11/21/2016 04:48 EST | Updated 11/21/2016 04:55 EST

Approving Kinder Morgan Would Make A Coal Phase-Out Irrelevant


Some days, I wake up, look at the news and wonder if the government of Canada actually thinks it can horse-trade with physics. In the movie playing in my head, Justin Trudeau is sitting down with the laws of thermodynamics printed out on his desk asking his minister of science to find a compromise so they'll stop getting in the way of him building a pipeline.

But, try as anyone might, you can't compromise with a flood, prevent a wildfire with talking points or negotiate with a drought. Climate change requires action, and that action needs to reflect the cold, clinical reality that in 2016, we have very little room left to keep burning fossil fuels and no room left to build new fossil fuel projects.

That's why, on the one hand, today's announcement from the federal government that they're planning to phase out coal powered electricity in Canada is a great move. It's a clear recognition that it's time to move past coal and to renewable energy, especially at a time when the price of solar has never been lower. On the other hand though, a coal phase-out only works if you also phase out other fossil fuels.

According to Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, phasing out coal will reduce emissions in Canada by five megatonnes. That's great news, but it's soured when you remember that the government just approved the Pacific Northwest LNG project, which is expected to add 11.5 to 14.0 megatonnes worth of emissions each year.

In other words, even to just balance the books Canada would have to do more than two full coal phase-outs each year to equal the emissions they just approved from this single project.

To meet the goals we agreed to in the Paris Climate Agreement, we cannot build any new fossil fuel projects, period.

McKenna also bragged that this move is the equivalent of taking 1.3 million cars off Canada's roads. Again, amazing news. That is, until someone points out that the Kinder Morgan pipeline would have the same impact as adding over 30 million cars to Canada's roads. Or, put another way, the same impact as building 42 new coal plants.

Honestly, I hate writing things like this. I dream of the day when I can read a climate announcement from the federal government with unmitigated excitement. I want to pop champagne corks, put on a party hat and run through the streets praising the Liberal party for their real climate leadership. But alas, some dreams just aren't meant to be. Instead, I have to continue to point out the cold, harsh, and uncompromising math about climate change.

To meet the goals we agreed to in the Paris Climate Agreement, we cannot build any new fossil fuel projects, period. Not building any new coal fired power plants is a big part of doing that, but it's only a step in the right direction. If this government follows that step with a decisive leap against climate action, by, say, approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline, they're making a huge mistake. Worse still, if announcing a coal phase-out is part of a plan to try and sell a pipeline approval, they're making the fatal error of thinking that climate change cares about political calculus.

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Kinder Morgan Pipeline Protest, Fall 2014