22nd January 2012
By Lisa Bland
Guest Writer for Wake Up World.
I grew up in a remote community in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest (Canada), surrounded by the wild and changing ocean, its vast inlets and coastal islands teeming with diverse ocean life. At an early age I learned the caution and respect, the gratitude and awe, that dictate peoples’ lives woven in relationship with the land and sea.
This largely untouched area of northwestern British Columbia is now under serious threat by the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project to transport Alberta Tar sands oil across western Canada and along the BC coastline to Asian markets. As I struggle to understand the immensity of this project and its significance to communities and ecosystems as a turning point for global climate change, it is from my personal journey in this wilderness that I can speak most clearly to you today. My heart’s voice rises to speak, and for all I have learned and gained in my life, I would give it all back to keep this place wild.
There is no denying the wild ocean left its imprint on my soul. The fight for this coast is a battle I unknowingly committed to long ago and is one my history prepared me for. What I received in these waters and wilderness areas irrevocably entwined me in a relationship beyond any ideas I’ve since gained about security or livelihood. But what I realize is that the struggle to save these places comes down to faith, love and devotion. Faith in knowing that they are worth more left alone than transforming them into commodities and products. Love in embracing the community of life beyond the individual self, and devotion to working to create a society that doesn’t destroy its life support systems. I see wild places as containing raw materials to create new dreams and possibilities for living – places to restructure and reset the mind and spirit, places that contain a pristine hologram of life before human schemes altered them beyond recognition. They breathe harmony. This harmony is composed of incredibly interwoven relationships of life. A tapestry woven out of time and life forms that plays incredible music to those with ears and hearts to hear. We can find our right places in this – the wisdom of wilderness heals and speaks to us if we listen. It gives us glimpses of ways to live in right relationship with self, each other and the land.
The battle over Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project this year may end up to be western Canada’s biggest environmental standoff of the decade. If approved, the pipeline would cross over 700 streams and watersheds across western Canada from the Alberta Tar Sands to the port of Kitimat on the BC Coast. The proposed 200 tankers a year carrying tar sands oil bound for Asian markets would navigate the narrow, treacherous passages along the BC coast known for its gigantic tides and hurricane force winds. These areas are home to some of Canada’s last remaining intact temperate rainforests and wild populations of grizzly bears, wolves, and salmon as well as stunningly rich marine ecosystems with a diversity of life including humpback whales, pacific white-sided dolphins, sea birds, otters, and shellfish. One spill, like that of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, would devastate this thriving ecosystem and a traditional way of life for coastal peoples. Continual tanker traffic plowing through the sensitive fish and bird habitat and whale sanctuary would cause irreparable harm. This area has been traditionally protected from offshore oil and gas drilling and tanker traffic and remains a refuge for nature as well as a spectacular global treasure for people seeking the solitude of wilderness where the crushing pace of progress hasn’t yet reached. And like the weather and the wilderness, the people here are also a bit wild—full of passion for the land and sea they love and depend on. As the pipeline public hearings have already shown, the people are willing to fight with everything they have to protect this remarkable place.
Yet I can see the other side and the fears many people have—many have struggled in these places and would have nothing without the resource work. Over generations their grandparents and parents may have transformed the raw wilderness into something the outer world wanted and could use economically and as a result their families grew and they developed a sense of entitlement and ownership over the land. Despite this, most of these people love it just the same. Many residents and old-timers I know count their daily blessings to live in such abundance while cursing the work they know destroys, but they depend on as fishermen, loggers and miners, etc. Given a choice they would rather be outside in the fresh air, doing resource work that inevitably destroys the wilderness than be indoors at a desk and not be outdoors at all. The love and connection to the land runs deep, yet there is a deep sadness inherent in the compromise many are forced to make as they are bound to livelihoods and resource extraction that turn the beauty they love into products and materials. Our economies are mostly based on consuming these raw materials. It’s called reality, or is it?
Decades ago, there were less people and less pressure on the resources – but now we’ve reached a point where a choice has to be made. This choice comes down to faith or fear. If we tell industry to go away, how will people sustain their lives and heat their homes? What will they eat? Few people, other than the Indigenous First Nations have foraged wild shores and eaten plants and animals from the forest or depended solely on fish, crab, and clams from the sea. It’s not a reality many value because they haven’t experienced it, although I think we all remember this human past deeply in our biological selves. It’s also not feasible due to our numbers and the pressure it would put on the land-base. How many of us could go back to simple ways of living? Can we survive with less energy in cold, wet climates?
When pushed against the wall, many people choose job security and easier old ways even if they are obviously destructive. When new ways are not obvious, old ways are more comfortable until they become unbearable. Contrarily, in my life I’ve chosen to live simply, without a large investment in material reality, without dependents, without a desire to “own.” I’ve thrown myself into the unknown many times and have found life to be generally supportive. But because our economy is rich with resource money, I have indirectly benefited from this wealth in terms of opportunities and the ability to find what was necessary to get by. So in a sense, I am just as entwined in the world of resource extraction. My exploration beyond the boundaries of mundane, material existence arose in part because I was rooted in place as a child, my father providing stability for our family working at the diesel generating plant in our ocean community.
Preservation vs. progress is a complicated issue—I can see both sides and I understand why people are afraid. We are reaching into the last of the resources in our country and our planet at large. We are in trouble. The planet is heating up, but we still need energy for our lives. The greedy mouth of consumption that has ravaged over much of the developed world, thus giving us most of us our modern day comforts, is coming to feed from every last corner regardless of water, animal or First Nations rights. Our Canadian Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is in the front lines leading the energy hunt for minerals and fossil fuels to keep Canada’s economy afloat. Additionally the government plans not to focus on a national energy strategy to process tar sands oil in Canada but rather to export the majority of it to China to secure its growing energy needs. Canada’s leaders are not rushing forward with green solutions in a response to climate change, so people aren’t seeing the flickering light of hope in a reality shift to clean energy on the horizon. Mainstream society still thinks green energy is a pipedream, even though many countries and innovative individuals are coming up with solutions and the schemes to make it happen. Without the faith in clean energy sources and a sustained push from all levels of society globally, these solutions may not take hold soon enough to preserve our last remaining ecosystems and turn the focus away from sucking up every last drop of fossil fuel.
No one knows how this battle will play out, but it is the topic of the day, especially in BC, as public hearings move across the province recording the testimonies of the people in communities most affected. Diplomacy already seems to have been trampled under the conservative regime. First Nations people and their environmental allies are standing strong against the heavily funded Enbridge oil industry opposition, yet are being accused of accepting international money for their so called “radical” public campaigns. Unlike President Obama, who was swayed from approving the Keystone Pipeline in part due to public outcry, Prime Minister Harper appears more like a bull—determined, undaunted and bearing down on the last of our regulatory frameworks and community consultation processes.
I don’t want to give this project more power by fearing it, but we are in for something big with far-reaching global consequences. The stakes are very high. But I believe the fury of BC’s wild northwest coast is stronger, with its howling winds and occasional 100 ft. waves; stronger yet is the lifeblood of a people and their relationship with the land and sea woven through time. This is a sacred place. It connects to the largest unspoiled stretch of temperate rainforest on the planet, unique in its seamless immensity. The sanctuary of life in these waters and interconnected forest systems is worth everything. And the faith and devotion of the people who feel the resonance of this wilderness from near and far will stand up and lend their hearts and hands to be counted. Stephen Harper cannot silence the voice of this passion and connection to place. We have something worth fighting for and everything still worth living for. Through our love we are strong. Through our faith we will find a better way. We must.
Please take a moment to visit these links/sites/petition outlets to learn about this issue and join the collective movement to save this incredible marine ecosystem and still-pulsing heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. If you would like more information on this issue and ways to become involved, contact me at [email protected]
Risking it All – Oil on our Coast. By Twyla Roscovich
a short film that outlines the plans for the pipeline and tanker route and what it means for our beautiful coast. Produced by Twyla Roscovich in association with Hartley Bay & Gitga’at Nation, Oil on our Coast is meant to inspire, empower and help fuel the battle to save what sustains us.
Oil in Eden: The Battle to Protect Canada’s Pacific Coast
Tar Sands Video and risks to Western Canada
TEDxVictoria – Garth Lenz: Provincial Distance in a Tar Nation
dogwoodinitiative.org/no-tankers/petition (note: for non Canadian residents just leave postal code blank to sign.)
All the oil pumped down Enbridge’s North B.C. pipeline will be spilled
David Suzuki: What’s so radical about caring for the Earth and opposing Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline?
Pipeline proposal is fraught with risks.
The real foreign interests in the oilsands.
Chinese money and ‘ethical oil.’
The Galling Hypocrisy of EthicalOil.org
About the Author
Lisa Bland has lived in wild, beautiful places as long as she can remember and it brings her spirit great joy to give back a little in return. The tidal pools, coastal rainforests and friendly rural communities of Northwest British Columbia shaped her sense of place, passion, and commitment to living in sustainable, life-giving relationships with the land. Lisa synthesizes her passion for writing, photography, and environmental activism with her 20 years of experience in forestry, fisheries, and bird and plant research work, which takes her to spectacular places and on many adventures in BC’s forests, streams, mountains and coastal inlets. Lisa believes that the gratitude and connection felt in wild places sets the mind and spirit right and heals disconnection of the soul. With our last remaining wild ecosystems and creatures on the planet disappearing due to human consumption, she feels it is imperative to bring our focus to them, to protect them and to remember their gift to us. As we learn to know ourselves in the context of belonging to nature, we naturally begin to thrive. As we simplify our needs and connect with the beauty around us, we find it possible to envision more loving and gentle ways to live. For more info about Lisa’s writing and photography, contact her at [email protected]