By Carmen Mills
Here in Vancouver on December 7—the first day of the Copenhagen conference—a diverse group of 50 Vancouver-area residents decided to face the climate-change profiteers head on by stopping highway expansion dead in its tracks. Together with award-winning urban planner and UBC professor Patrick Condon, faith leaders, parents, and students, we risked arrest in crisp -7 C weather. We gathered to block the expansion of B.C.’s primary source of climate-changing emissions—automobile dependency, as embodied by the Gateway Program.
The insidious Gateway highway-expansion plan would increase automobile use in our immediate region, lead to more sprawl, and ultimately increase our emissions by an estimated 30 percent. But that’s just the tip of the melting iceberg. This gateway to global warming is, in fact, a key component of an international trade plan based on expanding ports, highways, coal mines, and the internationally criticized Alberta tar sands.
The tar sands are already the world’s largest industrial project and the fastest-growing source of greenhouse-gas emissions on the planet. British Columbia is being marketed as the “gateway” between the tar sands and the fast-growing markets of China, India, and the whole Asia-Pacific region. The Asia-Pacific Gateway Strategy is ultimately about expanding our “trade capacity”, and the highway expansion in our backyard is only one small—but key—piece of it. Locally, Gateway would wipe out Burns Bog, precious wetlands, salmon streams, riverside communities, and farmland—with absolutely no long-term benefits for the people of the region. Not only would we see more and more diesel trucks, super tankers, and open-pit mines in and around our province, but we would increasingly become the enablers or a dangerous global addiction to fossil fuels.
The Gateway project is a clear ticket to environmental and economic suicide. All the evidence is in. Yet, regardless of enormous opposition from municipal leaders, scientists, organizations, and citizens, our “leaders” appear hellbent on construction and damn the consequences. We stand behind the principle of democracy. When our elected officials will not act responsibly, then the people will, and the politicians will have no choice but to follow us.
As our leaders gather in Copenhagen in an attempt to chart a course out of global climate crisis, the worldwide movement toward direct action is gaining momentum fast. We must send a clear message that it is morally unacceptable for anyone to profit from climate change. And, as important as emission-reduction targets and international agreements are, it is equally important to focus on what is simple and within our reach. Here in B.C., our job in the fight against climate change is to stop Gateway here and now.
It is hard to say where we would be now, had citizen action not stopped highway expansion in Vancouver in the ’70s, or had the World Trade Organization uprising in Seattle not focused the eyes of the world on the specter of global trade expansion. We may not have stopped this project yet, but we can. The twin forces of global awareness and the climate crisis are growing exponentially, and there is every possibility that five years from now, the Gateway project may seem like the worst idea that almost happened.
Please join us. It feels great to get active and to realize you are far from alone. And you may gain some stories that your children and grandchildren will be very proud to hear.
Carmen Mills is the founder of Gatewaysucks.org.