Tar Sands. On that, I want to talk about the anti-war movement of the time before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In the time between the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in various parts of the United States and the ultimate invasion of the completely uninvolved sovereign state of Iraq, quite literally millions upon millions of people flooded the streets of the imperialist countries that stood to gain the most from just such an invasion. Perhaps tens of millions were mobilized in the UK alone; Canada, later to lead the invasion and overthrow of Haiti as a “sorry” to the United States war plans, played a peripheral role.
How did such all come about? And why did the anti-war movement ultimately come to such a vast critical mass– and achieve almost nil? Well, first off, it didn’t achieve absolutely nothing. The George W regime, with such notable characters as Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton and Douglas Feith, did announce early on both their intentions to attack and occupy Iraq and to completely dodge the United Nations to do so. One can speculate on the exact reasons for that slight change of approach– Colin Powell destroyed both his career and his respectability in most circles (especially beyond US borders) with his Oscar winning performance about “mobile production terror facilities” and so on while yammering about nuclear products from Nigeria.
Of course, the UN dance was coordinated lying, the invasion happened, Iraq was and is devastated and millions have and continue to lose their lives. The UN gambit– and perhaps even the “for appearances” denial of direct involvement of the Canadian government– were achievements of social power unleashed. But, was it truly “unleashed”? Or was it funnelled into dead ends?
This is not to re-hash the details of the anti-war movement. It is to note that the Vietnam war took decades to produce the kind of response in the United States that the invasion of Iraq unleashed before the troops made a B line to Baghdad, or even crossed the border.
The mental trappings of the liberal, parliamentary/representative democratic system are more devastating than the actual state. In the modern state of affairs in North American society– and likely most of Europe, though in different manners– is that the majority of the populace perceives the struggle over climate change (like the anti-war movement of a decade ago) as one of sentiment. If we can convince the majority of the people to accept that a certain social change must be made, it in fact will happen– if not directly, indirectly through the ballot box over time.
This is true on many social fronts– think in terms of public smoking, driving while drunk or recreational cannabis use. This is also true on many environmental fronts– think of acid rain, recycling, bike lanes, and so on. The problem in both social and environmental struggles is when the approach of the “swaying of public opinion” rams up against the rocks in the social harbour called power. When the changes being demanded are ultimately a deconstruction of the very levers of power in the society– and of course, this means the benefits of the powerful who believe they own society– then, no amount of simple suasion works.
The reasons that the war on Iraq had to happen, in one way or another, was the power of oil globally, and the needs of the Empire to control (not so much pump) the largest oil deposits remaining. They murdered some 2 million so far, just as a direct result of that one war, and have launched countless others. The plan also gave us the dynamic we are still dealing with:
Tar Sands are the product of the invasion of Iraq. The largest, global social movement that ever existed– forget about Occupy– in the imperialist countries was that against the massacre that is today ongoing in Iraq. With minor modifications, thy ignored public sentiment. The reason should come as little surprise: The benefits of ignoring the population were not outweighed by the threat of resistance. Popular sentiment, since that was the mobilization strategy for the most part, never achieved the regimes they targetted believing a “or else” threat coming from the mobilized.
Tar Sands development, perversely, is actually a reflection of the global resistance to the invasion of Iraq’s success. That success took place, oddly enough, in Iraq where the death of Saddam Hussein encouraged few to cry and yet saw millions resist the US/UK Occupation. The targetted bombings of the pipelines, the attacks on supply convoys, the impossibility of the “normalization” of the occupation (in many respects, still continuing today) made the aims of the war in doubt– not the many million fold marches in the home countries of imperialism. As such, the price of oil shot through the roof and using the tar sands of Canada (with now accessible prices) to sustain global oil supplies and the war machine itself became the preferred plan B.
After the people of Iraq resisted the war and tar sands became part of the global oil and gas junta’s new strategic turn in an era of peak oil, the absolutely devastating social, environmental and climate cost of the tar sands began to engender new resistance. Over the last several years– in conjunction with Hurricane Sandy, massive droughts in southern Africa, heatwaves in Europe, ad infinitum– tar sands have been rightly targetted by many as a driving force of climate change (but not as a driving force of war, which they are).
So back to the concept of the saturation of popular opinion. Problem A: Outside of Alberta, it is well accepted that tar sands are the culprit of many of the worst aspects of current society, and are the top threat (in terms of new infrastructure) to keep climate threats threatening. In British Columbia, the idea of a pipeline built by Enbridge called Gateway is considered so unpopular the current premier– who has worked for the PR firm that works for the company– lied straight up during the election campaign held a little over a year ago, to stop “eco voters” from voting en masse for the opposition.
Yet it is quite clear that this pipeline– one of many in BC alone– for tar sands (and/or fracking) is both brutally unpopular and will be given a green light by the Federal Harper Government. Some say it is because Harper is so ideological on these questions he can’t deviate from his own script. And yes, the Harper mind frame is one from his home of Calgary, financial epicentre of the tar sands– and yes, Harper is the person who wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in 2003 apologizing for Canada not directly participating in the invasion of Iraq. But the question is not one of that alone: Harper is a fundamentalist Christian nut job who thinks abortion is murder in all cases. Practically speaking, to raise that issue would weaken his governments rule, and as such it is mostly relegated to the even more wingnut backbenchers of his party.
While the timing, or the particular pipeline might be a little different were there a different admin in either the White House or 24 Sussex, the fact is that power itself is concentrated in the oil and gas industries. And power is a reflection not of political party (they come and go), or policy. Power is the state, the ruling class and the economic order. Only a small segment of the powers that be could benefit from a change in direction as far as energy is concerned– and none of them could embrace the concept of roll-back in terms of energy production, or to degrow and decentralize.
With an overwhelming crescendo of people opposed to the worst ravages of a system based on oil, we cannot talk only of not just one pipeline, but we must go beyond tar sands and beyond “dirty oil”. The problem is that sentiment is not the flexing of mass muscle. It is a demonstration of what is not being flexed. And the sheepherders– “Defend our Climate” want the sheep to help establish a new regime that is exactly like this one, minus the tar sands but with other destruction replacing it.
How about chopping down BC’s forests to burn in power plants in Europe so that UK pub patrons can drink with bright lights on? How about privatizing and devastating hundreds of rivers to hand tax breaks to small private power producers who get free money from the populations pockets after Hydro buys the extra electricity? No? Let’s put dams on the ocean, kill whales and salmon, and use the tidal power to run the lights in the malls.
But whatever you do: Don’t challenge power, nor go beyond the “feel good” sentiments we need to embrace without looking down at the horrid construction of the false “green” bridge to nowhere.
We have hit a plateau where I would hazard 80 percent of the population is now opposed to at the minimum a giant new Gateway tar sands pipeline. It won’t be enough. Our population– drunk on the candy of smart phones and more, sadly– is guided by a notion that sentiment is enough. Without mobilizations that *force the issue– and identify that people like Christy Clark are both just pawns, but representative of the enemy that is the system, not those who we should be trying to “encourage”– we end up with a real exhaustion issue.
Almost every week now, people are dragged from their homes to listen to speeches promising the impossible– a green, capitalist economy on the very top of the imperialist mountain– over and over again. These mobilizations are demobilizing; People are not involved, have no say over the direction of these big money “campaigns” and, ultimately, are being turned cynical. The same issues that can garner 100 000 people one day can reduce to 150 plus a dog in as little as a few weeks. Inertia, static demands, no changes and refusal to involve the democratic rights of people do that. It has happened time and again.
It happened with the war on Iraq– until the population of Iraq fought back. Then we got tar sands as a result of the resistance of our Iraqi brothers and sisters. Their resistance created the conditions for the same oil and gas powers that run the imperialist world order to need the plan B that tar sands represented. So when will our resistance– to the same powers that launched that (and many other) war learn the lessons?
Oil and Gas know no democracy and they own the current system. They are not a “rogue industry” they are the blood inside the capitalist body. How can we resist them and leave them in power? So far, we have given awards to Gordon Campbell, and ignored (for the most part) fracking. We must fight on all fronts, tell not ask. Capital IS climate change, not a tool to undo it.