Pipeline Spending Outdated Thinking

(December 1, 2016)

With the first snow on the ground and Christmas coming, it’s time to talk turkey about pipelines, and the turkey has landed with the Trudeau government’s pipeline announcements. Two projects were given the go-ahead Tuesday — an extension of Enbridge’s Line 3 and a tripling of capacity for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain line to Vancouver.

How Canada got here is not just about the facts. It’s about the story, the moral narrative, in which facts are included or excluded as the storyteller requires.

One narrative is unfolding south of the border in North Dakota at Standing Rock. It is obviously about aboriginal land rights and treaties, but it is most importantly about whether corporate interests require a licence to operate.

Not merely a legal licence, but a social licence, as well. In other words, when resources (such as land and water) that belong to all the people are put at risk by the actions of a small group, using them for their own benefit, does the rest of society need to give permission first?

The other narrative about pipelines is the one that has brought our society to where it is today — with its huge disparity in personal wealth, between the one per cent and the 99 per cent; its prosperity with respect to other countries; and the luxuries many of us enjoy as a result.

In that narrative, economic interest trumps everything else. Government exists to facilitate the acquisition of money by those who have the means to use the taxation and legal systems to their advantage. Environmental concerns are like bugs hitting the windshield on a summer’s highway drive to the lake — if there are too many, you need to pull to the side of the road and clean them off before continuing on your journey, but you certainly don’t stop for very long.

If we don’t change the story underpinning the choices we make as individuals and as a society to move away from focusing on economics, however, we will continue to change the planet into a place where no one — rich or poor — can easily or happily live.

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