Apples and Cherries and Oil Spills

By | July 29, 2016

Originally published as a column on July 29, 2016 in NewsKamloops. 

Up the street from where we live there is an apple tree loaded with apples to the point of having its branches snap under the weight. Plenty more are scattered on the grass. There is no one to ask about whether we could pick them so they won’t go to waste, and trespassing is not an option even if there is no fence.

Along one of the trails where I walk the dog there is a yard with a cherry tree where cherries now hang burgundy and withered. I got to see them beautifully red and inviting, until the cherry season almost passed. I took that trail daily hoping that I’d see someone and ask about picking. Again, nobody to ask, and the fruit went to waste.

But this is not a piece about food waste only but appreciation and gratefulness. For what we have and what we’re bound to lose if we’re not paying attention. Whether it is fruit that goes to waste when there are people right here in Kamloops, children included, who cannot afford healthy fares, or water that gets polluted and becomes toxic to the very communities it’s supposed to sustain, the trouble is the same: waste. In the latter case, waste in seen differently by those who cause it versus though who suffer from it.

That apples and cherries and oil spills could ever be connected like dots to reveal a surprising picture is hard to imagine, and yet I am attempting to do just that.

If you have been following the recent Husky pipeline oil spill in Saskatchewan in all its dirty bits, you know it cannot be left alone. Not when the possibility of a new Kinder Morgan pipeline passing through here is looming in the distance (hopefully not). Not when pipeline-related oil spills are happening when least expected (Kinder Morgan had seven spills in BC only since 2005, four of which involved volumes larger than 100,000 litres).

The approximately 250,000-litre spill in the North Saskatchewan River is no little thing. By now the oil made its way some 500 kilometres downstream and four communities along the way have declared state of emergency. The company is ‘deeply sorry’ and will take care of the financial side of the problem. That they call the spill a ‘pipeline release’ is disturbing and insulting.

There are two issues that that stand out with this spill.

The first is that a leak had been noticed 14 hours before the spill was reported. That is a lot of hours to do something to hopefully prevent a larger disaster. At least you can say you tried. They did not. While the initial story mentioned the 14-hour delay, a second version has now been released: no one really saw the leak. From guilty as charged, Husky swiftly becomes the responsible community employer that will try to remediate the ‘mistake’.

What gets a company off the hook easier: admitting that its staff should have and could have done something and they didn’t, or that they took all the appropriate measures but somehow they missed the leak? Accountability be damned, the PR team worked hard on this one and the Ministry of Environment rolls happily with it. Yes, Husky has already been praised for their stellar cooperation by the ministry, who perhaps forgot for the time being that they are called Ministry of Environment for a reason.

The second worrying issue is that the spill happened shortly after Husky restarted the flow of oil through its new extension pipeline. It was the old rickety pipeline that leaked or so they say, yet it is hard to avoid the obvious question: why so soon after the flow was reopened? Is that a known risk? We might never know if this could have been prevented since in 2014 the Ministry of Environment decided that there was no need for an Environmental Impact Assessment for the extension project. Choking yet?

Talk about a lesson being learned the hard way. Not by companies but by communities along the way. Except that those who pay the hardest price sometimes have the weakest voices sometimes. You see, being vocal enough to be heard and slick enough to be believed is often proportional with the finances tied to the issue.

There is but one conclusion: we do not have enough time for all the spills and carbon overload that can still happen with fossil fuels. A greener future must happen or else. We may not read much these days about climate change in our local and national news, except for the independent media outlets, but the 14 repeats of the hottest-month-on-record is one crazy reality that we should all think about.

Switching to alternative energy sources could not happen too soon. People are enthusiastic and willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work (and save money since the source is renewable). It would help immensely if the government, provincial and federal, would stop dancing with the same old rich partners and switch to the environmentally-responsible, albeit less rich ones that are waiting for their turn. It’d be about time.

So what is there to learn from cherries dried-up on the tree, scattered apples and oil spills? We only have so much that we can use in the time we’re given, and waste (of food and water and green clean spaces) is not an option. Not when there are alternatives.

Where to from here? Wherever our collective common sense takes us. The government, despite the occasional impositions, is still ruling over a democratic society so ideally we should function like one and demand that the right to make informed choices be respected.

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