By Ryan Vandecasteyen, Faroe Des Roches, and Curtis White
Surrounded by concrete towers swallowing the sky, noisy crowds of people milling in all directions seemingly unaware of those around them, the dizzying white noise of a screaming city, we cower in awe, stumble with vertigo, and are reminded of the distance between the city and the coast. In an environment that contrasts so completely with what we’ve experienced on B.C.’s north coast, it may be easy to see why such a crucial issue like Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline can seem so distant.
Having spent two months paddling the length of B.C.’s coast, we’ve been humbled by our complete immersion in what seems like a whole other world. From waters teeming with an astounding abundance of creatures, from the giant humpback whales to microscopic plankton, being embedded in and reliant on our environment has made the pipeline and tanker issue even more tangible and the battle to stop them from destroying our coast even more important.
We embarked on our 900-kilometre, two-month journey after hearing of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would connect Alberta’s tar sands to B.C.’s north coast and bring massive crude oil supertankers to our shores en masse. From our lives in the city, the decision regarding Enbridge’s proposed pipeline felt intangible and inaccessible. We were frustrated at our exclusion, the apparent exclusion of the voices of concern from communities across the province, and the daunting realization that corporate power and government bureaucracy hold the reins on decision making that would effectively force the citizens of coastal B.C. to take a risk they are not willing to take. This compelled us to take on our kayak expedition, which we have just now returned from.
Our search began at the first of Kitimat’s formal Joint Review Panel sessions. We quickly discovered many of the inadequacies in the formal process that has been established by the federal government to try to give the public a voice. Many communities, which are poised to lose everything in the event of a tanker spill or pipeline breach, expressed their concern that they have yet to be properly consulted, and that their fate rests in the hands of the appointed three-member panel that will be responsible for the final decision on the project. The more time we spent talking to communities along the coast, the more we realized that public participation in these types of decisions ends at providing feedback. Stakeholders and the public often lack any real decision-making power, leading to questions of how democracy fits into the important decisions that would have profound repercussions on a national level.
The more time we spent on the coast, the more we began to realize that we weren’t the only ones searching. Everywhere we turned we encountered expressions of similar quests for effective ways to become involved in the creation of our collective future. Situated within a so-called democratic system in which 80-percent opposition is not sufficient to halt a project backed by barrels of oily wealth, everyone seemed to be searching for ways, and creating space, to participate.
Despite the daunting and ongoing search for answers, the people of the coast have created a multitude of incredible and powerful ways to take their futures into their own hands. Perhaps embodied by the pristine, stunning, raw, powerful, and awe-inspiring beauty of B.C.’s coast, we found the humble strength and determination of the north coast communities essential in creating the space needed to be heard. As many of the people on the coast will tell you, a line is being drawn in the sand here—a line that these people, the stewards of this coast, will ensure is not crossed by those seeking to jeopardize one of the few remaining truly wild places on Earth.
We found hope in the strength of the communities we visited. They’re firm in their commitments, and it’s inspiring. But the pipeline, and other such projects, will only be stopped if we all join the struggle and defend that line in the sand, the line defining the future we are fighting for.
Ryan Vandecasteyen, Faroe Des Roches, and Curtis White are members of the Pipedreams Project, which aims to experience, connect, and engage citizens about the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.