Environmentalists aren’t interested in the facts
By Barry Cooper
CALGARY, AB/ Troy Media/ – One of the biggest political stories of 2014 will continue a major story of 2013: getting Alberta oil to world markets. Enbridge’s reversal of Line 9 through Ontario and Quebec (300,000 bpd) and the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans-Mountain pipeline (300,000 bpd) are important. The most interesting (and weirdest) discussions concern the big ones, TransCanada’s Keystone XL (830,000 bpd) and Enbridge’s Northern Gateway (525,000 bpd).
Russ Girling, CEO of TransCanada Corporation, is puzzled by the opposition of environmentalists to KXL. He told Claudia Cattaneo of the Financial Post that he takes phone calls from enviros not because they are either civil or coherent but because he is trying to understand where they are coming from. “Nobody will engage in dialogue with me,” he said. Al Monaco, CEO of Enbridge, likewise has said it is “tough” to discuss the concerns of pipeline opponents because “in a lot of cases we don’t have a response on the other side.”
Girling thinks he has figured out why none of the opponents of KXL want to discuss the project on its merits. It’s too important “for their ability to raise money.” Accordingly, they prefer to stigmatize KXL as “the sole symbol of greenhouse gas emissions.” When he points out that, in reality, KXL would simply replace existing imports not add to oil consumption, nothing registers. How KXL became a symbol, he’s not sure.
Now, Russ Girling is a commonsensical businessman living in a world where facts matter, so it’s not surprising that he sees opposition to KXL as a money-maker for the enviros. To be sure, it is. But KXL the symbol is far more than that.
In politics, religion, poetry –you name it – symbols express experiences, which are not always grounded in commonsense reality. Nowhere has this been more obvious than in what political scientists call the “second reality” created in the enviros’ imagination, where facts and commonsense are the last things to encumber their minds.
Consider their response to the Joint Review Panel (JRP) that combined the expertise of the National Energy Board and the federal Environment Ministry. The JRP report recommended approval of Northern Gateway (with 209 conditions to be met by Enbridge). The discussion of “environmental burdens” of pipeline construction was particularly thorough.
Martin Louie, chief of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation, observed of the 209 conditions that grizzlies and caribou “don’t have much of a say.” A commonsensical reply would remind Louis that, for the most part, the line will be underground.
Given that public opinion in B.C. increasingly supports the pipeline, the non-native enviros, who cannot credibly invoke the animals, have an even larger problem. They have decided, no matter what the law says or governments decide and whatever the economic and social benefits to First Nations and to Canadians, they are agin’ it. Ben West of the ForestEthics Advocacy declared the fight “will never be completed.” Never? Likewise Mike Hudema of Greenpeace promised endless “civil disobedience to ensure this pipeline never gets built.” Never? We’ll see.
Such sentiments are not based on commonsense or even politics in the normal sense of the term. Rather, they are justified by ideological fantasies. Neo-Marxist enviros – green on the outside and red inside and so conventionally called watermelons – have invented an “extractavist development model” as being behind the last gasps of “late capitalist globalization.” Their more romantic fellow-travelers warn of unnamed dangers to the Great Bear Sea, which exists nowhere but in their imaginations.
These dreamers, quite simply, have lost touch with commonsense reality. No wonder the pipeliners are puzzled.
Barry Cooper is professor of political science at the University of Calgary.