Pipeline politics: why the ends don’t justify the means

When talking to reporters about Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, federal Liberal environment minister Catherine McKenna said: “We need to provide certainty that we can get good projects [like this] through.”

If built, the 1,150km long pipeline could move nearly 900,000 barrels of diluted bitumen (a kind of sludgy, chemically infused oil) a day, from Alberta through British Columbia to the Pacific Ocean and on to Asia.

Good? I don’t see how this project can be good.

It’s no good. It’s unjust.

Here’s what I mean:

The pipeline would increase carbon emissions, destroy killer whale populations (by increasing tanker traffic by 700%) and possibly harm salmon habitat. That’s not good. That’s environmental injustice.

It also can’t be good to disrespect many Indigenous communities and ignore the concerns of the majority of MPs from the region in question, who oppose the pipeline. That’s social and democratic injustice.

And it’s economic injustice to put west coast tourism at risk in case of a spill.

Some people would say there are positive impacts of the undertaking, such as large private investments, job creation and opening new markets. But these things have no value in and of themselves. They are only positive if they contribute to our well being, socially, economically, environmentally and democratically.

Capital should not be spent for pipelines that promote decades of fossil fuel extraction and use, contributing to climate change. Rather we should support investments that help spur renewable energy, enhanced storage ability and sustainable regional energy hubs.

In the same way, jobs should be created for industries that help not harm us. Think of long-term jobs in maintaining dynamic local energy hubs. Not short-term contracts to lay down a pipe that will stay in the same place, usually unattended except when it leaks.

And new markets should be open under fair trade standards to benefit people, not simply to sell more petrochemicals for the sake of profit under free trade deals.

So why did McKenna call the the $7 billion pipeline good? I think she did because of what it allowed her government to do.

If you’ve heard the prime minister speak about this issue you’ll know exactly what I mean.

According to Justin Trudeau’s new talking points, the pipeline is necessary for Canada to be a global environmental leader. Why? He says it’s because approving Kinder Morgan’s westward expansion keeps Alberta happy. And when Alberta’s happy they will commit to reducing carbon in other ways as part of a so-called national climate change policy. A plan that is coupled with additional ecological measures like investments in spill response.

To be clear: Prime Minister Trudeau is saying Alberta will only do its part to curb emissions only if they get to create more emissions, causing great injustice while doing so.

This type of crude calculation (no pun intended) is precisely the problem with the status quo in Ottawa and provincial legislatures across the country.

It shouldn’t be this way. The ends don’t justify the means.

Instead, let’s have the means match the ends.

This means not building pipelines (that lock us into a future of carbon pollution, jeopardize marine and forest environments and disrespect to Indigenous peoples and MPs) regardless of the supposed leverage they give the federal government for other initiatives.

Let’s create jobs; protect the climate and care for other species; consult Indigenous communities and respect local representatives; during the inception, implementation and duration of any project or policy.

That’s economic, environmental, social and democratic justice.

And that is good, indeed.

P.S. Please join me and others to protest the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline on Saturday, March 10 at noon in Market Square. Click here for more information.