It is common sense that if you find yourself in a hole, the first step is to stop digging

It is also common sense that in a world destabilized by extreme weather, rising sea levels and flows of climate refugees, allowing major new fossil fuel infrastructure to be built is a very bad idea.

For those of us of an age to have grown up with and internalized the existential threat of climate change, a rapid transition away from fossil fuels is not a scary or radical proposition.

For us, scary and radical is the possibility that we would allow the fossil-fueled status quo to threaten our future.

But path dependency is a powerful thing, and since its inception Canada has been oriented toward development of our natural resources. Hewers of wood, drawers of water and so on.

So now, despite his election promises to enact serious, science-based climate policy, Prime Minister Trudeau is faced with a set of policy levers that look like shovels.  

Standing in shoes built by his predecessor, who with singular focus spent a decade mobilizing the Canadian state toward oil sands expansion, Trudeau is confronted by his aspirational campaign self, who knows full well what the science demands.

Absurdist rhetorical contortions such as the necessity of building oil sands pipelines to speed transition toward a low-carbon future are evidence of Trudeau’s pained efforts to reconcile these conflicting personas.

But in limiting his climate policy menu to choices tailored to avoid ruffling feathers in polite Ottawa company, Trudeau has abandoned the necessary in favour of the possible.

What is needed now, if the Prime Minister does genuinely still value science and evidence-based decision making, is a decisive split with the fossil-fixated status quo.

To start: a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure under federal jurisdiction, a science-based climate plan worthy of its name and major new investments into training and technology to guarantee livelihoods for workers displaced by the transition away from fossil fuels.

In response to the vested interests who will fight tooth and nail to maintain their profitability at the expense of future generations, Trudeau must channel the spirit of another Canadian politician who chose to ignore the polite constraints of the possible in his day, and respond simply, “Just watch me.”