Why I’m Opposed to the Northern Gateway Pipeline

George Hoberg
November 11, 2013

This Saturday, November 16, I will be joining hundreds of others from the Vancouver area at Science World for the No Enbridge Pipeline rally at 2 PM. It is part of a Canada-wide day of action, Defend our Climate, Defend our Communities. I’m excited that, given the importance of proposals to increase carbon exports to BC’s reputation as a leader on climate action, the Vancouver event is focusing on the Northern Gateway Pipeline.  It’s a critical time: the regulatory review panel charged with recommending whether the pipeline should proceed is required to report by the end of December 2013.

I strongly encourage you to join us, to ensure that our political leaders understand the breadth and depth of opposition to this proposal within British Columbia. Last winter, I appeared before the regulatory review panel to explain why I’m opposed to this pipeline. I’ve reposted my statement below.

Oral Statement to Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel, Vancouver, BC February 1, 2013

Good afternoon. My name is George Hoberg, and I’m here to add my voice to so many other British Columbians who have spoken to you in opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal.

I’m a professor in the Faculty of Forestry at UBC. I have a PhD in political science from MIT, and I’ve been on the faculty at UBC for 25 years. My research specialization is environmental and natural resource policy and governance. I teach courses in sustainable energy policy and governance. Parts of my remarks today are from the perspective of a scholar, but I will also be speaking as a teacher and now activist, and finally as a father.

I do want to sincerely thank you for your attention today. I am gratified that you are engaged in such a rigorous process of gathering the facts about the project and listening to the values and perspectives of so many British Columbians. I’m quite sad about the set-up of these hearings; that you felt the need to separate the speakers and panel from the audience. But if it has any benefit, I hope that it allows you to better focus and absorb what you are hearing with an open mind.

As a scholar, one of the things I study is aboriginal resource governance. I know the test for sufficient accommodation, last clearly articulated in the Supreme Court’s 2004 Taku case, is vague. But my reading of the jurisprudence leads me to the conclusion that with such widespread and adamant opposition by First Nations, approving this pipeline proposal would not meet an appropriate test for accommodation. The proponent has offered First Nations substantial economic benefits, and assured them that best practices will be used to minimize the risks of pipeline and tanker spills. First Nations’ opposition west of Prince George remains adamant. In this circumstance, it is hard to see how approving the pipeline can be consistent with accommodating First Nations concerns.

As a scholar I also study environmental policies and procedures including environmental assessment. I strongly believe that the decision, in the terms of reference, to exclude consideration of upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions is terribly misguided. The climate impacts of the proposal are not the only environmental risk posed by the pipeline but they are certainly one deserving careful consideration in your process. One needs only to look at the US environmental assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline to see that it is normal and accepted good practice to include upstream and downstream greenhouse gas impacts during regulatory review of oil sands pipeline proposals.

Pipeline or tanker accidents would be a disaster for our rivers and coast. But what worries me more is that even if the oil arrives safely at its destination, it will still contribute significantly to the environmental disaster of dangerous global warming. It is vital to keep in mind what the pipeline is carrying: carbon. The carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere from the bitumen carried through the Northern Gateway pipeline will amount to 83 million tonnes per year.  Shockingly, that’s one-quarter more than the 67 million tonnes the entire province of BC emits in a year.

Climate scientists are telling us that we face a planetary emergency. If we stay on our current fossil fuel energy path, there’s a virtual certainty of catastrophic climate change. Our models also tell us it’s not too late to change course, to avoid the worst effects. But it’s getting very late. According to the International Energy Agency, we only have 5 years to begin a fundamental transformation of our energy system.

The urgency communicated by the IEA, an arm of the OECD, has recently been amplified by both the World Bank and the head of the IMF. We’re not talking about Greenpeace here – these are the pillars of the global establishment that are sounding urgent alarms. The problem is these organizations don’t set global climate policy. In fact, no one sets global climate policy

If climate science teaches us that we face a crisis, my scholarship as a political scientist teaches that global warming is an extraordinary political challenge. The complexity and magnitude of the issue seem to overwhelm us, and we find ourselves in a classic case of the “tragedy of the commons”, where each individual – in this case political jurisdictions like provinces and nations – acting in their own self-interest produce an outcome that is disastrous for their collective interests.

Because of these political challenges, policy has demonstrably failed to act in the interests of humanity. In this context, what is the right way to think about large new fossil fuel projects? What I do it perform a thought experiment: if we had in place a policy regime designed to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets necessary to meet the consensus 2 degree target, would this project make sense? That would involve putting in place a price of carbon that was several hundred dollars a ton. In that context, it’s hard to imagine massive new oil sands infrastructure would be justified. Studies from MIT support this conclusion.

Up to now I’ve been speaking as a scholar, but I want to shift now. As a teacher, I found it increasingly challenging to explain these scientific and political realities to students and not come to the realization that I need to do more than research and teach. How could I continue to stand in front of several hundred young adults each year, the generation that will suffer the consequences of climate change, and not become more active politically myself? It is our generation of leadership – it is me, and it you – that has the power to make the changes to put us on a more sustainable path. If we don’t act now, it will be too late for them.

They are my students. They are our children.

In 2011, along with other faculty and students at UBC, I co-founded a group called UBCC350. We are a group of UBC students, faculty, and staff committed to advocating for meaningful government climate action. We strongly support aggressive global and national action to address the climate crisis, but our immediate focus is on carbon exports from British Columbia. BC has enacted some progressive climate policies, but they have yet to be fully implemented. Recent proposals for projects that would massively increase BC’s carbon exports threaten to overwhelm BC’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gases.

I know that all the members of UBCC350 are vehemently opposed to this pipeline. We will continue to work hard, going door to door, ensuring people know about the climate implications of the pipeline, and encourage them to act politically with their children in mind.

Finally, I want to speak to you as a father. I have two children, ages 16 and 18. By the time they graduate from university, we’ll be beyond the window of opportunity the IEA gives for the fundamental restructuring of the energy system.

The tragic fact is that if we are guided by short term economic thinking, humanity will simply not be capable of rising to the challenge of taking the concerted action sufficient to avoid dangerous global warming. That’s the inevitable conclusion of my scholarship.

My conclusion as a father, and as a citizen of British Columbia, Canada, and this extraordinary planet, is that we need to act now because it is the right thing to do. Surely the first human duty is to protect our children from harm.

I’m very concerned about the risks of pipeline and tanker spills, and the need to respect the rights and aspirations of the First Nations on whose traditional territories we have settled. But my greatest concern with this proposal is its contribution to the climate crisis. We need to act swifty and dramatically to change the trajectory of our energy system. If we want to maintain a safe climate for our children and future generations, that’s what the science tells us we need to do. Approving massive new oil sands infrastructure is simply not consistent with that imperative.

I urge you to find that Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal is not in the national interest.

Thank you for your attention today.

This entry was posted in Climate Action Policy, Energy Pipelines, Oil Sands. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Why I’m Opposed to the Northern Gateway Pipeline

  1. Milan says:

    Thank you for all your efforts in trying to prevent these wasteful infrastructure investments. If we are to deal with climate change, we really need to be investing in projects that mitigate rather than exacerbate the problem.

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