At the thousands-strong demonstration against Kinder Morgan earlier this month in Vancouver, I lounged in a sailboat in False Creek with kayaktivists swarming around me, looking up under the Cambie Bridge at a very large homemade “NO KINDER MORGAN” banner that my friends had stitched in fishnet.
As I watched the horizon, hordes of righteous, beaming souls started a police-escorted procession and then moved across the bridge and into downtown. The demo ended with spectacular speeches by a range of First Nations displaying a singular commitment to defeat Kinder Morgan’s plan to massively expand its Trans Mountain Pipeline, which runs from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C.
Immersion in the energy of the crowd was enough to raise a cynic’s sense of resignation as the world inexorably moves down a dangerous climate path facilitated by Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau. Mounting news of climate mayhem includes, for instance, the disappearance of winter in the Arctic.
The words of the late poet Leonard Cohen had become a refuge for me, like many others over the last weeks: everybody knows the dice are loaded and the fight is fixed. We all have this broken feeling that their dog just died, that the politicians are talking to their pockets; that the boat is leaking, the captain lied, and the deal is rotten. That’s how it goes!
Now, it’s just anger. The ambivalence of the deepening pessimism of our future on the one side, and simultaneously heightened optimism in the fleeting collective high with friends and comrades in the march has now dissolved. Now, with the Kinder Morgan decision, it’s just anger.
The Illusions of “Progressive Politicians”
After many environmental groups campaigned to get the vote out to oust Harper through strategic voting, the results of the election and now this Kinder Morgan decision only confirms that the “lesser evil” is still evil.
This is the problem with a climate movement aligning with political power, rather than with social justice. In aligning with what it believes to be the “lesser evil” it often promotes in reality “the more effective evil.”
Across-the-board warnings about Trump have been issued, including remarks in The New York Times: “Global warming may indeed be the sharpest example of how policy in Washington will change under a Trump administration.”
As president, Trump would dump the Paris climate agreement. He has also pledged to revive the bankrupt U.S. coal industry, kill Obama’s Clean Power Plan, eliminate NASA’s climate program, gut federal subsidies for wind and solar power, eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, and stack the Supreme Court and the executive branch of government with industry-friendly appointments.
Trump evokes memories of the Harper government, which extinguished multiple important Canadian environmental laws, muzzled climate scientists, harassed environmental NGOs, created “anti-terrorism” legislation that targets First Nations and other pipeline activists, and generally introduced regressive and reactionary social policy while promoting Canada as the world’s new petro-state.
But what gets lost in the demonizing of Trump and Harper is a critical memory and understanding of the threat to the environment from their political rivals, Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau.
Recall that Obama’s policy on fossil fuel extraction was an “all of the above” strategy that doubled oil extraction largely through fracking while promoting alternative energies. “The greatest oil boom in this nation’s history” argues CNN Money, “has occurred during the tenure of self-proclaimed environmentalist Barack Obama”.
Sorry for the spoil, but Trudeau has always been a fossil-fuel champion while claiming support for “green” energy sources. He makes the absurd claim that Canada actually needs new Tar Sands pipelines to pay for Canada’s transition to a green economy.
Trudeau’s approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline should not be surprising just as he ignored questions of social licence in the cases of Pacific Northwest LNG, Woodfibre LNG and the Site C dam.
We should have all been clear that his pursuit of the national carbon tax is only cover for the continued exploitation of coal, gas and oil. Market mechanisms have been the preferred “solution” for the past 20 years of global climate meetings, run by the largest corporations of the world and their government cheerleaders.
The Onset of Abrupt Climate Change
Scientists have argued for over 100 years that the radiative effects of increasing carbon dioxide would eventually push delicate ecosystems past historical boundaries and into zones that were dangerous to human life and delicate ecological equilibriums.
At some point, cumulative anthropogenic contributions would force and trigger amplified positive feedbacks to activate independently within atmospheric and oceanic systems themselves, causing exponential transformations and consequent “runaway,” irreversible climate crisis.
Today, scientists monitor the onset of abrupt climate change in real time. Climate modelling of gradual and linear changes to earth systems are being eclipsed by pronouncements, based on peer-reviewed research, of the passing of climate thresholds and “tipping points” within climate systems.
Those who fear a Trump presidency or Trudeau duplicity is disaster do not understand that we are already well into the disaster. Trump is just a little more extreme symptom of a much larger and more intransigent problem that most citizenry are willing to accept.
The Climate Movement Vancouver Needs
After the fleeting exuberance of the day of the demo, I couldn’t help wonder what kind of climate movement is being built in the multiple B.C. struggles against Kinder Morgan, PacificNorthwest LNG, Site C, the reopening of Mount Polley, to name a few.
When scientists consider a new geological era termed the “Anthropocene,” it implicates the entire trajectory of humanity’s fossil fuel driven industrial capitalist system as the agent of that crisis.
To achieve any overall success, these multiple challenges require a coordinated effort by a strategic environmental movement, organized by region, industry, sector. It needs to develop a tactical focus and organizational structure that is informed by some understanding of what links all these threats together.
The climate movement at one time bought into the consensus and “solutions” offered by so-called “progressive” politicians like Al Gore, which coincided with the interests of the largest corporations in the world, industrial lobbyists and the global political elite.
The “Climate Justice” movement emerged globally within multiple grassroots struggles and coalesced at international climate meeting protests to reject of corporate business-as-usual environmentalism that many NGOs had subscribed to.
These false solutions to climate crisis included carbon markets and meagre market disincentives such as carbon pricing and tax schemes; nothing that would threaten continued economic growth and the power of the one per cent over the interests of people and the planet.
The corporate control over climate solutions have meant that over the last 22 annual United Nations climate meetings, global emissions have almost doubled and the threat of climate crisis has become increasingly catastrophic.
Trudeau will go on doing what he has been elected to do: ensuring Canada’s place in the juggernaut of globalized capitalism with its growth and profit imperatives.
As the deteriorating emergency of climate crisis presses upon all of us we need to remember what is increasingly foreclosed for activists is forms of climate action other than the most radical. The time for small measures is over and the need for drastic action is at our doorstep.
Global Climate Justice
Referring to the election of Trump, a new coalition of leading environmental groups meeting in Marrakesh, Morrocco issued a manifesto, “the views of one man neither change how the rest of the world sees the climate crisis, nor can they change the reality of what needs to happen to keep temperature rise to a minimum, below 1.5 C. The rest of the world will go on with climate action, thanks to our incredible pressure as global movement and communities at the frontline who are building power.
“As global citizens we commit to build a climate movement, whose beating heart is justice, that can break out of its silo and create a broad based progressive movement alongside Black Lives Matter, Indigenous movements, women’s movements, student movements, LGBTQI communities, migrants movements, labour movements, and local movements against corporate power and the fossil fuel industry that work together to address the inequalities and injustices that blight our world.”
The reality of the threat of catastrophic climate change requires the movement to keep fighting on all fronts. It requires a clear understanding of the differentiation between traditional environmental as opposed to the emerging “climate justice” movement. But it also requires the addition of an important element. This is the focus on “survival” and the requirement to work to “democratize survival.”
Activism as if there is “everything to lose”, shifting into an emergency mode, bringing intensified vigor to understanding privilege and building solidarity with communities most vulnerable (locally and globally), connecting with wider movements to strengthen local community resiliency, challenging inequality and economic and political power.
Thank you for those few moments on the streets this past weekend, Vancouver! Be careful of the allies you make! Now the real work begins to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline!
A shorter version of this article was published on Ricochet.