At What Point Do We Stop?

The debate about the Northern Gateway Pipeline reminds me of a time when my white aluminum boat got hopelessly stuck in black floating gobs of bitumen doing research in on huge waste ponds in Alberta’s Tar Sands. After some nervous hours, I was rescued by a crew on an oil-stained barge.

It took hours to clean my sampling gear and get smelly black goo out of my hair — bitumen is like toxic tar and peanut butter mixed together. Those ponds are kilometres wide, lakes really.  And yes, I found no fish in that “lake”.

Yet, many local newspaper columnists and radio personalities, along with the federal government, insist that opposition to this proposed pipeline to carry bitumen to BC’s West Coast is “environmental hysteria” and that any protests represent “eco-imperialism”. Oh my, hysterical language indeed, but not very convincing.

I bet Exxon made a convincing case for oil-laden super tankers just before a captain with a very big hangover crashed a very big ship onto a tiny island. You can still find toxic oil under beaches near Alaska’s Valdez Bay.

The 4,500 people asking to speak to the National Energy Board hearings (me included) will be opposed by the enormous power of Big Oil. But people power can triumph over corporate greed.  For example, of 300 applications for coal generating electric plants in the US in the last 10 years, none were approved – that’s right, zero. Millions of US citizens protested against these coal mines, some using civil disobedience, some going to jail.

Mr. Harper thinks that environmental protestors should indeed go to jail. Evidently, his sole concern is to help resource industries make money. For example, with Mr. Harper’s support, toxic asbestos rock is mined and exported to India by a Canadian company. But that asbestos causes cancer to workers in India. Do you support that kind of political leadership?

One local newspaper editorial stated that “there are already 700,000 km of gas and oil pipelines in Canada” — so sure, let’s just build a few more. Well yes, those pipelines do exist, but none carry toxic bitumen through mountainous terrain.

The repeated drum beat of the rich and powerful pounds out the message through our media that pipelines provide jobs. In fact, this pipeline will provide damn few jobs in comparison to alternative clean energy systems. We could create more jobs by building wind turbines and solar panels.

Let’s get real; the Northern Gateway pipeline is not about jobs. It’s about Big Oil making enormous amounts of money.

And anyway, this pipeline debate goes way beyond the issues of jobs, creating lakes toxic to fish, or a ruined environment. The undeniable truth is that we can only prevent the breakdown of our climate if we phase out burning fossil fuels, period. So yes, this is about you and me, not just Big Oil. Hey, that’s why I ride an electric scooter around town.

If our climate is destroyed, there will be few jobs and a poor future for our kids. And damn few fish.

Peter Nix is a retired Environmental Scientist living in Maple Bay.