Students and staff at an elementary school near the western coast of Canada announced plans to wage a hunger strike to raise awareness about plans for an oil pipeline from Alberta. Their strike would coincide with hearings about Enbridge energy's plans for the region. The school has said it aims to raise awareness about the perceived dangers of the project through its campaign. While the Canadian government said the benefits outweigh the risk, the school has said it's not worth endangering the environment.
Enbridge and the Canadian government have said the planned Northern Gateway pipeline is a necessary alternative to the rival Keystone XL project, which is lurching its way through a federal permit process in the United States. The Canadian government of Steven Harper has backed the Northern Gateway project by saying if Washington wasn't interested in buying its vast oil reserves maybe Beijing would. Asian demand for petroleum increased 146 percent from 1980-2010, so it makes sense for the Canadian government to pursue all of its options.
The staff and students at Bella Bella Community School, a school that incorporates aboriginal culture into its curriculum, plan to stage a two-day hunger strike starting April 1, the same week Enbridge plans hearings in the community. According to a statement, the purpose of the strike is to start a provincial-wide dialogue about the potential dangers of Alberta crude. The school believes Enbridge tankers would wreck the coastal environment in the Great Bear Rainforest.
"The students and staff of Bella Bella Community School stand together in opposition to the proposed Enbridge pipeline that would bring supertankers filled with oil along the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest, jeopardizing the environment upon which we rely for sustenance, both physical and spiritual," a statement read.
First Nations along the Canadian west coast have expressed their opposition to tar sands oil pipelines. The safety record for Enbridge is marred by various oil spills, notably a major leak in southern Michigan in 2010. Aboriginal groups complain a similar spill would cause irreparable damage to their environment, which, as the school notes, is vital to their cultural heritage.
But this is an elementary school. A video accompanying the school's press statement shows children holding signs opposing Enbridge pipeline plans. While aboriginal groups in the region have every right to express their concern, it appears that there is a certain degree of exploitation here. Children lack the autonomy to make their own decisions in the eyes of the law. While they do have the right to participate in their communities, they're also afforded the right to protection from exploitation. It's unlikely the students at Bella Bella are being forced to take part in the protests against their will because oil pipelines are a very important issue to aboriginal communities in western Canada. While a two-day hunger strike is unlikely to have any long-term consequences, a symbolic protest is something best left to the adults.
By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com