Desmond Tutu: Opposition to pipelines is a moral choice

Ottawa Citizen - Desmond Tutu, May 9, 2014 -  As I travel the globe – witnessing first-hand the vulnerability of communities most affected by climate change, from South Africa to Canada – the urgency of our responsibility to take action has never been clearer. Every single day hundreds of millions of lives and livelihoods are affected by global warming, a trend that will inevitably and dramatically reduce the quality of life for future generations.

This is why I have become more outspoken in support of citizen-led strategies that will force governments and corporations to move away from our dependence upon fossil fuels and towards safer and cleaner energies that can protect people and our planet.

I stand in solidarity with communities across Canada and the United States that are opposing the proposed oil sands pipelines. The struggle of citizens against the pipelines puts them on the front lines of one of the most important struggles in North America today: stopping the reckless expansion of the oil sands.

The oil sands are emblematic of an era of high carbon and high risk fuels that must end if we are committed to a safer climate. Oil sands development not only devastates our shared climate, it is also stripping away the rights of First Nations and affected communities to protect their children, land and water from being poisoned.

Canada is now faced with a profoundly moral choice: Will the country embrace the oil industry’s plans for radical expansion of the oil sands and the pipelines that come with it, or will it slow down the frenzied rush and focus its efforts on another path that leads us as a global community in a more hopeful direction?

In communities across North America today the answer is clear: It is time to draw the line and take a stand. It is time to move away from polluting fossil fuels and towards a safer, cleaner energy future.

In the United States, people are rising up and saying “no” to the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline. The project is stalled amid growing concerns about the damage it could do to water, land and the global climate.

British Columbia First Nations, coastal communities, and millions of people across the country have created a united wall of opposition against the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

And now, TransCanada has proposed the Energy East pipeline. This is the latest pipeline to be facing mounting people-powered opposition.

If built, it would be the longest and largest oil sands pipeline on the continent. It would pump 1.1 million barrels of oil from Northern Alberta to New Brunswick, putting at risk communities, rich agricultural land, diverse ecosystems, as well as major cities like Ottawa and treasured waterways like the Ottawa and Rideau rivers.

It is a recipe for disaster and a project that presents incredible risk to our climate and communities with no reward.

Oil sands growth is standing in the way of Canada’s climate commitments. Expansion plans for Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution, enabled by pipelines like Energy East, are impossible to reconcile with Canada’s international promise to do their fair share to tackle climate change. By putting oil sands development front and centre, Canada is turning its back on international cooperation to deal with climate change and contributing significantly to global climate devastation.

Who can stop this? We can – you and I can. And it is not just that we can stop it, we have a responsibility to do so. Those countries and companies primarily responsible for emitting carbon and accelerating climate change are not simply going to give up on fossil fuels; they are too beholden to short-sighted profit.

We have to push them to do the right thing. Just as Canadians reached out to help South Africans rid themselves of the scourge of apartheid, we can work together again to protect our shared planet from the worst of dangerous climate change. Time is running out, but we can do this.

Luckily while this may be an issue of profound moral consequence, it also has clear solutions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has shown that by 2050, 80 per cent of the world’s energy supply could be from renewable sources — and that the sooner we act, the less it will cost us.

The Canada I know is compassionate and cares about the world we share. And this is the Canada that the world needs right now.

Climate change is the moral struggle that will define this time and I hope dearly that you will join the growing global movement that will find itself on the right side of history by saying no to the Energy East pipeline and the oil-sands oil that would fill it.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.