Comment: Is climate superhero PM facing kryptonite moment?


If collectors haven’t already locked up every available issue, you might still be able to get a copy of the Marvel comic from late August featuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He provides wise and ethical counsel to a squad of Canadian superheroes known as Alpha Flight and then steps into the boxing ring with Iron Man’s alter-ego Tony Stark for a few rounds before returning to his day job.

That heroic portrayal mirrors the high hopes that Canadians placed on his government to provide real change. But to be worth their salt, heroes must rise to confront the greatest of threats. And the defining threat of our time is climate change.

Trudeau’s recently unmuzzled scientists agree on the urgency of confronting the climate crisis. On the campaign trail, he promised exactly that. It is the issue by which Trudeau the younger will be judged: is he Captain Tomorrow or is he yesterday’s man?

Confronting climate change is no simple matter, but heroes don’t step aside when the going gets tough. Canada needs someone more powerful than a Harper-era National Energy Board review and able to leap pipeline lobbyists in a single bound. We need someone able to resolutely block the path of climate-altering pipelines and liquefied fracked-gas plants. At the same time, our climate hero must use his superpowers to invest in renewable-energy infrastructure to support our energy security and foster green, sustainable jobs.

Sadly, developments outside of the comic-book universe suggest a very different and less heroic story. Recently, Trudeau’s government approved the Petronas LNG plant planned for Lelu Island on the north coast of B.C. If built, it would expand fracking operations in B.C.’s northeast and put Canada’s second most prolific salmon river at risk.

The greenhouse-gas footprint of Petronas would singlehandedly overwhelm the B.C. government’s weak greenhouse-gas emission targets. It would also further undermine Canada’s embarrassing non-effort on climate change, epitomized by Trudeau’s recent embrace of the Harper government’s pathetically inadequate targets.

Back in July, overriding staunch First Nations opposition and treaty rights, the Trudeau government approved permits for the Site C dam. The power from Site C is intended to power fracking in northeast B.C. that will supply the Petronas operation with gas. Hyped as clean power, Site C is the opposite: It will enable the carbon bomb that is Petronas.

As if those decisions weren’t enough, all indications are that Ottawa will soon approve the Kinder Morgan pipeline and the massive expansion of tankers it would bring to the West Coast. Trudeau had promised to overhaul the Harper-era National Energy Board review process and apply new rules to Kinder Morgan.

Instead, he added a less-than-muscular series of public meetings as a sop to those who said that, under the Harper process, the fix was in. Poorly organized, the meetings were announced last-minute in the middle of summer. Despite this, British Columbians jammed the meetings to overwhelmingly reject Kinder Morgan. Anti-pipeline voices outnumbered those in support more than nine to one.

A scientific study released last week concluded that, to limit global warming to 1.5 to 2 C, no new pipelines can be built. None.

Canada needs to make decisions based in scientific reality, not comic-book fantasies. We must put in place co-ordinated policies that will both dramatically reduce fossil-fuel use and encourage a new post-carbon economy run on renewable-energy sources.

Trudeau’s recent announcement of national carbon pricing is a step in the right direction, but is wholly inadequate to the task at hand. Under this plan, B.C. — whose carbon emissions are rising — will not have to increase the price of carbon until 2022, five years from now.

We cannot sustain contradictions such as announcing inadequate carbon pricing with one hand, while approving multiple fossil-fuel expansions with the other.

The title of Trudeau’s comic book appearance is Choosing Sides. If he approves Kinder Morgan, the side he’s chosen will be clear: It’s the fossil-fuel industry. That means at a time Canada desperately needs a real world-climate hero, our prime minister’s heroics remain confined to comic-book fantasies.

Caitlyn Vernon is campaigns director for Sierra Club B.C.

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