I live at the open end of a fjord called Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound, on the south coast of British Columbia. It is a broad mouthed inlet that narrows as you head 45 kilometers up towards Squamish. It is home to a small archipelago of islands and some small villages and towns. The inlet has been recovering from massive industrial abuse for most of the last 100 years, mostly from horrendas mining and logging practices, and now we have herring, sea lions, seals, whales, dolphins and porpoises and even more important sea life, like extremely rare glass sponge reefs and healthy plankton blooms. showing up in ever increasing numbers. You can read more about this amazing place and its citizen-led recovery at the Howe Sound Marine Guide Átl’?a7tsem/Howe Sound Marine Stewardship Initiative website. This place is so special that last year the inlet was named Canada 19th UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
The inlet forms most of the southern half of Skwxwú7mesh-ulh Temíxw and the Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation Government) is playing an increasingly important role in the jurisdiction and stewardship of this place, as is right. The Nation is the only government whose jurisdiction maps most precisely on the whole of the ecosystem, from mountain tops to the ocean floor from the source to the Strait of Georgia, and they are the government with by far the longest tenure in this place, dating back tens of thousands of years, into time immemorial. The deepest stories about this place extend into the Squamish period of history that was dominated by the Transformer brothers Xaay Xaays and the supernatural beings that formed and transformed the earth.
Next week, the proponents of Woodfibre LNG will be presenting to our Council on Bowen Island. I’m not sure what they will say, but I do know that it is important to be on the record opposing the project. This blog post will be my submission to Council.
I am opposed to any new fossil fuel infrastructure development. Anything that helps add to the amount of fossils fuels being burned is a contribution towards the increasingly likely potential that we will propagate an extinction level event on our home planet.
The Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw has entered into a benefits agreement with Woodfibre LNG and the Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw environmental review process has approved the construction of the project. The company has worked with the Nation to mitigate the impact of the development at Swiyát, which is an especially significant place for herring spawning. I want to go on record as saying that I don’t blame the Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw one bit for this decision. They have been clear from the beginning taht development in the territories needs to to meet their standards, and this development has done that. They have been transparent about their process and they have made decisions in the best interests of the Nation.
Since European contact, the Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw and its constituent communities and leaders have been systemically and deliberately denied the opportunity to benefit from economic activity within the territory. The fact that they have asserted this right and signed an impact agreement worth more than $1 billion is good. In fact, it is surprising and shocking that ANY economic activity at all happens within Squamish Nation territories without some benefit accruing to the Nation.
Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw. is entirely within its rights to review and approve the project from the perspective of their. environmental and economic interests. This is a key part of the principle of free prior and informed consent recognized under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and it stand as an example to all of us who operate in these territories. If you aren’t already contributing something to the Nation as a person who “lives, works and plays” here, then it might be time to consider how you too can share your benefits with the traditional and historic owners of this territory.
The major objection I have to Woodfibre LNG is the fact that it introduces new fossil fuels into the earth’s atmosphere, at a time when we are confronting an existential crises on this planet. Woodfibre LNG will tell you that this is a clean project because it uses hydroelectricity for its operations. However, it fails to take any responsibility for the amount of LNG being shipped through the facility and burned in the world. This is like saying there has never been a fatality in a bomb factory, and therefore there has never been a more benign bomb factory. It fails to take into account the cumulative effect of the burning of new amounts of liquid natural gas over the lifetime of the project. I have asked the company what the estimates are for the amount of carbon added to the atmosphere from the gas shipped through Woodfibre, and if they reply I will update this post to reflect that. At the very least, the facility is intended to ship 2.7 million tons of LNG a year which, when burned, will produce about 2.76 times that amount, or 7,452,000 tons of CO2 without taking into consideration the supply chain emissions, or more importantly direct leaks and emissions of methane into the atmosphere. That Woodfibre is run on electricity is merely one dent an overall supply chain that uses and emits the gas that it mines.
We should not be building new fossil fuel infrastructure at all at this point in time. We have long since passed the the time when we should have stopped. All of us now need to stand in the face of our descendents and the future impacts of life on the planet and admit that at the very least, we didn’t do enough in a timely manner to address this issue. But some of us will need to say more. That even when we knew what negative impact we could expect from the short term gain we championed, we did it anyway.