Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Clam Gardens and Clean Energy, Sarah Klain Oral Statement to Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel

by Sarah Klain 

In an effort to speak out as both scientists and citizens, Kai Chan, Ed Gregr and myself, Sarah Klain, gave oral statements to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel on January 19, 2013. Enbridge seeks to build a pipeline linking oil extracted from tar sands to Kitimat, BC then ship it to China.

I reminded myself to breathe deeply to suppress my nervousness in the very formal setting with bright lights and an audience of three Review Panelists and an Enbridge representative. I was impressed with the quality of every oral submission I heard that morning, particularly the 11-year-old First Nation activist Ta'Kaiya Blaney. I am left wondering how the silent, respectable looking Enbridge representative will process all that he has been witnessing. Is there anything that could change the minds of Enbridge executives when it comes to this proposal? Let's hope this public outpouring of arguments against the pipeline influences the hearts and minds of all involved in this pivotal decision. The following is my oral statement.

During a graduate level field course in the central coast of British Columbia, I woke before dawn to help with a clam garden study near Bella Bella. I quietly reveled in the sunrise over the sea smoke near ancient forests. In my early morning sleepiness between dreaming and waking, I imagined the distant past in which First Nations leveled the mud flats, cleared rocks and tended their clam gardens for thousands of years. During this field course in the Great Bear Rainforest, I was given a brief glimpse of the ongoing cultural revitalization of the Heiltsuk First Nation, who are documenting and reviving many traditions, including their clam gardens. Later, I learned about their recent collaborative joint clam management plan with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. This plan represents years of a First Nation working with government scientists to manage a resource of cultural and economic importance.
This clam garden, recognized by the leveled area cleared of rocks which is exposed at low tide, is near the Hakai Beach Institute along BC's central coast.
 I’m in the final stages of finishing an article on marine invertebrate fisheries management in the central coast, which was only possible with extensive Heiltsuk collaboration. I’m hoping my key Heiltsuk informants will be co-authors. 

I am a PhD student at UBC at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. I earned a master’s degree at UBC studying the monetary and non-monetary values that people associate with the marine environment in northern Vancouver Island. This research involved in-depth interviews with a wide range of people who rely on the ocean for their livelihood and for their identity, including First Nations. I have published several articles in peer-reviewed journals. The Great Bear Rainforest’s intact ecosystems and the people working hard to improve their communities in this region inspired me to voice my perspective here. During my central coast field course, I learned about the reliance of the Heiltsuk on their marine environment and about their ongoing efforts to build their scientific and stewardship capacities.

The Heiltsuk are part of the Coastal Guardian Watchmen Network, which enables First Nations to improve environmental monitoring in their territories. 
An oil spill would have disastrous consequences on the type of clams I studied and so many other food sources in this region. Although the chance of a catastrophic spill is disputed, I am certain that approving this pipeline will destroy or at least damage government-to-government relationships with Coastal First Nations. When I spent time in Bella Bella, the Heiltsuk’s vehement protest of the Enbridge pipeline and associated tanker traffic was highly prominent throughout their community. If this pipeline goes through, I fear violent protest is inevitable. This pipeline threatens to ruin decades of fraught negotiations and relationship building between First Nations and various levels of Canadian government.
The Heiltsuk protest the proposed Enbridge Pipeline. Photo: Globe and Mail 
Based on my research on the slow improvement in government-to-government relationships, I believe it’s critical to listen to local visions of a preferred future.  As you have heard from many Coastal First Nations, this pipeline is not part of their visions for the future.

This pipeline controversy is so much more than one contested pipeline involving aboriginal voices demanding to be heard, arguably reckless corporations and the risk of polluting local ecosystems. Using language from Appendix 1 List of Issues and Terms of References, when, “considering the cumulative environmental effects likely to result from this project in combination with other projects,” the elephant in this room is climate change. The outcome of this proposed project has physical and symbolic ramifications for climate change. This pipeline enables the expansion of the oil sand operations. We are at a critical juncture in which we are deciding to expand, maintain or reduce fossil fuel infrastructure. The world is watching. The cumulative effect of this pipeline in conjunction with other oil-sand-related developments contributes to destabilizing our climate. 
An anonymous oil sands worker posted this photo on 350.org. The worker posted, "Myself, along with the majority of my co-workers are ready for a renewable energy revolution." See the full statement here.
I believe expanding fossil fuel infrastructure is immoral given the scientific consensus that climate change threatens all of life as we know it. I fear that we need a local catastrophe to start making the hard decisions that will contribute towards climate stabilization. I would prefer to avoid a storm in BC akin to Hurricane Sandy, a disaster like the Exxon Valdez spill or a Deepwater horizon-style blow-out in our backyard.  I prefer that we learn from these tragedies and modify our plans for energy development accordingly. This pipeline is simply not a good investment.

I want you to consider alternatives to this project. One such alternative is that Canada, heralded as a liberal democracy and celebrated for its internationalism, takes this opportunity to get serious about climate change by stopping this proposed pipeline and stopping the expansion of fossil-fuel infrastructure. The alternative to this project is shifting our priorities towards cleaner energy sources. Developing renewable, non-fossil fuel-based energy could have sweeping benefits, including greater energy security, increased energy independence, better air quality and the mitigation of greenhouse gases. Building new infrastructure to transport Canadian bitumen to China provides none of these benefits. 

Alternatives to expanding fossil fuel infrastructure include investing in renewables, like offshore wind farms (photo from REVE).
I urge you not to permit the construction of this pipeline because of the environmental risks, the damage that this project will do to the relationships between Coastal First Nations and the government of Canada, the cumulative effects of this projects in conjunction with others that will increase green house gas emissions, and the alternative of supporting renewable energy development instead. 

When I studied in the Great Bear Rainforest, I felt gratitude towards my teachers. They taught me about the long-standing and varied cultural knowledge about the linked human and ecological history of this awe-inspiring, magnificent place where salmon crowd rivers, Spirit Bears roam and clam middens remind us of the long ongoing presence of human inhabitants and cultural practices. I learned about the locally tailored efforts to develop tourism, sustainable forestry industries and fishing industries with more local benefits. I recognize the economic challenges facing many communities in this region, but the local and global risks associated with this pipeline do not add up to the jobs and tax revenues claimed. In fact, the net benefit is simply not there as found in a recent UBC economic study. As a PhD student striving to do research towards a better world for future generations, I would be grateful if you reject this proposed pipeline. 

Let’s prevent these Spirit Bear cubs, endemic to the Great Bear Rainforest, from facing the risk of an oil spill. Photo from Sierra Club


  1. beautifully stated. we need to wake up and realize that clean up from these disasters are never as easy or painless as the companies would like us to believe and what is lost in the process is not recoverable.

  2. It makes me a bit sad to see only one comment, I hope 1 comment represents a billion readers. t would be a good story for the China Daily or other Big China papers. Even if it is now almost 2015.
    by Chris Kohler...

  3. This is / was such a crucial debate, with so many polarizing issues. However, doctor Sarah Klaine manages to beautifully focus on the essence as she talks about the over-arching issue of climate change, and the precautionary principle that any sane society should apply with regards to this project.
    In the light of all the environmental risks that loom over the future of this pristine region if this project were to go ahead, as well as the irreversible nature of economic and social consequences any large-scale industrial (oil and gas related) accident in the region would burden the local communities with, this project just cannot be condoned by anyone with a clear conscience.
    This especially holds true when we know that the major stakeholders and beneficiaries in this project are mainly foreign, and would likely never stand to deal with the multi-generational fallout of any large scale accident.
    As an entrepreneur and a person who has worked in the oil and gas industry long enough to know that most of the small and medium accidents go undeclared or massively down-played, I am not swayed by the soothing rethoric about safety by big corporate advertising and P.R. machines.
    I believe in sound realism, and investments, not in recklessly serving the interests of a few , today, at the potential expense of the majority, several generations into the future.
    I will never support another unsinkable "energy Titanic" of unfathomable consequences, and urge the Prime Minister and Environment Minister of Canada to not support this project either, and to remember their moral allegiances.
    Serge Merckx
    Vancouver BC