The proposal for an oil pipeline across Canada’s north is not the issue that should be up for debate, says Bishop Gary Gordon, right. It’s our over-reliance on oil. CNS photo

Over-consumption of oil products, not the pipeline, is the real issue

  • August 31, 2012

It isn’t the construction of the Northern Gateway pipeline that raises great concern for Bishop Gary Gordon. Rather it is the perception that the pipeline is necessary in the first place.

Gordon, bishop of the Whitehorse diocese, said the proposed pipeline symbolizes society’s relentless hunger for oil, and that worries him.

“We’ve got a great problem with the sin of coveting and we export it all over the world,” said Gordon. “That’s kind of a root issue, we’re being driven by an insatiable need to have more but it’s not solving our deepest yearning and hungers.”

Enbridge has been working on its pipeline proposal since the early 2000s but didn’t formally make a public announcement until 2006. The project currently aims to build a 1,177 km sub-surface pipeline from Bruderheim, Alta., to Kitimat, B.C., and its port on the Pacific Ocean.

Since plans were announced, numerous parties have voiced environmental concerns, citing deforestation, wildlife habitat destruction and potential Pacific coast spills due to the treacherous waters near the port.

The religious voice has not been silent either. Recently the United Church of Canada, the country’s largest Protestant denomination at about three million strong, publicly opposed the pipeline expressing similar fears. And the Anglican bishops of British Columbia and the Yukon issued a statement questioning the integrity of the pipeline’s environmental impacts, while Presbyterians representing 28 parishes in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland also made their voice heard. They wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper criticizing the government for weakening environmental reviews, citing the same concerns as their United and Anglican brethren.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is still considering if it will release a public statement regarding the issue. The matter came up for discussion Aug. 22 when the CCCB executive met outside Calgary, but there has been no public comment to date.

But there’s still a missing piece of the puzzle, said Gordon, and that makes things more problematic.

“I don’t know if we (should be) taking a position of opposing it. We (should be) taking a position of let’s give this a longer second look and a longer view on the real outcomes for Canadians,” he said, hoping the CCCB takes this stance. “We need to check our consumption and figure out a more simple way of living.”

Gordon’s not saying that we need to abandon every byproduct of the oil industry — he isn’t willing to give up his V8 4X4 Toyota Tundra and doesn’t expect anyone else in North America to ditch their ride. Rather, he’s suggesting that we re-evaluate how we use, and at what rate we consume, oil-based goods such as gasoline.

It’s an idea wholeheartedly supported by Dennis Patrick O’Hara, director of the Elliot Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology, as well as an assistant professor of theology, at Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College.

“We wouldn’t be needing some of these (pipelines) if people weren’t consuming so much and if people weren’t so wasteful with resources,” said O’Hara, adding that oil companies are not to blame.

“We’re building this (pipeline) because we have a voracious appetite for this oil. That’s a part of the conversation that I’m not seeing or hearing.”

According to Statistics Canada, the annual gross sale of gasoline rose by 1.5 per cent in 2011 to 42.1 billion litres, marking the third consecutive increase despite prices rising at the pumps for Canadians.

This statistic highlights O’Hara’s, and Gordon’s, point that what is good for the economy is not always good for the environment — a point both men said is hard for Canadians to fully grasp.

“We have a petroleum-based economy and that’s not going to be changed overnight,” said O’Hara.

While profits are measured quarterly, the payoffs of environmentally friendly living aren’t truly seen for many years.

“We’ve got a cultural mindset that is set against, it is contrary, to the very thinking that we need for the kind of issues that we have now,” said O’Hara. “With climate change you improve your behaviour and you’ll see the benefits about 35 years later. It’s not that if you behave well today things are going to be better tomorrow.

“Things are actually going to get worse before we see the benefits and things getting better.”

A necessary commitment to consumption reduction Gordon said will only be successful if parishioners, who are the consumers, have their parish’s support.

“We’re shepherds of souls,” said the bishop. “The sacrifices of a simpler life are quite daunting for most of us.”

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