I was talking to a man, vociferously against the Woodfibre LNG plant, while he drove me around in his SUV. I wanted to ask him why he had such a liking for his diesel-guzzling SUV if he believed fossil fuels could ruin the world. I restrained myself, realising the utter simplicity of my question. It was just an unprocessed thought provoked by his loud arguments. While he spoke incessantly on the corporate greed, my mind went elsewhere. I began thinking of my own carbon footprints. Almost everything I do involves something made of petroleum. If one is required to give up fossil fuels before one argues against the fossil-fuel economy, there will hardly be any protestors.
Fossil fuels have slowly become an essential part of our daily life. If you give up fossil fuel, you give up life as well. If the macroeconomic policies don’t change, if the government does not discourage rampant production and use of fossil fuels, what use one person giving up his SUV in a small town?
But then I suddenly remembered Katherine Taylor. She was a retired American writer, professor and activist who had started a restaurant in a small town in a northern state in the sixties. Though she was a vociferous civil-rights supporter like many of her white friends, she was ridiculed for her peculiar stance: she said she would continue the segregation at her restaurant as long as the laws were not changed. How would her abolishing the segregation matter, if the laws kept promoting it?
Please don’t Google Katherine Taylor. I made that up. But that day I believed what sounded illogical in hindsight might have sounded quite logical at that time. There might actually have been someone like Katherine Taylor. Maybe many.
What seems logical now might seem ridiculous 50 years later. It is specious to argue that one has no right to protest against LNG if one continues to use the fossil-fuel products. It is equally specious to say that one need not make even a symbolic gesture to back one’s point.
This brings us to the raging debates Squamish has been witnessing for more than one year. The people who protest against the plant are up against a corporate behemoth and a government they suspect wants the plant at any cost. I have heard many say that a large number of people silently favour the plant. The silent groups often have their own ways of making sense of things. Someone told me if activists themselves cannot do without their SUVs how they can expect the world to do without fossil fuels. It seems the protestors have a far bigger job than they had expected. For a convincing critique of LNG, and for making others see their point, they will have to walk their talk. Excuse the pun.
After talking to a lot of people, I realised the Woodfibre issue cannot be reduced to the LNG debate. There must be people who don’t mind fossil fuels too much but don’t want the plant in Squamish for that will spoil the view. And those who are against fossil fuels but not in the anti-SUV or anti-Woodfibre way. I have met many who care little for the big issues but are scared that the plant might endanger the town in some way.
For every argument, Google can help you find a counter-argument. For one kind of scientist or expert, there are dozens of the other kind. Protestors must zoom in on the plant and what it does or plans to do, overtly and covertly. Those who are in favour of the plant won’t lose anything at all if they support the anti-Woodfibre protestors over the specifics. Let the strong views collide and arguments clash, but Squamish must ensure one thing: the high and the mighty must face the people power.