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A Sober Assessment on the Tar Sands Campaigns
January 8, 2013
by Macdonald Stainsby
In thinking about a new rant on the tar sands to begin 2014, thinking of trying to sum up the previous year seems nearly impossible. So that, really, is a summation. Let me explain.
In previous eras of tar sands resistance we had a few flash points. This, of course, is in the time since it began to get attention beyond the families it ravaged through disease, or families it kept separate through cross-country employment. Since the call of climate change made attention to tar sands inevitable the “flag” of tar sands resistance has sprung up in such a varied, continent-wide and even international manner that even betrayals from Big Green would likely not do much more than wound resistance that has sprung up in locale after locale.
Considering all of this, the temptation to centralize behind forces to wield this power will only grow. But let’s look at two major flashpoints of resistance and see what has been the unwitting effect of that model. In both the US and Canada, those forces that have been brought into a singular large campaign have done so fighting large tar sands pipelines. In neither case has there been an outright victory, in both cases there have been fits and starts that had the feel of a victory without legal fallback of any sort.
A decision on Keystone has been delayed several times and in various ways. Nonetheless, large sections of the pipeline have been built and it appears to be de facto going ahead. Meanwhile, filling the breach for supply while that has been getting sorted out is fracked oil from the Bakken in North Dakota. One extreme has allowed for the other to delay while not being stopped.
Like a gambler, the big bet of the big money Big Greens has been thrown down on Keystone XL and over at the fracking table– where the bets are set at the same limit– big oi has cleaned up. The horrible divisions over fracking– created by “realistic” politics towards energy companies– has made the climate impacts of tar sands prevention seriously in doubt.
The anti-tar sands camp must be converted into an anti-extreme energy movement, or rather, collection of diverse movements. The lead of communities has always been the cutting edge of all fossil fuel resistance, and only in working with fracking affected communities can tar sands resistance be able to steer clear of the very conscious trap being set by the industrialists who think they own North America.
In British Columbia, the same trap is being set with a slightly different playbook. The Feds have raised everything on the table of just Gateway through granting approval. Mild to moderate foundation-led Big Green groups have worked very hard– in tandem with a pliant media that recognizes them as such– to wrest the ‘voice’ of tar sands resistance and put it behind a media-relations campaign that focuses on Enbridge Gateway for 85% of the publicity, with reference to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline here and there.
By approving Gateway, the Federal Government knows that the playbook of giant money, Big Green campaigns is now painted into a corner. The very credibility of Big Green is on the line, and forcing the issue on Gateway means knowing that Gateway can now determine the fate of organizations from ForestEthics through to the Dogwood and so on. The large, Tzeporah Berman directed Tar Sands Solutions Network (former “North American Tar Sands Coalition”) is Tides directed, and sees itself as a power-broker of the same orientation as government and industry. The big players.
Being such a player inevitably comes with a need to convey social power. Having social power means being able to flex it when it is challenged. Thus, all the other work that needs to be done in British Columbia– from fighting coal exports, to dealing with the slash and burn “solution” to the pine beetle problem, the damming of the Peace River to provide extraction companies with the energy for mining and a vast expansion of fracking, the encroachment on water rights, salmon farming, every other major issue that also plays a large role in the climate must now be subordinated to the Gateway Campaign– in order to preserve the reputations of those who have the money, hang out with power and advocate for impossible variants of market friendly sustainability.
In other words– in a line: Because of the level of investment already put into Gateway, Big Green now must focus on this campaign to the detriment of everything else for self-seeking reasons that do not come from environmental principles, but the needs of individual social standing in this society itself.
This will now take over much green work in BC if we do not challenge this dynamic within the green movements– and move in the other direction almost entirely: Full embracing of anti-fracking and anti-growth understandings, while promoting true solidarity among all who are resisting projects that capital wished to trade “permission” for in “exchange” for preventing just one major pipeline.
All while other pipes are being built, railcars are being loaded with tar sands, more mines are being approved in Alberta, etc.
“If we do not change course soon, we may end up where we are headed.” Saw a variation of that on a climate analysis article recently. It’s apt, but while we need to point out that this is true of science it is also true of our own social organization. We have been also expert at denial when it comes to our own internal practice. Now is the time for sober assessment.