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25 years later, oil spilled from Exxon Valdez still clings to lives, Alaska habitat | State News | ADN.com

25 years later, oil spilled from Exxon Valdez still clings to lives, Alaska habitat | State News | ADN.com.

BY SEAN COCKERHAM

Anchorage Daily NewsMarch 21, 2014 Updated 2 hours ago

FILE – In this April 9, 1989 file photo, crude oil from the tanker Exxon Valdez, top, swirls on the surface of Alaska’s Prince William Sound near Naked Island. The 987-foot tanker, carrying 53 million gallons of crude, struck Bligh Reef at 12:04 a.m. on March 24, 1989, and within hours unleashed an estimated 10.8 million gallons of thick, toxic crude oil into the water. Storms and currents then smeared it over 1,300 miles of shoreline. Twenty five years later, the region, its people and its wildfire are still recovering. JOHN GAPS III, FILE — AP Photo

Andy Wills was sleeping on a friend’s couch in Cordova, Alaska, on March 24, 1989, ready to head out and harvest spring herring in Prince William Sound.

“My buddy had just handed me a cup of coffee in the morning and we’re watching ‘Good Morning America,’ ” Wills said. “And there’s the Exxon Valdez on TV, spilling oil.”

“We were like, ‘No!’ It was just the start of a nightmare,” Wills said.

The herring of Prince William Sound still have not recovered. Neither have killer whales, and legal issues remain unresolved a quarter of a century later. Monday is the 25th anniversary of the disaster, in which the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef and spilled at least 11 million gallons of oil into the pristine waters of the sound.

Prince William Sound today looks spectacular, a stunning landscape of mountainous fjords, blue-green waters and thickly forested islands. Pick up a stone on a rocky beach, maybe dig a little, though, and it is possible to still find pockets of oil.

“I think the big surprise for all of us who have worked on this thing for the last 25 years has been the continued presence of relatively fresh oil,” said Gary Shigenaka, a marine biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The question of how well Prince William Sound has recovered from what at the time was the nation’s largest oil spill is a contentious one. Exxon Mobil Corp. cites studies showing a rebound.

“The sound is thriving environmentally and we’ve had a very solid, complete recovery,” said Richard Keil, senior media relations adviser with Exxon Mobil.

Government scientists have a different view.

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, a state-federal group set up to oversee restoration of Prince William Sound, considers the pink and sockeye salmon to be recovered, as well as the bald eagles and harbor seals. Several other species are listed as recovering but not recovered.

Sea otters have had a rough time. Thousands died in the months following the spill, and the population has struggled to recover in the 25 years since. The U.S. Geological Survey reported earlier this month that the sea otters of the area had finally returned to their pre-spill numbers.

Listed as still not recovering are the herring, a group of killer whales and the pigeon guillemots, a North Pacific seabird.

Rick Steiner, an oceans activist and former professor at the University of Alaska, said the “spill is not over. The damage persists in quite remarkable ways.”

Wills, who fished salmon as well as herring, said the spill left a huge mark on those who made a living from Prince William Sound.

Exxon compensation checks were too late and too little, he said.

“A lot of people got real hurt. I know a lot of guys committed suicide and all that stuff. I got divorced, had an ulcer. It was rough,” said Wills, who now runs a bookshop and cafe in Homer, Alaska.

Among the scientific puzzles of the spill, the fate of the herring is a particular mystery. It’s a vital species for the ecosystem, giving protein to whales, salmon, birds and others.

Prince William Sound was home to a lucrative spring herring fishery that supported fishermen badly in need of cash coming off the long winter in between fishing seasons.

Researchers found lesions and larval abnormalities in herring exposed to the oil. Then, four years after the spill, the herring population crashed dramatically. The reasons are a subject of intense debate, with suggestions that the effects of the spill could have made the herring vulnerable to disease.

“No other stock in Alaska crashed in 1993, so that’s indirect evidence it is spill-related,” said Jeep Rice, who studied the spill for more than two decades as a federal scientist. “That’s kind of weak, and yet it is about as good as we can get in terms of explaining why it happened in that year.”

The herring never really recovered, and the current population is too low to overcome predators. Herring fishing, with a brief exception, has been closed for more than 20 years.

The killer whales of Prince William Sound also have suffered. Two groups were hit especially hard. Scientists saw killer whales from one of the groups swimming through heavy sheens of oil. A Los Angeles Times photo showed whales from the other group swimming near the tanker as it gushed oil. Populations dropped dramatically in the year after the spill.

“The evidence is pretty compelling that it was a spill-related effect on those two groups of killer whales,” said federal marine biologist Shigenaka.

One of the groups continues its slow recovery. The other numbered 22 killer whales at the time of the spill and is down to just seven. Scientists now expect it to go extinct, the end of a genetic line that researchers say has hunted in the area for thousands of years, maybe since the last Ice Age.

The federal and state governments are still weighing the science of the spill’s effects and deciding whether to seek more money from Exxon Mobil for cleaning up remaining oil.

If there is evidence the spill is causing unexpected, continuing damage, the company could be forced to pay up to $100 million on top of the $900 million civil settlement that Exxon paid in 1991. The case lives on in the courts.

The federal and state governments have said more studies are needed, a frustration for federal Alaska District Court Judge H. Russel Holland.

“The court is dismayed that so few of the projects that the governments had expected to be completed by now have been completed,” Holland wrote in a filing last year.

Studies measuring the effects on sea otters and harlequin ducks have now been completed and are awaiting peer review before being released to the public, the federal and state governments said in their latest court filing last week. They said they are still awaiting a study on the effectiveness of techniques for lessening the remaining oil; they figure it is at least two months away from release.

The governments said they are reviewing the results of other studies and will be consulting with the Department of Justice about whether to proceed with seeking money from Exxon Mobil.

They told the judge their next update on the case will be in October, as it approaches 26 years since the Exxon Valdez became the most notorious tanker in history.

Sean Cockerham is a reporter in the Daily News Washington bureau. Emailscockerham@mcclatchydc.com.

25 years later, oil spilled from Exxon Valdez still clings to lives, Alaska habitat | State News | ADN.com

25 years later, oil spilled from Exxon Valdez still clings to lives, Alaska habitat | State News | ADN.com.

BY SEAN COCKERHAM

Anchorage Daily NewsMarch 21, 2014 Updated 2 hours ago

FILE – In this April 9, 1989 file photo, crude oil from the tanker Exxon Valdez, top, swirls on the surface of Alaska’s Prince William Sound near Naked Island. The 987-foot tanker, carrying 53 million gallons of crude, struck Bligh Reef at 12:04 a.m. on March 24, 1989, and within hours unleashed an estimated 10.8 million gallons of thick, toxic crude oil into the water. Storms and currents then smeared it over 1,300 miles of shoreline. Twenty five years later, the region, its people and its wildfire are still recovering. JOHN GAPS III, FILE — AP Photo

Andy Wills was sleeping on a friend’s couch in Cordova, Alaska, on March 24, 1989, ready to head out and harvest spring herring in Prince William Sound.

“My buddy had just handed me a cup of coffee in the morning and we’re watching ‘Good Morning America,’ ” Wills said. “And there’s the Exxon Valdez on TV, spilling oil.”

“We were like, ‘No!’ It was just the start of a nightmare,” Wills said.

The herring of Prince William Sound still have not recovered. Neither have killer whales, and legal issues remain unresolved a quarter of a century later. Monday is the 25th anniversary of the disaster, in which the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef and spilled at least 11 million gallons of oil into the pristine waters of the sound.

Prince William Sound today looks spectacular, a stunning landscape of mountainous fjords, blue-green waters and thickly forested islands. Pick up a stone on a rocky beach, maybe dig a little, though, and it is possible to still find pockets of oil.

“I think the big surprise for all of us who have worked on this thing for the last 25 years has been the continued presence of relatively fresh oil,” said Gary Shigenaka, a marine biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The question of how well Prince William Sound has recovered from what at the time was the nation’s largest oil spill is a contentious one. Exxon Mobil Corp. cites studies showing a rebound.

“The sound is thriving environmentally and we’ve had a very solid, complete recovery,” said Richard Keil, senior media relations adviser with Exxon Mobil.

Government scientists have a different view.

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, a state-federal group set up to oversee restoration of Prince William Sound, considers the pink and sockeye salmon to be recovered, as well as the bald eagles and harbor seals. Several other species are listed as recovering but not recovered.

Sea otters have had a rough time. Thousands died in the months following the spill, and the population has struggled to recover in the 25 years since. The U.S. Geological Survey reported earlier this month that the sea otters of the area had finally returned to their pre-spill numbers.

Listed as still not recovering are the herring, a group of killer whales and the pigeon guillemots, a North Pacific seabird.

Rick Steiner, an oceans activist and former professor at the University of Alaska, said the “spill is not over. The damage persists in quite remarkable ways.”

Wills, who fished salmon as well as herring, said the spill left a huge mark on those who made a living from Prince William Sound.

Exxon compensation checks were too late and too little, he said.

“A lot of people got real hurt. I know a lot of guys committed suicide and all that stuff. I got divorced, had an ulcer. It was rough,” said Wills, who now runs a bookshop and cafe in Homer, Alaska.

Among the scientific puzzles of the spill, the fate of the herring is a particular mystery. It’s a vital species for the ecosystem, giving protein to whales, salmon, birds and others.

Prince William Sound was home to a lucrative spring herring fishery that supported fishermen badly in need of cash coming off the long winter in between fishing seasons.

Researchers found lesions and larval abnormalities in herring exposed to the oil. Then, four years after the spill, the herring population crashed dramatically. The reasons are a subject of intense debate, with suggestions that the effects of the spill could have made the herring vulnerable to disease.

“No other stock in Alaska crashed in 1993, so that’s indirect evidence it is spill-related,” said Jeep Rice, who studied the spill for more than two decades as a federal scientist. “That’s kind of weak, and yet it is about as good as we can get in terms of explaining why it happened in that year.”

The herring never really recovered, and the current population is too low to overcome predators. Herring fishing, with a brief exception, has been closed for more than 20 years.

The killer whales of Prince William Sound also have suffered. Two groups were hit especially hard. Scientists saw killer whales from one of the groups swimming through heavy sheens of oil. A Los Angeles Times photo showed whales from the other group swimming near the tanker as it gushed oil. Populations dropped dramatically in the year after the spill.

“The evidence is pretty compelling that it was a spill-related effect on those two groups of killer whales,” said federal marine biologist Shigenaka.

One of the groups continues its slow recovery. The other numbered 22 killer whales at the time of the spill and is down to just seven. Scientists now expect it to go extinct, the end of a genetic line that researchers say has hunted in the area for thousands of years, maybe since the last Ice Age.

The federal and state governments are still weighing the science of the spill’s effects and deciding whether to seek more money from Exxon Mobil for cleaning up remaining oil.

If there is evidence the spill is causing unexpected, continuing damage, the company could be forced to pay up to $100 million on top of the $900 million civil settlement that Exxon paid in 1991. The case lives on in the courts.

The federal and state governments have said more studies are needed, a frustration for federal Alaska District Court Judge H. Russel Holland.

“The court is dismayed that so few of the projects that the governments had expected to be completed by now have been completed,” Holland wrote in a filing last year.

Studies measuring the effects on sea otters and harlequin ducks have now been completed and are awaiting peer review before being released to the public, the federal and state governments said in their latest court filing last week. They said they are still awaiting a study on the effectiveness of techniques for lessening the remaining oil; they figure it is at least two months away from release.

The governments said they are reviewing the results of other studies and will be consulting with the Department of Justice about whether to proceed with seeking money from Exxon Mobil.

They told the judge their next update on the case will be in October, as it approaches 26 years since the Exxon Valdez became the most notorious tanker in history.

Sean Cockerham is a reporter in the Daily News Washington bureau. Emailscockerham@mcclatchydc.com.

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we’d have it sorted by now. | Transition Network

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we’d have it sorted by now. | Transition Network.

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we’d have it sorted by now.

Has the climate debate stalled? Does extreme weather in the UK mean we’re talking about it more or less? When’s a good time to try to make the connections between climate change and floods? And is there anything Inner Transition has to offer to the questions about how and when to have these conversations?

Yesterday the Inner Transition group in Totnes ran a public event called “Weathering Change – a chance to talk about the weather”. We planned the event back in January just as the gales were starting to blow which took out the railway line by the coast, and the lashing rain was starting to build the large sea which still lies over the Somerset Levels. [This picture (left, below) was taken from the train, showing the Levels now more like a sea.]

Somerset Levels

As the floods and disruption worsened many people I talked to seemed really enthusiastic about the event – and I started to worry about numbers – what to do if forty people come? We offered guidelines for hosting a conversation to the local Transition Streets groups, imagining it might be a conversation others would want to have.

In fact just 8 people turned up, most already involved with Inner Transition. We had a rich and deeply connecting evening talking about how the weather has impacted us practically as well as at a feeling level. As has happened for me before, hearing others and having a space outside my daily life to be heard, enabled me to reach a deeper sense of how much feeling the changing weather brings up.

We also spoke about how we manage our responses in order to go on living. I could let myself feel how much anger I have at the destructive behaviour of our politicians and business “leaders” that I just don’t get in touch with – if I let all the anger through and tried to act on it I would burn out really fast. We acknowledged that we also live in a state of denial some of the time, carrying our lives on as usual.

happinessLast week I was invited to be part of the conversations at a conference called “Breaking the Deadlock: why the climate debate has stalled”. It brought together academics and researchers, “practitioners” – those involved on the ground of public engagement around climate change, and a couple of people involved in energy policy from the UK and Scottish governments. The aim of the conference was to look at whether “psychosocial approaches” can help move the debate on, starting with the interesting question of what kind of thing a human being is.

Underneath most ideas about our world are implicit assumptions about what humans are like and how we behave – and they often reflect our own inaccurate self perception. Two common misperceptions I’ve come across:

In classical economics humans are assumed to be totally rational, so that when they have full knowledge of a (supposedly perfect and fair) marketplace they will make rational choices. While the economic theory relies on this corporations and advertisers make good use of the fact that people are much more swayed by their emotions, identity, aspirations and aversions, and use this effectively to sell us stuff.

The second example is in movements for change which assume that once people get information they will take action based on a rational analysis of that information. “If I show you a film about peak oil or climate change you’ll join Transition to do something about the problem.” Many people who pioneer Transition may well be like this – when I heard about peak oil put together with climate change I changed the direction of my life. But I can see that for most people this isn’t how it works – there’s a long inner process between hearing information that can be shocking and overwhelming, making sense of it, and coming to some new way of acting in the world.

Here is one person’s definition of a psycho-social approach, and the insights it provides about how humans really work:

  • Our inner worlds are powerfully determined by emotions and the need to manage them, including defending against things which feel overwhelming.
  • We construct our inner world and understand the outer world through narratives and stories.
  • Humans are inconsistent and contradictory rather than rational and consistent.
  • Our sense of self and our behaviour is largely influenced by our social context and its norms, frames and values.

It was great to meet up with other “practitioner” organisations, including the Climate Psychology Alliance,Climate Outreach Information Network (COIN, who are developing an event to help places affected by flooding talk about what’s happened and link it to Climate Change) and Carbon Conversations.

Carbon Conversations designed an in depth process supported by a trained facilitator and workbook to give information and explore responses to Climate Change in facilitated small groups. Thousands have been through the process, and after the small number who came to the Weathering Change event I wonder whether we really need a smaller trusted group to open this emotional territory.

I read an article by Carbon Conversations founder Ro Randall several years ago, which described its focus on the process of loss, to help people work through the “Tasks of Mourning” as defined by psychologist J Worden from his model of loss. These include

  • acknowledging the reality of the loss,
  • working through grief,
  • creating a new identity in the changed circumstances,
  • and redirecting the energy of the old attachment to new relationships.

Looking at my own process I can see that the third task alone involved changing my work, living in a different place, starting a new relationship, renegotiating all my friendships – some of which I’ve lost as well as new ones I’ve found – and learning totally new skills like growing organic veg. All of this happened without a single gram of carbon being saved. It took a lot of time and internal energy. But it’s the foundation for all the changes in the way that I now live.

At the conference I could feel my disappointment that those working with limited models sometimes think that their way is the best. I’ve found that any model you use shows you a different facet of the whole picture. If we focus on loss and grief we may forget that actually the system we’re losing is in many ways more like a self destructive addiction than a beloved friend. Yes it’s supported life for many countries and many people, but only through huge destruction of our natural world, of many other cultures, and the creation of huge inequality. So an addiction lens helps us to see something else – that the end of the industrial growth system potentially has huge benefits if we can find a different system that’s rooted in something more healthy.

I found it really helpful that one of the key speakers at the conference gave us a much more complete overview of ways of understanding and taking action in the world. [It looked to me very like Wilber’s four quadrants, which I’ve also used to help teach a complete and integrated understanding of healthy and destructive human systems.] The four quadrants can roughly be defined as inner / outer and individual / collective. Here’s an abbreviated version of the model:

The Quadrant Approach To Engagement (Renee Lertzman, PhD)

Emotional experience

Feelings, construction of meaning, defence mechanisms, denial, narrative, empathy, dialogue, motivational interviewing

Activities: conversation / support groups, qualitative research, workshops, leadership development, arts

Behavioural

Movitiations, reasoning, probabilities, levers and drivers, cognitive processes, rationality, triggers, shift, switch, incentives, proactive change, quantitative research

Activities; Behaviour change programmes, energy efficiency, utlitities, transport (incentives / taxes), employee engagement

Socio-cultural –

World views, ethics, ideologies, beliefs, messaging, frames and values based engagement

Activities: faith based programmes, public opinion polls

Contexts: marketing, political messaging, policy segmentation,

Systems

Collaboration, design, social practices, systems thinking, resilience, infrastructure, solutions focus

Social innovation projects, pu blic / private partnerships, community based projects, participatory design, piloting

Activities; Resource issues (regional / watershed),

Renee, who brought this model suggested that these different modes of engagement tend to operate only within their own set of systems which then limits and weakens their practice, since the reality is that humans are operating in all four quadrants all the time. This strongly reflects what I’ve seen particularly in the two major movements for positive change that I’ve been involved with. In the personal growth movement the focus starts with personal inner experience – “The change starts with what’s inside me, to make positive change in the world I need to heal myself first”. Political and environmental change movements take the opposite view: “We can only act within the systems around us – the systems need to change before people can change”

switchesFor me this is a classic case of the need for “both / and” – arguments about which of these is more true are a waste of time. I think it’s part of the rare potential of Transition (some have told me that for them it’s a defining distinction which makes Transition worth giving time to) is that we attempt – despite difficulties – to include both ways of creating change.

Here’s why this inclusive approach is important. People who only see the personal inner quadrant can get stuck in their personal journey. Is it helpful that there are people with great inner peace and even accessing states of enlightenment if their personal practice includes unsustainable consumption of carbon through flying to workshops or particular diets? Surely at some point there has to be a connection between our inner practice and the needs of our community and the ecological systems that support life, or we’re living our own individual version of separation and denial.

And on the other hand, many social and political movements have ended up either burnt out, or split apart by conflict because they didn’t have the inner insights and process skills to deal with their own their unconscious process – which will naturally include unhealthy dynamics around power and privilege which permeate all of us however deep our aspiration to cooperation or equality.

So the strongest and most lasting movements will be those which truly practise inclusivity – by rising to challenge of understanding the different worldviews and language of those who focus on other quadrants, and who can truly embody the quality of peace and resilience that comes from valuing diversity.

A final word about Happiness!

A nice coincidence is that today, Thursday 20th March is International Happiness day. I’m not sure if the timing is deliberate, but on this day you can listen for free to a discussion between Hilary Prentice – who first dreamt up Inner Transition in Totnes – discussing exactly question. Starting from the perspective of why self awareness and inner disciplines are invaluable for activists – but I imagine also acknowledging that the bridge needs to go both ways.

My final meeting in London was with Mark Williamson from Action for Happiness, part of a growing movement that aims to make Happiness a political priority, the thing governments should focus on growing rather than our material or financial economy. I’m planning to write more about this, but the work that underpins the Happiness movement is key to Transition because it explains how it is possible to create energy descent – a steady, major reduction in our use of energy and resources – while creating a better way of living.

The key to this lies once again in understanding what a human being really is and what makes us happy. Increasing evidence shows that this does not come from material possessions or consumption beyond having our basic subsistence needs met – but rather from things like having happy, close, loving relationships, meaningful and connected work, and knowing that those around us are also in a state of well being.

Have a happy day of happiness!!

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we'd have it sorted by now. | Transition Network

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we’d have it sorted by now. | Transition Network.

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we’d have it sorted by now.

Has the climate debate stalled? Does extreme weather in the UK mean we’re talking about it more or less? When’s a good time to try to make the connections between climate change and floods? And is there anything Inner Transition has to offer to the questions about how and when to have these conversations?

Yesterday the Inner Transition group in Totnes ran a public event called “Weathering Change – a chance to talk about the weather”. We planned the event back in January just as the gales were starting to blow which took out the railway line by the coast, and the lashing rain was starting to build the large sea which still lies over the Somerset Levels. [This picture (left, below) was taken from the train, showing the Levels now more like a sea.]

Somerset Levels

As the floods and disruption worsened many people I talked to seemed really enthusiastic about the event – and I started to worry about numbers – what to do if forty people come? We offered guidelines for hosting a conversation to the local Transition Streets groups, imagining it might be a conversation others would want to have.

In fact just 8 people turned up, most already involved with Inner Transition. We had a rich and deeply connecting evening talking about how the weather has impacted us practically as well as at a feeling level. As has happened for me before, hearing others and having a space outside my daily life to be heard, enabled me to reach a deeper sense of how much feeling the changing weather brings up.

We also spoke about how we manage our responses in order to go on living. I could let myself feel how much anger I have at the destructive behaviour of our politicians and business “leaders” that I just don’t get in touch with – if I let all the anger through and tried to act on it I would burn out really fast. We acknowledged that we also live in a state of denial some of the time, carrying our lives on as usual.

happinessLast week I was invited to be part of the conversations at a conference called “Breaking the Deadlock: why the climate debate has stalled”. It brought together academics and researchers, “practitioners” – those involved on the ground of public engagement around climate change, and a couple of people involved in energy policy from the UK and Scottish governments. The aim of the conference was to look at whether “psychosocial approaches” can help move the debate on, starting with the interesting question of what kind of thing a human being is.

Underneath most ideas about our world are implicit assumptions about what humans are like and how we behave – and they often reflect our own inaccurate self perception. Two common misperceptions I’ve come across:

In classical economics humans are assumed to be totally rational, so that when they have full knowledge of a (supposedly perfect and fair) marketplace they will make rational choices. While the economic theory relies on this corporations and advertisers make good use of the fact that people are much more swayed by their emotions, identity, aspirations and aversions, and use this effectively to sell us stuff.

The second example is in movements for change which assume that once people get information they will take action based on a rational analysis of that information. “If I show you a film about peak oil or climate change you’ll join Transition to do something about the problem.” Many people who pioneer Transition may well be like this – when I heard about peak oil put together with climate change I changed the direction of my life. But I can see that for most people this isn’t how it works – there’s a long inner process between hearing information that can be shocking and overwhelming, making sense of it, and coming to some new way of acting in the world.

Here is one person’s definition of a psycho-social approach, and the insights it provides about how humans really work:

  • Our inner worlds are powerfully determined by emotions and the need to manage them, including defending against things which feel overwhelming.
  • We construct our inner world and understand the outer world through narratives and stories.
  • Humans are inconsistent and contradictory rather than rational and consistent.
  • Our sense of self and our behaviour is largely influenced by our social context and its norms, frames and values.

It was great to meet up with other “practitioner” organisations, including the Climate Psychology Alliance,Climate Outreach Information Network (COIN, who are developing an event to help places affected by flooding talk about what’s happened and link it to Climate Change) and Carbon Conversations.

Carbon Conversations designed an in depth process supported by a trained facilitator and workbook to give information and explore responses to Climate Change in facilitated small groups. Thousands have been through the process, and after the small number who came to the Weathering Change event I wonder whether we really need a smaller trusted group to open this emotional territory.

I read an article by Carbon Conversations founder Ro Randall several years ago, which described its focus on the process of loss, to help people work through the “Tasks of Mourning” as defined by psychologist J Worden from his model of loss. These include

  • acknowledging the reality of the loss,
  • working through grief,
  • creating a new identity in the changed circumstances,
  • and redirecting the energy of the old attachment to new relationships.

Looking at my own process I can see that the third task alone involved changing my work, living in a different place, starting a new relationship, renegotiating all my friendships – some of which I’ve lost as well as new ones I’ve found – and learning totally new skills like growing organic veg. All of this happened without a single gram of carbon being saved. It took a lot of time and internal energy. But it’s the foundation for all the changes in the way that I now live.

At the conference I could feel my disappointment that those working with limited models sometimes think that their way is the best. I’ve found that any model you use shows you a different facet of the whole picture. If we focus on loss and grief we may forget that actually the system we’re losing is in many ways more like a self destructive addiction than a beloved friend. Yes it’s supported life for many countries and many people, but only through huge destruction of our natural world, of many other cultures, and the creation of huge inequality. So an addiction lens helps us to see something else – that the end of the industrial growth system potentially has huge benefits if we can find a different system that’s rooted in something more healthy.

I found it really helpful that one of the key speakers at the conference gave us a much more complete overview of ways of understanding and taking action in the world. [It looked to me very like Wilber’s four quadrants, which I’ve also used to help teach a complete and integrated understanding of healthy and destructive human systems.] The four quadrants can roughly be defined as inner / outer and individual / collective. Here’s an abbreviated version of the model:

The Quadrant Approach To Engagement (Renee Lertzman, PhD)

Emotional experience

Feelings, construction of meaning, defence mechanisms, denial, narrative, empathy, dialogue, motivational interviewing

Activities: conversation / support groups, qualitative research, workshops, leadership development, arts

Behavioural

Movitiations, reasoning, probabilities, levers and drivers, cognitive processes, rationality, triggers, shift, switch, incentives, proactive change, quantitative research

Activities; Behaviour change programmes, energy efficiency, utlitities, transport (incentives / taxes), employee engagement

Socio-cultural –

World views, ethics, ideologies, beliefs, messaging, frames and values based engagement

Activities: faith based programmes, public opinion polls

Contexts: marketing, political messaging, policy segmentation,

Systems

Collaboration, design, social practices, systems thinking, resilience, infrastructure, solutions focus

Social innovation projects, pu blic / private partnerships, community based projects, participatory design, piloting

Activities; Resource issues (regional / watershed),

Renee, who brought this model suggested that these different modes of engagement tend to operate only within their own set of systems which then limits and weakens their practice, since the reality is that humans are operating in all four quadrants all the time. This strongly reflects what I’ve seen particularly in the two major movements for positive change that I’ve been involved with. In the personal growth movement the focus starts with personal inner experience – “The change starts with what’s inside me, to make positive change in the world I need to heal myself first”. Political and environmental change movements take the opposite view: “We can only act within the systems around us – the systems need to change before people can change”

switchesFor me this is a classic case of the need for “both / and” – arguments about which of these is more true are a waste of time. I think it’s part of the rare potential of Transition (some have told me that for them it’s a defining distinction which makes Transition worth giving time to) is that we attempt – despite difficulties – to include both ways of creating change.

Here’s why this inclusive approach is important. People who only see the personal inner quadrant can get stuck in their personal journey. Is it helpful that there are people with great inner peace and even accessing states of enlightenment if their personal practice includes unsustainable consumption of carbon through flying to workshops or particular diets? Surely at some point there has to be a connection between our inner practice and the needs of our community and the ecological systems that support life, or we’re living our own individual version of separation and denial.

And on the other hand, many social and political movements have ended up either burnt out, or split apart by conflict because they didn’t have the inner insights and process skills to deal with their own their unconscious process – which will naturally include unhealthy dynamics around power and privilege which permeate all of us however deep our aspiration to cooperation or equality.

So the strongest and most lasting movements will be those which truly practise inclusivity – by rising to challenge of understanding the different worldviews and language of those who focus on other quadrants, and who can truly embody the quality of peace and resilience that comes from valuing diversity.

A final word about Happiness!

A nice coincidence is that today, Thursday 20th March is International Happiness day. I’m not sure if the timing is deliberate, but on this day you can listen for free to a discussion between Hilary Prentice – who first dreamt up Inner Transition in Totnes – discussing exactly question. Starting from the perspective of why self awareness and inner disciplines are invaluable for activists – but I imagine also acknowledging that the bridge needs to go both ways.

My final meeting in London was with Mark Williamson from Action for Happiness, part of a growing movement that aims to make Happiness a political priority, the thing governments should focus on growing rather than our material or financial economy. I’m planning to write more about this, but the work that underpins the Happiness movement is key to Transition because it explains how it is possible to create energy descent – a steady, major reduction in our use of energy and resources – while creating a better way of living.

The key to this lies once again in understanding what a human being really is and what makes us happy. Increasing evidence shows that this does not come from material possessions or consumption beyond having our basic subsistence needs met – but rather from things like having happy, close, loving relationships, meaningful and connected work, and knowing that those around us are also in a state of well being.

Have a happy day of happiness!!

EU Calls for 40% Reduction in Greenhouse-Gas Output by 2030 – Bloomberg

EU Calls for 40% Reduction in Greenhouse-Gas Output by 2030 – Bloomberg.

Photographer: HJ Morrill/Getty Images
The European Commission will today outline a strategy to cut pollution and curb rising energy costs. The region’s executive arm will call for an overhaul of the bloc’s policies in the next decade.

The European Union proposed cutting the region’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 40 percent in 2030 to accelerate efforts to reduce global warming.

The European Commission outlined its strategy to reduce pollution and curb rising energy costs and called for an overhaul of the bloc’s policies in the next decade, the EU’s executive arm said in a statement today. The current goal is to cut emissions by 20 percent in 2020 from 1990 levels.

The proposed design of future policies pits nations including Germany and the U.K., who are seeking stronger efforts to protect the atmosphere, against Poland and its allies, which rely mainly on fossil fuels to keep their economy humming. It also highlights the divide between energy intensive companies, whose gas and power costs are more than double their U.S. and Asian competitors, and green lobbies such as Greenpeace seeking deeper emission cuts.

“Political agreement on a 2030 EU energy and climate framework is absolutely vital for businesses,” Katja Hall, chief policy director at Confederation of British Industry, the U.K.’s main business lobby group, said by e-mail before the commission’s announcement. “We need long-term certainty to drive investment in a secure, low-carbon and affordable energy future for Europe.”

In the package unveiled today the commission asked member states to consider a 2030 framework that focuses on the carbon-reduction target to avoid conflicts with policies subsidizing renewable energy. The strategy is the start of a debate among member states, which may lead to a draft law in early 2015.

New Proposal

Under the new proposal, the EU wouldn’t extend legally-binding renewables targets for individual member states beyond 2020, instead setting an EU-wide goal to boost the share of renewable energy to 27 percent by 2030.

Scrapping renewable energy targets is “good news” for the economy and environment, according to Robert Stavins, director of Harvard University’s Environmental Economics Program. The renewables goal conflicts with the EU emissions trading system and removing it would lower the cost to achieve the pollution cap, he said.

The package will also include an indicative goal to boost energy efficiency by 25 percent, which will be discussed later this year.

As a part of the proposal, the commission will also seek to strengthen its carbon market cap-and-trade program by making the supply of permits more flexible. A carbon market stability reserve to start in 2021 would withdraw permits once allowances in circulation reached at least 833 million, the commission said in a statement.

The cost of emitting a metric ton of carbon dioxide in the EU’s $53 billion carbon market slumped to a record low of 2.46 euros ($3.32) in April and traded at 5.20 euros today at the ICE Futures Europe exchange in London.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ewa Krukowska in Brussels atekrukowska@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lars Paulsson at lpaulsson@bloomberg.net

Phillippines storms force thousands of homeless to flee shelters | World news | theguardian.com

Phillippines storms force thousands of homeless to flee shelters | World news | theguardian.com.

Philippines storm Agaton in Butuan city

A view of houses swept away during heavy flooding brought by tropical depression Agaton. Photograph: Erik De Castro/Reuters

Emergency workers have evacuated thousands of people across the southern Philippines, including many already made homeless by a typhoon in November, after three days of rain flooded towns and farmland.

Hundreds of survivors of Typhoon Haiyan – one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall – were forced to flee by tropical depression Agaton after emergency shelters were damaged or destroyed on the eastern central island of Samar.

Tents collapsed under the weight of the rain and emergency plastic sheets have been torn away, Oxfam said.

An average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year with Haiyanslamming into central islands on 8 November, killing more than 6,100 and wiping out entire coastal communities in Leyte and Samar.

More than 200,000 people have been taken to shelters over the past three days as flood waters rose, but hundreds were still marooned on the roofs of their houses on Tuesday, said Eduardo del Rosario, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

Del Rosario said 42 people had been killed, 65 had been injured and damage to property and farms had reached 367m pesos (£5m).

“Our troops are trying to reach them and bring them to safer ground,” Del Rosario said.

Nenita Matuda, 45, and her children perched on their neighbours’ roof as she watched the rampaging waters outside Butuan City in the north of Mindanao island.

“Thank God we are safe but we just lost our house,” she said.

A state of calamity has been declared in Agusan del Norte and 15 other towns in the Davao del Norte, Surigao del Sur and Agusan del Sur areas of Mindanao even as the weather bureau lifted alert levels as the storm weakened.

Debate rages on best places for refuge from climate change — Transition Voice

Debate rages on best places for refuge from climate change — Transition Voice.

Yellowknife street

Once Manhattan is under water, the northern Canadian city of Yellowknife could become North America’s city of the future. Photo: Hyougushi.

As scientists continue to revise their climate predictions for the worse, it’s clear that the time has passed for the world to avoid serious consequences from global warming.

With superstorms and floods competing with droughts and wildfires to break records somewhere around the world year-round, the weather is already getting pretty weird. So now, the real question is how best to prepare for even weirder weather in the future.

Should you move to someplace safer or should you stay where you already have family, friends and connections to the community?

Everybody seems to agree that, if you live in Miami, you should move just about anyplace else except New Orleans, Bangladesh or Kiribati as soon as you can.

In a Rolling Stone piece provocatively titled “Goodbye Miami,” Jeff Goodell writes that “by century’s end, rising sea levels will turn the nation’s urban fantasyland into an American Atlantis. But long before the city is completely underwater, chaos will begin.”

But if you live elsewhere, you’ve got a harder decision to make.

Choose hipsters or get hip-waders

Environmental blog Grist offers ten cities that it predicts will be spared the worst impacts of climate change.

Topping the list is Seattle, whose eco-awareness could cancel out the vulnerability to sea-level rise and storms of its coastal location. “Higher tides and a redrawn coastline will requirecoastal cities to adapt, but unlike a lot of U.S. burgs, Seattle is taking it seriously, developing a comprehensive climate action plan [PDF] and working to bolster food security and general resilience for changing times,” writes author Jim Meyer. With tongue-in-cheek, Meyers adds that “Plus, while models foresee flooding [for Seattle], they don’t project the hipster inundation to reach Portlandic levels. And in a worst-case scenario, the Space Needle serves as an escape pod.”

Meyer thinks that climate action plans will also help make coastal cities Homer, Alaska and San Francisco safer than New York, San Diego and of course Miami that are on Grist’s companion list of “screwed” cities that remain unprepared for superstorm hell and high water.

Inland cities including Detroit, Cleveland and Nashville as well as mountain town Leadville, Colorado also score well as climate-safe cities. Not only are they far from rising seas and coastal storms but they also have ample water supplies, a big bonus in a climate where many dry areas will get even drier.

By contrast, desert boomtowns like Phoenix or Las Vegas or even the whole state of Texas are already starting to become uninhabitable as rain disappears, wells dry up, topsoil blows away and wildfires consume brittle forests. And talk about screwed — gas fracking in dry areas is just going to make already stressed water supplies collapse more quickly.

Doomed to wander

A real climate doomer may tell you that we’re all screwed. Since climate change effects on local weather are unpredictable, you can’t predict which places will be winners and losers in a chaotic future either.

Global climate is a system too complex for us to say for sure what will happen in any one place. For example, before it disappears under rising seas, New York City could develop the hot, humid climate of Charleston. Or, if warming seas turn off the Gulf Stream, Manhattan could instead be buried under a glacier, as in the 2004 climate disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow. In climate chaos, all bets are off.

The only certainty for the climate doomer is that most places will become more dangerous. So, the best chance of survival lies in becoming a permanent nomad, ready to move as climate conditions change.

North to survival

But a slightly less doomerish eye seems to have settled on the frozen North as humanity’s last redoubt.

Six years ago, James Lovelock, of Gaia-hypothesis fame, grimly predicted that “before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.”

Since then, Lovelock has backed off, calling his previous view “alarmist” while explaining that “the climate is doing its usual tricks. There’s nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world…[The temperature] has stayed almost constant, whereas it should have been rising – carbon dioxide is rising, no question about that.”

American Exodus

American Exodus: Climate Change and the Coming Flight for Survival by Giles Slade, New Society, 270pp, $19.95.

Writer Giles Slade is not reassured. In American Exodus: Climate Change and the Coming Flight for Survival, he contends that, unless you already live in northern Canada, you should be afraid-very-afraid of what climate change will do to the place where you live.

“Because we regularly deny or underestimate the reality of climate change’s existence, ” Slade warns, “climate change will, by definition, come sooner than we expect.”

Slade reminds us that history is filled with migrations of peoples across vast stretches of territory. And he contends that many of the most famous migrants, from the Asians who crossed the Bering Straight land-bridge into North America during the last ice age to the Okies of the 1930s Dust Bowl, were actually refugees from climate change crises of the past.

Today, Slade already sees desertification driven by climate change creeping north from Mexico into Texas, California and the Great Plains, destroying farms, stressing local economies and sending waves of environmental refugees to wetter areas.

Coincidentally, California’s governor recently declared a drought emergency in the state.

With rising sea levels and storms set to pummel both East and West Coasts in coming years, Slade worries that his own hometown — painfully eco-friendly Vancouver — may only have a decade or two of glory days left.

Certainly, climate change and economic collapse will drive outmigration from the continental United States into Canada. People will flee for their lives, just as 100,000 Africa-Americans fled the south when the boll weevil changed Dixieland’s cotton-economy. Just as with Mexican migration to the United States, the number of people in motion will be so large it will be impossible to stem the tide.

So, rather than trying to fortify its 5,525 miles of unprotected border with the U.S., Canada should just get used to the idea that it may soon be overrun by millions of Yankees. Indeed, Slade thinks that both nations should start preparing to transfer North American civilization to the one place where it will be safe from the ravages of climate change — inland northwestern Canada.

“The safest places,” Slade writes, “will be significant communities in the north that are not isolated, that have abundant water, that have the possibility of agricultural self-sufficiency, that have little immediate risk of forest fires, that are well elevated, and that are built on solid rock.”

The top candidates?

The obvious choices are the larger towns of Dawson, Whitehorse and Yellowknife because they are accessible, and because western portions of northern Canada will experience less severe temperature rise during the coming century. Most importantly, however, precipitation in the Mackenzie and Yukon River basins will increase by 30 or 40% in the coming years, and winter will remain sufficiently cold to kill off the mountain pine beetles (MPBs) annually (for a few decades, at least).

Eager to get started but not quite ready to go straight to Yellowknife, the capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories?

Slade advises would-be migrants to acclimatize themselves to the culture and weather of the Great White North via Vancouver and Edmonton before settling for good in the place that the Canadian government has dubbed its “coldest, sunniest city,” where winter days regularly dip below -40º F with windchill.

Stay put and take root

Madeline Ostrander thinks you’ll have a better chance to survive climate chaos if you stay home.

She writes in YES! Magazine that “sense of place, community, and rootedness aren’t just poetic ideas. They are survival mechanisms.”

Being rooted in a place can make it easier to survive the kinds of weather disasters that will be more common nearly everywhere due to climate change. “Place attachment is one of several factors that can help a community recover from, and individuals cope with, the kinds of social and environmental crises that are becoming ever more common — like climate change-related disasters, large-scale job layoffs, or political turmoil.”

She continues:

In two separate studies, for instance, individuals who reported higher levels of concern about place were more likely to take steps to prepare for wildfires (in the United States) or floods (in a monsoon-prone region of India). The damage caused by a disaster can be more stressful for individuals who were attached to that place, but those feelings can also motivate people to put the broken place back together, according to a recent book by social workers Michael John Zakour and David F. Gillespie.

While Ostrander concedes that not everybody will be able to stay put — “disasters like drought and flooding that devastate some places and force people to move” — places with strong community will fare better than those with transients in a future of climate chaos.

“As we face this kind of world,” Ostrander writes, “some communities might endure precisely because people have dug in, rooted themselves, and developed the kinds of generosity, adaptiveness, and foresight that come from knowing where they are.”

– Erik Curren, Transition Voice

Thousands displaced by Jakarta deadly floods – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Thousands displaced by Jakarta deadly floods – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English.

Indonesia is regularly affected by deadly floods and landslides during its wet season [EPA]
Several Indonesians have been killed and thousands displaced by deadly floods in Indonesia’s capital.

More than 10,000 Indonesians have fled their homes in the capital due to flooding that has left five dead, an official said on Sunday, with people using rubber dinghies and wading through waist-deep water to reach safer ground.

“So far 10,530 people in Jakarta have been displaced by floods caused by heavy rains,” disaster agency official Tri Budiarto said.

Buildings in some parts of the capital, which has a population of 10 million and is regularly afflicted by floods during the six-month rainy season, were half submerged, with roads blocked in many areas.

The floods have subsided but houses were wrecked, and furniture and belongings were damaged, so people have not been able to return

Christian Laotongan, disaster agency chief, Sulawesi

Five people have so far been killed in the past week due to flooding, officials have said previously.

Budiarto confirmed the toll and said those killed had either died by drowning or being electrocuted.

However the floods were yet to reach the same level as last year when the central business district was left under water.

Sulawesi damage

On the archipelago’s northern Sulawesi island the death toll from flash floods and landslides rose to 19.

Around 40,000 people were still displaced following flash floods and landslides on the island earlier in the week, local disaster agency chief Christian Laotongan said.

“The floods have subsided but houses were wrecked, and furniture and belongings were damaged, so people have not been able to return,” he added.

Rescuers on Saturday recovered the body of a woman from a landslide in Tomohon city, Laotongan said, bringing the death toll in the area to 19.

Indonesia is regularly affected by deadly floods and landslides during its wet season. Environmentalists blame logging and a failure to reforest denuded land for exacerbating the floods.

Resource Insights: Living in a world we can’t understand

Resource Insights: Living in a world we can’t understand.

What is not intelligible to me is not necessarily unintelligent.

                         –Friedrich Nietzsche

As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

                         –Donald Rumsfeld, Former U.S. Secretary of Defense

We live in an age of enlightenment, in the belief that the entire universe is open to our inspection and more than this, that it is theoretically all intelligible to us. If we just apply enough science and enough rationality, nature will reveal all its secrets to us in ordered sets of data that we can then use to control the entire world around us.

That we can wrest a comfortable life from the Earth is, however, nothing special. Plants and animals do this without resorting to colleges, symposia or research laboratories. And, humans used to do it without these things as well. Ancient Greeks–if they survived childhood diseases, war and the occasional plague–regularly managed to live into their 60s and 70s among balmy Mediterranean breezes. It’s not that there hasn’t been any progress; it’s just that we may not have made as much progress as we think.

And yet, in the age of Big Data we have become ever more enamored with the representations of the world that we gather in the form of numbers and words, believing (wrongly) that the map is the territory.

My father used to annoy his business partners by offering quick-fire solutions to problems–solutions that worked with distressing regularity. When pressed, he often could not explain why these solutions would work, only that he knew they would. His partners, suspicious of things that could not be rendered into rational discourse, eventually bought him out. How could they trust such intuitions, even if they appeared to be on target?

In his book Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder (from which I’ve drawn several ideas for this piece) author Nassim Nicholas Taleb cites the above quotation by Nietzsche and calls it “the most potent sentence in all of Nietzsche’s century.” We tend to dismiss things we cannot understand: “If I cannot understand it, then it must not exist.” And there is the seemingly less pernicious, “If I cannot understand it, it must not be important.”

The second notion is actually more pernicious. I can show convincingly that a person who does not understand a well-supported fact is merely ignorant. But it is much harder to convince someone that something which he or she doesn’t understand–but doesn’t deny either–is actually important enough to pay attention to. Climate change comes to mind.

This is the conundrum of the modern world. The world is so complex that it seems hopeless to try to understand how all things human and natural work together. We live in an age that calls out for explanations of nature and society that provide something genuinely revelatory to the layperson. What we mostly get, however, is hucksterism and public relations, information designed to mislead rather than clarify. Under the circumstances, we are lucky if we occasionally discover a small and perhaps fleeting truth.

We often believe that the explainers know what they are talking about because they speak with such conviction. The economists, the Wall Street analysts, the technical geniuses, the captains of industry, the billionaires, the airwave pundits, they must know something we don’t or they wouldn’t be that successful. But what they know isn’t necessarily what they are telling us. And, what they are telling us is, in any case, almost always designed to advance their interests, not ours.

In such a world, how shall we get through the day? It is best to start from humble premises:

 

  1. Nature knows better than we do in most things. It’s been tested for a lot longer than any human invention.
  2. No one knows the future, but we should strive to make ourselves less vulnerable to damage from extreme events which are the ones that can really hurt us.
  3. Beware of anyone who tells you he or she knows the future with certainty. Unless you are speaking with, say, a scientist calculating the orbit of a planet, such a person is a fraud.
  4. Our social relations–our loves and friendships–are more important than anything else because they are our true anchors in an uncertain world.
  5. The longer a practice or design has been around, say, a book versus an e-reader, the longer it is likely to be around. It has endured the test of time.
  6. There is wisdom in insecurity to quote Alan Watts. We actually live in an insecure and uncertain world. Those who promise to free us from our anxiety and insecurity are merely trying to manipulate us for their own gain. (I would distinguish such people from bona fide practitioners who help those with paralyzing anxiety reduce it to a manageable level.) Do not trust people or pills that promise to end your anxiety. Even if you get temporary relief, the actual uncertainty in your life and the universe will remain.
  7. Just because the world is uncertain doesn’t mean it is implacably hostile. Sometimes good things come from an uncertain future if we are wise enough to be on the lookout for them.

 

None of these principles will deliver you from all of life’s difficulties. But they can help you avoid hucksters who simply wish to exploit you by placing you in harm’s way while they reap the benefits.

Only when we accept that we have a rather limited understanding of the world we live in are we able to act in ways that are prudent for ourselves and our communities and respectful of the Earth and of our fellow beings, human and otherwise.

Kurt Cobb is an authorspeaker, and columnist focusing on energy and the environment. He is a regular contributor to the Energy Voices section of The Christian Science Monitor and author of the peak-oil-themed novel Prelude. In addition, he has written columns for the Paris-based science news site Scitizen, and his work has been featured on Energy Bulletin (now Resilience.org), The Oil Drum, OilPrice.com, Econ Matters, Peak Oil Review, 321energy, Common Dreams, Le Monde Diplomatique and many other sites. He maintains a blog called Resource Insights and can be contacted at kurtcobb2001@yahoo.com.

Battle ramps up over Canada oil pipeline plan – Features – Al Jazeera English

Battle ramps up over Canada oil pipeline plan – Features – Al Jazeera English.

Canada’s pipeline projects have been the focus of a series of mass demonstrations [Reuters]
Two decades ago, deep within British Columbia’s coastal old-growth forests, a fierce battle was waged and won to preserve Clayoquot Sound from large-scale clearcutting.

The legendary clash between environmentalists and industry in Canada’s westernmost province sparked a new kind of eco-activism – and the biggest fight since is poised to play out in the months ahead, as the country moves closer towards approving a controversial oil pipeline to the Pacific coast.

Last month, project proponent Enbridge Inc received a substantial boost through a federally commissioned report, which recommended approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline – subject to a host of environmental and administrative conditions. Advocates say the pipeline, which would whisk more than 500,000 barrels of oil daily from the Albertan tar sands to supertankers in Kitimat, BC, would benefit the country by opening Canada’s oil industry to growing Asian and Pacific Rim markets. But environmental and aboriginal groups, whose lands the pipeline would cross, maintain it would threaten some of the country’s most precious natural resources.

While the federal Conservatives – who have vowed no project will be approved unless it is “safe for Canadians and safe for the environment” – have until July to consider the report and come to a final decision, it is widely expected the government will green-light the Northern Gateway. And once that happens, Chief Martin Louie of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation says aboriginal groups will swiftly launch court action.

“That’s the only avenue that we have to try to protect our rights,” Louie told Al Jazeera, speaking on behalf of a group of aboriginal bands known as the Yinka Dene Alliance, who have banned Enbridge’s pipeline from their territories under indigenous law. “Beautiful British Columbia – that’s what it should be for our kids too. The way I grew up enjoying the land and everything, I want my children and grandchildren to do too.”

Stamp of approval

The Northern Gateway twin pipeline would stretch 1,177km between Bruderheim in northern Alberta and the deep-water port of Kitimat, BC. The westward line would have the capacity to transport 525,000 barrels per day of oil for export, while the eastward line would carry up to 193,000 barrels per day of condensate, a product used to thin oil for pipeline transport.

We remain hopeful that we can work to address all concerns that our opponents have in a mutual spirit of cooperation and collaboration.

– Ivan Giesbrecht, Enbridge spokesperson

The $8bn project has been years in the making; in 2009, Enbridge announced it was seeking regulatory approval, setting off a public and governmental review process that will culminate with this summer’s final decision.

A major part of that process was the independent joint review panel, mandated by the Environment Ministry and the National Energy Board, which delivered its final report last month.

Tasked with assessing the environmental, social and economic impacts of the pipeline, along with the effects of tanker traffic within Canadian territorial waters, the panel ultimately recommended approval of the project subject to 209 separate conditions. “We have concluded that the project would be in the public interest,” the panel noted in its final report. “We find that the project’s potential benefits for Canada and Canadians outweigh the potential burdens and risks.”

Enbridge has said it will work to meet all of the panel’s 209 conditions – which range from developing a marine mammal protection plan to researching the behaviour and cleanup of heavy oils – along with a broader set of five criteria, including addressing aboriginal land rights, for heavy oil pipeline development set out by the BC government.

“We remain hopeful that we can work to address all concerns that our opponents have in a mutual spirit of cooperation and collaboration,” Enbridge spokesperson Ivan Giesbrecht told Al Jazeera, calling the December report “just one important step in a long process”.

The company contends the Northern Gateway will deliver more than $270bn in GDP to Canada over 30 years, along with $300m in employment and contracts for aboriginal communities and billions more in tax revenue and labour-related income during construction. Enbridge and other advocates, including the Alberta government, have described the pipeline as key to diversifying Canadian crude oil exports to markets beyond the United States.

“Access to ocean ports for Alberta’s abundant resources is important to not just Alberta’s but Canada’s economic future,” Alberta Energy Minister Diana McQueen said, noting resource developers get a lower price in the North American market than they could globally. The situation is compounded by the stalled Canada-US Keystone XL pipeline proposal, which has been awaiting US government approval amid years of debate over its route and environmental impacts.

Treacherous waters

Opponents, meanwhile, question Enbridge’s employment numbers and suggest the pipeline’s economic benefits have been overstated. The Northern Gateway has generated a wall of opposition from aboriginals and environmental activists who cite the risk of an Exxon-Valdez-level oil spill in BC’s pristine coastal waters. Dozens of aboriginal bands have signed a declaration against the project, pledging to refuse Enbridge access to their lands and watersheds, including the salmon-stocked Fraser River.

In Depth
Canada’s oil industry
  Canada ‘quits’ pipeline bomber hunt
  To the last drop
  Canada could face native insurgency
  Rebranding Canada’s ‘ethical’ oil
  Canada mulls China oil bid

In addition to the risk of spillage from the pipeline itself, Greenpeace Canada – which has criticised Enbridge’s history of spills and leaks – points out that the oil-loaded, Asia-bound supertankers would have to navigate “one of the trickiest marine routes in Canada”, passing by a series of small islands in the Douglas Channel. More than a year ago, Enbridge came under fire for releasing promotional materials in which the islands had apparently been erased from a rendering of the channel, in what critics called an effort to downplay the risks.

“Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline would stream the world’s dirtiest oil from northern Alberta to the BC coast and would be the catalyst for unbridled exploitation and potentially calamitous disturbance of our land, air, freshwater and marine environment,” said Chris Genovali, executive director of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation in Sidney, BC. Industrial activities accompanying the transportation of oil could destroy habitats for caribou, wolves, whales and wild salmon, he added.

Opposition House Leader Nathan Cullen, the federal New Democratic MP for BC’s Skeena-Bulkley Valley, believes a major spill from either the pipeline or tankers over the 50-plus-year lifespan of the project is a certainty. “The ability to clean up bitumen in the water is virtually nil,” Cullen told Al Jazeera.

The Northern Gateway proposal faces an additional hurdle from BC’s provincial government, which has refused to lend support to the pipeline until Enbridge proves it will employ “world-leading practices” on oil-spill prevention and response, respect aboriginal rights and ensure the province gets a fair slice of the economic pie. “Enbridge hasn’t met any of the conditions yet,” government spokesperson Sam Oliphant said.

Legal fight ahead

Enbridge points out that it has already incorporated input from British Columbians and aboriginal communities, resulting in almost two dozen changes to the pipeline route and other alterations, such as thicker-walled pipes and an increased capability to respond to marine spills. In addition, the federal panel found Enbridge had taken steps to minimise the chances of a large spill “through its precautionary design approach and its commitments to use innovative and redundant safety systems”.

Given the overwhelming First Nations and public opposition here, I believe the pipeline will likely never happen.

– Drew Mildon, lawyer

None of this is enough for the project’s opponents, who maintain the Northern Gateway will be a pivotal issue in the 2015 federal election – and set the stage for a landmark court fight.

The expected avalanche of legal cases upon the pipeline’s approval will tie it up for years, said Keith Stewart, climate and energy coordinator for Greenpeace Canada. And if the government tries to proceed regardless, he said, thousands of people have pledged to engage in peaceful civil disobedience, just as protesters did decades ago in Clayoquot Sound – using blockades and peaceful demonstrations to achieve their environmental goals.

The question of land ownership, meanwhile, is a complex one. Aboriginal rights are protected under section 35 of Canada’s constitution, but proving aboriginal title requires proof of use and occupation, said lawyer Drew Mildon, who works for a BC-based firm planning to represent aboriginals in the anticipated Northern Gateway court battle. While many aboriginal groups living along the pipeline route assert title and rights, they have not yet gone to court to prove them, Mildon told Al Jazeera.

“I have no doubt the governments will try to ram through the pipeline regardless of First Nations objections,” he said. “As a lawyer working for First Nations in BC, and given the overwhelming First Nations and public opposition here, I believe the pipeline will likely never happen.”

Stewart agreed, citing a failure on the part of Enbridge and the federal government to shore up public support for the pipeline.

“Without that support,” he said, “it won’t be built.”

 

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