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CONTRIBUTION · 14th December 2012
Fram Dinshaw
Written by: Carrie Saxifrage, Tzeporah Berman, Alexis Stoymenoff, Jenny Uechi, David P. Ball, and Beth Hong. Photography by Andrew S. Wright.
Edited by: Linda Solomon, Fram Dinshaw

As we approach the end of 2012 Planet Earth is a condemned prisoner, sentenced to death and strapped into an electric chair, gasping its last, terrified breath as it awaits a final throw of the switch to burn it alive.

The execution switch is none other than oil sands development, which companies like Enbridge want to export to markets in Asia by building pipelines through B.C. to tanker terminals, from where oil can be shipped to markets in China and other countries.

Most notable is Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline, which if built would pass through B.C’s Great Bear Rainforest, and is now ground zero in a battle whose outcome could mean life or death for planet Earth, according to experts like climatologist James Hansen and founder Bill McKibben.

That’s according to the Vancouver Observer’s new release Extract: The Pipeline Wars, an explosive, shocking warning that if the pipeline goes ahead, it’s checkmate for climate change as Earth’s icecaps melt, oceans rise, and ultimately people and animals die as billions of tons of greenhouse gases are pumped into the sky.

As for the B.C. coast, with its pristine forests and wildlife from whales to salmon, it could all drown in a sea of oil unleashed by pipeline leaks or tanker spills.

“While at first it was contained within Prince William Sound, the oil eventually made its way far past the spill site, covering 2,100 kilometres of coastline and 28,000 square kilometres of ocean. For a regional economy that had always depended on fishing and tourism, the impact of this horrific event could barely be imagined,” (from p. 65).

That was just from one tanker – the Exxon Valdez – when it ran aground off Alaska in 1989, and that was devastating enough for people and animals caught in its path. But there could soon be whole queues of tankers off the Great Bear coast – an ecological Chernobyl waiting to blow.

Extract is the final result of one year’s in-depth reporting by a team of VO reporters, and is written in an easy to read, engaging, and fluid style that grips a reader from the first lines. Its opening chapters flash between people living in Northern Gateway’s path and big oil executives planning it out, like a recurring, terrifying nightmare that makes you wake up screaming every time.

It then builds up like a deafening staccato rhythm to its dark finale, spelling out in no uncertain terms what this pipeline, and others in the works, will do to both B.C.’s environment and Earth’s climate. All in all, it slams you like a left hook from an MMA fighter.

But Extract is not meant simply to terrify, but forces people to ask: at what price is development? Is it worth bulldozing and digging up one of the world’s last remaining temperate rainforests for the sake of a few jobs?

Not only that, BC is home to powerful environmental groups including North America’s only Green Party seat, alongside mention First Nations bands who’ve lived on the land for centuries.

Any struggle between Big Oil and Big Environment could yet turn ugly if the pipeline is built, something that Extract only touches on briefly, but is well worth exploring in much more detail.

That’s because peaceful protests against Northern Gateway could escalate into violent clashes, perhaps even an Iraqi-style insurgency along the pipeline’s route in coming years, including bomb attacks and killings. Don’t forget B.C.’s forested mountains are perfect for guerrilla warfare. Such a result would be a political and social disaster for Canada.

Our second choice is developing Canada’s economy by scrapping Northern Gateway and instead investing our millions in ‘Green Collar’ jobs, such as solar, geothermal, or wind energy? This will create thousands of new, sustainable, long-term jobs too. Good news indeed for a global economy still struggling with recession, not to mention preserving Canada’s values of Peace, Order, and Good Government.

Extract needn’t be a prophecy set in stone of destroyed forests, polluted seas, and rising temperatures. Rather it’s a signpost at a crossroads giving us two choices for the future: continued reliance on fossil fuels that could well destroy human civilization and trigger a mass extinction not seen since the dinosaurs; or weaning ourselves off oil to more eco-friendly energy sources, which can preserve both BC’s beauty and our planet for future generations.

A timely reminder for us to think outside the box in stopping climate change, Extract’s message could be made even stronger by adding some more pictures of the Great Bear Forest and its unique wildlife, contrasting them with oil wells, pipelines, and shots of tar sand oil extraction.

For now, apocalyptic visions of a burning planet will have to do. Buy this book. Strap yourself in. Best keep those beta-blockers handy. For it will set your heart racing, and you’ll sweat bullets as if you yourself are strapped down on that electric chair. But there’s still time to grant both our planet and ourselves one final reprieve from the death sentence of global warming.