Sunday, April 24, 2016

Fractured Land

I went to see this at the Perimeter Institute last night, and was so excited to meet the star of it, Caleb Behn, Eh-Cho Dene and Dunne-Za hunter, fisher, activist, and lawyer. Unfortunately, he cancelled. It was disappointing, but the film made it clear that he's a seriously busy guy! It was worth going to see the film anyway.

It's a perfect film for my Native Studies class. It brings in the notion of a split identity, of the relationship with the environment, the need to regain legal control over the areas being destroyed, and the challenge of putting it all together.

Behn's parents are polar opposites: his dad endured the residential school system and spoke at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and his mom is the highest ranking female executive at an oil and gas company. He's trying to cope with a system that destroyed his people, and she's trying to change the system from within. They divorced when Behn was ten, which he refers to as the first great break in his life.

The film lets us dwell on some beautiful scenery juxtaposed with concerns about checking game for contamination before eating it and the quickly dwindling number of animals to hunt. Behn lives in Northeastern B.C., land covered by Treaty 8, and the third largest hydrocarbon deposit in BC. It took 88 years to turn the pristine land into an industrial wasteland. The area is rife with cancers and birth defects.

The bulk of the film is about the treaty obligation required of any corporation or government entity to consult with Indigenous peoples on any action that could impede their rights. But they reveal that most of the consultations were for show, a quick by-the-way long after all the paperwork was completed with little in the way of real information provided to allow impacted groups to make an informed decision. Behn's grandfather commented that the government "makes the words dance on paper."

At this point one gets the sense that it's all so much about money and greed. The energy corporations rubber stamp the consultation and, in one historic day, they were able to make $476,000,000. Fracking is facilitating a new land rush. Behn relates, "They came for the trees, then the gold, the fur, the children, the oil, and now the gas." The government propaganda ads suggest that washing a car near the roadway is worse for the groundwater than pumping chemicals and fresh water down 2.5 km for the shale gas, leaving behind tailing ponds that end up back in the water system. The oil and gas company activities are regulated by their own industry. And LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) is being targeted for international markets in Asia. It's not about the jobs; it's about the fortunes they'll make. The attitude is one of getting not just what we need to survive, but as much as we possibly can - in the words of Rich Coleman, "to win this race before the rest of the world." Except the faster we extract, the faster we destroy our own land.

The film brought in many voices to add to Behn's experiences. Hydrologist Gilles Wendling explained that nobody has clearly examined exactly where the waste water goes. Dr. Robert Howarth, Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell warned that LNG emissions will soon rival the tar sands. An industry spokesperson from CAPP suggested that gas below the earth is a gift from the creator, and she explained that the industry will shut down a fracking site in a minute if there's any problems - except they never have despite all the many concerns raised. If they destroy the headwaters of the Tahltan River, they will destroy everything downstream.

Little Tahltan River

Behn had only positive things to say about the good heart of the people working on the ground in the industry. It reminded me of Julia Butterfly Hill, two years up a tree to save it from logging, explaining how fond she grew of the loggers, reminding us that we need to change the system, not demonize the players:

But many of the workers on fracking sites are itinerant who move on after 4-6 weeks to another of the 28,000 wells in B.C. The landscape is disappearing under the weight of one proposal after another, a death by 1,000 cuts.

Behn was able to speak at a moratorium on fracking and realized, "If we get this dialogue wrong, things will be very very dangerous in our territory." His speech was well-received, but then they moved on to the next item on the agenda. "There's so much more to politics than speeches and young people raising their voices." It's hard to get our heads around the slippery inner workings of the system.

The film also raised some interesting psychological issues about suffering, authenticity, and the burden of fame. Behn was born with a cleft palate, and he believes it made him more empathetic towards others. I've often commented to classes about the number of famous activists who were raised with some type of early hardship. Behn suggests it's good to have suffered: "Sometimes pain can be good." Personal pain can open our hearts to others in a way that might not be reached if we've never been a little cracked. Behn grapples with his own authenticity as he recognizes the benefits he's had from having a mom in this lucrative industry. And some of the Indigenous protesters insist that "you can't tear down the master's house with the master's tools" because he has a law degree from their universities. There's a split between the old traditions and modern day culture that's hard to bridge. And Behn is startlingly honest discussing his new fame as an activist, how girls made themselves available and he didn't always act honourably: "Relationships are the clearest expression of my failures as a man." The film did a brilliant job of getting us to really understand the complex experience of fractured people, of all of us.

I didn't leave the film feeling any better about the world, but I felt less alone in the fight, and really really lazy for the pittance I offer compared to the men and women on the front lines.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

On Pipelines - Line 9 and More

After Laxer spoke of his book on the tar sands last Wednesday, Myeengun Henry spoke. He's an Elder and the Aboriginal Services Manager at Conestoga College. His focus was on pipelines. He spoke of issues that I had heard about and kind of understood, but I admit I haven't paid close enough attention to be able to keep all the pipelines straight even though it's clear they can break and leak and wreak havoc on the soil and water. Henry brought a clarity and urgency to the issue. It's time I wrap my head around it all.

While Indigenous people were recovering from residential schools, the land was being divided by pipelines. They had to get back to their traditional teachings about protecting the land.

The People Versus Enbridge on Facebook 
They went to the National Energy Board to oppose Enbridge and the potential destructions they could cause. Pipelines have a 40-year life expectancy. The pipeline that Enbridge is using on line 9 is 40 years old, and now they want to change the flow and increase the capacity. It's going to break.

We must refuse to stand and watch it happen. So some of them took it into their own hand to go to Enbridge in Calgary. The Chippewa of the Thames First Nation talked about sharing resources and offered a two row Wampum to the CEOs. It looked something like the photo here. The two lines represent the two nations working parallel to each other. The three sections represent love, peace, and respect. And the fact that it's unfinished at the ends, illustrates that the relationship has no end.

Then the CEOs told them that the resources don't belong to the Indigenous people, and they presented them with a broken piece of pipeline.

It was clear that conversation wasn't going to bridge the gap, so they decided to take on the legal challenge.

Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982 says there's a duty to consult any indigenous people on land that could be adversely affected by corporate activity. That consultation never took place. So they took it to a Federal Court of Appeals, but they lost the case. There were three judges; two said no, and one dissented.

They wanted to take it to the Supreme Court, but if they lost, they'd have to pay Enbridge's court costs. Henry feels strongly that money shouldn't be a deciding factor in a Supreme Court challenge. These court cases should be about the cost to children. People shouldn't have to prove their rights in a court of law; they should just have to show that their rights were violated for the injustice to be corrected.

BC First Nations were able to raise $200,000 in four months to fight the Northern Gateway a couple years ago.

The Chippewas started a gofundme site (DONATE HERE) and decided to go for it despite the costs. And they put Hydro One and Union Gas on notice too!

The date for the appeal to begin is November 30th 2016. Enbridge started flowing oil through line 9 last December 2015. Fingers crossed there are no leaks before it can be shut down.

Henry said,
Think back before we discovered Columbus. People understood our Mother the Earth is the most important aspect of life, and it needs to be honoured and cherished. If we dishonour her, it spoils the water and air and life ends. We need to come together on this. Nature will take all of us. We need a more unified country based on understanding Aboriginal knowledge in order to grow together.

Some pipelines in the news (outline of all Enbridge's pipelines here):

* Line 9 - 800 km from Sarnia to Montreal; it crosses tributaries flowing into Lake Ontario, and crosses the Ottawa River; it passes through 99 towns and 14 Indigenous communities in Ontario and Quebec; it has 12961 structural weaknesses and several design deficiencies along its length.

Line 7 - from Sarnia to Hamilton, side-by-side with line 9 - This one is 60 years old and carrying 180,000 barrels/day. It was approved by the National Energy Board in November. This one's falling under the radar.

Northern Gateway - 525,000 barrels/day from the tar sands to Kitimat BC, 1,177 kms, then to tankers to go across the Pacific Ocean. Approved by Harper in June 2014, but Trudeau visited in August 2014 and said it would be shut down if he became PM. In November 2015, he banned oil tanker traffic in the Pacific, effectively shelving the pipeline.

* Keystone XL - 1,900 km from Alberta to Nebraska (just phase IV of the whole Keystone project - the other three phases have been completed). Rejected by Obama in November, 2015 after mass protests in Washington.

Leaks and spills and explosion, oh my! 

Here's just a few to remind you of the potential for disaster. As pipelines are aging, leaks are becoming more frequent. Pipeline incidents in Canada have doubled in the past decade often citing corrosion as a culprit, yet replacing old pipes isn't in the picture:
"More than four reportable releases happened for every 10,000 kilometres in 2000, or 18 incidents in total, according to NEB data. By 2011, that rate had risen to 13 per 10,000 kilometres, or 94 incidents.
This could be your street!
Apr. 2016 - Keystone leak in South Dakota, but it will be up and running again in no time!
2015 - Drumheller, Alberta - TransCanada pipeline leaks into agricultural land
2015 - NuVista pipeline spills in the Hay Lake First Nation
2015 - Nexen pipeline in Alberta - 5 million litres - one of the worst spills ever
2014 - Otterburne, Manitoba pipeline explosion
2014 - 70,000 litres spilled near Slave Lake
2014 - Oneok's Viking Gas transmission was ruptured and exploded in a 100' fireball
2013 - Exxon Pegasus tar sands spill into an Arkansas neighbourhood, and they didn't have to pay into the cleanup fund
2012 - Elk Point, Alberta had a leak of almost a quarter of a million litres
2012 - Half a million litres leaked into a central Alberta river system, Red Deer River
2011 - Peace River, Alberta - 4.5 million litres of crude leaked near the Indigenous community of Little Buffalo
2010 - Bronte Creek, Oakville - the Trans Northern pipeline leak into creeks, soil, and groundwater
2010 - Line 6B in Michigan - spilled millions of litres of bitumen in the Kalamazoo River - bitumen can't be effectively cleaned from a waterway because of its density; it's so far the largest inland oil spill

The Protests:

Line 9 - Ontario First Nations, three activists shut if off in Dec. 2015 in Sarnia, activists shut off a valve in Quebec, Bronte Creek blockade, Waterloo Region against line 9, activists scale a tower to unfurl a banner in Montréal, activists chained themselves to a fence in Montreal, activists walked 700 km to protest, and here's a list of 80 other groups.

And Rachel Thevenard ran the entire length of the pipeline, 800 kms, IN WINTER, to raise awareness, and I hate to say I completely missed it. I know all about Clara Hughes biking for mental illness, but somehow missed any news about someone from my hometown running for an environmental cause.
"She sighed when asked if she was afraid of hurting herself. 'I will literally wheelchair against Line 9 if I have to. This pipeline has to be stopped.'"

Judy Gelfand, the federal environment commissioner, found in January 2016 that the National Energy Board is failing to adequately track whether pipeline companies are complying with conditions set out when projects are approved. The NEB's systems are "outdated or inaccurate."

Line 7 - Activists tamper with valves near Cambridge

Stand (formerly Forest Ethics) from Clayoquot Sound convinced Tim Hortons to refuse to advertise for Enbridge. Ezra Levant started a boycott Tim's site in response.

And the Greatest Irony Award goes to...

Enbridge for sponsoring a Ride to Conquer Cancer while mutated fish are developing near the tar sands!

ETA: And Notley's standing firmly in support of national pipelines. Even the NDP are willing to take a risk like this at the expense of our country and people:
"I'm asking you to leave here more persuaded than perhaps some of us have been, that it is possible for Canada to have a forest industry, to have an agriculture industry, a mining industry, and yes, an energy industry, while being world leaders on the environment."
I'm not remotely persuaded.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Cast Off Discouragement!

I just watched Gordon Laxer give a talk on his newest book, After the Sands. I haven't read the book yet, but here are my notes from his speech. This is more or less paraphrased with reasonable accuracy (and links!).

I had never heard of Laxer before, but he was the first chair of the Waffle movement in Toronto in 1969 (I'm guessing he's related to James), and he founded the Parkland Institute for education and research for the common good in 1996. In between, he's a Poli Sci prof and writer. He told us that the Paris Climate Accord had some laudable goals, but it left each country to its own to reach those targets. Canada doesn't have much of a plan, so this book is an answer to that, a bold (that word was said a few too many times) path towards a low-carbon future. We have to change our thinking with a new optimism that we can take action that will develop a socially just, sustainable, low-carbon society within two decades. As Francis Moore Lappe said, "It is too late to prevent suffering. Terrible suffering is already with us. But it is not too late for life."

Indigenous Partnerships

I seemed to have picked the right time to venture into teaching an Aboriginal Studies course. It feels like we're at a turning point with our relationships and connections in Canada, and teaching has forced me to learn our history at an accelerated rate. It's embarrassing, of course, that I knew so little before - and still - but I think that will change for the next generation. Things are shifting.

Laxer explained that no environmental victory won in the last thirty years was without indigenous help and leadership. First Nation land claims have become pivotal in environmental battles. Honouring indigenous rights is Canada's best chance to alter the fate of the planet. We need to adopt the worldview of honouring the land we live on instead of using it up for all it's worth.

Environmentally, Trudeau and Notley are Harper Redux (so far)

In Paris, Trudeau assured the world that "Canada is back, my friends," but then he started following Harper's old targets to reduce GHGs to 524 MT by 2030 at a rate of 1.7 MT/year.  For a comparison, both the US and EU plan to reduce emissions by 2.8 MT/year.

Rachel Notley announced her plan for Alberta while standing side by side with CEOs, and they all had big smiles on their faces. It's because Notley's reduction plan targets emissions from power generation and transportation, which together make up 28% of Canada's GHGs. She allowed the tar sands to continue to raise emissions, but the production of oil and gas make up a whopping 45% of GHGs. If the sands are allowed to continue, they'll cancel out all other efforts to reduce. Harper was in the pockets of big oil, and Notley isn't, but she's still intimidated by them, so she's willing to shill for oil. Unfortunately, the message is more effective coming from Notley. Too many environmentalists have relaxed, assured by her lefty stance. By 2030, if the sands continue, they will produce 56% of Canada's GHG emissions.

As an MP, Trudeau voted to pass Jack Layton's carefully drafted bill to cut emissions by 80% by 2050, which was unfortunately stopped by the Harper-stacked Senate. But it was influential enough to be adopted by the G8 in 2009. Notley's plan will gut that dream.

Laxer argues that we have to shut down the tar sands completely within fifteen years.

Energy is a Human Right

We can't let price determine who gets access to energy or the rich will exploit their position. A carbon tax barely affects the wealthy, but can be disastrous for the poor. The richest 10% cause 50% of the emissions, so we need to affect the right people. (However, the richest 10% includes anyone who makes over $25,000 per year, which might not be what you just pictured.) We need to make sure all of Canada is "energy secure." We can do this by using our own energy instead of exporting oil and gas to the US, and then importing 40% of the oil we use. The US has made it clear that if they have a shortage, they'll cut off Canada in a minute. We can't be dependent on others for our own energy. Currently we have no strategic petrol reserves; we've signed away our own resources. We have to reverse these decisions.

The Problems with Pipelines

Pipelines have become controversial due to all the leaks and spills. Conventional oil floats and is relatively easy to skim off the top of water, but bitumen from the tar sands is more dense, and it sinks. It's very difficult to get it out of the water system once it's in there.

Pipelines have run roughshod all over Native lands. "It's not a Native thing; it's a 'protect the Earth' thing." We all should want clean drinking water, so we should all be fighting to stop the pipelines. Because it's too costly to ship by rail, if we can stop pipelines, we can shut down the tar sands.

In the 1950s, pipelines ran east and west to supply all of Canada. But then in the 80s, under NAFTA, they started running north to south, and we started exporting 70% of our oil to the US. In the Energy Proportionality Clause, it says Canada must export the same percentage it had exported in the three years previous to the clause being involked, even if we're running short. Mexico refused to accept that clause, and they got an exemption. But Canada has to give the US first rights.

But then in 2011, Obama stopped the Keystone pipeline due in part to massive protests from US citizens, which makes it less likely that the proportionality clause will be invoked.

We need to ramp up renewable energy sources, phase out energy exports and exports of natural gas. We only have a twelve year supply of natural gas and BC is planning to export it. Alberta is using natural gas to turn bitumen into usable oil. "That's like turning gold into lead for export." We need to phase out electricity exports too. Hydro supplies 60% of our electricity.

We have our own usable energy, particularly from BC, Manitoba, Quebec, and Newfoundland. BC can supply Alberta; Manitoba can supply Saskatchewan; Quebec can supply Ontario (and get Ontario off nuclear); and Newfoundland can supply all of the Maritimes, but it has to get out of the exporting game. I'm hoping his book outlines how to do this; he didn't get into the logistics in his talk.

Political Will

We have the technology today to live without the tar sands, but we just need the political will and a new mindset. The colonialists came and dug up resources here to export them for cash, and we have to get away from that pattern of behaviour.

We're 9th highest GHG emitters in the world, producing twice as much as Norway and three times as much as Sweden per capita, and they're just as northerly as we are. Some argue that there's no point doing anything if China's still emitting so much, but in 2015, 100% of new energy production in China was renewables. China spent three times as much on renewables per capita as Canada last year. By 2020, they'll have enough to power homes and industry for 280 million people (200 GW each of wind and solar), and they're closing 1,000 coal mines this year. We're running out of "but look at China" excuses.

The tar sands employs 2.2 million people, many of whom travel from the other end of the country to get there. Last year 40,000 were laid off, and some were able to make the transition into solar and wind construction near their own cities. It's devastating that people lost their jobs, but we should see the lay offs as an opportunity, as the first step in a low-carbon future. There are more jobs created by green construction than by the tar sands. "A unit of carbon saved makes more jobs than a unit of carbon emitted." And then workers can live in their home communities.

We can do this, and it will make us a better society. We're built with the ingenuity to overcome obstacles, but we get sidetracked or discouraged. We must struggle for our lives, for our children and grandchildren, and for all other living things. We have a new world to create; the time to start is now.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Panama Papers

From Woodward and Bernstein to Edward Snowden, breaking stories from the 5th Estate are always exciting. This one is the biggest story yet to blow open millions of files linking dirty money to high-powered officials.

After a leak of over 11 million documents compiled from the 1970s to today, and offered up to the Munich paper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 350 journalists have taken about a year to read, assemble, research, and connect data through one corporation: Mossack Fonseca, a Panama law firm that's helped elite clients to launder money, evade taxes, dodge sanctions.... It's been guarding the data of the word's most powerful people including 240,000 companies, sports organizations, and political leaders.

The first journalists got the ICIJ, Guardian, BBC, and Le Monde involved. They all met in Washington to figure out how to file through all the information and turn it into well researched, verifiable, and readable stories about undisclosed financial transactions, weapons, drugs and pedophilia rings, and offshore tax havens linked to war crimes and other illegal activity around the world.

The 10 minute video at this page explains their process they went through to begin to tell these stories.

But the video below gets at the heart of why the story is so important:

Take a look at "who did what and how"at the official Panama Papers website. Prepare to lose a few days reading through it all. It's the kind of thing you always suspected, but now there's proof of all the connections.

Like this one:

ETA: Here's a good primer on Offshore investments and more on the Panama Papers. And Truthdig has more to say, including an Edward Snowden tweet: "Courage is contagious." And the BBC has a Q&A.