Protests and pipelines


June 27, 2018 | Viewpoints | Volume 22 Issue 14
Helmut Lemke |

The May 7 and 21 issues of Canadian Mennonite deal in part with protests regarding the construction of pipelines. The editorial from May 21, “Questions of conscience,” asks us how we respond to concerns about pipelines and protests.

I live in Burnaby, B.C., and am concerned about the topic, since the pipeline will practically go through my backyard when it is built. When I look out of my living room window I gaze at the Burnaby terminal below and can observe tankers filling up with oil or diluted bitumen from the mouth of the pipeline. But I am also a resident of Britsih Columbia and a citizen of Canada and need to consider the advantages or disadvantages of building a pipeline to fellow citizens.

Our government considers the pipeline of national interest and useful for our economy, and it is adamant that it will be built.

In the May 7 issue I notice the mug shot of Steve Heinrichs and read about his involvement in the protest in solidarity with one group of Indigenous people. I think there is allowance within the law for peaceful protests and disagreement. I value Steve’s work in regards to reconciliation and justice for our Indigenous people very much. But does he have to disregard the law of the land to be accepted? Should our young people be guided by his action?

I try to look at the issue from different perspectives. I wonder whether it is effective to join others in shouting protests, where there is often abusive language toward construction workers and law enforcement officers, from a distance of three metres, which is illegal in this case. Or is it better to voice our disapproval from five metres, which is within the boundaries of the law?

Indigenous people from the northern region and from Alberta approve of the construction of the pipeline because it provides work for them. When people are fully employed, usually their dependence on alcohol and drugs decreases. The crime rate and suicide rates will also go down. Residents from those communities expect the profit gained from the sale of the product will improve their family’s standard of living and restore their dignity. The majority of other Canadians feel the same way.

I can understand and agree with the fear that oil spills, if they happen, will damage the environment, but statistics show that pipelines are the safest means of transporting oil from its source to its destination and are therefore less abusive to the environment than tanker trucks or railway cars. Pipelines are underground and not as unsightly as wind turbines, which environmental activists find harmful as well, because their rotating blades may kill birds and other flying animals.

Kinder Morgan has communicated with Burnaby residents and with others involved by sending us letters explaining their construction plans, holding town meetings and asking for our input. I have heard they have done the same with Indigenous people.

In the short run, as long as we are still quite dependent on fossil fuels to run our cars, generators and other machinery and heat our homes, pipelines will be beneficial. In the long run, however, when we have shifted to alternative energy, they may not be useful and necessary any longer. But that may take some time, especially if people like some of our present leaders are in government.

So should we reap the benefits of the pipelines now and shut them off when they are no longer needed and thus eliminate harm to the environment? This would give us time to free ourselves from digging for oil and building pipelines to working on creating alternative energies.

There are two sides to the coin and people acting according to their conscience have to respect each other and try to come to an acceptable conclusion.

Helmut Lemke lives in Burnaby, B.C., and is a member at Point Grey Inter-Mennonite Fellowship.

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