04/19/2014 12:50 EDT | Updated 06/18/2014 05:59 EDT

Squamish on the Precipice: Saying 'No' to LNG

A few nights ago I went to Quest University in Squamish to hear a presentation by three experts on the details of what we might expect from a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility on our shoreline.

The meeting, organized by a local group of concerned citizens -- My Sea to Sky -- wasn't only about what happens if they plant themselves next to our town. The facility will exist only because of a number of prior indignities performed by humans on the environment to extract and then export the product.

Their presentation described how the natural gas is initially derived in northern B.C. by fractuated drilling (so-called, "fracking"); the environmental consequences; the possible economic pitfalls; and some of the important questions LNG proponents need to still answer.

The evening was an invaluable forum aimed at informing the public about the issues inherent to the LNG proposal.

Three things struck me while the evening went on.

The first was the sense of relief I had looking out on the large gathering. Sometimes you might think you are alone in your view about a given concern. Then, someone organizes a meeting and hundreds, sometimes thousands, show up. It turns out that many others think like you. You just had to create the opportunity to meet them.

Bringing people together in solidarity over a cause is the heart of activism.

If there is any hope for democracy, and any hope for changing the world, we have to learn how to do it better. At least in North America.

More and more our elected politicians -- whether at the municipal, provincial or national level -- do exactly the opposite of what the citizenry want.

The second thing that struck me was not so much the presentation of the speakers. They were good, but the most impressive part were the people from the audience who lined up after the formal presentation to ask questions and make their feelings known about the proposal.

Once again, having thought that few others were worried about the LNG facility's overall effects on Squamish, I was happily surprised that one after another, audience members spoke their concerns.

People who have lived in Squamish all their lives, back when "industry" was Squamish's identity. Or rather, how the putrid smell of industry in the city's air was called "the smell of money." Those of the past were promised economic prosperity, but are only now left with loss of unsustainable jobs and a plethora of health problems. The contradiction of promises wasn't lost on anyone.

We were also told how other towns that accepted this industrial turn now look. It's not pretty. "Drive through some of those towns," we were told. See for yourselves what industry has delivered. Smell the air. Look around. See what these oil and gas facilities have done to communities.

And First Nations spoke. What does it mean for this Earth to be sacred? What does it mean for all the creatures that inhabit this place? What has government done to further strip First Nations of their inherent rights?

Not to be left out are all of those who have moved to Squamish precisely because it is the "Outdoor Recreation Capital of the World," boasting clean air for our children, pristine lakes, and an oceanfront that just recently has seen the return of orcas.

But thirdly, it was the surreal character of the meeting that most astonished me.

How could it be -- especially in the middle of the splendour of Squamish's natural environment -- that we could find ourselves even considering a LNG facility next to our ocean?

Climate change has since long passed the stage of being "controversial." There's nothing controversial -- in the dubious sense -- of the science. 97 per cent of climate scientists agree: it's a fact.

We doubled down on the bad news with the United Nation's recent climate change report: "If the world doesn't cut pollution of heat-trapping gases, the already noticeable harms of global warming could spiral 'out of control.'" The worst is indeed yet to come.

Time is running out on us to slough off the old thinking about fossil fuels being part of our future. (For what it's worth, "fossil fuels" is a misnomer, so don't blame the dinosaurs. There's good evidence that oil and gas have nothing to do with fossils.)

Squamish is at a precipice -- and in light of Premier Christy Clark's ambitions for LNG terminals throughout the province -- so are many other communities throughout British Columbia, especially with the Enbridge pipeline proposals and twinning of the Kinder Morgan gas pipeline.

What are we thinking?

Finishing another season of unprecedented climate upheavals, we are only managing how to dig our hole deeper? Fracking, with the contamination of our precious water? It could be worse, with studies linking "fracking to earthquakes around shale formations in England and Oklahoma."

And then, exporting bitumen over our Rocky Mountains out to our coasts, only to be carried in tankers to China -- that is, if they don't sink off B.C.'s pristine coastline?

We need to think about what we are doing, in British Columbia and across Canada. Our politicians seem to think that they are in office to do what they want, irrespective of our overall well-being.

And unless we stand up to remind them that they are elected by the people to do the people's will, democracy will indeed suffer further degradation.


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