On the plus-side, as a writer interested in dystopian fiction, I don’t have to make it up anymore. We as a species are repeating the pattern that has been part of the evolutionary cycle from the very beginnings of life on earth. We are overtaxing and despoiling our environment to the point where there will be a catastrophic collapse. Millions might die and the nasty, brutish, short realities of survival will reassert themselves in parts of the world where they have not been experienced by the majority of people in living memory.
On the downside, if you are among those who care about such things, it will be our children and grandchildren that pay the price of our profligacy, of our inability to rise to the occasion and break the grim reaper’s hold, of our greed and collective stupidity. Anyone in my age-bracket is likely to escape the awful fate we’re concocting; what we get to suffer instead is a cancerous tumor of guilt growing in our hearts.
The deciding instance for me has been the uproar between B.C. and Alberta over completion of the Kinder Morgan line, and the federal government’s incomprehensible claim that building a pipe to transport diluted bitumen over the mountains and down to the coast, and thus incentivising an expansion of output from Alberta’s tar sands, somehow contributes to the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps (and I hope this is the case) I am simply not sophisticated enough to understand how this seemingly contradictory calculus adds up; what I see is a lot of emissions coming out the stack and no sensible explanation as to how they are going to be accounted for.
Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, me thinks, are engaged in a sleight of hand. The best I can credit them with is a permutation of real politick that says: There is no way to stop Kinder Morgan’s determination to threaten B.C.’s coast and add to the choking burden of CO2 in that thin layer of oxygenated gas that supports all life on earth – the best that can be done is to squeeze a few drops of sanity out of the oil executives who are really pulling the levers and twisting the spigots.
To put things in context, Alberta (population 4.1 million) produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other province, including Ontario (population 13.4 million). It produces about 275 megatons of GHGs compared to B.C.’s 50 million. Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan (CLP) allows for a 47 percent increase in tar sands emissions, up to a maximum of 100 megatons per year. That’s their self-imposed ‘cap’.
So, if Canada is going to meet its commitment under the Paris Agreement – to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 – who’s going to do the reducing? The CLP says Alberta will cut emissions by 50 megatons by 2030; in 2005 the province was pumping 175 megatons of GHGs into the atmosphere; by my math, subtracting 50 megatons from Alberta’s current output leaves Wild Rose country producing 225 megatons of GHGs in 2030, or 28.6 percent above 2005 levels. Who’s going to make up that difference? Are the other provinces and territories going to throttle back their own emissions, over and above the gargantuan task that already lies ahead, in order to make up for Alberta’s 100 megaton flatulence?
We haven’t even looked at the downstream effects of increasing tar sands production. At an estimated 165.4 billion barrels, the tar sands are the third largest oil reserve in the world. In 2016 production totaled about 2.5 million barrels per day; the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimates production will be 3.7 million barrels per day by 2030; current global demand averages about 96 million barrels per day. Which of the oil producing nations is going to curb its production to make room for Alberta’s additional 1.2 million barrels per day? Saudi Arabia? Venezuela?
Investing in the capacity for increased long-term production of tar sands oil sends a signal to the world, does it not? It says Canada is sanctimoniously and dubiously claiming it will achieve its GHG targets under the Paris Agreement, at the same time as it increases global oil production – sort of like a drug dealer boasting about being clean, while he sells heroin to addicts out on the street.
There’s no way of making environmental sense of the Notley-Trudeau formula, as far as I can see. But if you factor in politics and short-sighted corporate objectives, all of a sudden the picture comes into sharp focus. Premier Rachel Notley is ‘standing up’ for her province by risking a constitutional crisis, and proving she’s an NDP premier who’s tougher and smarter than any of the long line of Conservative premiers that held office before her. Prime Minster Justin Trudeau is trying to build on the four-seat toehold he gained in Alberta in 2015 by pushing through with Kinder Morgan – fearful that anything less would result in another 40-year setback for the Liberal brand.
Who is going to leave Alberta’s lethal 165 billion barrel nest egg unhatched in the ground, they ask? In other words: How can a politician of any stripe make that kind of decision… they’d rather take a transfusion of Alberta crude straight into their veins than face the wrath of corporate schemers and affected voters.
So we’re hooped. Notley-Trudeau logic is playing itself out in one way or another in every oil rich nation on earth. I do wish someone could explain, outside narrow political or corporate hallways, how the future they have mapped out can contribute to anything but global disaster. Or, to put things another way, please convince me I am mistaken to believe a dystopian future is playing itself out in the here and now, and that portraying it in its ghastly colours isn’t really fiction at all, it’s just a way of getting duped humanity to imagine the grim future we are being led into.
My job as a writer is to portray our messy situations as faithfully and earnestly as I can. What Notley and Trudeau have to know is part of the developing picture will be extreme resistance in B.C., and permanent damage if they force this agenda. There comes a point in the drama when people must choose. Notley-Trudeau supporters are banking on British Columbians backing down, bowing under the oppressive weight of sustained legal, corporate and patriotic browbeating. They are mistaken. There are many people this side of the mountains – and to the east, for that matter – who will make the ‘wrong choices’, and do whatever it takes to prevent Kinder Morgan from getting its way.