Tar Sands for the Week (June 24, 2014).

Last week the official decision came in on the Enbridge Gateway pipeline proposal, never mind the fact that the decision about the pipeline was long ago made in Indian Country, and that the majority of the settler population supports such a rejection– both for NIMBY and larger concern issues. The decision has highlighted well that there are essentially three poles within this gravity field in orbit around the single Enbridge proposal to transport the equivalent of over 2 of the largest strip mines in the world full of diluted tar sands bitumen.

There, of course, is the intransigent federal government– an oil and gas administration born out of Calgary, the financial epicentre of the Canadian tar sands. Their folly is probably not as it appears. While clearly intransigent and contemptible of any opposition to fossil fuel development & expansion, the Harper regime has shown an ability to calculate advantage and exploit weakness. In continuing to pretend to care about the working stiff, the canard about jobs and the economy comes out. No matter what the numbers, employment is not being advanced by the proposals around Gateway, except from official ‘opposition’ to Gateway groups.

Enter the second pole of reference, the industry of Business as Usual [BAU] NGO’s that have been centralized under the command of big capital’s representative in financial matters– the Tides Foundation– and their public face: General Secretary of the Central Committee within the newly minted Tar Sands Solutions Network, Tzeporah Berman. Formerly completely “invisible to the outside,” this coalition operates across North America, in top down fashion, with monies distributed regionally after the leash of the political line is voluntarily hung around the participants/recipients necks.

Much has been made (rightly) of the utter contempt coming from the Federal Government in approving this pipeline. The population– however you slice it up west of the Rockies in Canada– passionately opposes the Enbridge Gateway proposal. Yet the writing was not just on the wall, it was a bloody oil-soaked sistine chapel, running across the ceiling in such clarity that one would need to look only at the floor to miss it. The fact that pundits of the BAU model have expressed “shock” and “dismay” rather than simply stating that this was known long ago to be the outcome is far more shocking than anything the Harper Government has done in promoting oil & gas.

We are to believe that BAU proponents never noticed any of the following: That Harper is an oil child himself, refusing to “take no for an answer” with the now-redundant KXL pipeline development in the US; That Enbridge Gateway ads were squished into every commercial break of the hockey playoffs and even the nightly newscasts; That the Joint Review Panel had already laid out the exact script read from by the Feds; That right before the announcement, Franco-esque home invasion “raids” with guns drawn were executed, ostensibly to seize spray paint cans– but they somehow ended up with cell phones, laptops and all the personal data available in the household of organizers that reject both pipelines and BAU industry leaders; That the premier of BC dropped her lukewarm embrace of Gateway for a bearhug shortly after the election, and it was revealed that she prior worked for Enbridge’s PR firm.

No, in fact, it has demonstrated not just how venal the Federal government is towards the popular sentiments of those who inhabit the West Coast, but also how utterly important the third pole is– the community organizers who reject not just Gateway, but all new fossil fuel pipelines and want community based directives– and who do so from a standpoint of solidarity with indigenous land defenders, rather than simply using indigenous imagery much as the Washington D.C. American football team might.

This third pole is the one both NGO’s on the hook of Tides anti-democratic gravy train and the corporate media work hard to either ignore, or when that is impossible, to delegitimize. I am reminded of an old Phil Ochs song, “The Knock on the Door.” In particular, the lines:

Look over the oceans, look over the lands
Look over the leaders with the blood on their hands
And open your eyes and see what they do
When they knock over their friend, they’re knocking for you

With their knock on the door, knock on the door
Here they come to take one more

When the Vancouver Police Department conducted their raid– because of graffiti, according to the warrant– the generalized intimidation (and likely intelligence gathering) of the exercise was not directed at the actual residence of the alleged unsanctioned street artists. It was a warning to all pipeline opponents of any stripe that political democratic space is closing, and rapidly. Using the tactic of the thin-wedge, force and repression wished to identify targets that could be hit, establishing a weaker interpretation of what is left of civil liberty in the populace via new precedent.

According to Warrior Publications, the VPD conducted the raid at 9am:

The four residents of the house, and one guest, were removed one by one by police aiming pistols at them. One person inside the house looked out their bedroom window and saw a cop pointing his pistol at him.

The editor of Warrior Publications, one of the targets of the raid, further suggests that:

“Considering the minor nature of the charges, the raid carried out by the Vancouver police is clearly part of a larger strategy of politically motivated repression against radicals and especially the growing resistance against oil and gas pipelines throughout the province. As a tactic, the raid enables police to seize items such as computers, extract information from them, disrupt communications, and very possibly emplace spyware prior to their return. The raid and its subsequent occupation of the space by the cops provides them with the opportunity to take a snapshot of their target’s lives, and to possibly put in place listening devices. As a part of a strategy of repression, the raid is an attempt to intimidate and silence those involved in resistance movements.”

This was a spectacular opportunity to push back at the forces of repression that are seeking to enforce the paper orders of pipeline construction. Since when complaints about different approaches to resisting environmental destruction are levied towards BAU NGO’s one is often to hear “But we are all working on the same goals, and have the same aims,” this gave the perfect chance to show that– even with the money coming from the next-in-line class of capitalists in society– the ascendant green bourgeoisie that sees the climate crisis as a ticket to ruling class status– such NGO’s truly are simply a part of a larger resistance movement, a broad environmental consciousness. This wing is merely the “inside” of an “inside-outside” strategy, and not green defenders of a status quo unchanged in substance.

So how did Big Green speak when asked for comment on the raid of anti-pipeline activists, confiscation of their information, digital and non-digital property, privacy and more in the obvious cover story of “fighting graffiti?” ForestEthics campaigner (and close confidant of Tzeporah Berman) Ben West was quoted by David P Ball as saying “In many political and social movements over the years, there’s been graffiti of all kinds. There is a legitimate space for street art, but it’s a shame if people are doing more harm than good. When people cover beautiful murals and people’s vehicles with ‘No Pipelines,’ I’m not sure it gets more people on board. But that said, to see this kind of heavy-handed response to at most an act of vandalism seems pretty extreme.”

The “public murals” that have been creatively added to include shots of children playing in a crystal blue, healthy ocean. Just the type that Enbridge has spent multiple millions showing television audiences to try and satiate a desire for clean water and healthy oceans. Continuing Mr West’s misguided framing of the issue as one of the alleged vandalism (and not the broader implications of targeting community organizers that are opposed to tar sands, fracking, mines and a host of other colonial industrial practices), the reader can see this changed mural for itself, and compare it’s offensive content versus the following Enbridge ad that shows how much they love the natives (ignoring an unprecedented indigenous rejection of, well, everything they stand for).

The bigger implications of guns-drawn raids on activists is completely ignored, and the VPD is essentially let off the hook– while Big Green and associated capitalist outfits effectively gatekeep and establish who is and is not a “good” environmentalist, and maintain their position as simply the green wing of the establishment.

That is troubling, and perhaps West got caught on a bad day, not properly informed, and would change his statement now. Such a possible excuse is not true of other recent public statements and initiatives from Big Green groups getting Tides direction and funding.

Despite having both essentially lied to the public during her 2013 campaign for the Premiership of BC, as well as being revealed as a former partner in a firm lobbying for Enbridge, the now tossed aside plan of “conditions” put forth by Clark apparently still warrants treating Clark as an ally. There is little surprise here: the right wing, pro-industrialist and neoliberal BC Liberal Party has been feted by many in BAU circles for years now, in large part due to the failed carbon tax that was implemented by predecessor premier Gordon Campbell.

The decision to approve Gateway does indeed show just how reactionary the Federal Government is, especially when one can see just how far backwards the Big Green machine is willing to go, in order to have their declared “win” in a press conference. Big Green gets funding from sources who want a declaration of victory where none has occurred, much like the now oft-forgotten Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf issuing statements on Saddam Hussein’s invincibility. The losses thus become victories and marching forward with nary a blot on anything (except the climate, environment and human rights) demands the same approach.

In the past, the private discussions between industry managers in forestry and anti-democratic eNGO’s gave birth to a Great Bear Rainforest Agreement that sacrificed smaller emvironmental groups, shut out the sovereign first nations, accepted forest protection numbers that were ruled too small by BC courts (in order to accommodate First Nations Land Use Plans that were not included in discussions) and violated the scientific community recommending that roughly 44% of areas within the GBR be permanently protected. Big Green (including the beginning of ForestEthics as a separate entity) accepted 20%, later bumped to just under 30%. For these reasons, David Suzuki refused to endorse the GBR; Tzeporah Berman stood beside Campbell and surrendered with a smile.

Many similar agreements since have taken place, usually around forestry and related issues. Now the concept of seeing industry as a partner, public oversight as a nuisance (a value shared among elite notables from Tzeporah Berman to Stephen Harper) and of course, indigenous sovereignty as a tactic rather than principle have entrenched themselves so deeply as to be regarded as “normal.”

Fast forward to just prior to the public announcement about Gateway, and an op-ed in the Globe and Mail. Tzeporah Berman, now working out of our collective earshot to “talk” with industry executives lays out some basic surrender points that “[…] need to look at issues of pace and scale, if it is possible to ‘clean up’ the oil sands, whether we can keep the world at safe climate levels and still grow the oil sands, whether expansion needs to be capped, and if it’s really possible to build alternatives so that in the next 30-50 years we can move away oil.”

Translation: Environmentalism needs to concede the existence of tar sands, despite the fact that scientific analysis of climate change proposes the need for an immediate change of course, not a gradual one, to have a tiny hope of reversal of climate damage. That (quoting here) we have “acknowledged that we can’t shut down the oil sands overnight and got serious about a conversation that looked at how much oil we will need and for how long?”

This turn of phrase is similar to liberal refrains about the war in Iraq, as senators and congress reps who “opposed” the war, but declared “we can’t just ‘withdraw the troops’” as some kind of sad middle ground. Yes, it could happen– the troops get an order to decommission the base and ship out. There, it’s done. End of story. And yes, the tar sands can be shut down over night. You simply turn the various power switches to ‘off’. Then, instead of lauding their owners for not shooting us to keep the machinery running, we seize their ill-gotten criminal assets and attempt to clean up the mess– while surmising a suitable punishment as a resolution for driving the biosphere along with humanity to the brink of extinction.

The sleight of hand in the op-ed that ought to most alarm tar sands, climate and anti-pipeline activists is the conflation of oil and oil sands [sic]. Further disturbing is the Shock Doctrine of Naomi Klein being adopted for industry and climate ‘mitigation’: The best hope is that the destruction and crimes of climate change brought about by the most power hungry and authoritarian people on the planet– executives and politicians from oil and gas– need to be the ones to save us, since no one else will do it: “Imagine if energy companies decided to lead the transition to renewables and critics,” reminds me not of Iraq, but the Vietnam anti war slogan “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”

We are now witnessing Big Green publicly state “We don’t want to shut down the most destructive industry in human history, because we agree economics come first.” This is happening right at the time when climate carbon concentration has gone well past 400 ppm, BC is approving new coal mines and shipping it out while trying to build major new coal terminals on gulf coast islands not far from Vancouver, where the current premier is touting the idea of “safe, clean” fracking (that will in large part be shipped to Alberta to power tar sands growth anyhow), when anti-oil and gas sentiment has never been higher, when indigenous communities are exercising their sovereignty more forcefully, new dams are proposed and the so-called window to stop run-away climate change is closing more rapidly than even scientists were predicting a couple of years ago…


We have a systemic emergency, and we also have more people who are up to that task. Is now the time to practically beg industry to talk to us, ceding all the points that matter ahead of time?

I just returned from a trip throughout BC, trying to deal with some of the other follies in BC’s “climate response” that is making the problem worse, in the form of carbon offsets going to the burning of the BC forests for energy in the UK (among other places). Every time a policy has a loophole that corporations can exploit, it will happen. While well up the BC coastline, I heard the news of Gateway’s approval while at a library and the librarian looked disgusted.

Hitchhiking on the way home, I was picked up by people from an indigenous community that live off the mighty salmon runs. In a turnabout of the usual, they were the ones who brought up Gateway. I was told in no uncertain terms of their disgust at the approval of the pipeline. Funny, though– on the list from the Globe and Mail op-ed of those who should be involved in a discussion about what should happen with tar sands? Another direct quote: “Perhaps its time for academics, scientists, environmental organizations and industry to start trying to fill this leadership vacuum in Canada and work to create some real conversations, pull the issues apart and develop some options and pathways forward.”

So we now know that once again, Ms Berman and her Big Green funders would like to sideline the public and indigenous nations (you know, because we need more academics involved) while sitting privately with industry at the same time. Because the point is that it should be a discussion among the elites that created the problem using mechanisms that created the problem while still using the political system that abetted the problem and get rid of the democratic notions that are so folly in the heads of grassroots communities.

Or maybe we need to start realizing our best friends are open, democratic public processes that recognize indigenous nations not as shareholders but sovereign, that no amount of justification for tar sands will ever make it “realistic” to operate another few decades, that one cannot clean up tar sands anymore than one can restore Fukushima or Chernobyl, that those who have made such obscene profits off of such an obscene industry are criminals– not partners?

And finally, environmentalists need to understand the struggle against the oil & gas corporations as one against the most powerful entity in human kind, perhaps throughout human history.

Instead of continuing to embrace a vision of establishing a new, green bourgeoisie (with Big Green at the top), true environmentalism has to exhibit solidarity with all land defenders and environmentalists who are attacked by the ruling class, no matter what the reason, as a protection of ourselves. We are not the next ruling class, we seek to abolish far more than carbon emissions. Great crisis provides great opportunity. Power is not our friend. As Frederick Douglass said:

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”