Joseph Leivdal: How far must we go to protect the environment?

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      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.”

      Joseph Leivdal is a local activist and student of communication and humanities at Simon Fraser University. He is also an associate of the Institute for the Humanities. He has been involved in various activist projects in Vancouver, and writes on politics and social movements.




      Dec 18, 2013 at 3:41pm

      Natural disasters have not just happened. They have been arround for a very long time. Ask any dinosaur about weather change and who and why was an ark built for?
      Today it is going to rain and maybe tomorrow also. I see a small change in this but the prairies seem to have less rain but more flooding. Is this a God thing or an environmental thing? Today's scientists are more political then before. Doom and gloom are threatened every day for the fear mongers to feed the masses. Wear sack cloths and ashes holding aloft a Bible or holding a degree in science touting their degree doesn't wash without proof we can all understand and even then it is just a prediction that MIGHT happen or not.
      I am more worried about Monsanto playing with our food and how they don't have to label information so I can make up my own mind what food I buy.
      Heres a question. What will we do with all the police, swat teams lawyers, judges when crime is no more? Makes you wonder why things don't get better?

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      "Communities and Coal"

      Dec 18, 2013 at 3:51pm

      Thank you Joseph for putting this into perspective. We believe the physical attacks on Santa protestors were just one lump of coal too many for Port Metro Vancouver employees. We at "Communities and Coal" have asked all 22 Members of Metro Vancouver to demand the Health Impact Assessment done for the FraserSurreyDocks (FSDocks) US thermal coal export proposal be declared inadequate, as has already been done by Fraser Health's Chief Medical officers. To date we have the written or verbal support of the cities of: Vancouver, White Rock, Surrey, New West, Burnaby, North Vancouver, Langley, Powell River, Richmond and Delta, who collectively represent almost 2 million of the 2.5 million people who live in the lower mainland.

      Other groups have also supported our efforts and demands: VanCity Credit Union (largest credit union in Canada with 1/2 million members), BC Nurses Union and too many more to mention here.

      We are now also asking that citizens of those communities demand that Metro Vancouver hold a Public Inquiry for the FSDocks "Air Quality Permit" by Emailing to: icentre at metrovancouver dot org

      Merry Xmas and lets keep that coal out of Vancouver!

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      Cold Reality Check

      Dec 18, 2013 at 5:20pm

      Population growth is a major ingredient of environmental degradation, and in Canada almost all population growth is due to massive unchecked (and mostly Third World) immigration.

      And yet not a peep from Joseph Levidal about this. He doesn’t seem willing to go that far.

      Until him and other “local activists” address the issue of unchecked immigration and population growth they simply don’t deserve to be taken seriously.

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      Dec 18, 2013 at 5:43pm

      It certainly looks like the Rising Tide Santas have a good case for assault charges to be laid against out of control "vigilante" Port staff.
      Evidently when one of the Santa's was attacked and thrown to the floor by three staff and other staff held his hand up in front of the news photographer so he couldn't photo this.

      You have to wonder if the staff fells so entitled to attack young people protesting coal expansion,
      if upper management and decision makers also feel entitled to just ignore and dismiss concerns by communities and all affected by Port expansion?

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      jas montaginue

      Dec 18, 2013 at 6:18pm

      now what would we all think of a nuclear reactor at this site

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      Dec 18, 2013 at 8:31pm

      Harper's regime is a fully owned subsidiary of the oil and gas industry. To call this rogue country a democracy is preposterous beyond belief.

      Canada is a failed state.

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      Dec 19, 2013 at 7:14am

      The radicals at Port Metro Vancouver are an 11 man board all appointed by the federal government carrying out their own "in-house"Environmental Assessment procedure and having final say on what happens to our local environment. When the B.C. Lung Association stated PMV needed to consider not just coal dust but also diesel from the increased train traffic PMV response was the typical arrogant script.
      To look at them pushing around a bunch of kids is sickening.

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      Dec 19, 2013 at 1:18pm

      How far should you go? That's ***easy.***

      You go exactly as far as you would allow an activst who believes in something that that is 180 degrees opposite from something that you believe in.

      Are you ok with antiabortion protestors putting glue in the locks of the clinic door, making a human chain, talking shit? Holding signs and keeping a safe distance? Creating thought provoking ads?

      Whatever you think is permissible in the other side is what you allow yourself on your side.

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      Alan Layton

      Dec 19, 2013 at 3:14pm

      Even though I agree with the protestors I think that if you are going to aggressively invade a workplace to harass and scare people, then you should expect to be treated roughly. I've known extreme activists personally and most are so filled with hatred that I worry they're going to do something really stupid. They are good people at heart, but they let themselves get too worked up about their cause.

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      Mark Gordienko

      Dec 19, 2013 at 4:10pm

      I am President of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and it is my members that were attacked by these cowards. To break in to a protected area where our members work, most of them female clerical staff, then to start yelling and throwing things at them is just not acceptable no matter what your cause is. The only reason that they have not been charged is that the VPD is still reviewing the video evidence and I am hopeful that these thugs are brought to justice. I applaud the managers and their protective actions and thank them for defending my members. I would suggest they got off lucky so far, much luckier than if they attacked another of our work sites. For the Georgia Straight to condone their actions is unbelievable.

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