“Yes, and...”: Climate change must be part of the Energy East pipeline debate

Published Tuesday, July 5, 2016 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it,” American author Upton Sinclair wrote in 1935.

If a recent email exchange I had with TransCanada Corporation, the proponent of the Energy East Pipeline, is any indication, Sinclair’s declaration is as true as ever today, and applies to companies as well as individuals.

An oversight?

I think I’m reasonably well versed in issues surrounding the Energy East pipeline, both economic and environmental.  But I am struck by how, in any official TransCanada communications about environmental implications of the project, climate change is never mentioned.  Plenty about waterways and pipe integrity, but to my knowledge nothing about climate change.

It’s caused me to wonder: just what is TransCanada’s position on climate change?   I believe it’s a reasonable question, since many companies – BMO, Bell Canada, CN Rail, even oilsands giant Suncor – have taken public stands.  So I decided to ask TransCanada via email earlier this year.

A response, but...

Tim Duboyce, TransCanada’s senior communications specialist, responded promptly and politely.  He pointed out that the global demand for oil is expected to rise; that the oil destined to be carried by the pipeline will be produced regardless and will just be transported by rail in the absence of the pipeline; and that Energy East would enable the displacement of imported oil.

But no mention of climate change.  I asked again, and got no further.

Proving once again it certainly is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

(Interestingly, TransCanada’s Corporate Social Responsibility Report does mention climate change as a company priority.  So why didn’t Mr. Duboyce mention that in his responses to me?  Maybe he shares my own impression, that the report seems rather heavy on words but light on specifics or actions.)

"Yes, and..."

Not long ago, I read a business article suggesting that more constructive discussions occur when “Yes, and” is used instead of “Yes, but”.  Let’s try that here.

Global demand for oil is expected to rise?  Yes, and it is widely known and well accepted that if we burn all the fossil fuels we know exist in reserves around the world, we have no hope of limiting climate change to two degrees.

Oil will be carried by rail anyway?  Yes, and rail shipments are easy to end as market conditions change.  A multibillion dollar pipeline locks us, for at least four decades, into the very oil-based economy we need to move beyond, because the people who invest in that pipeline will be very anxious to recover their money.

The pipeline would displace imported oil?  Yes, and the origin of oil is inconsequential to climate change; emissions are emissions.  

Plus: the pipeline would bring much-needed jobs?  Yes, and over 90 per cent of them are temporary jobs that will disappear once construction ends.  

Canada produces a small share of global emissions?  Yes, and our per capita emissions are among the highest in the world.

China and other developing nations are the real problem?  Yes, and many are taking aggressive action.  China has more solar, wind and hydro power than any other country, and continues to invest heavily.  India is a leader in wind power.  Over 3.5 million households in Bangladesh are powered by solar.  

Healthy dialogue

In a recent newspaper column, the CEO of Enterprise Saint John and the co-chairs of the Energy East Saint John Partners Forum extolled economic benefits promised by the pipeline, and invited readers to support the project.  They mentioned not a single word about climate change. 

The column suggested that the debate around Energy East warranted a healthy public dialogue.

To which I would add: Yes, and the reality of our global climate crisis needs to be at the heart of that dialogue.