In trying to work through the issues related to Kinder Morgan’s project to twin the Trans Mountain Pipeline I have decided to write it down and see where I end up. I have a lot of scattered thoughts about the issue, so I’m not totally sure where this discussion will end up, but it will be interesting to see.

First, from what I can tell there are two sides to this issue. On the one side we have those who are for the project. There main argument supporting their point of view appears to be economic in nature. On the other side we have those who are opposed to the project. Their main arguments appear to be environmental in nature.

To start, I think I would like to see if I can define some common ground. I think both sides can agree, that if their main arguments were not factors at all, that they would side with the opposing side. That is, for those supporting the pipeline, if there were no economic factors to consider and everyone would be just as well off either way, then the project should not go ahead due to possible environmental damage. Likewise, for those opposing the pipeline, if there were no environmental factors to consider and the environment would not be affected either way, then for sure the project should go ahead as it would be a boon to our economy.

As a side note, I suspect that this is where our prime minister started when he looked at this issue too, only he likely had far more information to work with than I do. I think he was also including several pipelines in his decision, not just this one. I do not, however, have access to all of that information so I will just try to do the best with what I have.

Now, I think that there are a few other points that both sides can agree on as well. First, there will be economic benefits if the project goes ahead. I don’t think either side disagrees with that, even if they do disagree with the extent of these benefits over time. The other thing that both sides can likely agree on is that there will be an environmental cost, though they do disagree with the extent of that cost and our ability to cope with it.

Now, I’m going to stop here for the moment to address something our prime minister said along the lines I have just mentioned. It is something that would seem to indicate that what I am thinking of as common ground may not be that common at all. He said that this project could be done without an increase to our carbon footprint. Some have taken this to mean, effectively, that this project does not have any significant environmental costs. However, that obviously cannot be true as at the bare minimum, this project will increase the supply of oil to the world and that has a long-term cost associated with it.

So, assuming our prime minister isn’t blind to reality, I can only guess that he must either have been talking about the fact that he can balance the carbon footprint that will result by decreasing the footprint elsewhere, or he was speaking only of the short-term impact, and not accounting for the effect this might have on long-term climate change. Personally, I think it was the former; that he had in mind a balance between this project and other projects. This puts me at a bit of a disadvantage in working this out, however, as I do not know what these other projects are (and our leader has not been very open about his logic in this regard). So I am going to have to only consider this project in isolation, but before I do there is one more thing to discuss.

Finding a balance between this project and others in order to not increase our carbon footprint acknowledges that there is an environmental cost to be paid that also needs to be balanced. If that is true, does that mean that we can destroy one part of our environment as long as the impact of doing so is balanced by environmental initiatives taken elsewhere for other parts of our environment? I don’t know the answer to that. I think it would depend on many other, seemingly unrelated, factors. For example, if destroying a bog would provide us with an economic boost and at the same time we took every car in the world off the roads to overly compensate for the carbon footprint would that be justified? Have we taken into account that the bog would take over a thousand years to recover? Have we also taken into account the unique specie of frog that lives there that is now extinct?

I guess what my brain is trying to tell me by working this through is that the environmental impact goes well beyond just the carbon footprint. If that’s true, what about the economic benefits? Do the benefits extend past just the initial monetary gain? I think they likely do. Perhaps the added money will translate into added wellbeing for families and a stronger position on the global stage for our country. Perhaps. Of course, that brings up the question, can these things be measured?

Interesting….I hadn’t actually thought of some of this until just now. I think I am going to need to read a few more articles on this subject in order to try to draw a conclusion here.