‘By That Logic, We All Go to Hell Together’: Mark Jaccard on Trudeau’s Pipeline Talking Points

Justin Trudeau and Rachel Notley

Mark Jaccard has seen it all before.

Over the decades, the leading energy economist from Simon Fraser University has watched as government after goverment pledge lofty climate targets and proceed to totally overshoot them: Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, Stephen Harper. But he certainly hasn’t been silent. In that time, Jaccard has authored dozens of books and papers based on modelling that points out the political hypocrisies and maps how to get back on track.

Now, his sights have turned to the federal and Alberta governments, which are loudly proclaiming that the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline can be reconciled with Canada’s international climate commitments.

In a widely shared op-ed for the Globe and Mail titled “Trudeau's Orwellian logic: We reduce emissions by increasing them,” Jaccard systematically pulled apart popular pro-pipeline arguments. Notably, he calmly reminded readers that despite what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says, the federal government doesn’t need any pipeline to implement its climate policies but simply needs to “quickly apply his federal authority” to impose them. You know, just like Alberta is calling on Ottawa to do in order to build the pipeline.

On Wednesday, DeSmog Canada interviewed Jaccard about the op-ed, pipeline politics and the challenge of building new oil pipelines and meeting climate targets.

Why did you write this op-ed?

I write about once a year in the Globe and Mail. The articles are almost always the same. What motivates me is if I hear enough inaccuracies that I put aside other stuff that I’m working on, which is all related — analysis and so on that I’m doing for governments, independents, academic paper, theses that my students are doing. In this case, I was really struck by the illogic of Trudeau saying that we had to say “yes” to this pipeline in order to get the Pan-Canadian Framework that reduces emissions. Just to be clear, I think it’s been great to have Prime Minister Trudeau for the last two years working on climate instead of Stephen Harper faking it. Trudeau has really done some things that I really support. It’s not like I lightly attack politicians. But I think that point he was making right now needed to be challenged.

Have you been surprised by the emergence of that particular argument: in order to complete the Pan-Canadian Framework, we need this pipeline?

When Trudeau made the announcement a year ago that he was not going to allow Northern Gateway to go ahead but said he was going to allow Trans Mountain, at the request of some politician I did a public forum in Vancouver in which I explained his decision. If you’re the prime minister of all Canadians, you sincerely have to try to please everyone. That’s his idea of cooperative federalism. I understand how a Canadian prime minister would have that view. At the same time, he said to Brad Wall of Saskatchewan that “you’re not willing to play ball at all, so we’re just going to have to roll over you.” With Alberta though, he had a government that said “we want to do things differently, we’re going to be a model in the world of a fossil fuel-rich region that actually tries to act on climate.” Trudeau had to make a strategic choice that related to being the prime minister of all Canadians to a federal system and trying to get action. I understand completely why he did that.

There’s been a lot of rhetoric lately suggesting the construction of new pipelines will only slightly increase Canada’s annual emissions, calculated at around eight megatonnes or so. Why do you think that particular argument doesn’t fit well into the bigger picture?

I’m really glad you asked that. That is what I do. I model. A model is a representation, in my case, of how the energy economy system unfolds or would unfold under certain key assumptions about the economics and policy. If someone were paying me a lot of money — and I’ve been offered this in the past — to make an argument that “oh, building this fossil fuel infrastructure won’t increase greenhouse gas emissions,” I can make that argument. In the case of an oil pipeline, I would say: “Oh, all it’s going to do is reconfigure things. There will be a little more oil going to the West Coast, a little less going to the U.S., a little less going on rail car.” I could do that for you beautifully. I could do that one pipeline after another, until you’ve built ten more pipelines and tripled and quadrupled the size of the oilsands. When someone comes out with a number like that of eight megatonnes, I immediately want to say “ok, what assumptions?” Because I can also — if someone else was paying me, or actually they wouldn’t have money to pay me so I was doing it for free — I could do an analysis that showed that if you look at the total output of oilsands or oil in Canada, it correlates perfectly with pipeline capacity. In other words, you need the delivery pipeline infrastructure to match your production capacity. I would argue the real correct long-run way — the total system evolution way — of looking at a new pipeline is to correlate it one-to-one per barrel of oil of production. If the pipeline can carry 800,000 barrels of oil a day, then assume that you’re causing 800,000 barrels of oil per day of production in Canada.

Now, you can still make the argument that the production would have happened somewhere else. And that leads us to the general issue that climate change is a global collective action problem. We can always ensure that we will fail if we say “if I act to try to save us, others will just compensate.” By that logic, we all go to hell together. What you have to do is say “okay, how do we think strategically: what if we act as leaders, and as leaders we try to form what are called ‘climate clubs’ of first movers. And then we use approaches like being a demonstration, probably by trade pressures and so on to try to get the rest of the world to go along with us.” What I’m giving you right here is the standard rationale that they can use, and I just got a lot of that in the last 24 hours after the op-ed from Alberta, about why we should be allowed to continue on this destructive path.

You’re obviously not arguing that the oilsands should be shut down tomorrow, just that they not be allowed to expand, right?

Exactly. When you asked me what motivated me to write this right now, some of it was to do with this whole collective action thing. Another one was that every time I turn on Twitter I get an ad from Alberta that tells me British Columbia is threatening Alberta jobs. It’s not true! It’s threatening jobs ten years from now of maybe British Columbians that moved to get jobs, or people from Newfoundland, or from China. Those people might not have jobs but the current Albertans are not threatened if you don’t expand the oilsands. That really started to bug me.

Anything you wanted to add?

A big motivator for the op-ed as well was that I’ve done a lot of the national modelling. If you froze the emissions from the oilsands, it is still really hard to hit a Paris target. If you look on the graphs, we’ve gone all the way up to 2.5 million barrels a day. Maybe it’s going to stabilize up there. That would be fine with me. But if you build more pipelines, it’s most likely going to keep going higher.

The talk has been “oh well, this is Trudeau helping Rachel Notley stay in power.” I don’t think Rachel Notley’s going to stay in power. As the federal government, you’ve just got to get ready for the fact that you’re going to have different people in different jurisdictions who are going to stop you from doing a climate policy. Trudeau says he’s serious about his Paris commitment. That’s one area where I have expertise and people like me should be speaking up. People have a short memory if it’s not their area. I understand that. But I need to explain why Brian Mulroney didn’t hit his target, and Jean Chretien, and Stephen Harper. To me, the burden of proof is on Trudeau. If he’s going to keep telling Canadians that he’s serious about his Paris targets, then the burden of proof is on him. Any expert will tell you that he should already have all the policies in place right now. We can map how they achieve Paris. I was trying to make that shout out as well with the op-ed.

Image: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau via Flickr.