“The more we exploit nature, the more our options are reduced, until we have only one: to fight for survival.” (Morris Udall)
“What is the good of having a nice house without a decent planet to put it on?” (Thoreau)
“We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment.”
Squamish is currently wrestling with the difficult moral, economic and environmental questions around a proposed liquid natural gas (LNG) plant along the shores of the recently revivified and somewhat healed Howe Sound waters. There is no shortage of opposition to this project as can be seen in articles from the Georgia Straight, Squamish Chief, Vancouver Observer, The Tyee, Globe and Mail, Huffington Post and a Facebook Page titled No to LNG – Squamish which currently has nearly 5000 likes. This proposed re-industrialization of Howe Sound, in combination with other proposals, has also generated new concerns and opposition if its own. Although the Woodfibre Liquid Natural Gas project also has it’s proponents, this article is not about presenting any sort of balanced coverage and so there are no links to any articles supporting the project. This post is about my own personal reasons for opposing the Woodfibre Liquid Natural Gas Plant on the shores of Howe Sound and near the small mountain community of Squamish BC – my home.
The communities of Howe Sound have already been through decades of polluted waters, reduced salmon stocks, reduced whale populations and other damaging effects of a mining operation at Britannia Beach which operated from 1905 to 1974. Cleaning up the devastating environmental damage from those decades of copper mining effluent polluting our waters has been a long and costly process. But this cleanup effort has been a resounding success and to the amazement of many, whales and dolphins have become a regular occurrence again in the waters around Squamish and Howe Sound. Although past environmental regulations and oversight were nothing like what we have today, and the potentially damaging effects of a mine vs an LNG plant may not be comparable, there is still a potential risk to the environment if the LNG plant and subsequent increase in tanker traffic goes ahead. And regardless of the size of this potential environmental risk, an LNG plant INCREASES the probability of environmental damage and INCREASES the chances of a plant catastrophe with potentially devastating long-term environmental and economic effects to Squamish.
Summary of My Opposition to the LNG Plant:
Reason 1: I am opposed to the Woodfibre Liquid Natural Gas Plant on moral grounds – it is the RIGHT thing for me to do since I value the health of the planet and our local environment far more than personal employment opportunities or economic development.
Reason 2: I am opposed to the Woodfibre Liquid Natural Gas Plant because I believe we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels as an energy source, in order to create a sustainable future for the planet.
Reason 3: I am opposed to the Woodfibre Liquid Natural Gas Plant because it would contradict the growing reputation and image we are presenting to the world as being an environmentally conscious community.
No doubt this is a complex topic with at least the potential for impacting many areas of our lives, community and certainly the environment. I certainly do not claim to be an “expert” in any of these areas, and I am certainly not an expert on the production of LNG. One thing I used to be an “expert” on is statistics and research – I may even still be listed as a preferred vendor for statistical consulting to the BC government. Therefore, my past work, education and experience in scientific research and statistical consulting has led me to having a tendency towards critical thinking and often looking at things from a simple and statistical perspective. But you don’t need to be a statistician to understand the simple arguments I have for opposing the Woodfibre Liguid Natural Gas plant in Howe Sound.
Since many in Squamish are sharing their views and opinions on the LNG, as we all should, here is what it boils down to for me personally as I consider the reasons why I am opposed to LNG (or any potentially environmentally destructive industry).
Reason 1 (Moral Obligation):
“The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.” (Einstein)
Regardless of your understanding, or beliefs around the potential environmental risks to Squamish and Howe Sound, there is one way of looking at this which is irrefutable: More industry and more shipping of potentially environmentally damaging products in Howe Sound INCREASES the probability of environmental damage. This is an irrefutable statistical fact and beyond argument. However, what we can argue over is how large is that increased risk and whether those increased risks outweigh the potential economic benefits to the community. The answers to either of those questions are not simple since the first one depends on many conflicting sources of evidence, many unmeasurable and unknown facts and of course the second question comes down to a philosophical issue/debate between different personal/social value systems – which do you/we value more, the environment or economic development?
For me personally, the short-term and more importantly long-term environmental health of our planet is not only a moral obligation (it’s the right thing to do) but an existential one (If we screw-up our home beyond a certain point we all die – simple as that). I would rather be on the side trying to REDUCE the damage we cause to our environment and planet rather than support something which irrefutably increases the potential to contribute to its demise.
I do not support LNG production in Squamish because I value this planet, my home in Squamish and all life in general, far more than money.
Reason 2 (Dependence on Fossil Fuels):
“The truth is, as most of us know, that global warming is real and humans are major contributors, mainly because we wastefully burn fossil fuels.” (David Suzuki)
This one could become a thesis on its own and I admit to having only a superficial understanding and most of it based on media and research reports culled from online sources. Our planet appears to be struggling under the effects of climate change and at least some research seems to indicate that previous estimates of those effects were UNDER estimates. Apparently the single greatest contributing factor to these climate effects is the burning and production of fossil fuels. Therefore, if you accept this premise (humans and the burning/production of fossil fuels are impacting climate change), then as an LNG proponent you can’t also honestly or rationally claim a legitimate concern for the welfare of the planet, or the local environment – you can’t have it both ways. Claiming we are an “intelligent” species with an elevated moral concern for the welfare of the planet and all life on it while immorally raping the ground we live on and the air we breathe (by supporting the industries), the home we all share, the planet we need in order to survive, is a hypocrisy of epic proportions.
Also, ongoing and increased dependence on fossil fuels is a fool’s game since our supplies are of course limited. Supporting ongoing or increased dependence on fossil fuels runs contrary to my personal desire to contribute something positive to this planet before I die. Supporting ongoing or increased dependence on fossil fuels runs contrary to my deep, personal and spiritual love of Squamish, this planet and all life.
I do not support LNG production in Squamish because I believe we must reduce, and not increase our dependence on fossil fuels for the sake of planet and future generations.
Reason 3 (Squamish’s Growing Global Recognition):
“Hypocrisy is not a way of getting back to the moral high ground. Pretending you’re moral, saying your moral is not the same as acting morally.” (Alan Dershowitz)
Most of us are probably pretty excited about Squamish’s increased recognition globally and our recent listing as one of the top 52 places to visit in the world in the New York Times was certainly flattering – I sure felt proud, once again, to call Squamish my home. But we should be asking what it is about Squamish that is “fueling” this increased recognition? Is it our expanding economic base? Probably not. Is it our increasingly diversified demographics? Probably not. Is it our accessible, spectacular and pristine natural environment, mountain vistas, diverse outdoor recreation opportunities and revivified ocean environment so close to two major urban areas, Vancouver and Whistler? I am betting this is one of the key factors which is contributing to our growing popularity on the world stage. So why the hell would we want to do something that is the antithesis of our growing global image of being an environmentally conscious community?
“How could it be — especially in the middle of the splendour of Squamish’s natural environment — that we could find ourselves even considering a LNG facility next to our ocean?” (G. Elijah Dann)
“This “re-industrialization of Howe Sound” is a step backwards into the past.” (Eoin Finn)
How could we possibly support an industry which is known for it’s damaging climate-change-effects, use of controversial fracking methods and which introduces an increased risk of local environmental damage, when we also want the world to respect us for our love for and protection of, the environment?
I do not support LNG production in Squamish since it would be a blemish, a contradiction, to the basis of our growing recognition of Squamish being a pristine wilderness and outdoor recreation destination. An LNG plant would diminish, even contradict our image of a pristine wilderness and outdoor recreation destination where we as a community claim a love and respect for the environment.
I love Squamish more than I can say in just words alone. Most of the profound spiritual experiences of my life occurred during the decade and more I spent climbing (and falling) on the Chief in the 80’s and 90’s – this is why my home can see the Chief (my Spirit Rock) from every window. And as much as I love our town, our pristine wilderness and even our growing global recognition, the LNG plant is (likely) a done deal since it falls outside of the town’s jurisdiction, the area is zoned for the industry and so long as the owners meet all government and environmental regulations we will likely soon see increased tanker traffic and a new industrial blemish along our waterways. All we can do then is hope that the statistical odds of a tanker spill or plant catastrophe don’t catch up with us and that the hypocrisy, the contradiction of placing an ugly and potentially polluting LNG plant along the shores of Howe Sound, do not effect our growing global recognition as a community with respect for the environment.
And for those of you who once stood for the many great things which this community represents, but who have now become puppets to your new employer’s economic visions, do yourself and all of us a favor and admit to your hypocrisy. If you are trying to simultaneously argue for LNG while claiming a love of the environment and this planet, you won’t find any believers among the honest, the rational or the morally-conscious among us.
If you are going to support LNG, admit to the true nature of your values. You have chosen (potential) economic benefits either for yourself or the community, over the (potential) benefits to the environment of Squamish and the planet as a whole. If you truly believe in your choice, if you are truly confident in your beliefs, then show some integrity and admit that you have placed those economic beliefs and values ahead of any claimed convictions you may hold for the health of our planet and the environment. You can’t have it both ways without appearing disingenuous and hypocritical.
Ramblings by the Old Mystic Dude – “It’s just like my opinion man”
The photo below is from one of my favorite spots to meditate in Squamish, the top of the Stawamus Chief where I spent over a decade climbing. I would much prefer not to have to accommodate the image of a new LNG plant or more large shipping vessels in the background of this most spectacular view.