Citizen Action Monitor

Despite mounting rebuttal evidence, PM Trudeau repeats misguided “environment and economy” pitch  

In a decade or two, will he be Canada’s most reviled PM for ignoring dire climate-related health, economic and environmental risks?

No 2196 Posted by fw, April 8, 2018

First, consider this revealing short video clip of an exchange between Trudeau and a heckler. With a look of arrogance, hint of ridicule and sarcasm, the PM dismisses the heckler, and then repeats his bogus spiel “about how the environment and the economy go together.” (The exchange occurred in Vancouver on April 5 during a Liberal fundraiser. The heckler was subsequently identified as Cedar George-Parker, a young Indigenous leader from the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation).

Heckler: “You’re a weak leader. But youth will stand up and stop you. Weak leader.”

Trudeau: “Thank you for your generous contribution tonight to the Liberal Party of Canada. Very much appreciated. Can we give a round of applause for this young man who speaks himself. Thank you very much. Thank you, You got your 15 minutes. You’re welcome here. Thank you, sir.

Heckler: “The pipeline is not happening, the youth will stand up and stop it. … You lied to the people, you lied to our people in Vancouver.”

Trudeau: “Okay, you can sell your website elsewhere, young man. But thank you, sir. Have a good night, sir. Thank you. Although if you were to listen, if you were to stick around you could hear me talk about how the environment and the economy go together, talk about how we know that building a strong future requires a broad range of voices. Thank you for sharing your words. It’s a shame you’re not sticking around to hear the rest of what I have to say. But politics is about a two-way conversation. [Applause].”

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Second, in sharp contrast to Trudeau’s unbridled optimism about growing the economy while concurrently protecting the environment, reflect on this short video clip of the dinosaurs’ death scene from Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia.

Scientist Ugo Bardi featured this clip on his website, explaining:

An incredibly powerful and moving scene – a true Seneca ruin for the poor creatures walking in a hot and dry landscape. This scene is also reasonably realistic: at that time it was already clear that heat had caused the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs (although a branch of the group survived in the form of birds). The same threat that we face nowadays: global warming generated by an enhanced greenhouse effect. 

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In the context of the accumulating evidence that effectively rebuts Trudeau’s oft-repeated “environment and economy” mantra, I find it ironic for him to lecture those with an opposing viewpoint that “politics is about a two-way conversation,” demanding “a broad range of voices, to build a strong future.

Surely Trudeau is the one who is not listening, not responding to the “broad range of voices” on the other side of what should be a debate, rather than a unilateral declaration by the PM.

Incidentally, Trudeau was preaching his “environment and economy” stump speech during the 2015 election campaign trail. Here’s a passage from his pitch: Real Change: A New Plan for Canada’s Environment and Economy:

“These are just the highlights. You can find the rest of our plan for real environmental and economic change at realchange.ca. And those two things, the environment and the economy, they go together like paddles and canoes. Unless you have both, you won’t get to where you are going, because you can’t have a strong economy without a healthy environment. If we want to leave both to our children and grandchildren – if we want them to inherit clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and sail on, and a strong, vibrant, high-tech economy with good jobs – we’ve got to do them both together.”

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Turning to the mounting evidence, below are summaries of but three of dozens of posts to this blog that challenge the PM’s “talk about how the environment and the economy go together.

1/ Revisiting 2016 event when Trudeau misled Canadians about KM pipeline decision-making process

On November 29, 2016, Trudeau along with members of his cabinet approved the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline under a review process so thoroughly broken, Trudeau campaigned on the explicit promise to scrap it entirely. But that’s not what happened.

It was the language of Trudeau’s approval that confounded Simon Fraser University Prof. Wendy Palen:

“This is a decision based on rigorous debate, on science and on evidence. We will not be swayed by political argument. If I thought this project was unsafe for the B.C. coast, I would reject it.”

Along with two co-authors, Palen wrote to Trudeau in the weeks prior to the pipeline announcement informing him of a new analysis that identified significant gaps in knowledge and research specifically on the impacts of Alberta oilsands crude, known as bitumen, on marine organisms. A review of over 9,000 studies found not enough is known about the potential effects of an oil spill from the tankers that will be fed by the Trans Mountain pipeline to say with certainty the project is safe.

In shocked reaction to Trudeau’s approval, Palen said: “The government’s words and use of the words ‘evidence-based decision-making’ are starting to be questioned by myself and others in the scientific community.”

And Kathleen Walsh, executive director for the science-advocacy group Evidence for Democracy, was prompted to question Trudeau’s “truthfulness”:

“If government is serious about these decisions being based on science, they need to make that kind of information open and available and they need to be transparent about it. … So for the federal government to say these decisions are based on evidence or science is not necessarily truthful.

Apparently, the federal government is not required to make publicly available the information on which it bases its decisions, so there is no way to independently verify the data or research supporting major project approvals.

Takeaway: The evidence against Trudeau’s Kinder Morgan approval is damning. His claim that approval of Kinder Morgan was “a decision based on rigorous debate, on science and on evidence” was, for the scientific community, “not necessarily truthful.” And so much for the PM’s pronouncement that “politics is about a two-way conversation,” demanding “a broad range of voices, to build a strong future.” You can’t have a conversation with a PM who is clearly not listening.

But perhaps what the PM had in mind was a conversation with fossil fuel industry reps, investment bankers, neoliberal economists, and other elite members of Canada’s ruling class who already agree with and support his misguided “environment and the economy go together” policy.

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2/ Trudeau’s claim that he can build Kinder Morgan and hit Paris targets is “a lot of bullshit” – David Suzuki – Disillusioned with politics, acclaimed scientist David Suzuki laments that “principles and ideals don’t mean a goddamn thing.”

Suzuki went from being an avid supporter of Trudeau to a fierce critic.

Trudeau was like the sun came out and we praised him to the skies. He was fantastic in Paris. He set a very hard target [of 1.5]. … I emailed him after he signed and asked, ‘Are you serious about what you just signed?’ And he emailed back and said, ‘I am very serious.’ We celebrated, we praised him, but the easiest thing to do is sign a document, especially when the end isn’t for years and years. He knows bloody well that he’s not going to be around in 2030. That’s what all politicians do. You can make a flourish and sign and claim but you’re not held accountable. And that’s a problem. We don’t have a way of holding people accountable.”

So when Trudeau approved the pipelines, Kinder Morgan and [Enbridge’s] Line 3, I emailed him and said, ‘You know, you set a hard target of 1.5 degrees. That’s your target. To meet that you know 80 to 85 per cent of those reserves have to be left in the ground. We can’t burn them. Why the hell are you investing in a project that is going to cost billions dollars and then, in order to get your return, that it has to be used for 25 to 30 years? This doesn’t make any sense!’ I said, Why did you run for office? You’re in a position now to do something that is going to affect the future for your children. You’re a father first.’ And you know what his answer was? He didn’t answer. Up to that point he always answered my emails but he stopped answering them.”

Suzuki had this to say in reaction to Trudeau’s claim that he can build Kinder Morgan and hit Paris targets:

“That’s such a lot of bullshit! this is just political doublespeak: ‘We’ve got to keep burning more oil, more fossil fuels, in order to meet our reduction targets.’ What are you talking about? That’s such a crock of shit!”

More to the point, Suzuki alleged that the fossil fuel industry was setting the agenda:

“… the problem is, that, as Andrew Nikiforuk pointed out, when you become a petrostate, you no longer have a democracy. Because the fossil fuel industry then sets the agenda.”

Takeaway: The voice of eminent scientist David Suzuki adds credibility to the view that Trudeau has “stopped answering” his critics. That he has been firmly committed to his misguided “environment and the economy go together” policy was made clear during the 2015 election campaign. And he has never wavered from that position. The policy has become part of a confirmation bias that shapes what he says and how he interprets what others write and say about his policies – he accepts the views of those who agree with him, rejects the views of those who disagree — There is no room for a two-way conversation,” demanding “a broad range of voices.”

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3/ “We will grow our economy while reducing emissions,” says PM Trudeau. Really?

We will grow our economy while reducing emissions. We will capitalize on the opportunity of a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy to create good-paying and long-term jobs.”PM Trudeau (Source: Vancouver Declaration Moves Canada Closer To A National Climate Plan, DeSmogCanada, March 5, 2016).

In an interview, Samuel Alexander, Co-Director of the Simplicity Institute and a Research Fellow with the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, did not mention Trudeau by name in a Q&A interview with Open Democracy (UK). Nevertheless, Alexander made clear that he would reject as “unjustified” Trudeau’s misguided belief that we can grow Canada’s economy while concurrently reducing emissions.

Although Trudeau may not know it, there is an economic term for his deep-seated belief that Canada can grow its economy while reducing emissions — it’s called “decoupling”.

In the Open Democracy (UK) interview, Samuel Alexander defines the meaning of ‘decoupling’ and explains its limits in tackling the climate crisis –

Decoupling refers to the idea of increasing our economic output without increasing or even decreasing energy and resource inputs. We should at once distinguish between ‘relative’ decoupling and ‘absolute’ decoupling. The former refers to a reduction of inputs (resources) per unit of output (GDP). The latter refers to an absolute or overall reduction of inputs.

If an economy expands faster than the efficiency gains it may achieve, it is possible for there to be relative decoupling without absolute decoupling. With respect to climate change, the idea or hope of decoupling is that we can continue growing our economies while reducing total carbon emissions to a safe level.

Decoupling can be achieved by technological or design innovation that helps us produce our commodities more efficiently, or through market mechanisms that price fossil fuels in a way that disincentivizes their consumption and incentivizes the production of low-emission or no-emission alternatives.

This strategy for combating climate change is so popular because it suggests that we don’t really have to re-think the dominant economic paradigm of growth, or change our lifestyles much. That is, by way of decoupling, it is widely believed that we will be able to keep growing our economies without limit, and continue living high-consumption lifestyles, while absolutely decoupling that economic activity from fossil fuels.

It’s a nice idea, perhaps, but the theoretical possibility of absolute decoupling (which is required) doesn’t have much empirical support in reality. It’s a strategy that has been talked about for decades, all the while carbon emissions have continued to grow. There have been no long-term reductions in emissions other than during times of recession or depression.

But people continue to put so much faith in decoupling because it is non-confronting. It allows politicians to claim that they’re pursuing environmentally progressive policies, even though history suggests it is a strategy that doesn’t work.

It allows consumers to go on consuming, trusting that soon our consumption practices will be decoupled from carbon emissions. This is a dangerous myth.

It allows consumers to go on consuming, trusting that soon our consumption practices will be decoupled from carbon emissions. This is a dangerous myth.

There is nothing in itself wrong with decoupling – far from it. I am absolutely in favour of decoupling. There is no way we will solve our environmental challenges unless we learn how to produce our goods and services in less energy and resource intensive ways and reduce overall demands on the planet. My problem with the decoupling strategy is how it is used to deflect attention away from the need to rethink growth economics and consumerism.

Within a growth-orientated economy, efficiency gains (relative decoupling) tend to be reinvested in more growth not reduced impacts (absolute decoupling), and this means that emissions continue to go up, despite the efficiency gains.

Takeaway: The most important take away from this post is that PM Trudeau’s “unjustified beliefs” about the relationship between growing the economy while reducing emissions are taking Canada and the world down a very dangerous path threatening life on Earth.

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