Hard to see humour in oil Gateway pipeline

An off-the wall joke, some absurd humour, can shine critical light on injustice, greed, stupidity.

Jack Emberly.

Jack Emberly.

Satire makes us re-evaluate behaviour that doesn’t make sense.

An off-the wall joke, some absurd humour, can shine critical light on injustice, greed, stupidity.

With all that’s wrong in the world, a good laugh is therapeutic.

In Jonathan Swift’s 1725 novel, Gulliver’s Travels, an Englishman is lost in the country of peace-loving horses called Houyhnhyms. A “yahoo,” or human, Gulliver embodies the question of whether power or moral values should guide society.

Representing the influential folk of his day, Gulliver offers his hosts the formula for gun-powder – get rich, rule their world. It’s rejected by the Houyhnhyms – they’ve got horse sense – who can’t comprehend the concept of greed, or lies, and see no use for weapons of mass destruction.

In 2006, Stephen Colbert, a modern comedic satirist, made George Bush the target of ridicule. At a White House Correspondents’ dinner, Colbert, the guest speaker, told Bush he supported him because he not only “stands for things”… “he stands on them,” a jab at Bush’s infamous 2003 “Mission Accomplished” speech as he stood on board the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. Many didn’t laugh, but Colbert had achieved his goal – to rekindle press interest in facts about Iraq that needed more critical play in the media. The war wasn’t over. Most casualties occurred after Bush proudly displayed his victory banner.

At first, it’s hard to see  humour in the Gateway pipeline proposal to carry oil across 800 miles of boreal forest to tankers bound for factories in China and California. There’s been a moratorium on tankers on the northwest coast since 1972. Spill containment booms would be useless. The Sierra Club notes Enbridge has no spill responsibility for the “200 tankers a year” that “would weave a hazardous path through an obstacle course of narrow, reef studded channels and inlets of B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest.”

Oil companies can’t replace killer whales or their habitat, but would they pay for a clean-up effort?

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons. The slick that couldn’t be contained even after three years destroyed a herring fishery that had existed for generations. Exxon, the  richest corporation in the world – 2011 sales of $404.5 billion – was fined $5 billion in a class action lawsuit. It fights that decision in court.

Pipeline ruptures are inevitable. Over 1,000 pristine streams and salmon bearing rivers, including the Skeena, could be lost forever by just one spill from the proposed Enbridge line .

On July 26, 2010, an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan poured 800,000 gallons of crude into the  Kalamazoo River. Clean-up costing hundreds of millions was suspended in November 2011 because of low sediment temperatures. Northern B.C. isn’t warmer.

Our government, undeterred by facts like these, barrels on in support of Enbridge while denouncing “radical environmentalists” and other pipeline “adversaries” whose only aim – they say – is to block trade and progress. These “radicals,” according to Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, are “a group of people who don’t take into account the facts (see the above, Joe), but are driven by ideological imperatives.” The list of those is growing.

Where are the B.C. Liberals on Enbridge? They’ll tell in 2013, when the environmental review panel wraps up. But B.C. Energy Minister, Rich Coleman hinted when he  criticized Terrace council last week for its negative vote on the pipeline.

Greenpeace is another negative group. It’s criticized the tar sands for “its social and health costs, pollution of the Athabasca River, air toxins, loss of farmland, removal of the Boreal Forest and the growth of greenhouse gases.”

ForestEthics, whose stated purpose is to protect ”wild places and human well-being,” is another idealistic, but practical opponent of the Gateway pipeline, and supertankers.

Time for one last bit of satire. In 2010, some folks in Stewart, B.C., got together with “radicals” from Michigan to illustrate the fact that oil spills in the northland could not be contained.

The result, an elaborate hoax, was orchestrated by Sean Devlin, from Vancouver. He explained it at Cinema Politica last month.

“We asked ourselves, what would Enbridge do to prepare for an oil leak. What would their response look like?”

The answer was the MyHairCaresProgram, which claimed a powerful, new clean-up method for oil spills. “We developed an oil spill strategy on behalf of Enbridge,” Devlin recalled.

Human hair, it seems, soaks up oil like a sponge. Containment booms made of hair would be utilized in the event of pipeline ruptures.

This hoax was swallowed by the media.

“There was a huge response,” Devlin said.

Newspapers, and TV stations in Canada and the U.S. ran the story as if it were fact. Countless salons offered free hair. Enbridge, unamused, denied everything.

But Devlin had accomplished his goal – to reboot critical thought about the risks of oil pipelines. Don’t believe any yahoo who says oil spills are containable.  In the early l960s, Brylcreem, a greasy gel for the ‘wet’ look  (a little dab’l do ya) convinced me that hair doesn’t absorb oil, and that JFK’s  ‘dry’ look was the only way to go.

It still is.


Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.