This past Christmas break I spent a week in beautiful Tofino, on Vancouver Island. There's a national park there, filled with ancient trees, striking coastline, and heaps of wild life. I hadn't been there since I was a kid and fell in love immediately. I couldn't believe I'd waited so long to go back to the beaches my hippie parents camped-out for entire summers, when they were young and before the area was a park. According to them, in the old days it was just logging roads, fresh fish and clams, and miles of Pacific coastline. A good spot for good friends. Not much has changed really, the roads are paved now and you can't camp on the beach anymore. When the surf is up surfers are abound. But there's trouble brewing in the region.
Back home a friend of mine had posted a video about surfing on the BC coast (below). It's not directly in Tofino, but North East of the area, in a place called the Great Bear Rainforest. This gorgeous little film is a cool mix of surf video and environmental journalism. I'm a big supporter of the environment, but frankly I find a lot of environmental documentaries depressing. Not because I can't stomach the truth, but because of the sentiment in which they're presented. This one is different in that sense; it's informative, and because it's more surf adventure than doomsday prophecy, it comes across palatable and compelling. If you have a few mins I think you'll enjoy it. It sure made me happy to be from this beautiful planet.
The Great Bear rainforest is in British Columbia, Canada, the province that most of this site's creators hail from. It's a majestic region of old-growth forest, killer whales, spirit bears, and good surf.
If you watched the video you'll know that some folks from Alberta and their oily cousins from Ottawa want to put a pipeline through the Great Bear. Really? Really.
In August 2011 National Geographic published a short article explaining the story. In a nut shell, a Canadian company, Enbridge, wants to build an oil pipeline from the central province of Alberta to the coast. This pipeline would send crude oil from Canada's tar sands to tankers waiting off the rain forest. It's a great idea to help boost Canada's oil exports to Asia, but a spill would be a disaster to the area. The debate goes live this week as hearings begin for a federal review into the project. Facebook is starting to heat-up as well, as local BC'ers learn about the project and chime in with their two-cents or supporting links.
I've been wracking my brain for an 'integral' response to this (beyond my knee-jerk-environmentalist-counterculture-fuck-you-anywhere-but-here-man response), but frankly it's a darn complex issue. How to begin weighing so many factors? - There's the national economy, Canada's geopolitical posturing as an energy player, global energy needs, climate change from fossil fuels, provincial indigenous rights, regional environmental sustainability, BC's strong local culture of nature conservation, citizen protest, the gnawing fact that this is supporting a dated industrial model yet is the only one we've got at the moment, the morality of protecting a vibrant environmental jewel, and doing our best to balance all stakeholder needs. 'Whew.
It's complex. The only middle ground I can come to is that A) it's morally wrong to send supertankers and pipelines through the region - for environmental and local community reasons - and I can't support it. But B) since we're going to be shipping our dirty oil to Asia (and we are, the government seems set on that) it makes sense to ship it out the West coast. So if not the Great Bear, where?
Maybe, and I say this with great reluctance, it makes sense to ship it through Vancouver.
It's a shitty compromise, but it will protect the wild Great Bear and will place tankers and oil under the watchful eyes of 2 million NIMBY citizens who live near the port. If there's a spill, our collective disgust and anger will make the clean-up happen more quickly and effectively than if it were hundreds of kilometres up the coast where we can't see it.
In this case, as unpleasant as it may be, it may actually be better to have it in our back yard.
Of course, this compromise solution isn't a very good one. Trying to make everyone happy doesn't really bring anything new to the table, it only shuffles the pieces on the board. An integral response includes as much as possible, but it should also transcend. It strikes me that a middle path doesn't seek more radical solutions that transcend Canada's 'need' for oil altogether. It still exists in the old paradigm of breakneck-greed, pathological disassociation from our environment, and benefit for the few at expense of the many. So for now, what are we to do?