Images of protestors crossing police barricades to sit on the lawns of parliament hill have dominated the Canadian news this week. Monday brought one of the largest demonstrations of civil disobedience to the footsteps of our nation’s capital, all in the name of oil. This rally of convicted environmentalists, indigenous groups, scientists and students lobbied for the discontinuation of the government’s plans to facilitate the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. These protests follow similar acts of protests seen in August in Washington, DC.
The Keystone XL pipeline is a proposed oil transfer line that would bring oil from the Alberta tar sands to American owned refineries in the southern United States. This project has been asserted as a solution to Canadian and North American economic stagnation and security concerns, as it would create a “secure and growing supply of Canadian crude oil to US refineries” and also “thousands of well paid construction jobs” says Trans Canada Pipelines Limited. This 36 inch wide pipeline stands to stretch over 2, 673 kilometers, intersecting with numerous drinking water basins and sensitive ecosystems along the way.
I was inspired to discuss the Keystone XL debate today because of some nasty, misguided and plainly ignorant postings on CTV.ca and CBC.ca news comment boards. Many conservative Canadians are touting pipeline protestors as ‘hypocrites’, ‘lazy hippies’ and worse. Cyber-cloaked jibes to ‘get a job’ or even worse, to ‘get a life’ dominate these discussion forums.
Foremost, I believe it’s important to assert that any protest is a vital expression of an individual’s democratic rights, rights that are not universally enjoyed the world over and therefore should be protected and revered, despite your personal politics.
Secondly, to doubt the importance of this cause is foolhardy. Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, warns that this pipeline is “a 1,500-mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet”. Protesting the pipeline is not an attack on efforts to reestablish the stability of the Canadian economy, but rather a call from concerned Canadians that this economic rehabilitation cannot rely on industries that, if left unattended, have the potential to send the pending climate crisis out of control, poison the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of Canadians and Americans, and threaten the ecological viability of the Canadian boreal forests and plains as well as the Nebraska Sand Hill region. We believe our industry leaders and policy makers to be smarter, more innovative and more responsible than that.
Moreover, workers unions are also lending their voices to the protest against Keystone XL, showing that this concern over the potentially dire implications of the pipelines construction goes beyond “hippies and unemployed students”. The Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transport Workers Union, representing more than 300,000 workers, called on the US State Department to deny the permit to continue the construction of Keystone XL. In a collaborative press release, the organizations asserted that, “We need jobs, but not ones based on increasing our reliance on Tar Sands oil. ... Many jobs could also be created in energy conservation, upgrading the grid, maintaining and expanding public transportation - jobs that can help us reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency”.
Here at the Starfish we commend the efforts of both the Canadian and American protestors in their efforts to challenge the assertion that job creation goes hand and hand with environmental destruction. We support their hope that another future is possible.