Brandon Gabriel of the Kwantlen First Nation has completed 75 days of paddling in a canoe team, from Fort Langley to B.C.’s north coast.
The journey, which has received plenty of publicity, was called Spirit of The Coast and was designed to draw attention to the beauty, fragility and importance of the coast to British Columbians — both native and non-native.
The paddlers and their supporters do not want to see crude oil shipped to Asia from B.C. ports, which of course is what proponents of both the Kinder Morgan and Northern Gateway pipelines wish to do. While Northern Gateway has some enormous hurdles to overcome, largely the likelihood that their project will be tied up in court for years if not decades, the Kinder Morgan plan is much more likely to succeed.
B.C. residents need to ask themselves a number of questions about the pipeline proposals and the plan to ship oil to Asia, particularly China, which has invested heavily in the Alberta oil sands.
Should crude oil be shipped along the coast, given the (albeit slight) risk of a spill? Should Canada ship crude oil to Asia at all? The U.S. does not permit the export of crude oil (other than to Canada). Is that a stance this country should adopt?
Should Alberta oil be processed at refineries in Canada, in either Alberta or B.C., and the refined product be shipped overseas? If B.C. is asked to accept pipelines and the shipment of oil, either crude or refined, should it get more in royalties than it will under the present plans?
While the ideal answer to these questions would be “there is no need to ship oil to other countries at all, because there is a surplus of oil, and its use is rapidly declining,” that is not realistic at present.
The economy of most countries — developed and developing — depends on fossil fuels, and as of yet, there are not enough alternatives available to keep those economies functioning. No one, other than the most radical eco-warrior, wants to go back to living in a log cabin and walking or cycling everywhere.
As a society, we in Canada need to continue to work to lessen our dependence on oil and oil-related products. But that will take time. Solar energy is not as good an option here as in some parts of the world, and wind power won’t come close to dealing with our energy needs. Hydro power in B.C. is plentiful, but that is not the case in many parts of Canada.
At this point in time, cars, trucks, ships, planes and trains need to be fuelled by petroleum products. Even hybrid cars, which have become increasingly popular, need gas. The need for plastics is also significant, even though it is quite likely we could use considerably less than we do today.
The Spirit of the Coast journey was an important consciousness-raising exercise, and Gabriel played a key role in relaying the message about what the paddlers were doing, particularly via social media. He was an excellent ambassador for the Kwantlen First Nation and Langley as a whole.
Hopefully, many people have given more thought to the future of the B.C. coast and how the plan to ship oil could affect B.C. It is a very important issue.