Earth Day is celebrated around the world every year on April 22nd. For most, it’s a time to raise awareness about the health of our planet. For me, it’s about a renewed pledge to Advocacy & Remembrance.
This is my story …
I first heard about the proposed Enbridge Line 9 oil pipeline project at a climate conference in Ottawa, Canada in 2012.
As a student of environmental politics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, I was interested to understand where the pipeline was located and what the local issues were. I finished class, jumped on a bus and then grabbed a taxi to the remote meeting location.
The meeting consisted of a brief presentation by Enbridge and then questions from Conservation Halton Board members. After the meeting, I approached the five or so company representatives in the lobby. Although attempting to be outgoing, I was still very much a soft-spoken introvert. My hands were shaking as I approached Enbridge and requested a copy of the extra info packages they held in their hands – which had just been provided to Conservation Halton Board members.
Although there were extra packages after the meeting, an Enbridge official denied my request and asked, “Who are you working for”? The Enbridge team then proceeded to ask myself and a fellow community member for our driver’s licenses and said they would mail a package. Something about the encounter just didn’t feel right and we walked away without the information.
The next day, I obtained a copy through a simple request to a personal contact on the Conservation Board. Hardly an “abrupt and confrontational approach” as described by Graham White of Enbridge in the January 2014 Toronto Star special report.
That evening – tucked away in the Halton Hills – was a turning point. I went home that night with so many questions. Why was I being denied access to information at a public meeting? What were they trying to hide? Why didn’t they want me to know where the pipeline was?
So I took it upon myself to map Line 9. Throughout an unimaginable number of late nights in an already packed senior year of university, I compiled satellite images, integrity data and publicly available information to create detailed maps of the 639 km pipeline.
I did it because they said no.
I did it because I felt the need to inform the public.
I quickly discovered that Line 9 traveled straight through the small community where I grew up – Glenburnie, Ontario. I was shocked! The pipeline is also located directly behind Seneca College in Toronto where I attended for three years. I had literally been living beside the line my entire life … and didn’t even know it existed. All of a sudden, things became very personal. Having lived in these communities for over 20 years, I realized my family and friends also had no idea there was an oil pipeline running so close to our backyards.
I started a website with the intention to educate my childhood community. You can actually still see the original website at www.line9glenburnie.wordpress.com. However, within 5 minutes of its creation, I was already thinking much bigger. If my community didn’t know about the pipeline, how many other communities were in the dark? Line 9 Glenburnie rapidly developed into Line 9 Communities and gained instant attraction (98,316 views by people in 119 countries around the world so far).
My biggest supporter along the way was Eva Simkins – my Grandma.
Although diagnosed with cancer in 2009, two weeks of radiation treatments gave us the gift of four extremely memorable years. We traveled, talked politics, did puzzles, celebrated, smiled and laughed.
Line 9 Communities was launched March 17th, 2013. By that time, it became very apparent that my Grandma was beginning to lose her courageous battle with cancer. She keenly followed my journey with enthusiasm, and supported my ambition to learn and teach others. On April 18th, 2013 she was hospitalized. She asked me what I was going to do about the pipeline. She didn’t agree with the secrecy and the lack of information around the Line 9 project. She pushed me to do more. On April 19th, I sat by her bed side in hospital and applied to be an Intervenor in the Canadian National Energy Board hearing on the project. Once the application was submitted, she said “Good! You’re going to get in!” At sunrise on April 22nd – Earth Day – she was gone.
People say things happen for a reason. I firmly believe that. As she peacefully took her last breath, she held my hand and repeated my name over and over. The following week, we held a small memorial at her final resting place – less than 600m from the pipeline. Exactly one month after her passing, I received a letter that I had been accepted as an Intervenor. My participation in the NEB Line 9 hearing became so much more. I was now working in her memory.
Through the summer of 2013, I was immersed in reading regulatory documents, submitting information requests to Enbridge, keeping up with media coverage and building the Line 9 Communities website. In October 2013, final oral arguments were given in Toronto, Ontario. As I wore my Grandma’s gold angel pin, I delivered what will always be one of the most powerful speeches of my life.
The Journey Continues
We are living in a critical time. Several fundamental decisions stand in front of us. Will we continue to exploit the Earth for its limited resources and pollute the only home we have, or take a bold leap into a future that’s healthier for people and the planet?
We have a ton of work to do right here at home. In Canada, our greenhouse gas reduction targets have not changed since the anti-environment, anti-science days of Stephen Harper and we are nowhere on track to even meet that target. We have a Liberal federal government who’s expressing support for new pipelines in exchange for an Alberta provincial emissions cap – a cap which leaves room for rapid expansion of the tar sands. BP – the same company responsible for the horrific Deepwater Horizon offshore oil spill in 2010 – just received approval from the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) to drill an exploratory well off the coast of Nova Scotia, potentially opening the door for mass offshore drilling in Canada’s Atlantic waters.
With so many challenges before us, I fight through waves of disappointment at our collective failure to act. I often wonder … Why is cancer becoming so prevalent? What are we exposing ourselves to? Whose interest is being served? What is at stake? How healthy is our food system, our water, our air? What kind of future will our decisions of today create? Will we come together in time to stop catastrophic climate change? Will our planet continue to be hospitable to human civilization? Tragically, the reality of a dead planet is not far off in geological time if we continue with business as usual. Half measures won’t cut it.
Despite the difficult road ahead, I continue to believe in the strength of communities coming together to achieve great things. The time is now to reject the status quo, start asking the tough questions and demand a better future.
In the coming year, I pledge to do everything I can to stop the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure including organizing against the Kinder Morgan pipeline, saying no to offshore drilling in the Atlantic ocean, fighting the expansion of tar sands, and ensuring we say no to fracking. I will also work to protect our right to clean water, healthy air, and a sustainable food system. Finally, I will spend every day communicating the urgent need to take action on climate change and reach out to as many people as possible to educate about environmental issues and solutions.
How will you pledge to support this beautiful planet in the coming year? Let me know via email – Emily@ecoemily.com or via Twitter – @eco_emily. I will happily share your story, project, group initiative, etc on this blog, through social media, and by connecting you with others involved in environmental stewardship.
Together, we’ll make a world of difference.
Happy Earth Day 2018!