It is entirely understandable that with seven billion individual humans living on planet Earth, there will be a negative impact on the environment.
We must feed ourselves. For many centuries we have been converting wild places into farms and cities. There is no other way to sustain exponential population growth. Even moose or caribou will decimate their surroundings when they overpopulate their habitat. Maybe that’s where we are in our cycle of existence. There are so many of us that we are destroying the land, water and air that nurture us.
These are the big questions that we will no doubt have to wrestle with at some point during our ride on this planet. We have to figure out what impact to our environment is acceptable.
For most of our time on Earth, the vast majority of people lived simple lives. They were happy and lucky to have enough to eat and shelter from the elements. Each individual left a small footprint. There were no cars, disposable pop bottles or electronic devices that we throw in the landfill when a simple component fails.
Nowadays, we North Americans leave a very big footprint. Europe is close behind and the rest of the world is catching up. In China, people are driving cars instead of pedal bikes. There’s more and more demand for oil. We can’t extract petroleum and minerals out of the ground fast enough.
Some of this runaway demand on resources is necessary for human survival, but much is not. We might be forced into living greener lives or we will destroy our home, left with nothing but a desolate, dead rock revolving around the sun.
Wild places are being threatened at an accelerated and alarming rate. Greed and profit is no doubt a motive for some of the destruction. How much will we stand for?
Those of us who love the outdoors must band together when nature is threatened. Even if the threat isn’t local, we must do all we can to help.
There is an impending and menacing threat to a magnificent river and ecosystem on the opposite side of Canada, one that I had the pleasure to fish for the first time just last summer. The Skeena River meets the Pacific Ocean about 1,000 kilometres north of Vancouver, and is the second-biggest river in British Columbia. Only the Fraser is larger.
The Skeena is actually one of the longest undammed rivers on the entire planet. Draining 21,000 square miles of northern Canada, the Skeena is 560 kilometres long and has an annual average runoff of about 2,800 cubic metres per second. That is certainly a lot of water.
It originates high in the Coastal Mountains, at the southern end of Spatsizi Plateau, and flows seaward through some of the most beautiful and magnificently rugged country imaginable. It is a wild place.
There are five species of Pacific salmon and they all swim in the Skeena. There are coho, pink, sockeye, chum and chinook. More than two million salmon arrive home from the sea each season. In addition, it just might be the world’s finest steelhead trout fishery.
Not only is the Skeena prolific, it produces some of the biggest fish in the world. The Skeena is one of the last wild steelhead strongholds on Earth.
Enbridge Inc. is a Canadian company that builds pipelines. It is proposing one of its biggest projects ever, the Northern Gateway Pipeline. Twin petroleum product pipelines will be constructed, spanning 1,170 kilometres between Brudenheim, just north of Edmonton, and Kitimat, B.C.
Alberta tarsands crude will flow westward through some of the wildest, roughest and most pristine terrain in all of Canada.
If a break never occurs, everything will be rosy and Canadian oil will be sold in the lucrative and growing Asian market.
But if an accident or rupture happens, lethal oil will leak into the environment, polluting some of the most productive salmon and steelhead waters on the planet.
The Skeena is one of them and so is the Fraser, the two largest rivers in British Columbia and home to millions of fish. Whether or not this sort of risk is acceptable depends on your perspective.
From my point of view, I don’t want oil pipelines crossing salmon rivers. Folks with corporate interests and stock in oil companies might dance to a different drum. I think we should be weaning off oil, not transporting the stuff though the last bit of wilderness we have left on the planet. But that’s just me; you will have to make up your own mind on these issues.
The oil companies will tell us that their pipelines are built to the highest standards and are absolutely safe. That’s what they all say — the architects of the Titanic, BP before the Gulf of Mexico fiasco and the list goes on.
In fact, Enbridge experienced a spill of its very own. In July 2010, Enbridge’s Lakehead pipeline ruptured near Battle Creek, Michigan, spilling millions of litres of crude into the Kalamazoo River. It was the largest oil spill in Midwest U.S. history. There is always a risk associated with moving petroleum from one place to another.
In addition to the risk of the pipeline itself rupturing, its termination in Kitimat will require 225 super tankers per year to transport the crude to market.
Remember the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, Calif.? In 1989, it struck Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef and spilled 260,000 to 750,000 barrels of crude oil. It is considered one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters to have occurred since the dawn of civilization.
In 1972, the Trudeau government established that crude oil tankers should not travel through northern B.C.’s inside coastal waters. I think that was a very good thing. Pierre Trudeau was an avid outdoorsman and advocate for wild places. He paddled many miles in a canoe. Stephen Harper has not.
Our present federal government is onside with Enbridge and is planning to ignore the ban on tanker traffic through B.C.’s north coast. These are some of the most difficult waters on Earth. There will be spills if this project goes ahead. The very same waters claimed a ferry in 2006. On March 22, with 101 people aboard, the Queen of the North sailed off course, ran into Gil Island near the entrance to Douglas Channel and sank.
Is selling Canadian oil in Asia worth sacrificing our coastline?
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every
opportunity. He can be contacted at