A singular focus on pipeline politics and carbon pricing may be distracting from all the other steps Canada must also take to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions—but oil and gas isn’t the only focus for groups working against climate change, and no one is trying to single out or target just one Canadian province, writes Joshua Buck, Alberta climate program manager for Environmental Defence.
“We get it,” Buck states, in a Calgary Herald opinion piece. “Albertans are frustrated. Multiple levels of governments of all political stripes have put their support behind pipelines going back for a decade at least. And yet, no new pipelines have been completed.”
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But there’s still good reason to oppose the new infrastructure, he explains. “Pipelines allow for the growth of the oil industry, which leads to increased carbon emissions. The oil and gas sector is already the largest contributor to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. It’s practically impossible to shrink the entire carbon emissions pie while allowing the largest slice to continue growing.” And that’s on top of “the risks of oil spills, the threats to endangered species like orca whales, and the trampling on Indigenous rights.”
But “there are no silver bullets” in the fight against climate change, and Buck aims to reassure Albertans that pipelines aren’t the only piece of the puzzle for Canadian climate hawks. “We need action on multiple fronts to reduce emissions across all the major contributing sectors: oil and gas production, transportation, heavy industry, buildings, and electricity,” he writes. So groups like Environmental Defence have been vocal in their support for tar sands/oil sands emission caps, oil and gas methane regulations, the federal clean fuel standard, electric vehicle strategies, increased public transit, stronger building codes, new energy efficiency measures for buildings, and a shift from coal and natural gas to renewable electricity.
“We need to do all of these things, and fast.”
Surprising as it may be to some pipeline proponents, Buck says environmental groups respond to governments the same way most citizens do—they support some of the things they do, and oppose others. But ultimately, “the measure of success for any jurisdiction that says they are working on climate change has to be, are greenhouse gas emissions decreasing?” he writes. “And while progress is being made and the carbon levy is funding good programs, Alberta’s emissions remain the largest of any Canadian province and they are projected to continue to rise for years to come. The increase in oilsands production is the root cause.”
So even if Albertans “are feeling a pinch because of the low price of oil,” Buck concludes, “it’s important to remember that it’s economics and refinery shutdowns that are causing prices to be so low right now. It’s convenient to call out environmentalists as the villain, but our opposition to pipelines is based on science. It’s convenient to suggest that getting shovels in the ground on a new pipeline would somehow reverse our province’s fortunes, but it’s not true.”
That reversal will happen when Albertans “look forward and begin to plan, in earnest, for a future where our oil and gas are not in demand. Yes, many forecasts call for oil demand to continue to increase, but those forecasts assume that the world will not act on climate change. That’s a future that cannot come to pass—not if we want glaciers in the Rocky Mountains, fewer forest fires, and a safe future for our children.”
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