October 10, 2009
Civil Disobedience: Act of Terrorism or Act of Citizenship?
This came to my inbox from:
Why Civil Disobedience & Why Now
By Bruce Cox, Executive Director of Greenpeace Canada
Why in the world would a group of global citizens from Alberta to Berlin to Rio,
drop everything and leave their comfy homes (and lives) to come to the tar sands
and volunteer to put themselves on the line? Why would I do it?
This past weekend I returned from Canada’s own Mordor, the tar sands: a cold,
dark, otherworldly place full of fire and brimstone – indeed, we dubbed the
bridge spanning the massive Suncor Millennium site the “bridge to climate hell”.
Alongside over 20 other activists I took part in a peaceful non-violent direct
action at Suncor’s major mine site and upgrading facility in the tar sands. This
was the second of three recent actions at tar sands facilities resulting in
nearly 40 people arrested to date. Charged with “mischief” I spent 32 hours in
jail at the Fort McMurray police station. Released on condition that I “behave”
myself and stay out of the Wood Buffalo jurisdiction (the centre of tar sands
destruction and an area about the size of southern Europe!) I am scheduled to
appear in court in early November. Suffice to say, jail was not pleasant but
it’s not supposed be.
So why would volunteers give up their warm beds and risk the elements, arrest
and a police record? Why would Greenpeace want them to? And why do these
peaceful acts of civil disobedience elicit such heated commentary on the web and
in Tim Hortons?
Greenpeace went to the frontier of climate destruction to bring international
attention to the tar sands and the environmental impacts they’re unleashing, not
just on Canada, but on the world. We’re there to put pressure on world leaders
to take action on climate change and to turn their backs on projects like the
tar sands that exploit destructive dirty fuels. We take this action whether it`s
dirty oil in northern Canada, dirty coal in Italy or destructive palm oil grown
in burned out Indonesian rainforests.
I think many of us share a sense of urgency that we must do something to push
decision makers and leaders to take aggressive action on climate change. We are
now 60 days away from the UN climate talks in Copenhagen and world leaders
continue to act like we have all the time in the world. We don’t.
Many activists recognize that the massive development destruction in the tar
sands today is just the beginning of an unfolding disaster that needs to be
stopped in its tracks. Less than 3 percent of the potential of Canada’s tar
sands have been tapped. The tar sands are expanding at an alarming rate and will
potentially cover an area the size of England when in full swing. At this
point, the tar sands produce about 40 million tons of greenhouse gases a year,
(more than some entire countries) and this could grow [PDF] to 140 million tons
by 2020 if we don’t stop it now.
There is also a sense of frustration that government has failed to serve its
citizens when making decisions in the tar sands. How can it be legal for 11
million litres a day of contaminated water to leech into the Athabasca
watershed? When Greenpeace takes peaceful direct action we are challenging the
authority of the government, holding its decisions up to the light and exposing
the hypocrisy of jailing young activists while oil executives walk free to
For me personally, there is also a simple need to act. There is a need to know
that in the face of undeniable science, facts and research, I did what I could
to avert the unfolding climate crisis.
October 7th, 2009
Part 2 of a 2-Part Post, written by Bruce Cox, Executive Director of Greenpeace
Canada. Read Part 1
What gets lost in the flame wars on the comment boards of the Globe and Mail or
the Calgary Herald is the reason we leave our warm homes to climb upgraders and
smokestacks in freezing, wet weather:
We’re there on behalf of our three million supporters around the world. We’re
fearful that tar sands development is out of control, and that unbridled
expansion is indicative of a provincial and federal government that have thrown
in the towel on curtailing global warming and are prepared to thumb their noses
at the best available science, domestic public opinion and international law.
This concern is rarely fleshed out in the posts reacting to our actions. More
often the negative comments reflect knee-jerk reactions ranging from basic hate
mail to mere contrariness with life. While many of the comments posted to these
boards are the ranting of the dispossessed and the spin of lurking industry and
government flaks, some of the charges and themes are indeed concerns held by
honest folk and are therefore in need of addressing:
Here are a few comments I see popping up that I would like to address:
You’re trying to take away our livelihoods.
The conflict is not between workers and Greenpeace, or between jobs and
environmentalism. It is about what kind of a future we want for our children.
Do we saddle them with climate chaos, un-breathable air and poisoned water?
What kind of an economy do we build for them? We need long-term jobs that are
sustainable and in sync with our environment – that is the only real job
security we can have in today’s global economy. We’ve shown [PDF]
that Alberta could thrive as a renewable energy superpower, with green jobs that
don’t devastate our environment and are part of the solution to global warming
and not the problem.
Canada’s economy is healthy because of the tar sands and you want to endanger it
by shutting them down.
It is true that Canada’s economy, largely viewed as having survived the last
economic downturn better than most, is increasingly reliant on oil revenues.
This is actually probably the biggest threat to our economy – we’re increasingly
putting all of our eggs into one basket; and that basket, the tar sands, has
some major faults. As superpowers like the USA build a clean energy
infrastructure and begin to recognize the benefits of renewable energy and as
the global community intensifies their efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, tar
sands oil will increasingly become a global pariah.
You endanger the safety of workers and activists to prove your point.
Safety is paramount in all our actions for workers and activists alike. We take
great measures to meet applicable health and safety regulations in the
workplace, to provide appropriate safety equipment, mitigate against violence
and to ensure that no worker is ever threatened of placed in harm’s way. If we
can’t assure that, we don’t proceed.
The Canadian Tar Sands are not a significant contributor to worldwide greenhouse
gas emissions. Why aren’t you going after the real culprits, the US and China?
In a word, we are. Our colleagues in our US and China offices are campaigning
hard to get their leaders to come to the table to work out a climate deal in
Copenhagen. But make no mistake: Canada is a major part of the global warming
problem and the tar sands are a major contributor to Canada’s emissions. Canada
is the 8th largest emitter of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) in the world and the tar
sands are the fastest growing source of GHG emissions in Canada. During a period
where Canada is legally bound to reduce its GHG emissions by 6 per cent below
1990 levels, we have increased them by 26 per cent and Alberta and Saskatchewan
has by 43 per cent and 72 per cent respectively. Rather than shirking our
responsibilities under the screen of finger pointing we need to get our own
house in order. If every leader chooses to point fingers come Copenhagen and no
climate leader steps forward, we are dooming our children to an unspeakable
Greenpeace activists are tourists from other countries telling Albertans how to
exploit their resources.
This is the government line from the premier of Alberta himself. Duly focus
tested, he dredges up historic grievances that divide our country in order to
diminish our actions. But global warming is changing not just our climate but
also our culture and our worldview. No longer do we have the luxury of our
“backyard” extending to a provincial boundary or a national border. Greenhouse
gas emissions impact on cyclones in Manila, drought in the Australian outback
and flooding in Bangladesh.
Greenpeace contributes to global warming by driving/flying to the action.
Yes, life does create a carbon footprint. And that is why Greenpeace is reducing
its own footprint. Our offices are increasingly energy efficient, we purchase
offsets and we have moved to renewable energy sources like geothermal in our
headquarters. We are not asking anything of industry and government we are not
willing to do ourselves. Nor do we expect life to come to a halt and to live in
Stopping whining, talk about the solutions not the problems.
Greenpeace is about solutions. To simply expose a problem without a
corresponding solution would be the most cynical and depressing thing we could
do. But the fact is, our solutions work doesn’t get a lot of publicity. For
example, many of the news agencies that complain about our actions failed to
report on our Energy [R}evolution report this spring: a comprehensive
alternative energy program for Canada that would see us reduce GHGs by 80% by
2050 without tar sands, coal or nuclear saving consumers some $20 billion in the
process. No front-page news there in the Calgary Herald. Did you know Greenpeace
invented Greenfreeze? It’s a natural refrigerant that is both ozone AND climate
friendly and helped Greenpeace win a United Nations award for our work on ozone
protection. Today, there are 300 million natural refrigerant units in use
worldwide. Solutions don’t sell newspapers but it won’t stop us from campaigning
to implement them.
Peaceful civil disobedience is a time-honored tool that has brought about
massive change in our history. The creation of the world’s largest democracy, an
end to apartheid, and the civil rights movement as well as smaller yet
fundamental victories like the protection of Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest or
an end to dumping nuclear waste in our oceans. But it is just one tool of many
that Greenpeace will utilize in our efforts to stop global warming, get the
toughest agreement possible in Copenhagen and stop the tar sands. Stay tuned.
If you want to take action now, call your MP and ask them what their party is
doing to stop the tar sands. Ask them if they’ve signed on to the KYOTOplus plan
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And the next time you see a misinformed
comment after a news story, feel free to jump into the conversation.
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