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Trudeau’s New Pipeline Talking Point — Straight From the Oil Industry

In a Facebook Live interview with the Vancouver Sun this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau trotted out a favourite talking point of the oil industry.

 “Where we have to recognize that we’re not going to find common ground is in the people who say the only thing we can do to save the planet is to shut down the oilsands tomorrow and stop using fossil fuels altogether within a week,” Trudeau said.

There are a few things wrong with this statement.

1) Who’s campaigning to shut down the oilsands tomorrow? I’ve been writing about energy and environment for nearly 10 years and I can’t name a single credible group that’s ever campaigned to shut down the oilsands. Heck, I can’t even think of one that’s campaigning to decrease production. They almost all campaign to limit expansion.

2) Who’s campaigning to stop using fossil fuels within a week? Again, I’ve never once come across a single environmentalist who has taken that position.

Tweet: Attn @JustinTrudeau: characterizing an incredibly complex debate as black&white is incredibly unproductive http://bit.ly/2i7tCd4 #cdnpoli3) Characterizing an incredibly complex debate as black and white is incredibly unproductive.

So what is the pipeline debate actually about?

It’s about expansion. From reading news stories and Facebook comments and now the comments of our Prime Minister, you might not realize that, but the pipeline debate has always come down to this:

In a time when we know we have pledged to decrease our use of fossil fuels within the next few decades to have any chance of securing a habitable planet for ourselves, should we in fact be expanding fossil fuel infrastructure?

If a new pipeline doesn’t get built, it doesn’t mean production needs to decrease in the oilsands. It doesn’t even really mean anyone’s going to use less fossil fuels: it means there’s less room for expansion of the oilsands and expansion of fossil fuels.

In effect, many pipeline opponents are actually only advocating for the status quo — keep the oilsands chugging along like they are right now without any increase in production and use the pipeline infrastructure we already have.

Meantime, those who argue for more pipelines are actually arguing to ramp up fossil fuel production at a time that we know we need to ramp it down.

Reality check: Canada has pledged to completely decarbonize by the end of the century and get as close to zero emissions as possible by 2050 in order to give the planet a bat's chance in hell of staying within two degrees Celsius of warming (i.e. not invoking global chaos).

So spending billions of dollars and years of construction on new fossil fuel infrastructure, such as pipelines, just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, especially when all that effort could go into cashing in on the clean energy revolution.

Rather than a Prime Minister who creates caricatures to argue we can’t find common ground, Canada urgently needs a leader who works with real people to create it.

Image: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the midst of an apparently unhappy moment during his Vancouver Sun livestream. Photo: Torrance Coste via Facebook

Emma Gilchrist is a reporter, editor, public speaker and spreadsheet-keeper. She started her journalism career more than 15 years ago…

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