Tag Archives: pipelines

First Nations and pipelines

by Karl Perrin

Abridged from a sermon delivered May 21, 2017, to the Unitarian Church of Vancouver

Chief Seattle once said: “This we know. The earth doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the earth. All things are connected, like the blood that unites one family. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”

We are meeting today on the unceded territory of the Musqueam First Nation.  Unceded: what does that mean? Never conquered? Never sold? Never given away? So are we guests? Perhaps we are guests of guests, of our 2- and 4-legged relations, our finned and winged cousins, the lords and ladies of the deep, the whales who inhabit this home. We owe a debt of gratitude to all our relations. Thank you.

In “A Native Hill” farmer and poet Wendell Berry wrote:

“We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world. . . .

We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. . . .  

For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.

On that very theme I take you back to 2004 when I had an insight into the spiritual rebirth of Coastal First Nations. I recall an exhibition at the UBC Museum of Anthropology entitled The Abstract Edge featuring Haida artist Robert Davidson. He had a new collection which used the Haida alphabet of shapes, myths and heraldry but which he had deconstructed and reimagined with a 21st century global sensibility.

Some pieces of his new collection featured an old shape with a new meaning. The tri-negative or tri-neg was traditionally used as a three pointed filler in negative space, i.e. the background, to add fluidity to the form lines and to simply frame the foreground. Robert Davidson’s innovation was to take the tri-neg shape and, through colour and position, turn it into foreground, i.e. into positive space instead of negative space.

At that point I had a revelation. I realized that just as Robert Davidson had demonstrated with his tri-neg space filler that foreground and background were interchangeable, so too were our cultural perceptions of the First Nations. Based on our cultural history we colonizers had seen the so-called wilderness – the heathen, dark pagan forest – as negative space. We thought it empty, devoid of Christian civilization, devoid of Europe, which was the only reality which made any sense to our collective wisdom. And the denizens of this emptiness were to us simply negative people lacking our blessings and the salvation of our Bible. We settlers saw them as un-settled.

But as First Nations broadcaster Candy Palmater has taught me: “We were not “settlers”; when we arrived this place was already settled. We didn’t settle anything!” Likewise, whenever I see old Haida representations of white men they look ridiculous. Not intentionally ridiculous, but the hats and beards seem odd as if they were copied but not understood. We were in fact lacking Haida culture. We were the negative space; we were the devoid and lacking savages.

Everyone had the same view of Captain George Vancouver on the deck of the HMS Discovery, whether it was the First Mate, a Musqueam warrior looking up to the ship’s deck, or a random eagle circling overhead. But what did the view mean to each? Captain? Devil? Friend? Foe? Disgusting? Maybe delicious? The visual information was the same, but the meaning was completely different.

As we know today only 40% of our vision is what is actually out there, the remaining 60% is what we expect to see. That’s why we have optical illusions – our biased brains just insist that our eyes must be wrong until proven otherwise. Usually we just categorize what doesn’t make sense as simply “wrong” and what does make sense as obviously “right”. Whether something is wrong or right is determined by our culture, our language, our fashion, popular history and mythology, our religion, and sometimes by what is called our “slow thinking”. Evidence and logic together make up our weltanschauung or worldview. And worldviews don’t appreciate tinkering or correction, e.g. creationist vs. evolutionary worldviews.

What does any of this have to do with the Kinder Morgan pipeline? It all depends on how you look at it. Does another oil pipeline mean development and jobs, or does it primarily mean tar sands exploitation, more corporate colonization, plundering our common ground, killing our Mother Earth bit by bit by bit? It all depends on how you look at it, your weltanschauung.

I won’t review here the litany of smallpox, addiction, residential school cultural genocide, and social fragmentation which has maimed First Nations since George Vancouver first appeared on the horizon. I do want to point out the prevailing, cumulative, corporate colonialism represented by the industrialization of Burrard Inlet, the Fraser River and the Salish Sea. Where was the “free, prior, and informed consent” to pollute this unceded native land? Where was the respect for the Tsleil Waututh clam beds and the Musqueam fisheries? Where is the invitation from First Nations to dredge Burrard Inlet for huge dilbit tankers?

As we approach the 150th Anniversary of Confederation we can remember what Tsleil-Waututh Chief Dan George said 50 years ago at the 1967 Canadian Centenary: “When I fought to protect my land and my home, I was called a savage. When I neither understood nor welcomed his way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried to rule my people, I was stripped of my authority”

What did John A. MacDonald, our first prime minister, say about Indians in 1879?  “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly impressed upon myself that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

My goal in terms of stopping the Kinder Morgan (Trans-Mountain) pipeline expansion project is to speak truth to power. The Unitarian fourth principle encourages free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and the seventh principle is to respect the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part. My goal is to fulfill my vow to my son and to his generation that I will do EVERYTHING in my power to prevent his premature death due to global warming.

So, take courage my friends. The way is often hard, the path is never clear, and the stakes are very high. Take courage, for deep down there is another truth: You are not alone.

Watching you Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau;

You will recall that at your book launch in Park Royal you graciously autographed below my comment ‘Watching You!

An autumn of sheer delight over your victory, boosted by a blossoming ’SunnyWays’ atmosphere across the land culminated in Canada’s strong and confident performance at COP21 where you and your team were instrumental in persuading the world of the imperative to hold global average temperature rise to no more than 1.5oC above pre-Industrial Revolution levels. Bravo! Elizabeth May was over the moon!

The letdown began during Spring Break with Cabinet’s nonchalant approval of Woodfibre LNG despite very strong opposition by the people of Howe Sound and in the face of outright rejection by every local government in the region. That was an unexpected kick in the face.

June brought the deeply contentious NEB approval of the Kinder Morgan Expansion. Your TMX Ministerial Panel, hastily assembled as a means of damage control, suffered blatant conflict of interest, professed no mandate but to listen, appeared listless and disinterested, was toothless, and achieved little if anything useful except, perhaps, furtherance of your agenda.

Over the summer I have been watching you with mounting unease as a flurry of MP-organized ‘Democracy Talks’ across BC gave every indication of having been rigged to distract our attention from the stark realities and colossal environmental risks posed by major fossil fuel-to-tidewater projects, aimed instead at softening us up for cabinet approval of one or more projects by year’s end.

As a British Columbian and retired mariner who lived through the 1964 bunker fuel spill in Howe Sound, I cannot overstate my concern regarding the risk of massively expanding diluted bitumen tanker traffic through Burrard Inlet and the Salish Sea. Reaction time, heavy tides, bad weather and human fallibility militate against significant spill recovery. Brave promises of a World Class oil spill clean-up capability become meaningless when dilbit sinks (according to a US National Academy of Sciences finding which was disallowed from evidence by the NEB).

Dilbit is exceedingly noxious stuff. A big spill near Vancouver could be catastrophic for the marine environment and precipitate a major health crisis across the Lower Mainland. Trans Mountain’s own experts have calculated a 10% probability of a dilbit spill of 8.25 million litres or more during a 50 year operating cycle. That’s 3000 times the size of the Marathassa spill (of mere fuel oil) in English Bay last year that caused so much fuss.

The Kinder Morgan expansion is incompatible with Canada meeting even our admittedly weak global climate commitment, yet the word is out that you are determined to approve an oil tanker project and Kinder Morgan is the favourite. Will you count that as a science-based decision?

What happened to your promise to overhaul the pipeline approval process? When are you going to step up and assume the climate action leadership role we saw in you? Most importantly, what will happen to our grandchildren if we fail to take the climate action so urgently needed right now?

Your father’s infamous middle finger salute to BC will be seen as nothing compared to your own hypocrisy if you, our climate savvy Prime Minister, – you, a grandson of Vancouver’s North Shore, – break faith with us who worked so hard, and with such good reason, to see you elected.

I beseech you, Prime Minister: do not approve Kinder Morgan Expansion!

Social licence not granted. British Columbia will not forget.

Watching You!


Roger Sweeny, Cdr RCN ret.



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 TaKaiya 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.

Connections: a tale of two Smiths

by Stan Hirst

It’s a funny old world. The simplest things can turn out to be complicated once you start examining and  questioning. Which is often why most people avoid talking about issues and ideas and instead concentrate on simpler things. Like themselves.

Just such a question arose earlier this past year, prior to the Canadian federal elections. The Suzuki Elders drafted a memo to federal politicians urging them to consider the long-term effects of reckless resource exploitation on our grandchildren’s future. We were thinking specifically of climate change and actions which lead up to it, e.g. massive additions of carbon to the global atmosphere from Canadian sources such as the tar-sands. But, someone observed, most elected politicians also have children, and grandchildren too in some cases. Why aren’t they equally concerned about these issues and the future?

I actually tried to find out the answer to that. I wrote a letter to my MP (a Progressive Conservative) who has two children in high school and asked him that very question. The response was somewhat underwhelming. He thanked me for my continued support and urged me to contribute to the party coffers.

So let me try an analytical approach. I know two individuals who typify very different environmental  attitudes. I am going to examine their stories and see if I can detect any significant contributory factors.

Denzel Smith is a 36 year-old graphics designer, married with two small children, and owns a heavily-mortgaged house in Dunbar, Vancouver. He also owns a 10-year-old Toyota, two mountain bikes and a 52-inch television set. He has hiked the West Coast Trail a dozen times, and in summer hauls his wife and kids around the province on camping trips. He is a member of one racquet-ball club and three organizations which promote environmental conservation and green living. Denzel has attended numerous protest meetings and demonstrations against hot topics like the tar sands, oil pipelines and tanker traffic along the B.C. coast. He identifies with the underlying driving forces behind the current Occupy Movement, but considers the implementation as hopelessly misguided and ineffectual.

Just 1350km to the east, in Rosedale, Calgary, lives Justin Smith, aged 33. He is a part-owner of an electronics supply store. He too is married, and has two small children. He has a mountain bike and lots of other toys as well, including a Toyota FJ Cruiser, a Kawasaki Ninja 1000 which his wife detests, and a spanking new powerboat which spends eight months of the year behind his garage swathed in a blue tarpaulin. Justin is a member of a winter health club. In summer he rides, boats and jogs, sometimes with his family, sometimes alone. Justin supports oil and gas development in his home province, including the  pipelines being proposed to carry tar-sands oil to the U.S. and to Asia via terminals on the B.C. coast. Although he doesn’t do business with the oil industry, he is disdainful of west coast environmental groups who oppose energy developments in Alberta, referring to them as wackos, parasites and socialistic job destroyers.

These two Smiths typify two different attitudes to the environment.   Justin regards the natural world as an opportunity to test his mettle – a muddy track to be conquered by four-wheel drive, a lake to be crossed at full throttle, a prairie highway to be covered at the fastest speed possible on two wheels. He sees resource development and extraction in any form as economically imperative, necessary for progress and something which should logically be entrusted to private enterprise. He maintains that the critical bottom line will always point the way to a safe and appropriate scope of development.

Meanwhile, back in Lotus Land, Denzel thinks of his environment as a fabric, something in which he can immerse himself. He uses his bike as an exploration device. He knows every nook and cranny of the Endowment Lands that he rides through. He can identify a few hundred bird species and just about every common tree and native plant he encounters on his hikes. He is content to spend hours sitting on a rock next to a creek staring at everything or nothing in particular while the kids play in the rock pools. He is an urban dweller and a typical user of materials and resources that a modern life-style requires. He has no strong feelings about most developments,  he just objects strongly to single-focussed massive exploitation with huge impacts and huge implications for other users and for long-term sustainability.

One thing I forgot to mention about these two Smiths. They are brothers. Both born, raised and schooled in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, where their parents still live. Both brothers attended the University of Regina, from where Denzel made his way across the Rockies to B.C., while Justin chose the shorter hop to Calgary. The Smith boys see each other once or twice a year, usually at Thanksgiving and usually at their parents’ home. Still one big happy family, although things can get heated if someone steals the last piece of pumpkin pie or mentions things like tar-sands or fracking.  So the Smiths are brothers and share the same parents, same upbringing, same schools, same social backgrounds, but they differ totally in their environmental perceptions.

When you search textbooks and web pages to find a basic reason or set of reasons why individuals differ in their fundamental attitude to the environment, you usually encounter the name of the late Lynn White, a professor of history. In a much quoted 1967 essay White famously targeted Christianity as the root cause of environmental degradation because of its core beliefs that humans are fundamentally distinct from the rest of nature, and that nature is present merely to serve human ends. He contrasted this with pagan animism in which all things are deemed to possess, or be associated with, life spirits and this leads to an associated level of moral constraint. White’s often-quoted thesis understandably has caused much ecclesiastical furore and a large number of rebuttals over the years. From my perspective I think the professor may have been a little too cloistered down at UCLA. A tour through Hindu India, Muslim Indonesia or communist China might have convinced him otherwise. In any event, the religious aspect doesn’t figure in my Smithian analysis – the last time either Smith boy ventured near a church was in 1998 when Grandma was laid to rest.

Amongst the published rebutters of White, the name of Lewis Moncrieff is most often cited. His proposition is that environmental attitudes have their roots not in theology but in the kind of western culture that has developed over the past few centuries. Two key revolutionary changes laid the foundations for the evolution of modern society – (1) a trend towards more equitable  distribution of power and wealth by evolving  democratic political structures, and (2) dramatic increases in the production of goods and services through scientific and technological development. As a consequence of industrialization, people moved from the country into metropolitan centres, increased the demand for goods and services, and increased the density of the by-products of human consumption (e.g. pollution, habitat loss, etc.).

I can relate both Smiths to this theory, but at different levels. Denzel’s worldview exemplifies the first part, i.e. more equitable  distribution of power and wealth by evolving  democratic political structures, although Denzel himself would argue that the trend now seems to be the other way. Justin reflects the second part – increasing the production of goods and services through scientific and technological development.

For Justin, as with so many people today, the end point is what counts. He is focused on the outputs of the industrial process – the cars, the bikes, the cell phones, the toys, the wine, the food. The consumerist credo of the 21st century tells him that’s just great and urges him to buy a few more goodies. Or sell a few more from his business. The processes by which all these products are created and the by-products of their creation such as wastes and industrial emissions don’t generally show up on his radar, and those that do are dismissed as ‘collateral damage’. He uses cool military jargon he picked up from playing Modern Warfare 2 on his Xbox. For Justin, big energy developments such as the tar sands and long range oil pipelines are triumphs of technological innovation, drivers of employment and the economy at all levels – local, provincial, national and even international for those lucky countries queuing up to buy Canada’s oil.

Denzel’s primary focus, on the other hand, is the hugely complex system which provides all these material benefits. He is all too aware of the vast array of interconnections in the real world. All the components that go into Justin’s cars, bikes and electronics, and all the ingredients needed to make the food and drink he consumes come from somewhere and are themselves part of complex production and extraction processes. The materials all have to go somewhere after they’ve been used, consumed, excreted, trashed or crashed into a tree. The modern industrial world is running out of absorption capacity for all this stuff – the garbage dumps are full, the oceans can’t take any more plastic and effluents, the atmosphere’s carbon load is starting to show up as bad news for the climate.  Denzel sees the signs and evidence all around him – he notices such things.

Denzel doesn’t dispute the value of resources or the jobs their extraction and transportation generate. He just doesn’t think the material benefits are worth the massive environmental and social costs. He thinks the whole concept of exporting tar sands oil is illogical anyway. While Canada spends billions in energy conservation and other programmes to try and keep carbon emissions as low as possible, it sells huge quantities of high-carbon oil to countries who burn it and dump more carbon back into the global climate than Canada saves though conservation programmes in the first place.

So when the inevitable question comes from across the Thanksgiving dinner table “What else you got in mind, dude? You got another way of converting lots of oil, which we have, into dollars and jobs which we want?” Denzel quietly helps himself to the last pour of wine in the bottle and replies “Leave the damned stuff where it is. It’s been lying there for a hundred million years. It will keep until we have better technology, of which you’re so fond, to make more intelligent use of it”.

While neuroscientists are pushing the boundaries of their science and uncovering the highly complicated relationship between neural pathways and behavioural patterns, geneticists and molecular biologists have developed equally spectacular technologies and methods for linking human behaviour to specific genes and genetic patterns. Mark my words –its only a matter of time before scientists uncover a Green Gene. Denzel has it and Justin doesn’t. Probably as simple as that.