Northern Gateway—the Clayoquot of our times

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action. Photo by Marnie Recker Photography.

It’s time to draw the line
Pundits have been saying that Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project will be the ‘Clayoquot’ of our times. No wonder. There is no more pressing challenge facing our planet and thus humanity than the climate crisis. It’s time to draw the line.

I suspect Prime Minister Harper has no idea that he will be unable to build a pipeline from Alberta to the Great Bear Rainforest. I totally get why he will try to do it—under his leadership Canada has become a petrostate, and doubling tar sands production is the only vision he has for our country.

Fossil fuel infrastructure is simply not going to be needed
However, even the most conservative leaders in the world have acknowledged that we must not allow global temperatures to rise more than two degrees if we want to avoid runaway climate change. This means that eighty percent of known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground. Therefore the most important thing that any of us can do to protect this planet is to prevent misguided leaders like Stephen Harper from building fossil fuel infrastructure that is simply not going to be needed in the only livable future on the horizon—a low-carbon future.

If governments attempt to build the pipeline despite obvious and overwhelming opposition, they will find out what the BC government found out in 1993 when they approved the logging of Clayoquot Sound and ten thousand people showed up to protest—way too many people care about this, and they are ready to act.

Clayoquot blockades were peaceful
The blockades against clearcutting coastal rainforests were nonviolent. The tone was set early on in Clayoquot Sound when Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations stood and protected Wah-Nah-Jus/Hilth-hoo-is (Meares Island) Tribal Park from being clearcut in 1984. The Haida blockades a year later were peaceful as well.

However through the late 80s the logging continued unabated despite a growing awareness that BC’s forests were being massively mismanaged. The movement resorted to measures that, while not violent, looked extreme, and we found ourselves becoming marginalized in the media. Eventually we realized that a tiny band of eco-warriors could never stem the tide of destruction.

We decided that in order to attract the masses of people who we knew were opposed to clearcutting, we had to shift to the tactic of strategic nonviolence. We strove to create a resistance which would cause the average TV viewer to think “Well I agree with those people—I should be standing there with them!”

‘This is how we agree to act together at this time’
Long-time peace, justice and environmental activist Starhawk wrote about strategic nonviolence during Occupy: “For over a decade, questions of violence, property destruction and confrontational tactics generally have tended to be debated under the frame diversity of tactics, but diversity of tactics becomes code for ‘anything goes,’ and makes it impossible for our movements to hold anyone accountable for their actions.”

She continued, “Within a strategic nonviolence framework, groups make clear agreements that say ‘This is how we agree to act together at this time’. Making agreements is empowering. If I know what to expect in an action, I can make a choice about whether or not to participate. We don’t place unwilling people in the position of being held responsible for acts they did not commit and do not support. We organize openly, without fear, because we stand behind our actions. Because we organize openly, we can invite new people into our movements and they can continue to grow. As soon as we institute a security culture in the midst of a mass movement, the movement begins to close in upon itself and to shrink.”

It took a while to build, but in the end the nearly one thousand arrests during Clayoquot Summer in 1993 had a huge impact on forest practices in BC. No-one was asked to live a life of Gandhian nonviolence, nor were they asked to condemn the use of violence in all situations. People were simply asked to abide by a code of nonviolence while participating in the protests. This strategic commitment to nonviolence had a purpose, which was to grow the movement—which it did.

Parallels between ancient forest and oil-free coast movements
The parallels between the ancient forest and oil-free coast movements in BC are striking. Both times, awareness of the problem had recently peaked, public support was clearly on the side of the environment, and government decided in support of an industry that was perceived as all-powerful, but in reality was well into its sunset years.

Perhaps it’s time to apply the lessons learned in Clayoquot Sound to the movement to stop pipelines from being built in BC.


Oil-free Clayoquot!

Clayoquot Action campaigner Bonny Glambeck is a survivor of the Nestucca oil spill.

The 1989 Nestucca spill hits Long Beach
Her yellow rain gear smeared with crude oil, Valerie Langer is standing on the red carpet in the BC legislature lobby. In her gloved hand is a dead oil-soaked seabird. Flecks of oil hit the freshly painted wall as she gesticulates. A distressed commissionaire scurries about wiping up spots of oil, while explaining that the Environment Minister is not in his office today.

It’s January 1989, just weeks after the Nestucca oil spill. During the holidays, the Nestucca oil barge rammed it’s own tugboat in Washington state after a cable snapped. The US Coast Guard ordered the leaking barge be towed out to sea. 5,500 barrels of oil were spilled. The spill could not be contained or tracked because the oil floated just below the surface. In the early days of January, to everyone’s surprise and horror, the spill began to wash ashore near Tofino.

Locals quickly mobilized the cleanup. An emergency bird hospital was established, and a kitchen was set up to feed the hundreds of volunteers who came to help.

Bureaucratic paralysis
Unfortunately the response from officials was not so quick. There were many reasons why: winter storms and huge waves, a remote and inaccessible coastline, a delay by Canadian Coast Guard in order to secure a potential payer for the cleanup, problems in information exchange between the American and Canadian authorities, duplication of efforts among agencies, and jurisdictional conflicts amongst agencies. In short, the bureaucracy was paralyzed.

Which was why Valerie and I had traveled to Victoria with our oily rain gear and a bag of dead birds—to garner media attention and to insist that the government provide personnel, equipment and money. In the end, 56,000 seabirds died. The Canadian government reported “coastal ecosystem destruction”: damage to fish stocks, marine mammals, shellfish, bald eagles and other animals that fed on oiled carcasses, as well as to native seafoods. No follow-up studies of possible long-term effects have been conducted.

Cleanup impossible
For locals it was a living nightmare. Resident Leigh Hilbert recalled, “It was very hard emotionally, to see birds dying in the oil. A lot of people reached a breaking point; they were exhausted emotionally and physically… everything was oiled, the smell was everywhere…it became our lives for weeks…”

The Nestucca spill was ‘only’ 5,500 barrels. Within months the Exxon-Valdez had spilled 257,000 barrels—almost 50 times bigger, enough to cover virtually the entire length of the BC coast. Twenty-five years later, Prince William Sound’s coastal ecosystem is permanently damaged, and thousands of gallons of toxic Exxon Valdez oil still pollute the beaches.

If Enbridge built their pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to Kitimat, 225 supertankers per year, each carrying up to 2 million barrels of diluted bitumen, would snake through the coastal archipelago and eventually travel offshore of Vancouver Island. The spectre of an oil spill 350 times the size of the Nestucca spill is not acceptable—the remote rugged coastline, and the nature of the bitumen itself, would make cleanup impossible.

One thing that hasn’t changed
Some things have changed in Clayoquot Sound since 1989. Sea otters, not seen in the Sound since the early 1900s, have returned. So have humpback whales. Eco-tourism has flourished and become the driving economic force. The area has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. There’s one thing that hasn’t changed: people around the world still feel a deep love for this place.

An oil spill in Clayoquot Sound is an unacceptable risk which makes building pipelines to the BC coast just plain wrong. Together, let’s keep Clayoquot Sound oil-free.

Tanker on Chestermans Beach

Tofino Oil Spill—Fossil Fools Day!

Dan Lewis is a founding director of Clayoquot Action.

Happy Fossil Fools Day!

Thanks to everyone who checked out TofinoOilSpill.com! Imagine if this had not been a prank—how would you feel if you heard there was an major oil spill near Tofino—for real? We staged the mock oil spill in Tofino to show the ridiculous reality the fossil fools are pushing. Continue reading

Gold stays in the ground

Long live Fish Lake!

By Joe Foy, Wilderness Committee National Campaign Director

A couple of weeks ago our office at the Wilderness Committee had erupted in a rising babble of excited disbelief. All around me people were frantically logging on to their computers to get confirmation of some seemingly impossible news.

Our federal Environment Minister, the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, had announced Continue reading

more precious than gold

More precious than gold

Dan Lewis is a founding director of Clayoquot Action.

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations (TFN) continue to oppose proposed exploration for gold in the Tranquil Valley Tribal Park. Last August Vancouver-based Selkirk Metals (owned by Imperial Metals Corporation) was granted a permit despite opposition from TFN. The Tla-o-qui-aht are not satisfied with the level of consultation by the company and the BC government. Continue reading

Camping on Clayoquot River

Clayoquot Lake—a world away

Dan Lewis is a founding director of Clayoquot Action.

Clayoquot Sound is the crown jewel of Vancouver Island, a place that calls people, and keeps them coming back. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place, teeming with the power of wild nature. It is a testament to the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations’ stewardship that so many people lived such rich lives here for millennia, without diminishing the place.

Large, undisturbed rainforest valleys make Clayoquot stand out ecologically—they’re full of iconic monumental cedars, with timber wolves and black bears roaming the floodplains, fishing for wild salmon. We’ve had the pleasure of visiting these pristine valleys, most of which are not legally protected. For this year’s annual pilgrimage Bonny & I decided to checked out the Clayoquot River. Continue reading

Clayoquot Action and Greenpeace take action for wild salmon in Tofino,

An action-packed year!

Dan Lewis is a founding director of Clayoquot Action.

It has been a fantastic first year for Clayoquot Action! Quite a whirlwind of a year—from the start-up in spring right through to the Clayoquot Summer 20 Years After fall tour. At year’s end, our infrastructure is up and running, including a small office in Tofino. Ready now for some quiet time by the woodstove to rest, reflect, and celebrate—and to get stoked for all the possibilities the New Year will bring!

Highlights of 2013 included hosting Alexandra Morton and Twyla Roscovich on their Salmon Confidential tour, organizing the Imperial Metals AGM rally with the Wilderness Committee, presenting a total of twenty two ’20 Years After’ shows to almost twelve hundred people, and organizing logistics for the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior’s Tofino visit. Continue reading

Vic Theatre marquee

Roadshow Wrap-up

“…amazing presentation. It can be easy to start to feel hopeless or helpless about all that is happening in the world, but you two are doing honest to goodness wonderful work… and it was very heart opening and inspiring. Hope that many get the chance to meet you both and see your presentation! Gratitude!” Kelli Gallagher, Powell River.

Standing on the deck of the ferry, gazing back at Salt Spring Island, heading for home. Reflecting on all the coastal communities we were able to visit this fall, all the amazing people who organized the shows and opened their homes to us. It has been a great run and we are heading for home satisfied and inspired!

After performing the Clayoquot Summer 20 Years After show weekly in Tofino from July through September, we decided to get out on the road to reach communities around Georgia Strait. We travelled to Courtenay, Powell River, Cortes Island, Gabriola Island, Vancouver, Victoria, Denman Island, Cowichan Bay, and Salt Spring Island. Continue reading