Is Justin Trudeau really a climate criminal?

Justin Trudeau addresses a crowd at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Photo by UN Women/Ryan Brown (Flickr).

During a federal election campaign rally before the September 27 climate strike in Montréal, a friend interrupted Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau to label him a “climate criminal”. When Trudeau joined the enormous march, I dogged him yelling “criminel climatique”. A week later, I was detained and given a $150 ticket for yelling “climate criminal” outside a café where Trudeau was holding a press conference.

While some might consider it hyperbolic, the case for labeling Trudeau a climate criminal is overwhelming.

The Liberals spent $4.5 billion on the Trans Mountain pipeline and related infrastructure. This important government intervention is designed to expand extraction of heavy carbon emitting tar sands oil. Overwhelmingly, scientists argue that these fossil fuels must stay in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic climate disturbances.

Two years ago Trudeau told oil executives in Houston that “no country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.” With these words the prime minister made it clear his government would choose business—and profits—as usual over the survival of the human species.

The Liberals broke their pre-election promise to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. Ottawa continues to offer a few billion dollars a year in different forms of aid to oil, gas and other fossil fuel firms.

The Liberals eliminated the planned toll on the recently opened $4.4 billion Champlain Bridge to the South Shore of Montréal. The move tells suburbanites the federal government will aggressively subsidize the most costly, unhealthy and ecologically destructive form of land transport for every metre of their 10, 40 or 80 kilometre daily drive into the city.

The Liberals spent tens of billions of dollars on heavy carbon emitting fighter jets and naval vessels. In the best-case scenario, these weapons will emit enormous amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) during training. In the worst-case scenario, they will spew GHGs as well as destroy lives and ecosystems. Nevermind that militarism is intimately tied to nation state competition which undercuts the international cooperation needed to mitigate the climate crisis.

On their own, any one of these acts should be viewed as the work of a climate criminal. Failing to declare, legislate and fund a massive justice-based transition off of fossil fuels is an act of climate criminality.

Indeed, the situation is dire. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere is growing precipitously, increasing global temperatures and the number, frequency and intensity of “natural” disasters. Hundreds of thousands of people are already dying as a result of anthropogenic climate disturbances, and the numbers are projected to grow.

The other reason it is criminal for a prime minister (or any global leader for that matter) to fail to pursue a justice-based transition to renewable energy is Canada’s large current and accumulated carbon footprint. Per capita emissions in many African countries amount to barely one per cent of Canada’s rate. Even more startling is the historic imbalance between nations in global GHG emissions. According to a 2009 study in The Guardian, Canada released 23,669 million metric tons of carbon dioxide between 1900 and 2004 while Afghanistan released 77 million metric tons, Chad 7 million metric tons, Morocco 812 million metric tons and Egypt 3,079 million metric tons. Canada’s contribution to global warming over this period was more than the combined total of every sub-Saharan African country.

A sense of ‘carbon equity’ demands a rapid cut in Canada’s GHG emissions. So does economic justice. The wealthiest countries should be the first to leave fossil fuel wealth in the ground. Only a climate criminal would suggest the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti or Bangladesh stop extracting fossil fuels before Canada. What’s more, Canada has far greater means to transition away from fossil fuels than most other countries.

As such, wherever he speaks, Trudeau should be tagged as a climate criminal.

Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.

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