Nature pays no attention to politics

(March 13, 2018)

There have been a lot of recent headlines about climate and Manitoba, quite apart from winter storms, but little action from different levels of government.

Manitoba finally signed on late to the federal climate strategy, so $60 million of funding did not fly south, though how we will spend it remains a mystery. Premier Brian Pallister continues to mutter and do nothing about a “made-in-Manitoba” climate plan, while the Business Council of Manitoba murmurs against the financial impacts of a carbon tax — hardly a surprise, as its former executive director is now our “minister of pipelines,” Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr.

The city of Winnipeg continues with its last minute, pop-up, flash-mob “consultations” on a climate plan for the region — leaving the skeptical to wonder whether anything they have contributed will make a difference to decisions likely already made.

All the while, temperatures in the Arctic soar, freak storms dump snow on the Vatican and drought ravages east Africa, warning anyone who cares to notice that our petty politics mean less than nothing to Mother Nature.

Get with the program, please! A sea change is needed in how we live together, because — literally — the sea is changing, along with everything else.

Climate change is a real and present danger, everywhere. Pretending that seven-plus billion people can live the way we do without having major negative impacts on planetary ecology is sheer idiocy. Continuing to do nothing is worse — especially if you are a politician responsible for managing the society in which we live.

People who say things are not so bad are shills for the fossil-fuel industry, employed to troll people such as me to make people such as you think there is some doubt about what is going on, or to dispute the urgency of doing something about it.

I would tell you to count the number of bird songs or frog calls in Manitoba this spring and compare them to what you remember, even 20 years ago — but that would mean you had to find some birds and frogs to count. In too many places, even outside the city, silence greets the dawn after a spring rain.

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B.C. wine snub leaves foul taste

(February 28, 2018)

To the dismay of comedians across the country, cooler heads have prevailed. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has rescinded her boldly comic move to single-handedly rescue the wine industry in British Columbia by blocking sale of its beverages from her province. Covering herself with the fig leaf of letting the courts rule on B.C.’s right to block the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, she has (for now) escaped further ridicule.

After years of drought, forest fires and uncertainty about who wanted to drink Okanagan anyway, Notley’s boycott of B.C. wines was an answer to a prayer. Only the unfortunate timing of the NDP National Convention, Feb. 16-18, spoiled things. No doubt, after NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh contemplated the mutually assured destruction of his party’s only two provincial governments, the two leaders were convinced to sit down for a cup of some neutral beverage and talk.

Going back a week, after B.C. Premier John Horgan inexplicably fulfilled an election promise to block the Trans Mountain pipeline, Notley took out her frustration on a handful of Albertans in petulant fashion, banning B.C. wines in Alberta and declaring, “Let them drink beer!”

Speaking as a native-born Albertan and an environmentalist (not the oxymoron Notley seems to think it is), the boycott made no sense. There is no wine bar on Chuckwagon Row at the Calgary Stampede, so most Albertans would not feel the loss.

I suspect the $70-million B.C. winery bill was being paid by ex-pats from other places, people with more money than judgment. The few local Albertan wine-drinkers only drank B.C. vintages because they found it hard to swallow wine (or anything else) from Ontario. They would be the only ones crying in their beer.

In fact, Alberta’s premier has given the B.C. wine industry tons of free advertising (“They seriously make wine in British Columbia?”) and, even more importantly, a huge reason for many Canadians and others to pick some up at their local liquor store.

What better way to twist the lion’s tail than to serve B.C. wine at every Liberal Party function across the country? Serve it guerrilla-style at banquets, get a photo of Prime Minister Trudeau quaffing a glass and then post it on social media next to the B.C. bottle? Tweet that picture to Rachel Notley?

The comic possibilities were endless. After her announcement, I immediately bought my first bottle of B.C. wine in years, a quaintly labelled “Reincarnation” by the Diabolica label, for my initial glass of Liberal red protest.

Since we are only on pause until the courts offer B.C. some vaguely apologetic constitutional refusal, we might as well share the experience with the hashtag #PinotBeforePipelines. Perhaps paparazzi could follow “Minister of Pipelines” Jim Carr around town, hoping to catch a picture of him toasting his own protest against Notley over dinner?

So, it’s game on. Serve a Liberal politician (hey, any federal politician!) wine from B.C. and post it. Pose with your friends and do the same. Rescue the B.C. wine industry from forest fires, drought and the politics of pipeline petulance.

After all, the prime minister himself dismissed B.C.’s objections in Marie Antoinette-ish fashion, saying the pipeline will be built, whatever they say or do, so this is only a momentary reprieve. We might as well get started.

The bitter irony in targeting the B.C. wine industry over the pipeline dispute — Alberta’s best efforts to terminate life on Earth by burning up the tar sands — is that climate change already threatens grape growers in the drier parts of the province.

#PinotBeforePipelines is actually iconic, a symbol of what precisely is at stake in a warming world threatened by governments that insist on subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, rather than finding ways to leave it in the ground.

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Keep it in the ground

(October 12, 2017)

The sudden announcement by TransCanada Pipelines to scuttle its Energy East project landed with a clang amid the environmental activist community.

Good news, to be sure, but after a year of struggles, temporary victories and then imperious Trump-issued executive orders that paved the way for completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, it was unexpected.

It’s like pushing hard to keep the door from opening, only to have it slam shut when the person on the other side gives up and lets go.

It would be nice to think that the cancellation was a sign of corporate social responsibility, that TransCanada realized the harms (real and anticipated) of the Energy East pipeline were not worth the risk to future generations. One can always hope for such enlightenment, but no doubt this played a minor role compared to the fact that someone, finally, did the math.

Investing in pipelines these days is like investing in new whaling vessels in the late 19th century. People did not stop using whale oil lamps because we ran out of sperm whales, but because there was a smarter (and eventually cheaper) alternative.

In the same way, I recall Saudi oil minister Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani’s famous 1973 line about how the Stone Age did not end because people ran out of stones. The age of oil will not end when people run out of oil, but when people realize there are smarter, eventually cheaper, and more ecologically sustainable alternatives.

Pipelines need both a source of oil and customers to buy the finished product. One without the other is pointless. The current systems (leaks and all) are managing current levels of supply and demand. New pipelines are a huge investment in a future in which oil prices will be high enough to justify collecting and refining the tar sands crude — something that implies an increasing demand.

Apart from inconvenient truths — such as that there is enough carbon buried in the tar sands to guarantee extinction by global warming of much of the life on Earth, including our own — the idea of an oil-needy future is seriously delusionary.

Simply put, it is bad business. I would love some forensic accounting of who is invested in these operations right now, because I suspect the money of those in charge of the fossil-fuel industry is invested elsewhere. Mutual funds, pension plans and other things that are supposed to guarantee our personal economic future, are likely the shills still paying for obsolete fossil-fuel technological infrastructure.

Pull the direct and indirect government subsidies out of the fossil fuel industry and that investment becomes even more dubious. In a warming world in which increasing greenhouse gas emissions are the harbinger of disasters, from droughts to forest fires and to hurricanes, even General Motors is making a major shift to electric vehicles. Proposing expanded investment in the fossil-fuel industry would be as popular with shareholders these days as trying to corner the market on whale oil.

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