RAVEN - Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs

A RIVER PILGRIMAGE TO THE TAR SANDS – Part Four

This is the final instalment in a four-part series by RAVEN supporter Terry Dance-Bennink, following her travels to the heart of the Alberta tar sands.  We would like to thank Terry for this informative contribution!

Part Four:   Lessons learned

After a disheartening visit to Alberta’s tar sands, Terry Dance-Bennink reflects on what can be done to support the people, creatures and land affected by tar sands development.

Renewable is doable

Theo and I collapsed into our own bed two days later, although I woke up at 1 a.m. and asked him where the bathroom was! In 14 days, we’d spent ten nights in different accommodations, which I found hard.

I left the tar sands feeling quite overwhelmed. When you actually see the size of the devastation and the ruthlessness with which black gold is pursued, it’s easy to feel despair. But a few days later after some quiet time, my spirits picked up as I listened to a webinar entitled “100% renewables – powering states, countries and the world with water, wind and sun” sponsored by the BC Sustainable Energy Association (www.bcsea.org/join).

Stanford University professor, Mark Jacobson, told 500 participants from BC and all over the world that renewable energy is doable by 2030. His institute has developed concrete plans for California and New York proving that solar, wind and water-based energy is both possible and cost-effective and creates jobs. The key to change is our political will.

$523 billion was invested in fossil fuels globally in 2011 (The Times-Colonist, 12/10/2013). We have the money to invest in renewable energy – it’s a matter of choice.

What I learned

• I live within driving distance of one of the world’s most environmentally damaging activities and yet I’ve never seen it. I’m not alone. If I remain silent, I’m complicit.

• The government and the oil industry are in collusion and Canada is becoming a petro-state with its characteristic lack of democracy. No wonder Prime Minister Harper is so unpopular here on Vancouver Island. I’ll continue to speak up and volunteer with local environmental groups, the Cancer Society and the United Church.

• Outside support and media attention are crucial. Those living in the belly of the beast are isolated and can be compromised. It may be easier for people like me to speak up than someone who depends on an oil industry job or grant to eat.

• “No tankers off our coast” is a vital part of the solution. We can at least slow the rate of tar sands development, but eventually it must be stopped outright.

• It’s not enough to apologize to Canada’s First Nations for stealing and ruining their lands. They have not given up and they will not “move away”. I must stand beside them when they ask for moral, physical and financial support.

• Renewable is doable. The BC Liberals were re-elected last spring on the basis of their job-creation strategy. We environmentalists need to get specific about opportunities in the renewable energy sector. Be positive not just negative.

• Mother earth will outlast us. The rocky mountains convinced me of this. No matter what happens in 100 years, the planet will continue. Hopefully, we humans will find a way to curb our cancerous appetites and see ourselves as but one tiny chain in a living universe.

• Time apart in nature restores my spirits. I need regular time in the natural wilderness and the silence of meditation.

• I must look at my own life style once again. Walk more, drive less. Turn down the lights and heat whenever possible. Re-cycle kitchen scraps. Buy local organic food…..

• I’m grateful for Victoria’s clean water and air. I’m privileged to live here while so many others in the world lack these basic rights.

• The Athabasca River runs through my heart. I will not forget you.

Terry Dance is a breast cancer survivor who volunteers with the Canadian Cancer Society and local environmental groups. She’s a former vice-president academic of an Ontario college and a writer/personal historian.

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