On Friday, Andrew Nikiforuk, the keynote speaker for 'Our World, Our Responsibility: Translating Knowledge Into Action,' opened the day's conference by giving an in-depth and engaging presentation on the Alberta tar sands. Three hundred people, mostly students, packed themselves into a lecture theatre at the University of Toronto Scarborough to learn about Canada’s largest and dirtiest energy project.
Nikiforuk, author of Tar Sands Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, showed powerful images of protests against the Northern Gateway pipeline, the tar sands themselves and the pristine landscapes threatened by tar sands development and pipelines that will transport the bitumen to China.
The author and journalist provided context to the tar sands debate by pointing to our current’s government narrow focus on economic development to the detriment of the public’s health and protection of the natural environment including our water sources. He listed Stephen Harper alongside other 'petropoliticians' including Russia’s Vladamir Putin and the US’ George Bush Sr. He left the students with several key messages including the need to demand a national debate about the pace and scale of tar sands development and the importance of the students taking action to protect our natural environment.
The following segment included a series of workshops on topics such as hydraulic fracturing, small scale farming, environmental activism, youth leadership and employment in the environmental field. I gave the workshop on hydraulic fracturing called “Don’t frack with our water.” I had a roomful of about 40 people, mostly students, and many of whom had never heard of fracking before but were very interested in the issue.
I spoke about the threat fracking posed to our water sources, the lack of compulsory disclosure on the chemicals used, the links between earthquakes and injection of fracking wastewater into the ground and the demand by the majority of Canadians for a moratorium on fracking until federal reviews are complete.
The students participated in activities that considered the myths put forward by gas companies, the government's duty to protect water for current and future generations, residents’ concerns, principles included in First Nations water declarations and water activists' positions.
The group was very engaged with the issue. Their final comments included the importance of having forums like this to learn about the issues, speak with others and discuss ways forward. While it’s critical to protect water sources for our future generations, it's equally important to teach future generations the importance of and how to protect water sources themselves.