Before I begin, I have a confession to make: I’m an addict. I didn’t choose to be, I was born with this addiction. Sometimes I am able to wean myself off of it, if even for a little while, but never for very long—a few hours at most. To be honest, if I were to go without it for much longer then that, I would probably die.
I’m addicted to oil, and that’s a serious problem because it’s destroying my world—literally eroding it. An unparalleled and unprecedented global scientific consensus has linked the consumption and production of fossil fuels to climate change, and climate change on the Magdalen Islands means that there is no more ice protecting the shores from the winter storms, causing several feet of land to fall into the sea each year. Given that the Islands are only 205km2, we don’t have much land we can afford to loose: it’s only a matter of time before our homes literally fall into the sea.
Worse yet, the production of this addictive substance may move into our backyards, if a planned hydrocarbon drilling operation begins in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Were there to be a spill even a faction of the amount we witnessed in the Gulf of Mexico, it would destroy the lobster and tourism industry in one fell swoop, and with it, every community on the Magdalen Islands. Not in my backyard.
But if not in my back yard, then in whose? Should Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and other indigenous communities boarding on the Alberta Tar Sands share all the risk—bear all the burden of my life style?
And what about the townspeople of Lac-Mégantic? Was some of the oil in those trains—oil that burned out the heart of a community—bound for my house or my car? As we have seen all too clearly these past few months, the risk we take in feeding our addiction to oil is not just in its production and consumption; it is also in its transportation. From the moment it is mined, to a millennia after it is burnt, oil threatens us all. Who among us would now permit a pipeline or a rail line to run past or run through their community? Not in my backyard.
So you can see my dilemma: I am an addict, and yet I don’t want my dealer setting up shop in my neighbourhood, putting my children and my community at risk. But if it’s not in my backyard, I cannot pretend its not going to be in someone else’s either, someone who loves their children and their community just as much as I do.
Where does this leave me? If I stop using, it will destroy my lifestyle, maybe even kill me. If I don’t, it will at best erode the land I live on, and at worst poison my water, and destroy my community—or someone else’s.
A petroleum culture is a sick culture, a culture that is terminally ill. The days of its continuance are numbered. If we are to continue after it, we must move beyond just caring about our own backyards, and learn to fight our addictions.
Jeffrey Metcalfe is the Incumbent of the Parish of the Magdalen Islands in the Diocese of Quebec.