Packing pipeline placards for Vancouver

Calgary Herald, June 2, 2018: When your kids are little you worry about them running with scissors. When they grow up and decide to go to grad school at UBC, you worry about ‘the big one,’ $1,000 a month fire traps and, if you’re from Alberta, the increasing tensions over the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX).

I’ve heard of UBC students not wanting their classmates to know their parents work in oil and gas. Some suggest people from ‘Berta just say they’re from somewhere else, New Brunswick maybe, to avoid having to talk about TMX and the Evil Tar Sands. But hiding your hometown doesn’t seem right and neither does ducking out of an important and complicated conversation.

Let’s face it, the ‘Stop Kinder Morgan’ signs, while direct, ignore all tricky bits of energy transition. I don’t want my daughter heading to Burnaby Mountain to pick any fights, but I do want her to be equipped with a few of her own slogans when pipelines pop up in conversation. Here goes:

Engineering is a thing: Sadly, there is no giant switch. You can’t turn off fossil fuels and just flip on solar, wind and other renewables. While Elon Musk has managed to send a Tesla (and a whack of GHGs) into space, we’re still decades away from figuring out batteries and the other bit and bobs we need to use renewables to fly home at Christmas and ship iPhones from China to put under the tree.

Keep calm and policy on: People are rightly afraid of climate change. Many expect a simple solution to this complex problem. But when fear rules the conversation, the facts might as well just go for a beer. If you ask me, chaining yourself to a fence to demand carbon policies would be a better idea than protesting against pipelines. But that train has left the station, loaded with bitumen.

Zoom out for the big picture: The more you pull back from ‘no bitumen in my backyard,’ the more complicated things get. Take a look over Western Canada and see dozens of Indigenous communities that want TMX. See farmers struggling to get their product to market because railcars are full of bitumen. Go wider still and see the fate of Canada’s climate action plan hanging in the balance — the only credible plan on the horizon that addresses reducing our CO2 emissions.

Zoom out further to see the whole world and compare stringent oil and gas regulations in Canada to Nigeria, Venezuela and other people’s backyards where there is little or no environmental oversight. Track thousands of oil tankers moving across the globe and taking cargo to China and India, oil-thirsty economies that are driving up demand. Zoom back into Vancouver and see barges from Washington bringing oil to the Vancouver airport so 22 million people can fly out of the city every year. Canada may #keepitintheground (and bury the economy), but you can bet your ocean protection plan that other countries will happily sell us their oil.

We all live with risk: Truth be told, this mom is way more worried about an earthquake than an oil spill. We can’t do a damn thing to prevent tectonic plates shifting off the Pacific Northwest. A massive quake is coming, we just don’t know when. Yet 2.759 million people in the Lower Mainland (plus one come September) are comfortable living with that risk. Some are convinced a TMX oil spill is also inevitable. We can’t prevent earthquakes but we can do everything humanly possible to prevent a spill, and if one happens, we can be prepared to clean it up. (Note to kid: please get in the habit of checking for emergency exits!).

Wanna go for pasta?: The pipeline may or may not get built. Governments will fall. Others will rise. Engineers will innovate. Economies will shift. We will continue to transition off fossil fuels. And I will continue to adore my peeps — those who hurl #oiltard and those who want to hoist David Suzuki on a petard. We all love our kids. And I want mine to know that while squeaky wheels get the grease (at least until solar cells can do the trick), energy transition is far more difficult than the pipeline protesters would have you believe.

My daughter is off to UBC to study urban planning, a field that explores the complexities of cities, human behaviour and sustainability. Urbanists are big believers in systems thinking, which if you were to write on a piece of cardboard might say: “When you pull one piece of spaghetti out of the bowl it affects the whole mess of pasta.” As she starts couch surfing (anyone know of a place?) and meeting new people, maybe she can help further the understanding that TMX is just one noodle in our giant, global bowl of energy spaghetti.

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