Opinion

We Need to Admit the Limitations of Science When it Comes to Pipeline Decisions

Winter Coast Salish Gathering. Photo by Zack Embree.

With federal decisions on major oil pipeline and tanker projects in the headlines, many suggest our elected officials should lean more on science to make these kinds of decisions.

Those exhortations sound very reasonable. But they reveal an enormously important misunderstanding about the role of science in making decisions on major resource projects.

Take the case of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project on the West Coast.

On one side, you have staunch opposition from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and other coastal and Fraser River First Nations, West Coast municipalities like Vancouver, Burnaby and Victoria, and a sizable percentage of B.C.’s voting public.

On the other side, you have staunch support from Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, the mayors of Calgary and Edmonton, and a sizable percentage of Alberta’s voting public.

Tweet: 'Is one side simply too dumb to understand the science — or simply willing to flatly ignore it?' http://bit.ly/2ly7haN #bcpoli #cdnpoliIs one side simply too dumb to understand the science — or simply willing to flatly ignore it?

Of course not.

It's High Time For Canada to Address First Nations' Water Woes

Drinking Water

Neskantaga First Nation in Ontario has had to boil water since 1995.

We’re over 20 years already where our people haven’t been able to get the water they need to drink from their taps or to bathe themselves without getting any rashes,” Neskantaga Chief Wayne Moonias told CBC News in 2015. Their water issues have yet to be resolved.

They’re not alone. In fall last year, 156 drinking water advisories were in place in First Nations in Canada. More than 100 are routinely in effect — some for years or decades. According to a 2015 CBC investigation “two-thirds of all First Nation communities in Canada have been under at least one drinking water advisory at some time in the last decade.”

Water advisories vary in severity. A “boil water advisory” means residents must boil water before using it for drinking or bathing. “Do not consume” means water is not safe to drink or consume and a “do not use advisory” means water is unsafe for any human use.

BC Hydro Shows Trump-Style Attacks on Media Can and Do Happen in Canada

When Donald Trump held his first news conference this month following his election as U.S. president, observers worldwide decried his shameless attack on the media and his critics.

In an onslaught against the press, Trump labelled CNN “terrible” and “fake news,” lambasted the digital-media powerhouse BuzzFeed as a “failing pile of garbage,” then turned his sights on the BBC, calling the news outlet, “another beauty,” and refusing to answer a reporter’s questions.

Could something similar ever happen in Canada? You bet it could.

In B.C., a slightly abridged version of Trump’s scorched-earth offensive against the media and his critics is already underway, led by BC Hydro, with disquieting consequences for the principles of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. 

B.C.'s 150-Year-Old Mining Laws Are Absurdly Outdated. Guess Who Benefits From That?

B.C. was recently labelled the “Wild West” in a New York Times article for our lack of financial rules or limits around political donations. While mining companies and their executives regularly fall within the top donors’ list to the B.C. Liberal Party, they have benefited from this notion of the Wild West for well over a century. 

In fact, B.C.’s mining laws were created more than 150 years ago during the gold-rush era of the 1850s. These laws were largely created by miners themselves to help guarantee unfettered access to new lands by creating the right of “free entry,” and were part of the strategy to help settle the colony. Tweet: Today, mining activity is still given priority over virtually all other land uses in B.C. http://bit.ly/2kMIz5I #bcpoli #bcmining #cdnpoliToday, mining activity is still given priority over virtually all other land uses in B.C.

In fact, the process for staking a claim has only gotten easier. Are you 18 years old, have $25 and access to a computer? Click and you have a claim staked anywhere — on private property, First Nations hunting grounds, key tourism areas, important salmon habitat or wildlife management areas. Mining activities are off-limits only in parks, under buildings and at certain archeological sites. In other words, mining exploration can take place in over 82 per cent of the province.

It's Been 25 Years Since World's Prominent Scientists Released 'Warning to Humanity'

The longer we delay addressing environmental problems, the more difficult it will be to resolve them. Although we’ve known about climate change and its potential impacts for a long time, and we’re seeing those impacts worsen daily, our political representatives are still approving and promoting fossil fuel infrastructure as if we had all the time in the world to slow global warming.

We can’t say we weren’t warned.

Canada’s New Climate Plan Could Shift Billions from Highway Expansion to Public Transit

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Clark and most of Canada’s premiers recently signed the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. ‘Framework’ is a good title for this agreement — it is barely a start on what is needed.

But it contains a policy shift that could dramatically reduce climate pollution from transportation.

Over the past decades the federal government has funded transportation infrastructure with little or no regard for climate pollution. They spent billions of public dollars every year on projects that increase climate pollution, such as urban highway expansion.

And since projects are usually cost shared, one billion of federal money is often matched by two billion from the province and region or municipality. Largely as a result of this perverse spending, between 1990 and 2014 climate pollution from transportation increased 32 per cent.

Trudeau’s first budget allocated new money to a public transit fund, which can reduce carbon pollution, but there was no commitment to shift money away from projects that increase pollution.

Trudeau Promised To Bring Us Out of Canada’s Anti-Science Era, But We’re Not There Yet

The Harper years were characterized by a sustained war on science, as documented by science librarian John Dupuis and Calgary writer Chris Turner, among others.

So when Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won a majority government in last fall’s federal election, some commentators suggested that Canadians weren’t necessarily drawn to the Liberal platform, but were so fed up with the Conservative government that they voted for “anyone but Harper.”

The Harper legacy that Trudeau inherited was a troubling one.

It included muzzling of government scientists and cuts to key government-based science-related positions and programs such as the National Science Advisor and the Advisory Council on Science and Technology — to name just a few.

Arctic Drilling Ban Reveals Crucial Difference Between Obama and Trudeau on Climate

By Adam Scott for Oil Change International.

The historic announcement by President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau that both countries would ban oil and gas development in Arctic and Atlantic waters was a major victory to protect our oceans and the people who depend on them, and a real victory for our climate.

But the difference between how the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office explained this announcement reveals a major rift between the leaders in their understanding of how to address the climate threat.

At the end of November, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed a key test of his understanding of what is required to stop climate change by approving the Kinder Morgan and Line 3 pipelines. During his speech he defended his actions:

Christmas in the Technosphere: How to Lift the Weight of the World

How much stuff will you give and receive this holiday season? Add it to the growing pile — the 30-trillion-tonne pile. That’s how much technology and goods humans have produced, according to a study by an international team led by England’s University of Leicester. It adds up to more than all living matter on the planet, estimated at around four trillion tonnes.

Scientists have dubbed these times the “Anthropocene”, because humans are now the dominant factor influencing Earth’s natural systems, from climate to the carbon and hydrologic cycles. Now they’re labelling our accumulated goods and technologies — including houses, factories, cars, roads, smartphones, computers and landfills — the “technosphere” because it’s as large and significant as the biosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere. Researchers estimate it represents 50 kilograms for every square metre of Earth’s surface and is 100,000 times greater than the human biomass it supports.

B.C. In No Position to Stonewall on National Carbon Pricing Plan

By Matt Horne for the Pembina Institute.

With Canada’s first credible national climate change plan within reach, Tweet: Now’s not the time to be watering down core climate policies that would help reduce emissions http://bit.ly/2h7vSCX #bcpoli #cdnpolinow is not the time to be watering down core policies that would help reduce emissions. That’s why the federal government should reject Premier Christy Clark’s posturing on carbon pricing and stick to the pan-Canadian carbon price committed to in October.

The Premier has been arguing that cap-and-trade systems to cut carbon pollution in Ontario and Quebec won’t be as stringent as B.C.’s carbon tax, and as a result that B.C. shouldn’t need to increase the carbon tax in line with Trudeau’s plan.

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