Bill McKibben speaks at an event in Burbank, California, in 2013.
Bill McKibben, a radical U.S. environmentalist who would prefer to keep all carbon in the ground, has upset the Trudeau government by calling the prime minister “the brother” of Donald Trump on climate change.
Now, McKibben is lobbying the Canadian Museum of History to cut ties with its sponsor, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, an organization he calls “sleazy oil lobbyists.”
The Liberals are apparently concerned about the criticism denting support for their twin-track policy of approving pipelines and imposing a national carbon tax. They are encouraging more moderate environmental voices to disassociate themselves from the what one called McKibben’s “stratospheric hyperbole.”
McKibben is a co-founder of 350.org, an international grassroots climate movement that seeks to stop all fossil fuel projects and which counts Canadian author Naomi Klein among its board members. The group targets political leaders in its efforts to fight “iconic” battles against the fossil fuel industry.
McKibben wrote an article published last Monday in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper that called Trudeau a “disaster for the planet.”
“Donald Trump is a creep and unpleasant to look at but at least he’s not a stunning hypocrite when it comes to climate change,” he wrote, criticizing the decision to push new pipelines through in Canada and the U.S.
McKibben claimed the 173 billion barrels of recoverable oil in Canada’s oilsands accounts for 30 per cent of what is needed to take the world past the 1.5 C temperature-increase target set in Paris last year (although, as University of Alberta energy economist Andrew Leach has pointed out, at current extraction rates it would take 200 years to recover that amount of oil).
McKibben is clearly not done with Trudeau yet, though. In a letter this week to supporters, he pointed to another example of what he called the Prime Minister’s failure to take climate change seriously.
“I’m writing to you today to ask you to call on Canada’s most iconic museum to cut ties with the dirtiest oil lobby in the country — the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers,” the letter read.
He said 350.org plans to attend the museum’s annual public meeting next week to protest “the oil industry’s dirty tricks.”
Patricia Lynch, the museum’s director of corporate affairs, said that in 2013 CAPP announced a $1-million, five-year sponsorship deal for an exhibition on Confederation that opened in 2015 and has since travelled to six cities around the country. “The museum welcomes dialogue related to our work as a public institution,” she said.
But the radical greens have ruffled feathers among more moderate advocates of climate-change action, who agree with Trudeau that no country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave it there.
Leach pointed out that McKibben himself has endorsed carbon pricing as the way “to enlist markets in the fight against global warming.”
The Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec.
Bruce Lourie, president of the Ivey Foundation, a private charitable foundation that champions integrating the environment and the economy, called McKibben’s message “wrong and unhelpful.”
“Canada is now on a transition pathway to a low-carbon economy,” he said. “The great challenge is that countries all over the world, including the United States, still have an insatiable appetite for Canadian oil. The issue is foreign demand, not Canadian supply.”
Lourie said it would be “nice to wave a magic wand” and make oil go away overnight, but that’s not realistic.
He said Canada has addressed its own demand issues by phasing out coal-fired electric power and introducing a carbon tax, while at the same time approving pipelines that would provide the greatest economic benefit and the least environmental harm.
Pipelines have become a potent symbol for all things wrong with fossil fuels, Lourie said. “But they are mostly that: symbolic.”
“Trudeau took a bold step into the middle and the fact that both sides erupted into knee-jerk criticism isn’t surprising. Trudeau’s government did what the moment required: it opened up a necessary space in the centre.”
The Trudeau government is sufficiently concerned about the prospect of losing support among green voters that it is encouraging influential progressive figures to speak out against McKibben.
But the polling evidence suggests Canadians back the Liberals’ energy and economy strategy, including carbon pricing. A Nanos Research Group poll published in March found broad majority support across the country for both a price on carbon and pipeline expansion.