indigenous people and environmental groups and some municipalities along the route are gearing up to take on Kinder Morgan Inc. of Houston, Texas, the biggest energy infrastructure company in the US, and the Prime Minister’s decision. Here is Reuben George, of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, what he said about the proposed pipeline.
REUBEN GEORGE: This has been consistently voted the last 20 years as the most livable place in the world and it’s because of places like this. It’s because of the mountains. It’s because of the waters. It’s because people get something when they come to the water. They get something when they’re up in the mountains and… I know they won’t want to protect it, too, because it doesn’t service Canadians. It doesn’t service jobs or it doesn’t help our economy. It’s to service a greedy 1% and our plan of what we do, using our own resources, is for everybody.
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SHARMINI PERIES: With us to discuss the decision of the Prime Minister is Dimitri Lascaris. Dimitri is a human rights and environmental lawyer. He’s the former Justice Critic for the Green Party of Canada and is a board member of The Real News Network. Thank you so much for joining us, Dimitri.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Thank you, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, Dimitri, of course thousands of billions of dollars are probably going to be spent on all of these pipelines and the transportation of oil sands and this is all seen as an economic boost in Canada. Is it?
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, as Greenpeace said, “There are no good jobs on a dead planet.” So, let’s step back for a moment and revisit where we currently stand as the science of the climate is constantly evolving and scientists are constantly updating their views as evidence becomes available and their methods become more sophisticated. It’s always important to remember or to start the discussion from where we currently stand in terms of our scientific understanding. And their important study came out just weeks ago, frankly, which I think Justin Trudeau either has no concept of, or has decided for reasons he only knows to completely ignore. And that is a study that came out in Science Advances which concluded that warm climates are more sensitive to changes in carbon dioxide levels than cold climates. And one of the authors of that study said that currently our planet is in a warm phase, an inter-glacial period and the associated increased climate sensitivity needs to be taken into account for future projections of warming induced by human activities. And this is the key conclusion: using these estimates based on Earth’s paleo climate sensitivity, the authors computed the warming over the next 85 years — so, between now and 2100 — that could result from human-induced business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions scenario — so, that means we essentially continue to do what we’re doing — would be 5.9 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Again, that’s by 2100. So, if you’re a child today and you’re living the average lifespan of a Canadian, for example, or an American, you would see the majority of that warming, 5.9 degrees Celsius within your lifetime, or you would see us get close to that limit within your lifetime. Climate scientists agree that, you know, there’s general agreement that civilization as we know it could not exist above a level that is significantly lower than 5.9 degrees Celsius. Kevin Anderson, in particular, a very well regarded climate scientist has been outspoken about the severity of the climate crisis, and some scientists think he’s a little bit too optimistic, has projected that approximately 10% of the human population would survive at a warming level above 4 degrees Celsius. So, the study I just mentioned talked about almost 6 degrees Celsius. So, within our lifetimes, if we continue with business as usual, we are going to hit 4 degrees Celsius well before 2100. And above that level, scientists are telling us, at least some of them, that the vast majority of the human population cannot survive. And another thing I want to add about the context — you know, and this was something that was said years ago by James Hansen, a NASA climate scientist. He said this in a New York Times op-ed, I believe it was in 2012, if we Canadians continue to develop the Tar Sands, then in his words, “It’s game over for the climate.” That’s the way he put it. And, essentially what he meant was, that we would have a climate which would not enable us to maintain civilization as we have understood it. This is the context in which Justin Trudeau has approved the Kinder Morgan Pipeline. The Kinder Morgan Pipeline is a major project. It would run from Northern Alberta, the heart of the Tar Sands, down to Vancouver and it would transport nearly 900,000 barrels a day of primarily diluted bitumen — a very dangerous type of fossil fuel by-product to transport — down to the BC West Coast and from there it would be destined for a dock in Burnaby, BC, which is near Vancouver and it would be loaded onto oil tankers that would navigate past Vancouver, as you know, your commentator mentioned from a First Nation in Canada, one of the most livable cities in the world. And that diluted bitumen would head westward to the major markets of India and China. And so, the oil would not stay in Canada. It would be refined abroad. But, most importantly, it would effectively be pulling out of the ground the fossil fuels that science is telling us we have to leave in the ground in order to have any hope of avoiding an existential climate crisis.
SHARMINI PERIES: Dimitri, I don’t mean to be flippant about this. Here we have a supposedly Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, of this generation. This generation is extremely concerned about the environment. He’s also a father with young kids. He also had been a teacher and this seems to be going against the grain of what he campaigned on, what supposedly the community that he is appealing to, in terms of the younger demographic and so on. Why is he doing this? I imagine he knows the consequences and the science that you’re talking about.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, to be fair to Justin Trudeau, he didn’t really make much of a secret during the campaign, although he chose his forums carefully when he said these sorts of things. But he didn’t make much of a secret that he was in favor of expanding pipeline infrastructure. A day after declaring his candidacy for the Liberal Party, the current governing party, in 2012, Trudeau went to Calgary, the heart of Canada’s oil industry and he said this, he said, “There is not a country in the world that would find 170 billion barrels of oil and leave it in the ground.” And we learned during the campaign last year that he was much inclined to approve at least one, if not more, major pipeline projects like Kinder Morgan. I just want to comment on what he said, though. You know, that there’s not a country in the world that would leave this in the ground. Well, frankly, first of all, there are very few countries in the world, if any, that have this much oil in the ground. But furthermore, why should what other countries purportedly would do — and we really don’t know what other countries would do — why should that set the standard for what Canada will do? What Canada should do is live up to its promise, and the claims of successive Canadian governments, to be a moral leader and to set an example for the world and to be a beacon of social justice for the world, and environmental responsibility for the world. This is the rhetoric we’ve been hearing from the Trudeau government and prior Canadian governments. So, even if it were true that no other country in the world would leave all that oil in the ground, that doesn’t oblige us morally to use it, to consume it, to sell it to foreign markets. Especially, when we know, as he must, it’s inconceivable that he doesn’t know, that at the end of the day, pulling all that oil out of the ground and burning it is going to effectively wreck the planet. You know, why a man of his youth, a father, somebody of his intelligence and education would pursue projects of this nature in the face of the scientific evidence, is something which I think people a lot smarter than me are going to have to explain one day. Because frankly, Sharmini, I can’t explain it. All I can tell you is that the science is quite clear, that the construction of this type of pipeline infrastructure is radically, radically inconsistent with the commitments that Canada has made under the Paris Climate Accord and even those commitments are grossly inadequate. They’re effectively the emission reduction commitments of the prior government, Stephen Harper, one of the world’s leading climate change obstructionists, and while he was in office, the Liberal Party of Justin Trudeau roundly criticized him, quite rightly, for those pathetic targets. Though, it’s a remarkable thing that we have somebody like Justin Trudeau telling us that Canada is back, that Canada is a moral leader, that Canada is going to confront the climate change crisis seriously and responsibly, while approving projects of this nature. You simply cannot reconcile those two positions.
SHARMINI PERIES: Your reference there is what he had said on arrival at his first International Summit to sign the Paris Accord, and I think that’s very important. Now, you had also referenced here this is what the Harper government had pursued in terms of the pipeline and the oil sands transportation industry, something that the Harper government supported that now Justin Trudeau is continuing. Is there any resistance to this going on in Canada? I mean, this is so against what he morally stood for when he stood for office.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Yeah, there is. There’s already been tremendous resistance. Dozens of Canadians were arrested in British Columbia resisting engineering work that was being done by Kinder Morgan in order to lay the groundwork for this pipeline project. That happened recently. You know, there was a high-ranking former official of the BC government who came out recently and warned Justin Trudeau that he needs a plan B, some other alternate route, because the level of resistance on the ground to this project was going to be unprecedented. And my own prediction, Sharmini, despite my cynicism — and I admittedly have a lot of cynicism about the climate policies of the current government — is that this project will never be built. I really don’t believe that he’s going to be able to overcome the resistance. I think what we’re about to see is a level of grassroots resistance that will make even Standing Rock in North Dakota look like a walk in the park. This is, to many people in the environmental community up here, people who haven’t necessarily been really passionately engaged in the environmental movement out in the West Coast, this is a red line. And they’re not going to allow our government to cross it. So, ultimately what this will do, I think, is completely discredit the Trudeau government. But I honestly do not believe that this project will be built, despite the wishes of the business community. And it’s very clear that this is exactly what the business community wants.
SHARMINI PERIES: And where are the labor unions when it comes to this issue?
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, you know, the NDP, which is the New Democratic Party of Canada, historically the social democratic party of Canada, had its convention in Alberta, the heartland of the oil industry, earlier this year. And the NDP has historically been the party of organized labor. Some large unions in this country are, you know, tied at the hip to the NDP. And at that convention, members of the grassroots of the New Democratic Party asked that there be a debate about the Leap Manifesto, a visionary document that Naomi Klein and many other leaders in the climate crisis movement and the environmental movement have championed. They just wanted to have a conversation about the Leap Manifesto, and Jerry Dias, the leader of Unifor, the largest private sector union in the country, was really quite strident in his criticisms of Ms. Klein and her partner Avi Lewis who produced and directed the documentary This Changes Everything, who are signatories to the Leap Manifesto. And Rachel Notley, who is the provincial NDP Leader and the current Premier of Alberta, was also quite strident in her condemnation of those who simply wanted to have an honest discussion about the Leap Manifesto. So, you know, we’re having a problem with respect to those unions, whose members are dependent upon the perpetuation of the current economic system, a system that is dependent upon fossil fuels. We’re having a problem bringing them on-side in terms of fighting the climate crisis. It’s not surprising because governments have, you know, quite readily thrown organized labor under the bus when it served the interests of big business to do so, and so I can understand that workers in these industries, for example, the oil industry, would feel a lot of insecurity. Ultimately, what we need to do at the governmental level is provide them the assurance that during this transition away from a fossil fuels economy, they are not going to be forgotten and abandoned. They’re going to be trained to perform good-paying jobs and secure jobs in a new economy that’s dependent upon renewable energy, and that the government is going to help them get there. And to get there smoothly and as seamlessly as possible and, sadly, that assurance is currently lacking. And I think that is why we haven’t been able to get all of organized labor on side. There are other unions, by the way, for example, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers that has been a champion, an absolute champion in the fight against climate change. But those industries where the workers are very dependent upon the current economic model, we’ve tended to have difficulty bringing organized labor on side.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And, Dimitri, you were just in Marrakesh at COP22 reporting for us and you’ve done some incredible interviews there with various advocates that were on site, trying to ensure that they are heard as government considers supposedly to strengthen the Paris Agreement. How did the Canadian government respond to, obviously, the resistance to things like Kinder Morgan at the COP22?
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, it was interesting. I attended a session where indigenous leaders spoke about Canada’s role in fighting the climate crisis in a ceremony that was emceed by the current Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna. And some of the indigenous leaders were quite guarded in their commentary about pipeline infrastructure, but others were quite outspoken and made no bones about the fact that they opposed the construction of new pipelines infrastructure and would regard this as a betrayal of indigenous rights. You know, Catherine McKenna was sitting there listening to this commentary and it was interesting to see how she reacted when the indigenous leaders talked about the social conditions in their communities, she seemed to be sympathetic. But when they talked about their opposition to pipeline infrastructure, there was no sympathy whatsoever. And, in the briefings that the government conducted, there was really no discussion about this issue at all. The government tries to avoid any type of meaningful discussion, the Trudeau government, of how one can reconcile, if at all, the construction of new pipeline infrastructure with its commitments under the Paris Accord. And I think it avoids that discussion because, frankly, those things cannot be reconciled.
SHARMINI PERIES: And Catherine McKenna comes from a particular history as a lawyer in this industry and she’s the key advisor to Justin Trudeau. Where is she at in terms of the building of this pipeline?
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Yeah, you know, it’s very interesting how the Canadian mainstream media has treated Catherine McKenna. They’ve treated her kind of as a darling of the environmental movement. But if you examine her history prior to her being installed as the Climate and Environment Minister under the Trudeau government late last year, there’s no reason to have confidence that she’s committed to the fight against climate change. Catherine McKenna was, prior to the time that she became a politician, which is relatively recently, she was a Bay Street lawyer in a law firm called Stikeman Elliott, one of the largest, most lucrative, most prestigious corporate law firms in Canada. It boasts openly about its work for the oil industry and, in fact, has derived huge revenues from its work for the oil industry. She then went off after working at Stikeman Elliott where her expertise was in competition law, and she was in-house counsel to an organization called The Canadian Real Estate Association, which is basically a lobby organization for real estate professionals in this country. And she lobbied against, in Parliament on behalf of that organization, some competition law-related legislation which was, from my perspective, fairly consumer-friendly. And then from that she went into essentially her political career. If you look at her biography, if you go to the Liberal Party website and you look at her biography, there’s no mention of this at all. There’s absolutely no reference to the fact that she was a Bay Street lawyer. There’s no reference to the fact that she was a registered lobbyist. There’s no reference to the fact that she was in-house counsel to the Canadian Real Estate Association and opposed consumer-friendly competition legislation — nothing whatsoever. And if you look very carefully at her record, you’ll see that there’s absolutely no indication that prior to becoming the Environment Minister, she was an advocate for the environmental movement or that she was seriously engaged in fighting against the climate crisis. She was parachuted into that role as someone who was steeped in a corporate culture. And, I think, you know, one of the people I was speaking to… two of the people I interviewed at COP22 were members of the Canadian Youth Delegation, they said, “You know, we were fighting tooth and nail, just to get 15 minutes with the Environment Minister. But she was quite happy to give her time to CEOs, including CEOs from the fossil fuels industry who had travelled to Marrakesh to make their case.” So, we unfortunately have in the most important, arguably the most important Ministry within the Trudeau government, given the current severity of the climate crisis, a person who is very much pro-corporate in her outlook, and I don’t think we can count on Catherine McKenna to put a stop to these extraordinarily misguided and destructive pipeline projects.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Dimitri, thank you so much for joining us today and we’ll keep an eye on this pipeline and the resistance to it and looking forward to having you back.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Thank you, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.