Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Trump, Trudeau in same boat as sea ice melts around them

Bill McKibben is an award-winning author, environmentalist and founder of He is a former staff writer for the New Yorker and also writes for National Geographic and Rolling Stone.

The day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat down to his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, satellite imagery confirmed that Antarctic sea ice had just hit a record low.

Most media didn't carry the story. In fact, many were still debating the ins and outs of the Trump-Trudeau handshake, while some continued to lament Mr. Trudeau's Disney Prince looks and charming smile. In the fray, almost no one managed to note that over the course of their entire meeting, neither Mr. Trudeau nor Mr. Trump mentioned the words climate change. In their joint statement wrapping up the meeting, the closest they came was an obscure reference to undefined collaboration "in the clean-energy sphere."

Story continues below advertisement

Konrad Yakabuski: On climate change, Trump won't kill the planet

Opinion: Is Canada setting itself up for a pipeline glut?

Jane Fonda: Indigenous reconciliation will never flow from a pipeline

It's a notable omission, but unfortunately not a surprising one.

There are, of course, very real and important differences between Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Trump. But, while these differences are important, perhaps more poignant is where the two men are similar: pipelines.

All in, Mr. Trump and Mr. Trudeau have pushed four pipelines forward in as many months. Mr. Trudeau approved the the Kinder Morgan and Line 3 pipelines in Canada late last November, and Mr. Trump signed executive orders that overturned permit denials to both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL projects. Both men made these moves despite climate science that shows rejecting new fossil fuel infrastructure is the only way to keep our planet from dangerous warming.

And both men approved these pipelines despite overwhelming community opposition.

Story continues below advertisement

The Kinder Morgan pipeline alone is opposed by 21 municipalities in British Columbia and hundreds of thousands of individuals across Canada and the United States.

But, perhaps most telling, both men signed off on these pipelines over the expressed opposition of Indigenous peoples. Mr. Trump ignored the historic coming together of native American opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline. Mr. Trudeau ignored, and has since played down the 59 First Nations actively opposed to the Kinder Morgan project, some of whom are now taking his government to court.

The good news, and there is some good news, is that Mr. Trump and Mr. Trudeau have more in common than just their affinity for building pipelines. Both of them are in for one hell of a fight.

Indigenous communities have proven time and time again to be the most fervent defenders of the water and the land, and one of the best defences that we all have against the rampant expansion of the fossil fuel industry. It's why, when first got involved in the Keystone XL fight so many years ago, my first call was to Indigenous activists organizing to stop unchecked tar-sands expansion in Canada. The bravery of native people camped along the Missouri River is why president Barack Obama ended up halting the Dakota Access pipeline at the end of his term. It's why last year, Canada's Supreme Court overturned former prime minister Stephen Harper's approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline project, a project that Mr. Trudeau had enough foresight to reject.

But we can't expect Indigenous communities to do this alone. The court case that overturned the Northern Gateway approval was only possible, in part, because of hundreds of thousands of dollars that communities across Canada raised to support Indigenous pipeline opposition. And Mr. Trudeau's rejection of that project, much like Mr. Obama's rejections of Keystone and Dakota Access, happened because they both knew that people would stand together to defend the water, land and the climate if they tried otherwise.

In the weeks, months and years ahead, we are going to have our work cut out for us. There is no silver bullet to stopping Mr. Trump's or Mr. Trudeau's pipelines. No one lawsuit, no single action will be enough. But, if we come together to stand with one another, and to stand behind those communities on the front lines of this fight, we have a shot. In times like this, out best hope is standing, and pulling, together.

Story continues below advertisement

Video: NDP calls Liberals ‘blind’ to Trump’s approach to asylum seekers (The Canadian Press)
Report an error Licensing Options

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Globe Newsletters

Get a summary of news of the day

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at