It should hardly be surprising that Greenpeace would engage in a reckless stunt in order to draw attention to whatever issue they happened to be fixated on at any given moment. Frankly, as Greenpeace has increasingly become an irrelevant voice on the radical fringes, such stunts have essentially become the organization’s modus operandi.
But that willingness to be reckless, combined with a ferocious opposition to any and all pipelines, is leading us down a potentially dangerous path. Further escalation only increases the likelihood that someone will be injured or killed. Reasonable people can disagree about pipelines or tankers or fossil fuels in general, but reasonable people should be able to agree on just how irresponsible this approach is.
This latest Greenpeace stunt involved seven activists rappelling down from the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge in Vancouver and dangling there in order to prevent tankers — or, specifically one tanker from the Kinder Morgan Westridge Marine Terminal — from passing underneath. After about a day and a half, police patience was finally exhausted and officers moved in to remove the danglers.
A total of 12 people — the seven danglers and five others who assisted — were arrested and face charges of mischief and charges under the Canada Shipping Act. These are serious enough charges that could warrant jail time and hopefully the courts will come down hard on the dangling dozen so as to make it clear that these sorts of reckless stunts won’t be tolerated.
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Furthermore, it’s hard to see what this stunt actually accomplished beyond further discrediting those involved. After some brief disruptions to shipping traffic, things quickly returned to normal. As for the pipeline itself, the construction plans for the next six months were announced as the danglers were swinging from the bottom of the bridge.
Rather than apologize for their actions or admit their failure, Greenpeace activist Mike Hudema instead donned the mantle of martyr. On Twitter, he lamented that “no one should need to spend almost two days suspended from a bridge trying to protect something as essential as water.”
Well, the first part of that statement is true: clearly no one should spend almost two days suspended from a bridge. But the idea that Greenpeace are the defenders of water is both arrogant and laughable. No one has tasked Greenpeace with being the “protectors” of anything, and a dangerous stunt on a bridge cannot be classified as any sort of act of defence.
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It’s also a very naive and simplistic view of the situation. Even if opponents of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion are successful in blocking the project, it may ultimately turn out to be a very pointless and pyrrhic victory.
The disruption of this pipeline would have no impact on demand for fossil fuels and a very minimal impact on supply, certainly in the global scheme of things. The demand for oil is not going away any time soon, and it’s delusional to think otherwise. Displacing Canadian oil only creates a void to be filled by other oil-producing nations, many of which are much less stringent when it comes to environmental standards.
Blocking pipelines also means that oil-by-rail is going to continue to increase – and those numbers are already at a record high. The risk of a spill is much higher when crude is being transported by rail, and the actions of the so-called water defenders could result in the perverse outcome of putting water at greater risk. Therefore, the option of a new, state-of-the-art, highly regulated pipeline coupled with billions of dollars committed to coastal protection seems like a much more responsible way of balancing energy development and risks.
But again, we can have debates and disagreements on such matters. Pipeline opponents may be reluctant to turn on their own, but those who are willing to break the law or put themselves in danger need to be called out and condemned.
Rather than pursuing change on the policy side, the environmental movement has, for whatever reason, made energy infrastructure projects their hill to die on. So be it. Let’s just hope that “hill to die on” remains metaphorical.