Pipelines and emotions
by Jim Park
There has been much concern voiced lately over the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline (ENGP) which, if built, would traverse northern British Columbia and deliver bitumen to a deepwater tanker terminal at Kitimat, B.C.
Loudest amongst the voices heard are those who oppose the pipeline for a variety of reasons, and make use of the media and public meetings to make their objections known, often in emotion-coloured messages. One message, currently circulating online, shows a video of 10-year old Ta‘Kaiya Blaney from the Sliammon First Nation band in North Vancouver singing a song of protest against ENGP.
The displays of public emotion have drawn some criticism from observers. They note that the people making the emotional responses have no technical knowledge of the issues involved in pipeline projects and cannot provide any useful expertise in reaching a decision as to whether the project should be built or not. In their view, these folks are simply repeating the anxiety that others have put into their minds. The use of a child as a tool to communicate objections to the project is seen as reprehensible and a form of child abuse.
However, for me, when reading or listening to these arguments, what comes to mind is the age-old struggle between the logical mind and the illogical emotions.
People with a scientific background have spent lifetimes approaching challenges and achieving goals using the scientific method: detailed observation, comprehensive and structured data collection, and objective analysis of the facts to reach repeatable conclusions. This is a good thing; it is the tool that helped us to achieve the scientific breakthroughs that created the high standard of living that we enjoy today.
However, those without a scientific background have never gained this tool or learned the discipline required to approach the physical universe from a non-anthropocentric perspective. They approach life from an instinctual, threat/reward-oriented, highly personal level. Some few have managed to harmonize the mental and emotional aspects of themselves, and have gained an inner peace with themselves and the world, in which they try and live a lifestyle of creative harmony with the natural and artificial worlds around them. To me, these are the wise ones.
As we all know, facts can be twisted into any shape that is desirable depending on the viewpoint of those paying our wages. Studies can be conducted and facts collected and analyzed about a given topic ad infinitum. This is how and why those interests opposed to the anthropogenic causes of climate change can keep delaying concrete action; introduce some doubt and uncertainty, whether factual or not, and science dictates that further analysis is required in order to “prove” the hypothesis one way or another, and nothing changes.
The danger of always approaching the complexities of life through scientific eyes is that we cut ourselves off from that which is being studied. We have to disconnect – that is what the objectivity of the scientific method is all about. The observer and the observed. The more distant we can be from that which is being studied, the better. And it is here where the underlying problem resides. When we try and use logic to explain everything, we don’t feel an emotional connection to anything.
Many of those who oppose the ENGP have experienced a strong emotional connection with the natural world, it’s beauty and complexity. They are the ones who can truly say “Mother Nature is hurting!” because they FEEL that hurt, whether it be the destruction of biomes, pollution of the earth, air and water, or the extinction of species. For many scientists, economic interests and politicians, to “feel” is anathema. As such, they tend to denigrate the weight and value of the opinions of those who “feel”.
Is it reprehensible to use children as tools to “communicate one’s objection to a project”? I find it reprehensible to use children as sexual objects as in the TV show “Tiaras and Toddlers“. I find it reprehensible to use animals in advertising. I find trophy hunting reprehensible. I find factory farming to be reprehensible. I find war and poverty and ignorance to be reprehensible. It is reprehensible what is being done to indigenous people downstream from the Alberta tar sands: polluted rivers with deformed, ulcer-ridden fish, a dramatic increase in cancers associated with petrochemicals. Sorry, can’t act on taking remedial action to improve living conditions for these people because the facts aren’t all in yet; there are conflicting studies. And while this endless argument goes on, people are getting sick.
In the final analysis it will be the children who inherit the world that we have created for them; they have to live in it. We’ll all be dead and buried in the not too distant future, and won’t have to worry about the “mistakes” that we have made, but they will be in their prime, and have to deal with the world that we have left them based on the decisions being made today.
To desire a natural and bounteous environment in which to grow up, have a family, and live a simpler yet fulfilling life in harmony with your surroundings is a pretty sane goal to me. To respect and love life in all its diversity, and to kill only for sustenance where that which is killed is wholesome and chemical-free is a worthy goal on my book. How much “technical knowledge” does a parent need to raise a healthy, well-adjusted child? How much “technical knowledge” is needed to simply say that I don’t want to take chances on my children’s future and don’t want potentially toxic pipelines in my backyard?
When it comes to taking action to prevent further degradation of our planet, and to nurture the recovery of the natural world for future generations, then I believe children should stand with their loved ones on the front lines. If the emotional impact of seeing and hearing the voices of children will hasten the speed of positive change in our world, then they have my blessing.
Whatever our individual beliefs as to the percentages between natural cyclical and human-induced causes for climate change, the natural world is very sick and changing rapidly and we had better start working together to heal it and identify remedial options. This can best be done by acknowledging both the logical and emotional components of the problems that we face and finding holistic solutions for each of them.