Joseph Leivdal: How far must we go to protect the environment?
On Monday (December 16), six “anti-capitalist” Santas from the activist group Rising Tide delivered coal to the private offices of “naughty” Port Metro Vancouver. PMV is reviewing the permit application and consultation process for the proposed Fraser Surrey Docks coal port development. This project would see the delivery of at least four million tonnes of coal by train, and then open barge to Texada Island, to be loaded onto ships and sold to Asia. The processing of coal is responsible for the dense smog like that which has forced Beijing authorities to advise people to stay indoors.
Afterwards, the not-so-jolly PMV accused the Santas of “assaulting” their workers, and used rhetoric typically reserved for suspected terrorists by referring to the coal as an “unknown substance”. However, after all the hysteria, no charges have been laid and video and photo evidence suggest that it was actually vigilante office workers who manhandled the Santa Six.
Both sides have called the actions of the other side “violent”. This debate raises the question: at this crucial hour, how far are we willing to go to protect the environment? More and more scientists are showing that we are reaching, if not already past, a crucial tipping point of carbon emissions, beyond which only an unpredictable global emergency lies. At this crucial hour, is it acceptable to use means other than peaceful protest or letters to MPs and take matters into our own hands and stop the economic and elected extremists? Those who would jeopardize the foundations of life—the water and air—are the true radicals here. Perhaps we should be open to the idea that groups like Rising Tide are not idealist radicals, but realists put in the tough position of either acting or being the generation that witnesses the horrors of ecological collapse.
Obviously, if the democratic system worked, then such measures would be unnecessary, and if the consultation process for the Enbridge pipeline works then the Joint Review Panel will reject the proposal. But Stephen Harper has already reserved the power to veto that decision. And who cannot help but feel betrayed by Christy Clark’s opening of the flood gates to all manner of unsustainable energy production, despite her infamous “five conditions” not being met?
It is clear that these processes are pitted against opposition. Even Port Metro Vancouver’s assessment of potential health risks from the proposed coal port has been rejected as inadequate by provincially appointed health officers—suggesting that they are indeed acting in bad faith. Combined with increasing environmental disasters like Typhoon Haiyan and June’s Calgary flood it is no wonder that activists are finding it necessary to do actions like the one on Monday—and other actions such as the recent blockade in Oregon against the Omega Morgan mega-load heading to the tar sands, which saw 17 arrests.
These activists have taken the opportunity to stand with other groups like the Unist’ot’en blockaders to protest a corrupt process that doesn’t respect opposition, let alone the laws of First Nations. Furthermore, they have the courage to put their safety at risk and demonstrate that even if the process worked and citizens wanted the projects to go ahead, they would stop them—because ecological collapse cannot be measured in dollars.
A local activist, Devin Gillan, recently said that if he is searching for potable water in a world where we have failed to avoid the collapse, he won’t be thinking about corrupt politicians or greedy CEOs. He will be thinking about those who condemned the few who dared to stand up to the politicians and CEOs, who dared to say “Enough!” and dream of a world with meadows and birds and blue water. Perhaps this is what Martin Luther King Jr. meant when he said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”