Trudeau's climate plan is a dangerous fraud

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces a federal pollution pricing system. Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

It's possible that the world's top climate scientists are lying.

If so, we can relax and feel confident that Justin Trudeau has dealt with the climate crisis in the appropriate way.

Although the prime minister approved the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline last month, he's vowed to channel pipeline profits into clean energy projects. Compared to the Conservatives, Trudeau's climate package, which includes taxes on carbon, seems reasonable and balanced -- with a sweetener of environmental activism thrown in. (After all, it's 2019.)

But if climate scientists are not lying, if they're just honestly reporting their scientific findings, Trudeau's package is a dangerous fraud -- one that gives us a false sense that we can dramatically increase output from Alberta's oilsands without seriously imperiling the world, and ourselves.

I'm inclined to believe the scientists. Convened by the United Nations, they reviewed more than 6,000 scientific studies and reported last fall that we have only about a dozen years left if we are to prevent truly dire climate conditions which go well beyond the kind of horrific wildfires, heat waves, droughts and floods we're already experiencing.

To avoid this, the scientists on the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called on the world to make urgent and unprecedented changes that would dramatically reduce our fossil fuel consumption.

The chances of the world doing so are, of course, slim.

But that slim hope would be reduced to a thread by the Trans Mountain expansion, which would triple the pipeline's capacity to transport the province's heavy crude oil, one of the world's dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels.

That would be equivalent to adding 34 million cars to our roads, according to the environmental group Oil Change International.

Renowned U.S. climate scientist James Hansen has said if Alberta's oilsands are fully exploited, it's "game over."

So Trudeau's promise to direct pipeline profits to clean energy -- as good as that sounds -- is like allowing cigarettes to be sold to kids as long as tobacco companies make generous donations to cancer research.

Given the Canadian political landscape, Trudeau's compromise may seem like the best we can do. But, as Winston Churchill once said: "Sometimes it is not enough to do our best; we must do what is required."

By that standard, we're failing miserably.

With climate change increasingly in the headlines, it's easy to be lulled into believing the world is finally cutting carbon emissions. In fact, they continue to rise.

The climate has warmed roughly 1 C since the 1850s, and it's expected to warm another half-degree, due to carbon already in the atmosphere. The big question is whether we can hold it to 1.5 C -- a level of warming with severe but manageable consequences. At 2 C, it gets truly scary.

Ottawa admits Canada is far from meeting its carbon-reduction targets. This understates our poor performance.

A 2018 study published in the journal Nature Communications ranked Canada among countries with the world's least effective climate policies. The study found that if Canada's policies were adopted worldwide, global temperatures would rise by a disastrous 5.1 C by the end of the century. And that assessment was made before Trudeau approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Given the potential catastrophe ahead, it's amazing the subject is often discussed with detachment.

Economist Moshe Lander of Concordia University recently argued that, with the world moving toward a carbon-free future, Alberta's oil should be extracted while there's still time; "it's sort of a now or never approach."

This attitude -- let's dump every bit of carbon into the air while we can still make a buck from it! -- reveals a stunning indifference to the enormity of the crisis we face, and the fighting spirit we'll need to summon if we're going to save ourselves and future generations.

Winston Churchill demonstrated that sort of fighting spirit when he vowed in 1940: "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets ..."

Imagine if he'd settled for: "We'll do our best. But we have to balance the need to fight tyranny with the need to create jobs."

Linda McQuaig is a journalist and author. Her book Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and Other Canadian Myths was among the books selected by the Literary Review of Canada as the "25 most influential Canadian books of the past 25 years." This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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