My name is Meredith, a Welsh name meaning “guardian of the sea”. I am speaking today to voice my vehement opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline project and to share some of my story.
I came to North Beach, Haida Gwaii ten years ago and I stayed because it felt wild and clean and safe. My son was born five years ago in Queen Charlotte Hospital. His name is Fisher because no matter where he goes in his life and in this world, we want his name to always connect him to this land and to this coast, where the health of the sea determines the health of this ecosystem as a whole. Fisher eats regularly from our front yard. He knows when to set the traps for Dungeness crabs, he can dig razor clams with his bare hands, he invents recipes with seaweed and kelp and we brave hurricane force winds at night with headlamps to harvest rock scallops and cockles that wash up in front of our house. Like many children in this community, Fisher is well versed in the issues of pollution and climate change, and he can identify more plants, animals and constellations than most adults. And Fisher is also well versed in the aspects of proactive personal responsibility that go hand in hand with the reactive nature of protest. Our electricity at home is derived from the wind and the sun, we give thanks at meals for the local bounty on our plates, he knows about supporting local economies and bartering, and he doesn’t think that driving around with used vegetable oil in the fuel tank is funny or unusual. He is developing a deep and uncomplicated relationship with his natural world, and his delight is palpable when he makes a new discovery in his surroundings.
He has nothing to fear in this place. This for me is the greatest immediate risk of such a project. That we will have to live with fear, waiting for the morning when we hear that a very large crude carrier has lost its cargo to our coastline. Every winter storm will bring with it a feeling of dread that maybe this will be the day.
Before coming to Haida Gwaii I worked with Greenpeace International for 13 years. In 2002, as crew onboard the Rainbow Warrior, we were called to respond to the sinking of the oil tanker MV Prestige off the coast of Spain. After suffering damage in a storm the ship spilt in half and lost around 20 million gallons of oil, which washed up all along the coastline of Spain and Portugal. We came into port in A Coruna in Galicia where we were met by thousands of angry and desperate citizens, cheering and relieved that someone was finally paying attention to their ongoing struggle against political apathy towards their environment and their source of livelihood, the fishing industry. We picked up some journalists, scientists and activists and set out to find the worst concentration of the spill. As we neared what we thought was the epicenter the captain sent me up the mast to the crow’s nest to keep a lookout for the slick. After hours of searching I finally saw, far in the distance, that the sea state had changed. We were sailing through a heavy chop but a great patch of calm loomed ahead of us. The oil had literally subdued the ocean, made it docile, lethargic and heavy. As we approached the spill our ship was forced, under penalty of arrest, to stay out of the boundaries imposed by the Spanish authorities. After a day of cat and mouse chase we managed to get our small inflatable boats into the area and our helicopter over the spill so that the journalists had a chance to document the images that were broadcast through news agencies internationally. Being in that slick was one of the eeriest experiences of my life. It was as if the ocean was being suffocated. I have never been anywhere since that felt so void of life. This turned out to be the worst environmental disaster in both Spain and Portugal’s history with massive repercussions to both the fishing and tourism industries, and long-term health consequences for many of the people who participated in the clean up.
In 1999 I worked with an African American community in Lake Charles, Louisiana in an area of the states known as Cancer Alley. The town’s population was being decimated by cancer caused by dioxin and other industrial effluent dumped into the Mississippi River. A drive through the impoverished town showed maybe a third of the houses abandoned, not because people were leaving – where would they go? – but because they were dead. I watched old guys fishing on the riverbanks, knowingly catching and eating poisoned fish, clinging to their way of life. The term environmental racism was coined upon the realization that in the US it is poor and marginalized black and native communities that are the innocent victims of unregulated industrial pollution. I have travelled on the Amazon River from Belem to Manaus campaigning and blockading to put pressure on multinationals pillaging the rainforests. I spent weeks in the winter living in a little pod on the ice in the Beaufort Sea during the construction of one of British Petroleum’s undersea pipelines, hoping to illustrate to the world the impossibility of any clean up should the pipeline rupture under seven feet of ice. I have blockaded a US ship in Japan secretly carrying PCB’s for disposal, and a ship carrying newsprint made of pulp from old growth trees from our coastal rainforests, I have blockaded roads leading into pristine watersheds slated for clear-cut logging, I have knocked on doors and marched in cities and signed petitions and written to my MP’s. I have been tear gassed by riot police in two countries and arrested for environmental activism seven times in four countries. I have witnessed the effects of industrial mayhem on five continents.
I have lived and fought for years with grief from the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness trying to stem the drive of industry. I got really tired of fighting so I settled down and found a home. But now this danger is threatening my home and I won’t sit this one out.
I will fight.
My son Fisher is sitting here with me today because I want him to know that I tried. When he helps me raise wind turbines and hook up solar panels for our neighbours, he’ll know that we tried. And when he watches me get dragged off to jail for protesting the Northern Gateway Pipeline project, he’ll remember that I tried. And if that day does come when we have to put on HAZMAT suits to try and clean up the beaches, we will at least be able to say we tried.
With respect to the panel members as individuals, I find it difficult to believe in the relevance of this review process and nearly withdrew my registration to speak. The message I have for you to add to your review is one more resounding NO. But I am not really speaking today to the Joint Review Panel. I am speaking to my community and to my son. I stand in solidarity with all of the voices and stories and promises and opposition that I have heard and read during these hearings, and I will stand in support of the greater movement to protect this wilderness, at any cost.