Climate, Energy, Ocean, Oil & Gas, Plastic, Politics

The “E” Word

That’s right – “Environmentalist”

I’m one of those …

Environmentalist – A person who broadly supports the goals of the environmental movement, “a political and ethical movement that seeks to improve and protect the quality of the natural environment through changes to environmentally harmful human activities”.

I’ve always been one, but I’ve never considered myself a stereotypical “lefty”. Growing up environmentally conscious, I was encouraged to explore the outdoor world and felt the need to investigate challenges our natural environment faced.

I still remember making a phone call in 1998. At 9 years old, I was calling the Canadian government to ask for a hard copy of the Kyoto Protocol and any information they could send me regarding the Alberta Tar Sands. Interestingly enough, that publication listed the environmental concerns of the Tar Sands including Boreal Forest destruction, massive energy input requirements and fresh water contamination. Very different from the propaganda we see in government circles today. In the early 2000’s government and industry began an aggressive public relations campaign to improve public perception of the dirty-sounding “Tar Sands” and rebranded them “Oil Sands”.

Fast forward to university. I studied Geography & Environment at McMaster University and completed a minor in Political Science. My course selection was strongly focused on energy, climate and politics.

At some point early in my university career, I made the choice to stop calling the Alberta deposits “Tar Sands” and instead call them “Oil Sands”. Although I was not in favour of the development, I thought this shift in language might mean that people would see me as a more credible source and not instantly dismiss me as an “Environmentalist”. After all “Tar Sands” was so closely tied with those breaking into oil company facilities and tampering with equipment – something I will never endorse.

In early 2013, I got involved in the National Energy Board review of Enbridge’s proposed Line 9 oil pipeline. My work became well known through the creation of where I had created and posted detailed pipeline maps to ensure every community knew what was lurking in their back yards.

While preparing information requests for Enbridge as part of my formal intervention, I met with Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer and fellow intervenors opposed to the project from the Kingston, Ontario area. I knew the NEB was very likely to approve the project with conditions. To the surprise of my peers, I argued that we should propose conditions for the NEB to adopt in order to make the project better when it moved forward. To them, it sounded like I was giving up. I can only imagine how disappointed they must have felt.

Standing before the NEB Board at the final hearing, I was asked that exact question. Did I have any conditions to put forward? At the very last minute, I decided to say no. I respectfully urged the Board to deny the application. No amount of conditions could make the project acceptable. It was a proud moment and one full of overpowering emotion. My grandmother had passed only months earlier and I would now have to cross the pipeline to pay my respects – her memorial located a mere 600m from the aging steel snake that she was so happy I was standing up against.

In late 2013, I started my career as an environmental consultant and worked on pipeline projects which impacted First Nations and Métis communities. I was ecstatic! The Idle No More movement was in full swing and I was ready to take on the big players including Enbridge and TransCanada.

When reality hit, it was hard to take. Although many people held firm opposition to the fossil fuel projects in their hearts, years of government neglect and ill-planned social programs had left Indigenous communities in great need of services such as potable water, basic infrastructure, schools and community centers. A big cheque from big oil could swing some very influential votes from key community leaders. After building personal relationships, I understood and shared the drive to take care of these communities. However, I struggled to find and promote real, long-term benefits of these pipeline projects and often had difficulty sleeping at night. Was I selling out?

In late 2015, I took some time to reflect. It’s one of the best choices I’ve ever made. I was tired. Deep down, I knew what I truly believed and wished for, but I was withholding it as much as I could. It’s heartbreaking to deal with the feeling that society is molding you to be something you’re not. To be influenced by propaganda-infused groupthink so much that you end up looking like just another “activist” who gave up. I was slowly letting go of my morals and feeling defeated in my dream for a healthier, more sustainable future.

Well, I’m done with that.

With more clarity than ever, I can see the next stepping stones on my path and I’m excited!

I’ve dodged several questions over the past few years. I’ve beat around the bush with hopes of avoiding confrontation and criticism … So I owe a few people some answers.

Yes – I am 100% opposed to new pipelines.

No – That does not mean I’m pro-imported oil. It means I believe now is the best time to cut ourselves off foreign oil & replace those energy needs with renewable sources.

Yes – I am 100% opposed to the Canadian Tar Sands. They have been a major factor in diminishing Canada’s position in the world as an environmental steward and poisoned the beautiful land and water we should be protecting for future generations. They’ve also kept Canadians from supporting a green energy shift. We’ve been sold the story that death to the Tar Sands would equal death to the economy. What we should be paying more attention to is the volatility of the oil market – heavily influenced by OPEC and other overseas producers we have no influence on. If we care for our country and economy, we must diversify our energy sector and that means going green.

No – This does not mean I want hard-working oil men and women out of a job or their families to give up on the dreams they’d hope for. I believe we need a mass training strategy to ensure these workers have the tools they require to become leaders in our green energy future.

Yes – I believe in climate change and that humans are the reason we are seeing greenhouse gas levels skyrocket. I’d be turning my back on 99% of the world’s scientific community if I thought otherwise.

I am an Environmentalist and I now wear the badge proudly. But with that said, don’t downplay me as a wishy-washy tree-hugger. I’m a force to be reckoned with. I have no problem calling out those involved in social and environmental abuses and understand that my dedication to environmentalism is needed now more than ever. I have no problem staying up all night to read thousands of pages of documents. In fact, I live for it. I walk this path while sharing my experience in environmental advocacy with others and teaching up and coming environmentalists to be strong and stand their ground.

We have the choice to look beyond public relations funded opinions and industry-infused political rhetoric. We have the opportunity to make a green energy shift and maintain our ability to live on this planet. This is not something we have much time to contemplate. If we are to save ourselves from runaway climate change, fossil fuels must stay in the ground. If we are to maintain levels of oxygen to fill our lungs, we must take care of our oceans. If we are to keep our families healthy and witness less lives taken too soon by cancer, we must limit our exposure to plastic and other harmful chemicals.

The Earth is a living, breathing entity.

If we don’t take care of the environment, it can’t take care of us.

Environmentalism – Join me.

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