On Monday March 26—in part to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster—activists in Vancouver organized the “No Tankers” rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Almost 2000 people showed up on a rainy Monday at noon to hear speakers from indigenous and activist communities, as well as special guests like Bill McKibben of 350.org. Two Thousand. On a Monday. In the rain. As Ben West of the Wilderness Committee noted, “If I was a politician in the Conservative Party I’d be shaking in my boots.” As we keep saying in this movement, this is only the beginning—but what a beginning we’ve been making!
Earlier in the day Occupy Vancouver Environmental Justice hosted a meeting with McKibben, West, and some 50 other environmentalists to discuss pipeline and tar sands strategy. Exploring the possibilities of a coalition, the groups assembled here agreed on a variety of basic points: following First Nations’ lead in the struggle against the pipeline projects (most clearly and forcefully stated in the Fraser River Declaration); addressing the fact that all our crises—environmental, economic, and social—are part and parcel of one crisis leading back to the disenfranchisement of the 99%; and that the struggle we face is larger than opposing one pipeline, but about containing the tar sands and ending our dependence on fossil fuels. In the latter case, we all agree that what we need are real energy alternatives, and the political vision to pursue their development.
What are we up against? Ben West of the Wilderness Committee was, as usual, crystal clear. The tar sands is one of the world’s largest industrial projects—yet only 3% of the potential oil deposits have currently been fully developed. A new pipeline the size of the Enbridge Northern Gateway would mean opening up another 30% of the project to development. The tar sands is already one of the world’s largest single contributors to carbon emissions and thus climate change. As NASA scientist James Hansen has noted, full development of the tar sands would be “game over for the climate.”
But the infrastructure supporting the existing energy system is aging and will have to be replaced in the coming years. Substantial investment is going to be needed. There is a real opportunity here: why not replace it, if replace it we must, not with new equipment for the same old fossil fuel system, but with new equipment for a new, renewable energy system? This is what we need to be calling for. It’s not a matter of ending oil and then looking at one another with a shrug, as if to say, “now what?” It’s a matter of carefully planning the changes ahead—because the changes are coming, whether we choose to manage them, or simply choose to let the oil run out, the climate drastically change, and our environment degrade as oil spills (and there will be oil spills, make no mistake) clog our rivers and blanket our coast.
The tankers are already in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet, taking tar sands oil from the Kinder Morgan pipeline. With plans to twin the pipeline, soon more than 200 tankers a year—each one carrying three times the oil the Exxon Valdez was laden with—will be sailing past tourists and joggers in scenic Stanley Park. Canada’s Conservative government is marshaling its forces, denying climate change, altering Canada’s environmental protection and review policies to make project approvals easier, and carrying on their war in the name of Big Oil and the 1%, and against the interests of the 99%—even, it’s harder and harder to deny—against the interests of the human species and the planet we all share.
But I have plenty of hope. 2000 people on a rainy Monday morning will give you hope. That mass of people—as they pressed forward at the doors of Enbridge’s Vancouver offices, their voices rising in a deafening chant—will give you hope. The united front of indigenous peoples, and their joyous drumming and singing in front of Enbridge’s offices, will give you hope. As McKibben said from the Art Gallery steps, the oil companies “are suddenly a little nervous, they’re suddenly on the run—and that’s because of you.”
In Vancouver, we sit at one of the main outlets of tar sands oil—one of the main sources of its toxic impact on the world. It’s a choke point, a fuse leading back to the climate bomb buried in Alberta’s soil. We have some work to do. And it looks like there are an awful lot of us ready to take on this work. Keep it coming, Vancouver. Earth Day (April 22), the International Stop the Tar Sands Day (May 5), are just around the corner. Let’s see what we can do for the planet and the future. Another, oil-free world is indeed possible.
A YouTube video of the rally’s speeches is available here.