A Slingshot Full of Facts

Alaskan Pipeline

Copyright, © iStockphoto

by Donna Sinclair

My book club was discussing Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. It appears that young David won their famous battle because he understood and exploited his huge opponent’s glaring vulnerabilities. Contrary to centuries of story-telling, David only seemed to be at a disadvantage. In reality, Gladwell tells us, Goliath was just “too big and slow and blurry-eyed to see how the tables had been turned.”

The six women who make up our book club are all active in grassroots organizations fighting TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline. We are concerned about water, among other things. Only the day before, the company had filed its application for this 4400 km pipeline to move diluted bitumen from Alberta to New Brunswick. It would cross almost a thousand watercourses along the way.

Naturally, we saw similarities between a biblical sling-wielding kid and – well – us. We are mere citizens, women of a certain age, up against a giant corporation wishing to convert an aging natural gas line to carry an unrefined, toxic, but apparently profitable substance to supertankers bound for markets in India, China and the U.S.

“So how,” said one of our group, “is TransCanada Pipelines vulnerable?”

I’ve been thinking about that ever since.

The day before our meeting, I had watched (via webinar magic) TransCanada Pipelines formally announce their application to the National Energy Board. Six middle-aged white men in dark suits sat in Quebec City and Toronto fielding questions from reporters. Asked about spills and leaks, they described the quantity of oil successfully delivered. Asked about natural gas shortages with a pipeline taken out of service, they talked about “right-sizing” for current realities. Unless the words “diluted” and “bitumen” were used while I was up getting more coffee, the actual stuff the line would transport went unstated. Although their news release noted “discussions” with First Nations, they failed to mention the reporter from the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network who was refused admission to the press conference.

Clearly, where Goliath had armour and javelin, these folks have public relations experts who teach them how to side-step the facts.

But they are vulnerable.

They have six men with talking points. We have artists offering an explosion of creativity. Artists create u-tube videos and street theatre, photography exhibits and documentary films detailing fossil fuel issues. In our city of North Bay, Ont., where our beloved Trout Lake is threatened, local artists painted one entire wall of a downtown building to show fish skeletons, black oil and – in red paint – a caption: stopenergyeastpipeline.ca. My friend Bunty fell off a ladder holding a red-paint-laden brush. “I didn’t get it on the mural,” she says, relieved.

Tar sands companies enjoy close links to an oil-loving, regulation-softening federal government, along with money to sprinkle on municipalities that welcome them. But we have more and more people – citizens – carrying banners, handing out leaflets, and talking to city councillors. That’s because, despite what talking-point-armoured spokespeople say:

  • Energy East is not safe for the climate. In fact, this pipeline would enable a 40% increase in tar sands production. In terms of carbon emissions, that’s as if the Ontario government (which just closed down all its dirty coal plants) opened them all up again.
  • It is not a “national project” to protect Canada’s energy security. In fact, it will export most of its oil through two marine terminals, one of which threatens beluga calving grounds in the St Lawrence River.
  • It is not spill-proof. In fact, TransCanada’s brand-new Keystone pipeline had 12 spills in its first year despite assurances (remarkably similar to those being made about Energy East) that it was “state-of-the-art.”
  • It does not create long-term jobs. TransCanada promises thousands of jobs for the U.S. economy from the hotly disputed Keystone XL pipeline. In fact, President Obama says, it would create 50 to 100.

Above all, where large corporations like TransCanada display a certain indifference to climate change (and the National Energy Board says it is outside its mandate) grassroots organizations like the ones to which my book club members belong are propelled by love for the earth. The fate of the planet is a moral issue. We cannot allow tar sands companies to aid and abet rising sea levels that will harm the citizens of Kiribati and the Maldives, Bangladesh and the Netherlands. We cannot allow them to endanger the Athabasca River, caribou, beluga whales, the Bay of Fundy, and our grandchildren.

David faced a giant weakened in ways that the thousands of onlookers in the Valley of Elah may not have understood. Gladwell points out that Goliath had to be led onto the battlefield by a servant because (according to medical experts today) he likely had a tumour on the pituitary gland, causing an overproduction of growth hormone and serious double vision. He grew too large, he shuffled, he could scarcely even see his small challenger.

Our giant is weakened too. The price of oil is falling. The climate is visibly changing. Soon even oil-serving governments will have to take note. The Rockefellers have divested themselves of stock in fossil fuels. The World Bank, citing fiduciary duty, is advising pension funds to stop investing in carbon-releasing companies. Electric cars are admiringly reviewed in the Wheels section of my daily newspaper.

Tar sands operations are beginning to shuffle a bit. Eventually even their army of marketing experts (the ones whose ads pop up annoyingly on my Facebook page) may not be able to keep them moving forward.

Of course, my book club members might not be around to see the giant fall. That doesn’t stop us from running happily onto the field, slinging the facts at any who would hurt the water and the land.

A journalist for more than 30 years, Donna Sinclair is an award-winning writer who has traveled widely in Canada, Africa, Central America, Britain, and Eastern Europe. She is the author of The Long View, The Spirituality of Bread, The Spirituality of Gardening, A Woman’s Book of Days, A Woman’s Book of Days 2, and numerous other titles. Donna lives with her husband Jim in North Bay, Ontario. Her most recent book is Tommy’s Angel (2013).

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Categories: Donna Sinclair, Ecology and Environmental Issues, Ethics, Featured, Peace, Justice, and Equality

Author:Wood Lake Publishing

At Wood Lake Publishing we are passionate about supporting and encouraging an emerging form of Christianity, which is rooted in ancient wisdom and attentive to the movement of spirit in our day. Visit us online at woodlakebooks.com


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