Justin Trudeau finally got something wrong, and it took a climate activist to call him out
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Justin Trudeau finally got something wrong, and it took a climate activist to call him out


Justin Trudeau, the handsome, worldly prime minister of Canada seems to do no wrong, but when it comes to climate change, he’s a complicated figure.

The prime minister boldly declared that “Canada is back” at the negotiating table for U.N. climate talks during a speech at the Paris negotiations in 2016, garnering a standing ovation. 

But a well-known climate activist wants the world to see through the double-speak. Never one to shy away from a fight, activist and journalist Bill McKibben took aim at the internet’s favorite world leader, and onetime boxer, in an op-ed on Monday in The Guardian.

While Trudeau’s government is working to lower its emissions and aid other countries hit hard by climate change, his administration has also been pushing the development of Canada’s bountiful oil and gas resources, including the dirty tar sands of Alberta. 

Trudeau may be viewed by many Americans and millions of Canadians as something of a left-leaning hero, but the story is far more complex when it comes to his climate policies. That largely, although not entirely, driven by the fact that Canada has huge amounts of oil and natural gas waiting to be tapped into.

Trudeau signs the Paris Climate Agreement in April 2016.

Trudeau signs the Paris Climate Agreement in April 2016.

Image: Lennihan/AP/REX/Shutterstock

In a Q&A with Mashable on Tuesday, McKibben pointed to a speech Trudeau gave at a March energy conference in Houston as exhibit A in Trudeau’s hypocrisy. 

“Trudeau says all the right things, over and over,” McKibben wrote. “But those words are meaningless if you keep digging up more carbon and selling it to people to burn, and that’s exactly what Trudeau is doing.”

Trudeau earned another standing ovation during that speech, this time for stating that “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.” 

“If everyone pumps and mines what they’ve got we’re off the cliff”

“The Houston speech, and his relentless promotion of KXL [Keystone XL], Kinder Morgan, and other new infrastructure, makes it clear that he’s not willing to take on the other —and bigger — part of the problem: Canada’s fossil fuel industry,” McKibben said. 

“He clearly is willing to back their project of pumping as much of the tar sands as markets will bear,” McKibben said. 

“Well, if that assessment is true, then the climate story would be over, because if everyone pumps and mines what they’ve got we’re off the cliff,” he said. “Even that one deposit in Alberta represents 30% of what we can burn and stay below 1.5 degrees [Celsius]— which is the target Canada did so much to create” at the Paris negotiations. 

Open pit bench mining at an oil sands operation near Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Open pit bench mining at an oil sands operation near Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Image: Shutterstock / Donny Ash

“I get his political problem — he doesn’t want to annoy Albertans, and if he does he figures he’s out of a job and then nothing good happens on climate. Political reality is a real thing, and you have to pay attention to it. But reality reality is an even stronger force, now that we’re actually melting the poles. I mean, yesterday the news from Canada is that climate change reversed the flow of a massive river in the Yukon — how much more Biblical does it get?” McKibben said.

“We’ve simply run out of time for easy solutions that don’t cause any pain for the fossil fuel industry — an industry that by funding denial made sure we’d run out of time,” he said.

McKibben ignited the modern climate movement through the use of math. His 2012 Rolling Stone article, entitled “Climate Change’s Terrifying New Math,” spelled out how little time we have left to slow and eventually reverse global warming. 

He went on to help form a grassroots organizing group called 350.org. The name refers to a potentially “safe” level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that would not push the globe past the precipice of dangerous global warming.

As for the U.S., McKibben says the opposition to the Trump administration’s staunchly anti-environment policies “continues to grow.”  

“… The climate marches will be important. I think they demonstrate not just resistance, but also the opportunity to consolidate progressives behind a real alternative,” McKibben said. 

He noted that Democratic Senators Bernie Sanders and Jeff Merkley are planning to introduce climate legislation shortly before the April 29 climate march.

“We need to get folks behind their 100% renewables call — so that when the political tide swings away from Trump, the Democrats are no longer stuck with Trudeau-like half-measures,” McKibben said. 

To some extent, the situations in Canada, the U.S. and even Australia are far from ideal if the world is to succeed in slowing and reversing global warming. 

“The U.S. under Trump can’t be bothered to acknowledge that we face a crisis; Canada and Australia can’t be bothered to grapple with what the math of that crisis clearly requires: keeping carbon in the ground,” McKibben said.

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April 19, 2017
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