During the last few weeks, Burnaby Mountain in British Columbia, Canada, has been the site of intense protest activity against the extension of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline by the U.S. oil giant Kinder Morgan.
Environmental activism is not new in BC, as the number of natural resource exploitation proposals has been rising for a while now and people have been on alert about the consequences of potential environmental accidents that often accompany such projects. Just recently, the Northern Enbridge Pipeline proposal caused scientists from Canada and abroad to appeal to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reconsider the approval of the project; citizens of all backgrounds signed countless petitions.
The grassroots movement on Burnaby Mountain took the oil giant by surprise and set an example in strength and determination. From young to old, people of various backgrounds stepped out of their comfort zones and placed themselves between the oil giant and the land about to be tested for a future pipeline extension. Thanks to social media, the reverberations of this resistance will spread beyond the immediate community and throughout the wider world.
Grassroots movements set a precedent that is sorely needed in today’s world, where the threat of climate change, with its ill-fated plethora of irreversible effects on the planet, has become a reality we can no longer hide from. In the case of pipelines, spills are the most feared, more so when they transport oil from the already notorious tar sands in Alberta.
Burnaby’s mayor, Derek Corrigan, led the initial opposition to the pipeline extension in September of this year, but it was not enough to stop the testing procedures (borehole drilling). By October, the Kinder Morgan teams were back on Burnaby Mountain.
Except this time a group of well-determined citizens, including SFU’s Dr. Lynne Quarmby and professor Stephen Collins, were also present on site, standing up to protect park, trees and mountain together.
An injunction to prevent the protesting citizens was sought by Kinder Morgan and approved by a Burnaby court. Some of the protesters, Quarmby and Collins among them, found themselves charged with civil contempt and potentially millions of dollars in financial penalties.
Despite the charges, everyone stayed on the mountain. They were joined by others, including the Grand Chief of the BC Indian Chiefs, Stewart Phillip, well-known scientist and environmentalist David Suzuki and long-term environmental activist Jean McLaren.
Many arrests later (people crossed the line voluntarily, understanding that they would be arrested, Dr. Lynne Quarmby included), social media spread word of the Burnaby Mountain protest.
And then a miracle happened. A BC Supreme Court in Vancouver decided that all charges should be dropped and the oil giant should remove its heavy machinery and personnel off the mountain.
It was a victory of immense proportions, given the size of Kinder Morgan – a David and Goliath case that proves people care and can stand together united by a goal larger than themselves.
The encouraging take-home message of the protest on Burnaby Mountain, a battle that has been for now put on hold until early 2015, is one that needs to be heard: The planet we have is not to be abused for financial gain, and reliance on non-renewable resources must become a thing of the past, or else. This is being decided by ordinary citizens pressuring governments to make the right decision when it comes to natural resource exploitation projects that can have disastrous side effects.