Arms leaning against the lunch table he asks me about the pin on my backpack that says ‘No Toxic Tar Sands.’ I tell him that I am involved in activism geared towards halting the construction and operation of the South Arm of the Keystone XL Pipeline, a project that if completed will pump toxic tar sands oils from the boreal forests of Alberta Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Between bites of food he questions and I explain. He is curious, sympathetic, and slightly disappointed when I say that, although I know many who have, I have yet to lock myself to the machinery that is driving this project.
“This project is wrong. It doesn’t make sense economically, socially, or environmentally.” I say.
“Ok.” He says. “Then why is it happening?”
Stumbling over my words I try to convey that companies like TransCanada own big parts of the economic world, that global politics are driven by a culture of extraction that asks for more, more, more. There is a lump in my throat as I push my words out, a worry that I will be unable to explain this most critical idea.
“Yeah, yeah, I understand that.” He says. “But why is it happening if it doesn’t make sense? What is the alternative?”
“I don’t know.” I say. “But I know this project is wrong. I know that tar sands are wrong.”
I have been asked this question many times–what is the alternative. It is meant different ways. Sometimes it is an attack, a way of proving that I am ‘wrong’, idealistic, unrealistic. Sometimes it is said with puzzled confusion, a way of expressing the complications of our culture. Sometimes it is asked as an intellectual query, a way of inciting a pragmatic conversation about the moral implications of activism, environmentalism, and the ‘reality’ of living in a modern world.
I do not particularly like this question but I have been thinking a lot about its answer and have come to this–there are times in life to simply stand up for what you feel is wrong. Balanced intellectual discussion and consideration of the benefits of exploitation, extraction, and oppression has a place but it is not a reason to shy away from taking a stand. This kind of discussion can be dangerously debilitating–all of the shades of grey, costs and benefits can prevent action and stifle voice. There are many systems of oppression from which I benefit. The ‘alternative’ might not be easy, it might not always feel good but it might offer justice where justice is not currently found.
Our world is getting hotter. The very blood of our earth is being sucked dry, water and oil, earth and ice and ocean pulled roughly from her body. Perhaps we do not have an easy one-size-fits-all alternative but perhaps it’s time to stop what we’re doing and see what rises out of the ashes.
A friend recently told me that she had had enough.
“What if this is it?” She said. “What if this is the time where we say–actually no, no you cannot do that. Oil cannot flow through that pipeline.”
I don’t know why the pipeline is being built. It doesn’t make sense to me economically, socially, or environmentally. But I know it is wrong. And I know that even without clear answers about alternatives, even in a world where I fly in planes and drive cars and write this on a computer, I feel it is important to say,
Actually no, no you cannot do that. Oil cannot flow through that pipeline.
For more information on the work being done to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline visit http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/.