Lets face facts children. The Northern Gateway pipeline is most likely a done deal. The arguments are as old as the industrial revolution. On the one hand there is vast amounts of money to be made if we just risk or actually ravage our natural environment. On the other hand as our esteemed prime minister said the other day we can keep Canada as a wonderful natural park for the northern half of the continent.
This sort of thinking has been going on for a few hundred years. THe fact is that people pollute. The act of living mean other things and or people must die. Habitat fit for a home is no longer fit for a bear or moose. Water, needed for consumption and hygiene has to be pumped back into the ecosystem after we use it, and land given over to agriculture, even if we all became vegans is no longer as productive for other organisms as it would be if left alone. The fact of my existence demands that other beings perish just as the existence of those other beings means that sometime in the future I must perish to put nutrients back into the system.
SInce about the turn of the last century though we have become more and more aware not of the possibility of pristine existence but of the fact that we can do much to mitigate our damage to the environment. In my home town of St Catharines all the local sewer systems, industrial, runoff, and human waste water were led across the city and dumped completely untreated into the local river, canal, or directly into Lake Ontario.
Meanwhile we took our drinking water out of an upstream source so that we didn’t have to drink our own sewage. Don’t ask where Welland and Thorold dumped their sewage it would just upset you.
The result of this policy, which was used by virtually every city in the world was that the Henley course, where I spent many idyllic hours rowing was a stinking cesspool. On any given morning depending on what the local industries had been doing the water was anywhere from a dirty dishwater gay to a quite nice mocha colour. There was often a lovely froth on the water and a nice scent of vanilla form the pulp mills up stream and in the fall we were treated to the heady aroma of fermenting grapes when the local industrial sized winery dumped the lees from their vats into the water about a kilometer upstream from the rowing course. On Mondays we were regularly regaled with schools of ,“Port Dalhousie whitefish”, used condoms flushed down the toilet after mom and dad celebrated another leafs game after hockey night in Canada went off the air.
Now all the sewers are tied in to a treatment facility. The result is that 40 years after I was rowing on it the water once again sustains waterfowl, fish and amphibians. It is hardly pristine, it was estimated that it will take about 100 years of clean water flow to flush all the detritus out of the waterway but at least it no longer actually stinks.
The same sort of progress ha been made in large and small increments in controlling air pollution from factories down to individual smokers who can no longer blow smoke in your face in the middle of your history seminar at the local university.
None of this ha come about cheaply and at every step along the way we have been faced with the same old tired arguments. The owners of business or other enterprises state that the cost of cleaning up their messes will make the projects to costly and the environmentalists insist that if you are to be allowed to take profits out of the community you must restore the environment as much as possible.
THis leads me at last back to the pipeline. The project pushers, particularly Enbridge tell us that they will do everything possible to protect the environment. No they won’t they will do everything that is demanded of them by we the people and not a penny more will be spent than is absolutely demanded. They will have to be watched and monitored constantly because they will fail to do what they should if they have a chance. SO will all the other enterprises involved in the project. From the construction companies building the pipeline through BC wilderness to the shipping companies carrying the crude to China each and every one of them will want to limit the costs of their operations and maximize their profits. It is up to us, through our government to demand good stewardship of them because they will not provide it on their own.
On the other hand of course it is pretty much a given that the oil from Alberta tar sands is going to be exploited and used by a world still hungry for fossil fuel. Not very many of us are ready to give up our personal transportation in cars, I know I’m not, and none of us can live in Canada without heating our homes and finding a source of heat to cook our food.
Can we do a better job of limiting our environmental impact? Absolutely. Will we? not very much thank you and we will grumble about the cost in time, money and enjoyment of every improvement along the way. It’s human nature to resist change and try to continue life as usual.
Will the pipeline spoil the natural environment? Certainly. The only question is how much and how soon. There will be damage from the original construction and there will be damage from maintenance and the leaks that will occur over time. There will be a shipping catastrophe i the future. These are the inevitable results of using fossil fuels. All we can do is demand that those who stand to profit from it do the best they can to limit the damage now and in the future.
It is on that point that it is scary to watch the governmental flacks lining up to paint all the environmentalists as radicals and lauding the wonders of the project. THey are doing the bidding of Enbridge not just because they will get massive donations but because they still believe that the resources must be exploited and the economy of the dollar is more important than the economy of the environment. They want to promote the sale of our resources to the highest bidder and resent anything that degrades that profit picture.
If you want the best deal possible for all Canadians then you must make the government partners with ordinary citizens and not with the profit centres of big business. None of that will leave the Tar sands or this particular pipeline pristine. It will just get us the best deal possible from the degradation that is inevitable if we are to continue to exist as we do now.
In the long term we can look to alternative fuels to lessen out impact but as for me I’m not willing to give up my car yet. I have a grand daughter growing up 300 kilometers away and I have to go visit her every month. I’m as much a part of this problem as anyone.