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Climate change, climate denial and climate ironies in wake of Alberta Legislature's pipeline demand vote

Alberta Legislature Building. Photo: IQRemix/flickr

On Tuesday, the Alberta Legislature passed a motion declaring the support of everyone there for the Trans Mountain Pipeline to the West Coast.

The motion, introduced by NDP Premier Rachel Notley, also demanded the federal government take "all necessary legal steps" to get cracking on the project to expand the existing pipeline owned by the Canadian subsidiary of Texas-based Kinder Morgan Inc.

The project was approved by the National Energy Board last year and, if completed, is expected to increase tanker traffic about seven fold to and from the Kinder Morgan Terminal at the far eastern end of Vancouver's long, narrow and windy harbour, which is one part of why the mega-project is so unpopular on the B.C. Coast.

And what do you want to bet they couldn't pass a unanimous motion in the B.C. Legislature in Victoria saying the opposite of what MLAs all agreed to say in the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton? So there!

Meanwhile, on Monday, the Alberta Legislature's NDP Caucus published a news release pointing out that while Opposition Leader Jason Kenney now insists his MLAs aren't "climate deniers," things said by many United Conservative Party Caucus members suggest otherwise.

This is pretty hard to deny, assuming Kenney meant "climate change deniers."

You never know with Kenney. He's a sharp one. You sometimes have to parse his sentences to see what he's actually saying, like when he acknowledged there's climate change, but it's … not caused by anything us humans do.

At any rate, the NDP Caucus news release listed a half dozen examples, with citations, of UCP MLAs saying things that sure sound like climate change denial to a fair-minded person.

There was Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, who financed a climate change denial video, sitting at the head table of an event billed "Climate Dogma Exposed." Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter posted a tacky cartoon mocking the idea of climate change, while Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Scott Cyr provided a link to a story suggesting global cooling is the problem. Both Drumheller-Stettler MLA Rick Strankman and Kenney were quoted suggesting climate change is just one of those natural things, nothing to do with anything we get up to in Alberta.

This was fair enough for the NDP to target, but there are people who would argue that what Notley and her MLAs are doing is also a variety of climate change denial.

Specifically, back in May last year, Seth Klein and Shannon Daub of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives argued that just because there are hardly any outright climate change deniers any more doesn't mean there isn't any more climate change denial.

Most fossil fuel corporations, governments, think tanks, Astro-Turf organizations and politicians who benefit from activities that contribute to climate change have nowadays stopped denying that global warming is a thing, they explained.

Instead, the director and associate director of the CCPA's British Columbia office asserted, such people and groups are typically shifting from outright denial to conceding that the science is real while doing things that delay meaningful change that might do something about it. Daub dubbed this "The New Climate Denialism."

"They've decided to stop fighting the science," she said, cataloguing four strategies for doing nothing while acknowledging the reality of the problem. She called one group "The Pragmatists," those who seek an image makeover for oil sands extraction to win markets abroad.

That's what Notley and her MLAs are doing, Daub argued last year, when they use carbon pricing and tougher environmental regulations in an effort to persuade Canadians we can have climate leadership and more oil and gas expansion at the same time.

But many environmentalists argue it's not possible to use such arguments to justify pipeline expansion that would facilitate continued increases in oil sands extraction when that in turn would make it impossible for Canada to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

So all the Alberta NDP is doing, according to Daub's argument, is providing "green cover for industries profiting from fossil fuels and pumping carbon into the environment."

Seen in this context, the NDP Caucus news release is mildly ironic in light of the next day's unanimous motion.

And while the motion without question reflects preponderance of opinion among MLAs and the public generally in Alberta, it is nevertheless troubling there was not a single voice of principled dissent in the assembly.

As readers will recall, even in moments of grave national crisis, there are usually one or two elected representatives with the courage to swim against the tide on principle -- as Tommy Douglas did in 1970 when he voted, alone in the House of Commons, against the government "using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut" by implementing the War Measures Act.

On Tuesday, even David Swann, the sole Liberal in the Legislature, voted for the Trans Mountain motion, despite the defeat by the House of his amendment to require more transparent annual reporting "on both the benefits and the risks of increasing bitumen flows. …"

Alert readers will recall that in 2002, before entering politics, Swann was canned as Medical Officer of Health for the Palliser Health Region for daring to support a resolution by an organization of health officers that sought government action on climate change. It was revealed later the Progressive Conservative environment minister of the day pulled strings to force him out.

On Wednesday, the MLA for Calgary-Mountain View, whose political career included a spell as leader of the Opposition and two stints as leader of the Alberta Liberals, announced he won't seek reelection in 2019. "This is the right time for me to move on to other things, pass the torch to the younger generation," he told reporters.

Swann vowed, however, to remain active on the issues he fought for during his political career, including government action on climate change.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: IQRemix/flickr

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