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Alberta’s Right and B.C.’s an Idiot

In order to achieve the essential balance we must have for individual growth and to improve the world, each of us occasionally needs to reach into that right or left pocket to reconnect with reality.

Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on the need. When feeling lowly and depressed, discouraged or disconsolate, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: "For my sake was the world created."But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: "I am but dust and ashes."  – Rabbinic saying attributed to Rabbi Simcha Bunem

We all journey through this universe trying to create a world of wholeness and peace.

Yet sometimes each of us falls off the rails and we prefer to justify mistaken beliefs, behaviour, and practices rather than change them for better ones.

In order to achieve the essential balance we must have for individual growth and to improve the world, each of us occasionally needs to reach into that right or left pocket to reconnect with reality.

Right now, the majority of Canadians, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau believe that Alberta is right and B.C. is wrong on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion  (TMX) issue.

Most Canadians, Notley, and Trudeau are not evil or idiots, but perhaps it’s time for them to spend a little time in the “dust and ashes” pocket.

What we have is good people advocating a bad thing for good reasons.

People are emotionally motivated to reject findings that threaten their core beliefs or worldview. Yet we can’t collaborate to solve a problem if we treat each other as enemies.

Premier Notley announced she would not attend a Western Premiers meeting in Yellowknife, NWT because she wants to stay in Alberta to focus on the May 31 deadline imposed by Kinder Morgan on whether it will move ahead with the project.

“It would be surreal and exceptionally tone deaf for anyone to think we could politely discuss pharmacare and cannabis when one of the players is hard at work trying to choke the economic lifeblood of the province and the country,” she tweeted.

Radio host Jon McComb responded “Oil and gas accounts for about seven per cent of Canada’s GDP. Yes, that’s a sizeable amount, but it’s not the lifeblood of the country. Clearly, Notley’s hysterical hyperbole is aimed at one audience and that’s the audience of Alberta.”

PM Trudeau’s government has stated it will indemnify Kinder Morgan or any other company should the Texas multinational decide to pull out because of delays caused by B.C. government court challenges and regulations.

Trudeau has stated bluntly: “We are absolutely focused on making sure that we make this construction season, that we move forward rapidly and responsibly on building this vital energy infrastructure.”

The pipeline expansion is in the “national interest” and will get built, says the PM, who approved TMX in November 2016 in exchange for Alberta’s agreement to levy a carbon tax under the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

Majority in favour of TMX

According to a recent poll, a majority of British Columbians think the TMX should be built even as an equal majority are worried about a pipeline or tanker spill. 

Neither Notley nor Trudeau will acknowledge the skepticism and concern a minority of Canadians feel about the TMX. They each attempt to fracture public opinion rather than have an honest conversation about the merits of a project that was approved by an admittedly flawed National Energy Board process.

All the political players in this drama are in election mode and regard each other as foes thwarting their path to re-election.

The Alberta NDP go to the polls next spring, the federal Liberals face the electorate in the fall of 2019, and B.C.’s John Horgan governs subject to an agreement with the Greens that includes a specific commitmentto fight the pipeline using “every tool in the toolbox.”

The uncertainty of climate chaos has caused Notley, Trudeau, and Horgan to take self-righteous positions to protect themselves from that uncertainty. Each of them has affirmed their belief in climate change yet all three of them believe perceived short-term economic gain trumps the long-term health of the planet. (While opposed to the export of bitumen from the TMX pipeline, Horgan is sounding more than positive about the export of fracked natural gas.)

Self-righteousness can be used to justify almost anything.

But climate chaos is a cognitive dissonancethat is uncomfortable for most people because it challenges the worldview that they want to believe. The understanding that our use of fossil fuels is the major driver changing Earth’s climate doesn’t jibe with maintaining a robust export economy based on getting tar sands bitumen to a saltwater port.

Consequences of TMX construction are unknown

The consequences of building TMX in a warming world are unknown and unknowable. But Notley and Trudeau made an impulsive decision that it was a good idea and have taken subsequent actions to reduce the ambiguity of their choice.

Each is now trapped in a process of action, justification, and further action that increases their commitment to that first tentative decision. And the longer each holds fast to that decision, the harder it becomes to change their minds.

It is good to hold informed opinions that don’t change each time the wind blows from a different direction, but it is also essential to be able to let go of an opinion when the weight of the evidence dictates one is wrong. Life requires us to learn how to admit our mistakes and separate them from our self-esteem.

In an interview with public relations advisor James Hoggan, social psychologist Carol Tavris said: “The greatest danger we face on the planet is not only from bad people doing corrupt, evil and bad things, but also from good people who justify the bad, evil and corrupt things they do in order to preserve their belief that they’re good, kind, ethical people.”

“When you have a combination of economic, ideological and psychological biases all in play, it’s very difficult for human beings to easily accept large-scale social and economic change,” says Tavris.

She argues that dialogue and changing people’s hearts isn’t enough, that “you have to first change the laws, change public notions of what is acceptable or unacceptable behaviour and change the economic consequences of practices you want to alter.”

Hoggan is the author of I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean it Up in which he asserts our most pressing problem is the sorry state of our public dialogue.

“A smog of adversarial rhetoric, propaganda and polarization that comes from all sides, is stifling discussion and our ability to solve problems collectively,” says Hoggan.

While most Canadians are paying close attention to the TMX controversy, by a ratio of two to one they believe Kinder Morgan brought the current conflict upon itself by not generating adequate public support for its project.

It is obvious that many of us are conflicted about this project. It has resulted in the arrest of more than 200 people – including Green Party leader Elizabeth May and Vancouver mayoral candidate and former NDP MP Kennedy Stewart – for violating a court order prohibiting protesters from entering within five metres of two Kinder Morgan terminals in Burnaby.

Carbon dioxide levels keep rising

This pipeline debate is occurring at the same time that atmospheric carbon dioxide has reached new heights in human history, New Brunswick and Grand Forks are experiencing unprecedented flooding, and forest fires are already forcing evacuations in Manitoba and B.C.

Carbon dioxide is called a greenhouse gas for its ability to trap solar radiation and keep it confined to the atmosphere. It is the most prevalent among all greenhouse gases produced by human activities, attributed to the burning of fossil fuels.

The average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 410.31 parts per million (ppm) for the month of April, according to the Keeling Curve measurement series made at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.

This marks the first time in the history of the Mauna Loa record that a monthly average has exceeded 410 ppm. This also represents a 30 percent increase in carbon dioxide concentration in the global atmosphere since the Keeling Curve began in 1958. In March, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego observed the 60th anniversary of the data series, the first measurements of which were 315 ppm.

The Keeling Curve draws its name from its creator – Charles David Keeling – and the shape of its dataset, a seasonally seesawing trend of steadily rising CO2 readings that exceeded 400 ppm in air for the first time in human history in 2013. Prior to the onset of the Industrial Revolution, CO2 levels had fluctuated over the millennia but had never exceeded 300 ppm at any point in the last 800,000 years.

Human activity plays a major role in climate changeand we humans are progressively making the environment unfit for life, as Rachel Carson stated in the early 1960s.

1.5 degrees of warming offers hope

There is good news awaiting us if only we will give up our biases.

Humanity can improve the survival odds of thousands of species, according to a new scientific study, if nations can pursue ways to limit warming to the most challenging benchmark established under the 2015 Paris Agreement – 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming – not to the treaty's less stringent 2 degree goal.

The study assessed, in more detail than ever before, a key measure of extinction risk: the shrinking size of each species' current geographical range, or natural habitat. It projected that for an alarming number of species, their range size would shrink by at least half as temperatures rise past the Paris goals.

Another study released at the end of April by the international energy and climate consultancy Ecofys found that a more energy-efficient global economy can decarbonize electricity and emit no net carbon by 2050, deliver 50% odds of keeping average global warming to 1.5°C, and require “significantly less” negative emissions than other low-carbon models.

There is only one catch if we want to protect species, decarbonize our society, and reduce the hazards of climate chaos: we have no time to waste.

Some facts to consider:

  • Climate change is impacting the severity, frequency, and duration of extreme events including flooding, droughts, storm surges, high winds, and heat waves.
  • The 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire displaced 90,000 people, destroyed 2,400 homes and other buildings, and caused disruptions in local economies. At approximately $3.5 billion, it was the costliest insurable loss in Canada’s history.
  • According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), “property and casualty insurance payouts from extreme weather have more than doubled every five to 10 years since the 1980s.”  While insurable payouts averaged $400 million per year over the period of 1983 to 2008, for the last seven of eight years leading up to 2016, extreme insurance payouts exceeded $1 billion in Canada.
  • British Columbia experienced its worst wildfire season on record in 2017 when more than 1,300 fires engulfed the province between April and November, costing B.C. more than $564 million. More than 45,000 people were displaced by the fires.
  • Climate change will significantly impact the frequency, duration, and intensity of heat waves, which can increase heat-related illnesses and fatalities in Canada. During prolonged heat waves in British Columbia (July 2009) and in Quebec (July 2010), public-health officials stated that there were an estimated 156 and 280 deaths, respectively, from heat-related causes.

Each of us – individuals and politicians – needs to take responsibility for what we have done right, and what we have done wrong.

“Each of us has some work to do in this world, something to repair, that only we can do. To ignore or shirk that task by pleading our own incompetence or unworthiness is a kind of affront to God, to the Source of Creation,” says Rabbi Toba Spitzer.

The Earth is calling on the thousands and thousands of intelligent persons on this planet to recognize that humans and nature are not separate and unequal.

We are the ones looking out for the future of ourselves, our children, our grandchildren.

We are not always right and we do not always need to be right. It is important for each of us to keep our life and ego in perspective.

“It’s a really important reminder to think about how much of life’s bounty we really are entitled to, and do we perhaps enjoy a far greater share than any one person might reasonably expect,” writes Rabbi Spitzer.  “Once we have that realization, it’s amazing how generosity and abundance can open up in our hearts and in our lives.”

And help us determine who is right and who the idiot is.

Michael Jessen is an eco-writer and sustainability consultant living at Longbeach near Balfour, BC. Michael can be reached by email at zerowaste@shaw.ca