Humanity has become so powerful in numbers, technology, consumption and a globalized economy that we are altering the physical, chemical and biological properties of the planet on a geological scale. In the process, we are undermining Earth’s life-support systems – the air, water, soil, photosynthesis and biodiversity that keep the planet habitable.
It is within this context that Canadians are taking a close look at plans to fill tankers on the B.C. coast with raw bitumen piped from Alberta across forests and mountain ranges that support some of the world’s best salmon rivers. They don’t like what they see, and government had better start paying attention.
People in British Columbia love their coast for good reason. From the magic of tide pools and superb beaches to the mysterious ocean depths, from a universe of microscopic creatures to pods of the world’s biggest animals, B.C.’s coastal waters support an abundance and diversity of life that is truly spectacular: three million nesting seabirds, more than 400 species of fish, 29 species of marine mammals, some of the world’s largest trees and recently discovered 10,000-year-old glass sponge colonies.
These numbers give only a glimpse of what this rich ecosystem has to offer, and it doesn’t stop at the water. Our coastline is blessed with the Great Bear Rainforest and hundreds of areas like it, where rivers of water and salmon move seamlessly back and forth between ocean and land. Its vast web of interconnected and abundant life attracted people more than 10,000 years ago and keeps us living here today.
That’s why 3,000 people have signed a pledge to join Monday’s Defend Our Coast rally on the front lawn of the B.C. legislature. British Columbians are worried about the coastline they love, and want to defend it against tar sands pipeline plans from companies such as Enbridge and Kinder Morgan. The sit-in is attracting people from all walks of life – first nations, students, business owners, economists, scientists, writers, grandparents and grandchildren.
However hopeful it is to see everyone looking closely at pipelines and tankers, it’s time we took a distant look – from 10,000 metres up and 200 years in the future.
That’s because this is about far more than the proposed Enbridge pipeline and the tankers they plan to fill. Back in Alberta’s tar sands, oil companies are tearing up hundreds of square kilometres of earth, polluting millions of litres of water and pumping millions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere just to extract oil from the tar sands.
And once the oil is in China, it will be burned to make us more cheap products, sending ever more carbon into our shared atmosphere, and edging us closer to catastrophic climate chaos.
Underlying the widespread opposition to tankers on the coast is a much broader discontent with the way our social and political systems are working. People are angry about the decisions that degrade and destroy the foundation of life on Earth. When government should have stepped forward to protect Canadians and the environment, ours gutted Canada’s environmental laws.
People are rushing to stop the pipeline, because it is such a drastic attack on nature. But we are reacting to a single soldier from a single battle in a much bigger war, and ignoring the bloodbath. That bloodbath is the war on nature, a war on the very foundation of life – on the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soils that provide us with the food we eat. We are simply failing to address the fundamental issue; it’s about our long-term survival and quality of life, not whether B.C. gets enough money from the pipeline.
So it’s our turn. Thousands of British Columbians will stand with our neighbours on the lawn of the legislature on Monday, then sit down to say no to Kinder Morgan and Enbridge. We will do this to send a message to provincial, federal and business leaders in a way that can’t be ignored: Our coast is not for sale.
There’s nothing more important than fighting for the right to clean water and soil. But let’s make sure we look at the big picture, about how to build a society that doesn’t foul its own nest. We need to look further into the future and deeper into the present to get out of the rut that keeps leading us back to the same battlefront again and again.
David Suzuki is an environmentalist and broadcaster. Art Sterritt is executive director of Coastal First Nations.