Things are heating up. Literally. July was the hottest month ever recorded on earth. Just like the month before that. And the month before that. And the month before that one too. According to NASA the planet is warming at a pace not experienced in the last 1000 years. While this unprecedented global warming threatens to completely unbalance earths environment and jeopardize life on this planet, organizers demanding an end of unsustainable economic and environmental practises are turning up the heat on their actions as well. Nowhere is this more apparent that in North Dakota, where thousands of indigenous and non-indigenous protesters have set up camp to prevent the completion of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. Across Canada as well, the situation is becoming more tense, as the government is set to decide on several massive pipeline projects which face significant opposition across the country.
Dakota Access Pipeline
“We do not need oil to live, but we do need water, and water is a human right and not a privilege.”
- Waniya Locke (Ahtna Dene, Dakota, Lakota, Anishinaabe) Standing Rock Descendent
The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is proposed to transport 450,000 barrels of hydraulically fracked crude oil per day from North Dakota to Illinois. Despite pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Interior and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Dakota Access has failed to consult tribes and conduct a full environmental impact statement.
The current route of the DAPL will cross over the Ogallala Aquifer (one of the largest aquifers in the world) and under the Missouri River twice (the longest river in the United States). The possible contamination of these water sources which millions of people rely on make the DAPL a national threat.
The DAPL violates Article 2 of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty which guarantees that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose traditional territory the pipeline crosses, shall enjoy the “undisturbed use and occupation” of their permanent homeland, the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
Unsurprisingly, the local community was not happy that this 3.8 billion dollar pipeline would be bulldozing through their backyards without consent. As the pipeline construction moved forward and it was obvious the government and big oil companies were going to ignore their concerns, a protection camp was set up in April of this year and has continued to grow. Opposition has continued to grow in other ways as well. A petition with 140,000 signatures was brought to Washington, DC demanding that US President Barack Obama repeal the water crossing permits for the pipeline and court challenge is also taking place.
The main highway into the camp has been shutdown. A military style checkpoint has been set up to harass and intimidate those wishing to join the camp. Still more and more people keep coming. Nearly 30 people have been arrested. Yet still more people keep coming. Protesters have had attack dogs bite them and have been pepper sprayed by private security agencies. Yet still more people keep coming to defend the land.
The videos of the dog attacks show an obvious attempt to provoke people into violence to justify shutting the camp down. It failed. Video and photographic evidence shows a strong, determined opposition by people who stopped further bulldozing of ancient burial grounds with their unity and numbers. “The cops watched the whole thing from up on the hills,” said camp member Marcus Frejo. “It felt like they were trying to provoke us into being violent when we’re peaceful.”
"Now we're getting ready for winter again," said Joey Braun, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network. "We're not going anywhere." "We're not against the construction crews - we know they are just trying to make a living. But they are working for the wrong company."
Meanwhile global weeks of solidarity have also been called from September 3 to 17 and the Standing Rock defenders have become an important symbol of resistance and perseverance around the world.
In Canada the situation is becoming increasingly tense, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party have promised to somehow protect the environment and continue building pipelines and other resource extraction projects which scientists say make it impossible to meet the country's promised environmental commitments. Two key pipelines, the Kinder Morgan pipeline in British Columbia, and the Energy East pipeline from BC to the Atlantic Coast are up for government approval in the coming months.
The new Kinder Morgan pipeline would “twin” an existing pipeline which runs from Edmonton to Burnaby. This would increase the amount of oil being transported from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day. More than 20 municipalities and 17 First Nations along the proposed expansion route are in strong opposition to the project. When Kinder Morgan began coring operations to drill samples from Burnaby Mountain, a protest camp sprung up immediately. For weeks there were rallies of hundreds of people and 100 arrests. Kinder Morgan brought a multi-million dollar lawsuit against some of the organizers, who were able to crowdfund $50,000 in a few days to pay legal fees. Kinder Morgan eventually decided to drop the lawsuit, and all of the lawsuits against the 100 arrested on Burnaby Mountain were eventually dropped as well. Protests against the pipeline have continued throughout Vancouver.
The National Energy Board has recommended approval of the pipeline, despite the fact the majority of those who participated in public hearings were in opposition, and the indigenous nations whose land it would cross have still not granted permission. The government has appointed a three person panel to do further hearings, and has promised a decision by the end of December. They are clearly concerned about what the public fallout could be from approving a pipeline Justin Trudeau had previously expressed support for.
The Energy East pipeline which would span from Alberta’s oilsands to the Atlantic coast via a 4,600-kilometre pipeline was also going through the NEB public hearing process, until the NEB suspended hearings blaming a “violent disruption” when protesters entered a Montreal NEB hearing room chanting and holding a banner.
The more likely reason is the huge controversy which erupted when it was revealed that two NEB staff members, its CEO, and panel members met with then TransCanada consultant and former Quebec Premier Jean Charest back in January of 2015 – and then lied to try and cover it up.
Opposition is widespread. Montreal mayor Denis Coderre, not known for his progressive views, has opposed the pipeline saying it would only deliver about $2 million in economic benefits to the Montreal area, while a major spill could cost billions to clean up. Quebec’s Assembly of First Nations declared its opposition in July, saying the project would “fuel catastrophic climate change.” Also, Quebec’s main farmers organization, Union des Producteurs Agricoles is publicly opposed to the project.
The same fights are repeating themselves in cities and towns across North America. Despite police harassment the Unist'ot'en have maintained a camp since 2009 which is blocking seven pipelines that do not have Unist'ot'en consent to use their land.
A Consortium led by LNG giant Petronas has been frustrated in its attempts to build an 11 billion dollar LNG plant on Lax U'u'la / Lelu Island without community support. The protest camp their celebrated its one year anniversary on August 24th.
Explaining the community's decision not to allow the LNG plant to move forward, Lax Kw'alaams Hereditary Chief Yahaan (Donald Wesley) said, “Development within our Traditional territories must have our Free, Prior and Informed consent. The people of Lax'walams spoke very clearly in their rejection of the 1.25 billion dollar offer from Petronas, and this camp builds upon that rejection. This issue is not just a First Nations issue but one that will affect all British Columbians, especially those who rely upon healthy and abundant Fish stocks, of a variety of species at the mouth of the Skeena River."
The list of similar actions is long, but so are the lists made by oil executives of future development proposals.
What's at Stake? Which Way Forward?
Inevitably when discussing opposition to these projects the debate turns to employment. It's a fair concern, but the discussion often lacks some understanding. Previously, across North America many families relied on incomes from fishing and logging. What about now? The mills are closed and the workers laid off. The fish stocks were depleted and many fisherman found they could no longer make a living doing something their families had been doing for generations.
In the summer of 1992 it was found that the Northern Cod stock had fallen to 1% of its earlier level from over fishing and mismanagement. 35,000 jobs were lost almost overnight and many communities were devastated. On the other coast of the county, according to a report from the BC Government Employees Union, between 2001 and 2011 70 mills closed in BC alone and 36,000 jobs were lost.
All of this was because of unsustainable, greedy development by corporations seeking short-term super-profits. They chomped their way through the waters and the forests, and are not focused on the black gold under the soil. We see it again in the way the oil industry chews up workers and then spits them out as soon as the oil runs out or its no longer profitable. The slow down in Alberta's tar sands means that the province's unemployment rates are at a 20 year high, while CBC reported that the suicide rate climbed 30%.
Where are these big corporations now? What's their level of concern for our well being? The truth is we can't trust them with our jobs, our planet or our lives.
System Change Not Climate Change!
We can't understate the significance of the unanimous decision by the people of Lax'walams who rejected the 1.25 billion dollar offer from Petronas to shut up and allow the LNG plant to be built. They are going through the same, and often worse, economic and social challenges we are all and 1.25 billion dollars is a vast sum of money. But their people are not motivated by the short term, and their criteria isn't just financial gain. This allows them to make bold and important stances against the unsustainable resources extraction projects, just like the people gathering at the Standing Rock Camp in North Dakota are doing.
Opposition to these projects is most effective when it is broad and united. It is also most effective when organizers have a clear understanding that under the capitalist system, where competition for profits is more important than cooperation between people – the planet will always be under attack. There is no more scientific debate. If we do not change things drastically now humanity is threatened. The situation is difficult, but we can gain strength and confidence from seeing everywhere around us people standing up for their rights and for the planet. We can join them and build the better and sustainable world we all need and deserve!
Follow Thomas Davies on Twitter: @thomasdavies59
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