Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Opposition to Canadain Oil Ignites at Home and Abroad

It’s a pretty incredible and perhaps slightly overwhelming time to be a young person paying attention in Canada right now. For the first time ever, Canada is at a cross roads of immense importance to current and future generations around the world. The choices made in the next decade are going to have massive implications to not only Canada but the rest of the world. The decision to be made is nothing short of determining how we will power our societies. There is a desperate push underway from the petroleum industry to build pipelines that would transport tar sands bitumen from Alberta to any sea port possible so it can be shipped to overseas refineries. Opposition is igniting everywhere.


If you’re somehow not already familiar with the Alberta tar sands it's basically the death cry of the petroleum industry. The tar sands are not oil. Government and industry like to endearingly refer to it as the “oil sands” but thats a green washed public relations term. The tar sands is exactly that, it’s tar or bitumen. Its like pre-oil, it hasn’t yet decayed to the point of being crude oil, so it takes a massive industrial process to literally boil the frozen tundra to extract a substance thicker than peanut butter and full of sand. Once extracted, the bitumen is diluted with a top secret slurry of toxic chemicals that makes it sink in water and helps it flow though pipelines to the coast to be shipped to refineries in places that aren’t Canada. Apparently Canada doesn't want any more dirty oil refineries, they would rather leave that bit to third world countries like India and China.

Pipelines have been proposed in every direction. Endbridge’s Northern Gateway and Chevron’s Pacific Trails proposals would run though northern Alberta and BC, but they've ran into a road block in the from of an indigenous camp called Unist’ot’en that has boldly set up a completely sustainable camp on unceded lands directly in the GPS ordinates of the proposed pipeline. Every summer the camp hosts action training where land defenders come from all over the world come to learn how to block pipelines. They have a strict policy of no access without consent have been successfully kicking out surveying helicopters and threatening to confiscate equipment.

Kinder Morgan, a texas based multinational,  has proposed another controversial pipeline, one that would run through Southern BC and Alberta. The project is currently being stalled by a group called the “Care Takers of Burnaby Mountain” who have been locking themselves to equipment and literally jumping under the wheels of work vehicles attempting to survey the mountain. As I write this an injunction is going into effect to remove the protestors, though a mass rally has been delaying that too. Rumour has it that the stand off has a good chance of being on par with the the Clayoquot logging protests on Vancouver Island in 1993, which was the largest act of civil disobedience Canada had ever seen at that time.

This showed about half the crowd today. Nicely done, folks!!

the rally on Burnaby Mountain- photo courtesy AJ Klein

Another Kinder Morgan proposal, the KXL pipeline approved by the Canadian government, has garnered bit more media attention thanks to president Obama's opposition to the project. Just this week the the US Senate voted against the approval of the pipeline. Obama had threatened to veto the project had it gotten though, issuing this statement “Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else”

The largest and most audacious of the 14 pipelines that have been proposed since the explosion of the tar sands is TransCanada’s Energy East. This project would see a 40 year old natural gas pipeline converted and reversed to carry 1.1 million barrels of diluted bitumen each day from Alberta to St Johns, allowing the tar sands to continue exponential expansion. Though we have yet to see the same militant response to this proposal that other pipelines have seen, the project has already encountered some large road blocks. The Quebec National assembly unanimously passed a resolution recently that calls on the province to exercise it's environmental jurisdiction to ensure that climate change will be taken into account when assessing the environmental impact of the pipeline, arguing that the national regulatory process for energy projects is broken.

TransCanada has learned from the harsh opposition that every other pipeline has suffered and has taken a preemptive strike against opponents. Documents leaked by Greenpeace this week have exposed TransCanada's scheme to hire the worlds largest public relations firm, Edelman, to literally buy public support for Energy East and dig up dirt to discredit and distract activists though fake grass roots groups and digital publications, especially in Quebec.

Canadian government and industry is struggling to keep up with other countries in the race to create renewable economies and limit carbon emissions. The US and China literally left Canada playing in the (tar) sand last week as the two super powers surprised the world by signing a landmark deal to drastically limit carbon emissions in an effort to curb global warming. This, while Environment Canada withheld releasing their own annual report on carbon emission trends last week, probably because last years report completely missed it's international commitments.

Thankfully, I suppose, the position of the Canadian government on climate change does not reflect the position of most Canadians, especially young ones. Earlier this month students representing 11 major universities from across Canada met in Montreal for the Fossil Fuel Divestment Convergence to discuss tactics to ensure that their university tuition doesn't end up going to investments in fossil fuel companies. University of Toronto students then make good on the promise by organizing a 200 strong march on Presidents office with quite a realistic demand- complete fossil fuel divestment over the next five years.

A slightly more creative strategy was recently taken by the Yes Men when premiering their new film at TIFF which largely focused on the tar sands. After discovering that the film festival's main sponsor was RBC, a bank heavily invested in the tar sands, the political pranksters staged this flash mob/dance party for an indigenous activist who closed his account upon being let down by a teller who was unable to do anything regarding the the activists concerns about the banks investments. Hilarity ensues.
Radical approaches are being taken by activists everwhere. In Montreal three women locked themselves to Enbridge headquarters, in Vancouver 80 Chevron gas pumps were locked up by activists in masks, in Ontario activists shut down work on the Enbridge Line9 pipeline with a blockade.

While Canadians and the international community are beginning to speak up about Canada's failure to live up to it's own emission limits, the government and industry are in a state of complete denial. What we've seen so far is just the very beginning, the stage is set for anything.

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