We’ve got work to do, Salish Sea Savers!

Year-end reviews are supposed to be positive and upbeat, as everyone heads into the holidays wanting to think of nothing more than festive parties, mulled wine and relaxing time off with family and friends.

But it’s hard to relax and stay positive when it feels like we are swimming against a tidal wave of fossil fuel developments that threaten to transform BC from a green leader to an environmental laggard.

Photo credit: Leadnow on Flickr

Especially when we have a week like this one. Monday, Kinder Morgan formally files their application to the National Energy Board to triple the capacity of the Trans Mountain pipeline. Tuesday, Port Metro Vancouver closes public comments on the environmental assessment of a new coal terminal in Surrey. (Incidentally, on the same day, a 3-week public comment period opened on the type of environmental assessment that should be required for a new LNG project that would ship 40 LNG tankers through Howe Sound each year). Thursday, the Joint Review Panel approves the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

Really? They couldn’t stagger their announcements and give us a chance to reflect before coming back the next day with another round of threats to our coast, communities and climate? Of course, even a moderate conspiracy theorist might suggest that the timing is deliberate, and fossil fuel proponents and governments are trying to bury controversial news in the midst of holiday madness.

Although Kinder Morgan’s mammoth application (2 metres tall if printed out, as their press department was keen to point out) will take time to digest, one or two deeply disturbing facts jumped out at me. For example, a spill off Salt Spring Island could coat 427 kilometres of our world-famous beaches in oil and even without a spill. And the impacts of routine tanker traffic resulting from the expanded pipeline on our southern resident killer whales will be “high magnitude, high probability and significant.” We responded to Kinder Morgan’s application by releasing the preliminary results of our Salish Sea Spill Mapping project with our partners at Raincoast Conservation Foundation, showing what a Kinder Morgan oil spill could look like. The bottom line is this: oil can cover long distances quickly, and a spill anywhere in the Salish Sea would impact much of the south coast: our beaches, our national parks, our waterfront property – and our killer whales.

Meanwhile, a coal terminal proposed in Surrey would send 8 million tonnes of coal each year on open barges down the Fraser River and through the Strait of Georgia to Texada Island, bound for export to Asian markets. When burned, this coal would be responsible for about 17 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year – more than a quarter of BC’s total annual emissions.

And then we have Enbridge Northern Gateway, a project that would ship supertankers laden with toxic diluted bitumen from the tar sands through the largest intact coastal temperate rainforest on the planet. It’s also a project that is opposed by the majority of British Columbians, and that has been formally rejected by the Government of BC, the Union of BC Municipalities and over 100 First Nations. It has lit a fire in BC’s environmental movement that harkens back to the days of Clayoquot Sound, and faced massive community resistance from residents of Northern BC – many of whom are today vowing to do whatever it takes to stop Northern Gateway from being built.

And that’s why, dear readers, this will in fact be a positive post and will escape a title along the lines of “Merry Pipemas, Mr. Grinch”. All of these reckless projects are ultimately about using BC to export fossil fuels – and climate change – to the world in order to increase the profits of an already wealthy industry. BC carries the risk – to our environment, our economy, our communities, our health and our reputation – and doesn’t get the rewards. And for this reason and countless others, these projects have met with determined, diverse and organized opposition. British Columbians are standing up for themselves, and for this amazing corner of the earth we are so lucky to call home – and will continue to do so whatever politicians in Ottawa and Victoria decide. We have a different vision for our future and we will stand together to make it a reality.

So for our part, with our Save the Salish Sea campaign, we want to highlight the combined impacts of these projects: the risks from the sheer number of ships jostling for position in our crowded waters; of everyday impacts on marine life even in the absence of an accident; of the total ‘carbon spill’ that will result when all these fossil fuels are burned. It’s high time everyone – citizens, campaigners, and governments – paid more attention to that big picture threat.

I am grateful to all of you who are stepping up and getting involved, whether you’re sending emails to decision makers, coming out to town hall meetings, or quietly bending the ear of your neighbour at a holiday party. It all counts… and it all deserves a toast! So, here’s to you all! Wishing you and yours the very best for the holiday season, and we look forward to working together to Save the Salish Sea in the New Year.

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