David Suzuki: What’s so radical about caring for the Earth and opposing Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline?

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      Caring about the air, water, and land that give us life. Exploring ways to ensure Canada’s natural resources serve the national interest. Knowing that sacrificing our environment to a corporate-controlled economy is suicide. If those qualities make us radicals, as federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver recently claimed in an open letter, then I and many others will wear the label proudly.

      But is it radical to care for our country, our world, our children and grandchildren, our future? It seems more radical for a government to come out swinging in favour of an industrial project in advance of public hearings into that project. It seems especially radical when the government paints everyone who opposes the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project as American-funded traitors with a radical ideological agenda “to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth.”

      It’s bad enough when our government and its “ethical oil” and media supporters don’t tell the truth, but it’s worse when they don’t even offer rational arguments. Their increasing attacks on charitable organizations and Canadians from all walks of life show that if they can’t win with facts, they’ll do everything they can to silence their critics. And we thought conservative-minded people valued free speech!

      The proposed Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipeline projects and the massive, mostly foreign-controlled expansion of the tar sands are not about finding the best way to serve Canada’s national interests. If we truly wanted to create jobs, we would refine the oil in Canada and use it to reduce our reliance on imported oil, much of which comes from countries that government supporters say are “unethical”. If we really cared about using resources for the national interest, we would slow development in the tar sands, improve environmental standards, increase royalties and put some of the money away or use it to switch to cleaner energy, eliminate subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, and encourage Canadian companies to develop the resource.

      Instead, we are called radicals for daring to even question the wisdom of selling entire tar sands operations to China’s state-owned oil companies and building a pipeline so that the repressive government of China, rather than Canadians, can reap most of the benefits from the refining jobs, profits, and the resource itself. We are radical because we are concerned about the real dangers of oil-filled supertankers moving through narrow fiords with unpredictable weather conditions and through some of the last pristine ecosystems on Earth. We are condemned by our own government because we question the safety of two pipelines crossing more than 1,000 streams and rivers through priceless wilderness—a reasonable concern, in light of the more than 800 pipeline spills that Enbridge, the company in charge of the Northern Gateway, has had since 1999.

      And so here we are, a country with a government that boasts of our “energy superpower” status but doesn’t even have a national energy plan. A country willing to sacrifice its manufacturing industry, its opportunities in the green-energy economy, its future, and the health of its people for the sake of short-term profits. A country hell-bent on selling its industry and resources wholesale to any country that wants them, without regard for the ethics or activities of those countries.

      Our government is supposed to represent the interests of all Canadians, and not just those who voted for it or the corporations that support it. Instead we have a government that hurls insults at its citizens.

      Canadians are better than that. While an investment banker like Joe Oliver or a former oil industry economist like Stephen Harper may look at Canada and only see numbers, we see a country rich in natural resources, wildlife, clean water, a diverse population of educated and caring people, and institutions that have been built up over the years to put the interests of Canadians first.

      With recent or pending federal reviews into both environmental regulation and charitable giving, we can expect more attacks and more attempts to silence those who believe that we must at least have a discussion about our priorities before selling out our country to anyone who wants a piece. Maybe it’s time to get radical!

      Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Editorial and Communications Specialist Ian Hanington.




      Jan 17, 2012 at 5:45pm

      I'm still recovering from the phrase "billionaire socialists" - ah, the new 21st Century form of red-baiting...


      Jan 17, 2012 at 7:20pm

      Thankyou David - well said.


      Jan 17, 2012 at 7:28pm

      Thank you Mr. Suzuki for speaking and writing about this issue. Please continue to inform the Canadian people.

      Mark Fornataro

      Jan 17, 2012 at 7:44pm

      This semantical analysis of the word radical and how it applies to Harper and his breathtaking hypocrisy is right on. Similarly the word 'conservative' has been mis-appropriated by the so-called Conservative Party: they seem to not know or care about conserving the environment, their childrens' future- nor about conserving billions of tax dollars they waste on fighter jets, prisons and corporate tax cuts. If they instead invested in green jobs they could employ thousands-keeping many out of those new prisons- and allowing future generations a healthy environment
      rather than being imprisoned in a toxic world.


      Jan 17, 2012 at 11:00pm

      I completely agree with David's article. It's absolutely disgusting the way "our" government is acting. Time to get radical indeed!

      Sinopec is Communist China

      Jan 17, 2012 at 11:05pm

      BC: Christy Clark the un-elected premiere who just signed on an Enbridge lobbyist as her chief of staff.


      Jan 17, 2012 at 11:19pm

      Everybody in Kitimat should listen to the song 'Moon over Marin' by the Dead Kennedy's.

      Of course nothing will go wrong. Oil companies have an impeccable track record (Exxon/BP) and there's plenty of secure saftey backups in place (BP oops) to prevent an eco catastrophe from happening so we can sell an oppresive regime in China cheap oil.

      We also don't have any terrorists running around purposely blowing up pipelines in Northern BC and Alberta. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

      We can always just wait 1,000 years the earth will clean itself eventually. Let's get profit now so we can buy an aircraft carrier to go with our billions spent on planes. Harper can use it as his personal pleasure craft cruising around the gulf threatening Iran and appearing important.

      Jim Chisholm

      Jan 18, 2012 at 1:40am

      Yeah let's get radical about this. Thanks for the insights David.


      Jan 18, 2012 at 6:57am

      This whole project is placing the carriage before the horse in so many respects.

      The pipeline liability aspects alone make the project a non-starter.

      Think for a moment how natural capital principles eek into the lives of ordinary Canadians on a daily basis. If a neighbour complains that your septic tank is leaking and it is discovered to be leaking, the homeowner would be penalized according to the costs required to restore the effected land and be made whole again.

      If a homeowner suspects that the roots from the tree in their front yard is the culprit to a cracked foundation, and they decide to cut it down without permission, that homeowner would be penalized according to a number of natural capital principles which include the age of the tree and the necessary monetary restitution to return the yard to the way it was before the tree was removed or destroyed.

      Why are these principles absent from a debate which threatens to damage so much about the B.C. wildlife, land, air and water?

      The last time I checked, the cleanup costs in Kalamazoo have already exceeded 700 million and depending on what you hear and read, its far from being cleaned-up, if cleaning-up is what you can even call what it happening in Michigan.

      The debate needs to include some discussion on oil spill cleanup costs. Not only to the company, but to the communities, their economy, and the agencies involved with coordinating services in a clean-up scenario (i.e. from ministries entrusted with monitoring right through to medical resources to support impacted communities).

      In other words, we need to start asking how much an oil spill cleanup costs and then start putting these services into values.

      Let's consider for a moment the reclamation and restoration costs. $10-20K is the average cost to replace per hectare of wetland. It might well cost more in provinces like B.C. and Ontario.

      If you have wildlife that is allowing this wetland to thrive on its own for free, those values need to also factor in the costs of impacted habitat (post-spill) that interferes with the way the environment ought to sustain itself and prosper.

      I can't even begin to fathom the manpower, resources and monetary costs associated to returning wildlife populations to a pre-spill environment and habitat.

      I'm certain that if you started to factor in all the values required for reclamation/restoration along the entire pipeline route, you might start to quickly realize this project would never get off the ground.

      And this doesn't even factor in the kind of natural capital number crunching required to model a tanker spill scenario and its effects on coastal communities.

      While I can understand that it wouldn't make for good PR to rehash what happened in Kalamazoo, I think it's important to look at that scenario and model an approximate figure for both the pipeline and tanker route in B.C.

      In conclusion, while I think its wrong to divert attention from the way the voice of First Nations is being usurped in favour of pointing fingers at "radical" enviros and "foreign interests", I'm most adverse to the double-standard which promotes jobs and economic benefits without putting nature in the balance sheet, and the liabilities associated to a pipeline and tanker route that threatens B.C. communities, wildlife and the environment.


      Island Girl

      Jan 18, 2012 at 7:16am

      I am starting to feel like the Clayoquat sound " War in the Woods " will appear small against what could happen all over the province of BC. Timed to get arrested!!