Smoke from Canadian wildfires clouds out the Minnesota sun with its daily dystopian message: our home, our only Earth, is burning.
Every day, I check air quality ratings as my co-workers and I work outside, growing food for our communities. Many farm days have been canceled at the Bemidji Community Food Shelf for the same reason. The drought rages on across the state, and Red Lake was just hit by a destructive hailstorm and tornadoes in the middle of July.
Yet there are signs in front yards boasting, “Minnesotans for Line 3.” I am disappointed.
The true story of Easter Island comes to mind. Located in the Pacific, Easter Island is famous for its statues of humanoid heads. Over time, the islanders chopped down trees for their villages and, primarily, for the movement of their religious statues.
In the end, the islanders cut down the very last tree. Only then did they realize they had no wood for canoes, no shade, no food. The island is famous for the people who trapped themselves through lack of foresight and were later discovered by a passing ship who found the desperate islanders resorting to cannibalism.
Frankly, I don’t think Minnesota should finish the Line 3 replacement project. As our environment becomes more unpredictable, I am aghast at our state’s further commitment to fossil fuels. Have we forgotten our basic human needs? That we cannot eat money?
I know that pipelines are the safest way to transport fossil fuels. I know that pipeline spills are not an everyday occurrence. Yes, I fill my gas tank, too. But I also think that replacing Line 3 will make it that much harder to divest from fossil fuels in the future.
In replacing the pipeline, we only deepen our state dependence on Enbridge’s dollars. Their profits will only give them more power in future discussions and legal battles. It feels wrong that degrading our natural resources is what helps fund our public schools. Do we really have the best intentions for the new generations we are raising?
In general, Enbridge is not a company I trust. They are responsible for the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, spilling 1,000,000 gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. They also own and operate Line 5, a pipeline that transports crude oil from Alberta, Canada, under the Straits of Mackinac, a critical water column between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.
Line 5 puts 700 miles of Great Lakes shoreline at risk of an oil spill. Built in 1953 to last 50 years, Line 5 is now 68 years old and still transports oil beneath the Great Lakes. Line 5 was grandfathered in after the Clean Water Act passed in 1972; since Line 5 can never get rebuilt, Enbridge refuses to remove the expired pipeline.
Finally, Enbridge is a Canadian oil company. For all of our talk about supporting American business, we are offering an awful lot of money up to Canada. Sure, Enbridge is going to pay property taxes on their pipelines for a long time, but this dependence on a foreign company seems like the exact opposite of a sustainable and self-sustaining northern Minnesota.
Now that more than 70% of the project is complete, I can understand why some want the protesters to give up. It’s too late, they argue. But it is not too late until tar sands are sludging through Hubbard county, across our beloved Mississippi River, through the places where the food grows on water.
The protesters are looking for national attention since the state of Minnesota seems to have rolled over. I admire their dedication, even in the face of loss. Anyone who stands so firmly behind their cause deserves such admiration; they are exercising their First Amendment rights, and anyone who is sick of their singing is in for an unpleasant surprise.
The Water Protectors are not giving up. They are warning us that we are about to cut down our last tree. They are telling us that we are trapping ourselves on this island. We ought to heed their warning.
The biggest reason that Minnesotans are supporting this pipelines’ replacement seems to be the fleeting economic benefits. Enbridge claims they are spending $2.6 billion in Minnesota. This quick injection of cash into our economy offers no long-term solutions for economic prosperity. Those 4,200 construction jobs are temporary and will soon be gone.
In the meantime, just about every restaurant and business in town seems to be hiring; we are not suffering a job shortage. Soon, these workers are going to vacate our hotels, apartments, restaurants and gas stations just as fast as they came, leaving a Rust-Belt effect on our community.
The long-term benefits of Line 3 will be felt by Enbridge and perhaps in Superior, Wis., where the crude oil is transported. From there, the crude oil passes through refineries and, to my surprise, a large quantity may actually be exported. One of the arguments against the Keystone XL pipeline was that it was going to raise gas prices in the U.S. by 20-40 cents a gallon. In the meantime, we are apparently willing to risk our water sources at the pipeline’s multiple river crossings, as well as giving up swaths of land to a private Canadian company. In doing so, we risk the prosperity of Beltrami and Hubbard counties, which rely heavily on waterfront tourism and agriculture.
I know many readers have made their minds up about Line 3. You may not like the tactics of the protesters, or you may find yourself making decisions based on racial, class or political lines. I beg you to look beyond that and ask yourself what kind of future you want for your grandchildren.
My generation is frequently choosing not to have children because the habitability of our planet is under fire. Unbreathable air. Undrinkable water. If it sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel, ask the residents of Flint, Mich., how unrealistic it sounds. And let your local, state and national representatives know that we are ready to outgrow our fossil fuel dependence in the 21st century, starting by terminating the Line 3 replacement project.
You simply cannot put a price tag on clean water. If we poison the land and water where we live, I don’t know what good $2.6 billion will do. Already, the air is getting unbreathable. Let that be a warning sign that we heed; let us not fell the last tree in Bemidji.
Originally from Phoenix, Ariz., Rachel Beglin now resides in Bemidji. She is a former Peace Corps Volunteer, sustainability advocate, gardener, writer and coffee enthusiast.