Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Oil Spill on Beaches of World’s ‘Greenest City’

Bunker (Fuel) Down
Oil Spill on Beaches of World’s ‘Greenest City’

Vancouver, British Columbia, Coast Salish Territories

Weekend edition, April 10-12, 2015

When I was a young boy, I lived on the shores of the so-called Howe Sound. Days as a five year old were often spent walking along the rocky beach, turning over rocks when the tide was part or all the way out, and catching crabs and putting them into a bucket. I did this obsessively for months, there probably wasn’t a single rock that a five year old boy could turn over with his little arms that never got sun on the side that previously saw small rocks and pebbles underneath.

In that place, just under the moved rock, I began to understand the wonders of life in the universe. I would collect crabs and marvel at the different sizes, colours and shapes of the little ones. If the tide went far enough out and I found a rock to turn over that was deep enough into the ground, a little tiny pocket of ocean life with little fish would appear when I did. On days where the tide went extraordinarily far out, I would fill a bucket with saltwater and try and catch these fish.

Occasionally I would gather starfish, purple and even the odd orange ones, until my parents told me to knock that off.

I played with the various shellfish that I discovered, from small oysters and clams to a million mini mussels. Little triangular ones that had incredible suction. I stomped on slightly dried out seaweed to make little popping sounds. And I would use rocks to smash away at barnacles until I made a fine paste (I _was_ five and this seemed like a brilliant thing to do).

Learning in this manner imprints what you see on you. The landscapes I spent time with then are more familiar to me now than the soil in my current neighbourhood. The smells, feels and appearances are permanently familiar.

I often think of how lucky I was at a formative age to have access to that ocean playground. I learned about it through touch, exploration and direct experience.
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Oil found on Second Beach in Vancouver by Dr. Peter Ross from Vancouver Aquarium. (Vancouver Aquarium)

Today, it is hard to say how far the damage from a tanker leak of bunker oil into the ocean will spread beyond English Bay. In part, because the response from the City has been incredibly hesitant. If you seek out instructions, you may then get them. The beach areas along the front of Stanley Park have seen many thousands of children in just the last year also turn over a rock and learn directly of the wonders that are the life in the universe. Right now, all children will be told to stay away from the beaches. Do not let your pets or your children play near the water. Stay away until further notice.

The further notice may allow another day for the waters. Perhaps this is contained at a reasonable rate and what we have is a glimpse.

A glimpse of what tar sands pipelines and tankers plan to do to the coast. A chance for children to turn over the rocks on the beaches, and find tar balls. Cancer causing chemicals, smeared into the very bedrock. Go to the areas where the Valdez sunk and move those same rocks to look for those same crabs and today you find oil.

I cannot imagine what I would have learned about the world had I found oil under those rocks then. But today, what we learn is never clearer than right now: To all advocates of tar sands developments, whether pipelines or tankers or otherwise, you are pushing us to a place of life inspired struggle.

There are creatures that scurry about on dry land as well. Unfortunately, among those is Andrew Weaver, an elected official of heretofore named “Green Party” and MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head (Victoria) has endorsed a $25 billion refinery project for further up the rocky Pacific Coast, near Kitimat. Realpolitik, as always, is about knowing which larger political rocks to turn over– and perhaps more important, which ones to let lie.

Also are the multitudes of professional, liberal capital-financed environmentalists that privately negotiate while others publicly agitate. For the Big Green machine, fighting to keep all tar sands out of Greater Vancouver has often been seen as a “loss leader”– a campaign that couldn’t raise enough ‘progressive’ capital to register– that is, until the resistance of people from all walks of life brought excavation and ‘research’ to a partial stand still. Witness Burnaby Mountain and Kinder Morgan, now virtual pariahs in Vancouver, once given the approval of silence from Big Green. The people resisted, and a movement took time to act. And then, just as the multitude of cameras reached a critical click? Along with the media and their search for quotes are the Big Green spokespeople, eminently quotable all, dropping off sound bites choreographed just for the occasion.

To all of the attempted pipeline proponents, the tanker talkers, those whose souls are more dark and empty than any double hull, ignore elite greens who call you at night and reassure you that your projects are safe. They speak for themselves alone.

There was never any way that your tankers and pipelines would see the light of day, but perhaps it is time to remind you: We know what you would do to this coast. There will be no tar sands expansion projects here, or anywhere else, because the alternative is more clearly than ever before oblivion. Our continued path of resistance is also a path that embraces life itself.

Macdonald Stainsby is an anti-tar sands and social justice activist, freelance writer and professional hitchhiker looking for a ride to the better world, currently based in Vancouver, Canada.

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