I’m not. In fact, I don’t think it’s accurate to call me an “environmentalist.” But I am a citizen opposed to exporting bitumen by supertanker from the B.C. coast. And that makes a lot of people, including National Post columnist Kelly McParland, very upset.
Here’s what he wrote yesterday, following the National Energy Board’s conditional approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline (emphasis mine):
“Enbridge Inc. has already set out plans for unprecedented levels of precautionary measures to guard against accidents. Nonetheless, activist spokespeople were already denouncing the report as it was released, pledging an all-out jihad against the project, including legal challenges, political action and street-level protests.”
“It is easy to dismiss such zealotry, but the environmental lobby has more than adequately displayed its expertise in martialling popular support for its campaigns, no matter how ill-informed. It bases its clout on its ability to generate noisy backing and large amounts of cash from a community of well-meaning people who sympathize with its desire to protect the natural world and are easily gulled by its skilled propaganda and the emotion-charged misinformation campaigns at which it excels. People who get their opinions from the entertainment news and mistake celebrity for credibility or expertise are not likely to be swayed by the judgment of a three-member NEB panel, no matter how conclusive.”
To be clear, it’s not the calculated use of war-on-terror language that bugs me. McParland is free to caricature the “environmental lobby” in whatever colourful terms he pleases. His job, after all, is to generate page views. That’s entertainment news. What bugs me is the deeper condescension toward British Columbians: the suggestion that citizens like me are idiots, incapable of calculating risk versus reward.
My opposition to this pipeline is not ideological, it’s utilitarian.
The term “environmentalist” has come to describe someone who ranks the beauty of the natural world above the prosperity of human beings. But to me, those things are on the same level. Two sides of the same coin. Inseparable and interdependent.
Let’s get something straight. B.C. is not a “pristine wilderness.” Nature is not a temple to go to worship. My love for this place is not aesthetic. These are working landscapes. They’ve been managed and regulated for human benefit since time before memory. As the JRP heard many times, the archeological record of that use goes back 10,000 years.
My own family has been here since 1905, harvesting and extracting this province’s resources. Asataro Yoshida worked as a salmon fisherman for canneries in Rivers Inlet, at Namu, on the Nass. Kumazo Nagata grew a greenhouse empire on the shores of Active Pass. Reginald Trice was a boatbuilder. Walter Priest met my great-grandma Margaret at Seabird Island while he was working at a sawmill.
In fact, all four generations have at different times been employed by forestry — my grandpa as a logger and sawmill operator, my dad as a surveyor, me for a reforestation company.
Here’s the thing about trees: they grow back. If you manage the forests properly, they will give and give forever. In fact, you can split a usable piece of lumber off a big cedar without even killing the tree. Fish come back too, if you give them a chance. We had a record run of Pinks this year, all up and down the coast. I was in one river system this summer, half an hour from Vancouver, where you could have grabbed the jumpers with your bare hands. Chum came back to Still Creek in East Vancouver last year for the first time in 80 years. And just three weeks ago I got underwater video of Coho spawning between a construction site and the Lougheed highway.
In June, a pod of orcas swam right into Burrard Inlet while tourists snapped pictures on their phones. Last fall a female grizzly bear migrated to the Pitt River valley, becoming only the third bear in the entire Garibaldi-Pitt management unit. If she has babies, they will be the first baby grizzlies born in the area since the province began keeping records.
When I see orcas or grizzlies, my heart still pounds. Not just because they’re beautiful, awe-inspiring animals. I’m happy because I know there’s enough fish around to feed my friends and family too. They’re indicators of a healthy, productive ecosystem. A place where if you’re smart, you can live well forever.
Of course I measure wealth in terms of real estate, savings and investments. But I also factor in my freezer, stuffed right now with venison, turkey, pork, salmon and herring eggs. I include the crown land and all the learning it took to get that deer. I include the relationship with my friend’s parents, who raised the turkeys. My cousin, who raised the pig. And my friends up the coast, who gave me the seafood as a gift. By those standards, I’m a wealthy and fortunate man.
My family has been here for four generations, and we plan to be here for at least four more. I’d like my great-grandkids to have a better quality of life than I do, more fish to catch, and a deeper understanding of our connection to the place we live. That’s what a bitumen spill places at risk, 365 days a year, for the 40 years Enbridge plans to operate the pipeline.
The oil and gas industry is different from what has driven prosperity until now in B.C. Oil is a one-time thing. You dig it out, you burn it, and it never comes back. For the record, I’m not opposed to doing that. I have family and friends that work in the oilsands. I think Canada’s very lucky to have the resource. But it’s not going anywhere. I see no rush to sell it off by the tankerful to China, putting everything in between at risk. We still don’t know what happens when a million barrels of bitumen hit salt water — and you know, I’d rather not find out.
Does that make me a jihadist? If anyone’s on a crusade, it sounds like it’s Mr. McParland.
Image Credit: gatewayfacts.ca