Thirteen arrested blocking BNSF coal train in White Rock
Thirteen Canadians were arrested for civil disobedience at 6 p.m. after sitting down on the tracks in front of an oncoming coal train in White Rock. Their vigil began at midnight, but Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) cancelled many of its scheduled runs in anticipation of the protest.
Coal is a likely target for climate stability advocates because it has the highest greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy of all fossil fuels and because there is enough economically available coal to trigger run away climate change. Over eight million tons of coal from Powder River Basin, Montana traveled through the lower BC mainland in 2011. BNSF transports the coal through White Rock to the Westshore terminals. BNSF is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
Will Horter, one of those arrested, stated, “We brought attention to the massive size and increase in the transport of coal through BC and took an action that we hope will ill inspire citizens to assert control in a dangerous situation in which the political leaders are failing to protect our children’s future.”
The climate stability advocates were charged under the Railway Act and fined $115. They have a right to a hearing to contest the charges.
Mark Jaccard, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, among those arrested
Nobel Prize Laureate and SFU professor Dr. Mark Jaccard was among those arrested. “I’m a naïve product of working class Burnaby,” he said. “I’ve never broken a law in my life. I’m very uncomfortable taking this position.”
Dr. Mark Jaccard, being handcuffed, follows a precedent set by Dr. James Hansen, another Nobel Laureate arrested for civil disobedience related to climate change.
“If governments were acting to reduce GHG emissions, or slow the rate of increase, I wouldn’t be here today,” he continued. “I’d be helping those governments to do that. But in the last few years, especially in Canada under Harper, the emphasis has been on accelerating the rate at which we are destroying the planet. So I have to ask myself and I have to ask everyone else, ethically, what is the right thing to do? It’s made me read more about civil disobedience, people like Mahandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Henry David Thoreau.”
Rather than appreciation for his civil disobedience, Jaccard encourages participation. “I really think that we should all be doing this,” he said. “I’m here drawing attention to myself for ethical reasons, but I don’t want to be a martyr. I’d much rather that there were 10,000 of us out here. Everyone has the ability to know how dangerous the current situation is.”
Jaccard’s career as an environmental economist focuses on developing policies to move toward a sustainable economy. He’s participated in numerous governmental and intergovernmental assessments, including work for the International Panel on Climate Change. He has advised the US, collections of European governments, the State of California, and provincial governments including BC, Ontario and Quebec.
“We are heading for a real crisis in which we’ll have to start ripping infrastructure apart,” he stated in response to a question by another protester. “We can avoid that. Over 100 coal plants in the US were cancelled or put on hold because of people like us. It created a big increase in renewable energy and it is happening rapidly. Those places are avoiding a crisis.”
BC: Carbon gateway of North America
According to one source, Warren Buffett considered BNSF a promising investment because he foresaw the growing need to transport coal out of the US, where it is losing its market due to its notoriety as a potent instrument of climate change. According to one activist, the transport of coal from the US to the Westshore Terminals has increased by 60% in the last two years.
Author and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben finds Buffett’s association with coal puzzling: Buffettt is known for his support for tax equity and his planned legacy to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Yet he enables massive coal emissions with climate impacts which will hit hardest on the world’s most vulnerable people. Scholars such as Jaccard and McKibben believe that BC must take responsibility, not only for the emissions resulting from the extraction and transportation of fossil fuels, but also for the emissions from their use at a final destination.
While the US has either stopped or put on hold 100 coal plants, Jim Pattison’s Westshore Terminals are still an eager recipient for BNSF’s coal delivery. Its website boasts:
Coal from the United States Powder River Basin is being exported through Westshore at record levels, exceeding 8 million tonnes in 2011. Westshore's future has never been brighter, with the most bullish coal market in the past 30 years. With this in mind, Westshore has signed long-term contracts with its major customers [including the United States Powder River Basin] to ensure security of supply well into the future.
The coal from Powder River Basin contributes to BC’s dubious distinction of being North America’s largest export gateway for fossil fuels. Westshore Terminals alone shipped 27.3 million tons of coal in 2011. That’s about 55 million tons of carbon dioxide, the amount of carbon dioxide that BC gives off in burning all its fossil fuels combined.