Ecojustice Blog – Climate change, Healthy communities Posted on May 1, 2013 (updated: February 17, 2015)

What would the humpback whales sing?

Kimberly Shearon headshotKimberly ShearonStaff

As technical hearings on Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline wind down, Ecojustice’s Tim Leadem reflects on what’s at stake. PRINCE RUPERT, B.C. — I am sitting in a hearing room where scientists are droning on about using sophisticated mathematical and computer modelling to predict the effects of an oil spill on British Columbia’s north coast. Outside it is sunny and the mountains across the harbour are losing their last vestiges of snow in the warming spring air that has finally arrived in the North.  And I cannot help but reflect on the arrogance of humans. Grandiose proposals like Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline put so much at risk — the project could have disastrous effects upon the environment, countless coastal communities, and our collective cultures — and yet here we are debating mathematical models. These models are like a means to take the environment and people like you and I out of the equation. After all, it is so easy to approve something once it is reduced to numbers and equations that sound straightforward but are actually quite complex and difficult for most of us to fully grasp. But consider this: What song will the humpback whales sing about the potential increase in very large oil tankers roving up and down our coast? The Pacific humpback whale is one of the four at-risk species we’re trying to protect with a separate lawsuit, filed last fall. The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline would jeopardize the ability of dozens of at-risk species to survive and recover. Are we really asking the right questions about this project if the only answers we get are a jumble of graphs and charts assessing things like “risk management” and “emergency response systems”? The Northern Gateway pipeline proposal has vexed many of us for some time now.  The enormity of the proposed project and the risk it poses to “Beautiful B.C.” have been discussed, debated and explored for several years now. Soon it will be time for the joint review panel to write up their advice to Cabinet which, since the passage of legislation last summer, has the last word on whether this project will proceed. We’ll all be watching and waiting — along with the humpback whales and all other species that could be potentially affected by this project — to see what happens next.  Let us hope that we humans choose to proceed wisely and carefully.

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