When 16-year-old environmental activist Sam Harrison made a presentation last week at the Vancouver hearings into the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, he had one goal in mind: to make the case that this pipeline represents a fundamental betrayal to his generation.
“The Arctic will melt; the world will experience the next mass extinction,” he said during the review panel. “My generation will have to deal with the consequences. Surely, your generation owes it to us to not make it worse.”
The Gateway project faces staunch opposition from first nations groups and environmental organizations including Greenpeace and Sierra Club BC. Mr. Harrison, a Grade 11 student at Prince of Wales Secondary School, said it’s time for a moral argument against the pipeline, as environmental and economic appeals have so far failed to kill the proposal.
The video of his emotional appeal against the project has been widely shared, catching the attention of such prominent environmental activists and groups as Naomi Klein and WWF Canada. Ms. Klein’s tweet proclaimed: “16-year-old rocks the pipeline hearings.”
Chairperson Sheila Leggett of the three-member panel was pleased to hear from a young person.
“Mr. Harrison, it is a treat to see young people like you step forward, and it’s certainly something to hear you speak of your children and their children and that sort of thing at your age,” she said after the teen read his statement.
His passion for the environment runs in the family. His mother, Kathryn Harrison, is a professor of political science specializing in environmental policy at the University of British Columbia. His father, George Hoberg, also studies environmental policy as part of the faculty of forestry at UBC.
“They couldn’t escape it,” said Ms. Harrison, referring to Sam and his older sister Sophie’s early exposure to their parents’ passion for environmental issues.
Ms. Harrison herself became concerned about the environment at a young age and is thrilled to have passed on her passion to her children. Sophie, 18, and Sam started an environmental advocacy group, Kids for Climate Action, in 2010.
“I’m incredibly proud of him, of both my kids,” she said. “They’ve inspired me. I’ve helped inform the actions they are taking, but their confidence and determination to put themselves out there, take risks, have inspired me to take risks and go beyond my comfort zone.”
Sam hopes the pipeline proposal will not be recommended for approval. “If all proposals are approved, we will be exporting 10 times the carbon we will be emitting in the province,” he said in a phone interview. “If we need to start curbing emissions now, it doesn’t make sense to invest in this infrastructure.”
The hearings are part of the federal regulatory review of Enbridge’s $5.5-billion proposed twin pipeline project, planned to run over 1,177 kilometres from Bruderheim, Alta., to Kitimat, B.C. The process itself has been criticized as hearings in Vancouver and Victoria were not open to the general public. This week, hearings continued in Prince Rupert, B.C., where Enbridge experts and opposition groups will testify.
Beyond Gateway, Sam plans to continue to protest the expanded use of fossil fuels. On Thursday, he and his group, Kids for Climate Action, will demonstrate outside the Port Metro Vancouver offices against the proposed expansion of coal exports from Vancouver.