by Steve Guntli
Dressed in a plush moose hat and a bright pink T-shirt and carrying large cardboard signs shaped like salmon, Adam Bennett managed to stand out in a crowd at Peace Arch Park that had no shortage of colorful characters. But while his outfit may have been unusual, his reason for being there was straightforward.
“I just love the earth,” Bennett said. “My whole family is here today, and we all care about what happens to the planet.”
Bennett was one of hundreds of environmental activists, students and tribal representatives who filled Peace Arch Park on September 20 for “Climate Change Knows No Borders,” a rally to protect the Salish Sea and raise awareness of climate change.
The rally was part of Four Days of Action, an activism and awareness program sponsored by the Nawt-sa-maat Alliance and organized by 350 Seattle, the Wilderness Committee and the Georgia Strait Alliance. The Nawt-sa-maat Alliance is made up of groups of indigenous peoples on both sides of the border dedicated to protecting the Salish Sea from environmental catastrophe.
The rally was one of the largest events of the Four Days of Action, a series of environmental rallies, marches and educational programs held throughout the Northwest September 19–22. In addition to the Peace Arch rally, organizers staged marches in Seattle and oil spill drills on Orcas Island.
The events culminated in the signing of the International Treaty to Protect the Sacredness of the Salish Sea. The treaty, which was signed by more than 30 tribal chiefs at the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in North Vancouver on September 22, unifies both the Nawt-sa-maat Alliance and the Coast Salish Nations on environmental protection issues.
The rally was organized partially in response to a proposal before the Port of Vancouver to expand the Kinder-Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline, which runs from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. The proposed expansion would add about 621 miles of twinned pipeline to the existing 715-mile line, increasing the capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000. As a result of the increased output, tanker traffic in the Salish Sea would increase from approximately five tankers per year to approximately 34. Much of the oil being transported would be a variety called “dilbit,” or diluted bitumen, which is essentially highly viscous crude oil diluted with a natural gas condensate to allow it to flow through pipelines. The Alberta tar sands are the source of the dilbit.
Dilbit differs from regular crude in that it sinks to the bottom if discharged into rivers or oceans. Cleanup of a dilbit spill is much more complicated than a regular crude oil spill.
Protestors raised concerns that not only could greater tanker traffic increase the possibility of a catastrophic oil spill, but the subsequent rise in oil and coal trains throughout the U.S. and Canada could also exacerbate the climate change issue over time.
Aerin Jacob, a professor of ecology at the University of Victoria, was in attendance to draw attention to the overuse of fossil fuels in the U.S. and Canada. Along with Verena Seufert and Sarah Klain, two doctoral candidates from the University of British Columbia, Jacob came to the rally dressed in a lab coat and holding a sign reading, “Those wacky scientists! Next they’ll say the world is round!”
“I study the balance between human life and the natural world,” Jacob said. “For example, if you cut down a forest, it has a very real and measurable impact on the rest of the ecosystem. That’s what we’re fighting for: real evidence over ideology.”
Jacob is part of a think tank of 70 Canadian scientists called the Sustainable Canada Dialogues, which is advising the national government on issues of environmental policy and urging them to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels. She is also the co-founder of Evidence for Democracy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving scientific autonomy in Canada.
The rally showcased several speakers, tribal dancers and musicians, including Dana Lyons, a nationally known folk artist and children’s book author based out of Bellingham.
“I’m just so thrilled to see so many people coming out here to save the environment,” Lyons said. “This just shows that we can really get our act together when we put our minds to it.”
For more information on the Nawt-sa-maat Alliance and its partner programs, visit protectthesacred.org.