Breaking Ground, Taking Action

Written by Denise Deby.

Nobel Women's Initiative Breaking Ground report/Cole Burston
Nobel Women’s Initiative Breaking Ground report/Cole Burston

A few weeks ago, Ottawa had a visit from a Nobel Peace laureate. Jody Williams, who with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work to ban antipersonnel landmines, was here to talk about climate change, tar sands oil and the proposed Energy East pipeline through Ottawa.

Her message: The environmental, social and health effects of tar sands development and associated pipelines are unacceptable, and it’s up to us to do something about it.

Jody Williams was in Ottawa to launch the report of a delegation of women she led to the Alberta oil sands and the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline route through B.C. Organized by the Nobel Women’s Initiative, which she chairs, the delegation met with women and communities as well as government and industry representatives.

The report, Breaking Ground: Women, Oil and Climate Change in Alberta and B.C., outlines the environmental, social, health and other effects of oil sands development, particularly on women. The effects include destruction of forest cover and habitats, increased greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, risk of oil spills, disregard for Indigenous treaty rights, indications of increased cancers, respiratory illnesses and other health problems, increased impoverishment, divisions within communities and increased violence against women.

The report also documents how communities and individuals are reacting: they’re connecting with and supporting each other, holding community meetings, using creative cultural campaigns, promoting clean energy alternatives and spreading the word nationally and internationally about the problem of sacrificing the environment and society for short-term economic gain.

While in Ottawa, Jody Williams spoke at “Tar Sands, Pipelines in Your Backyard and the Clean Energy Revolution: A conversation with Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams” on October 28. The panel discussion at the Mayfair Theatre included Joanna Kerr, Executive Director of Greenpeace Canada, Tinda Sebe-Sikaneta, an Ottawa resident and organizer, and Julia Sanchez, President-CEO of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, moderated by author, journalist and activist Shari Graydon. The panelists spoke about the challenges of protecting the environment in the current political and economic climate, the need to inform ourselves and to work together locally and globally. Tinda, who lives in Stittsville near the proposed Energy East pipeline route, shared her experiences of learning about the pipeline–investigating it with an open mind–and deciding that the risks outweighed the benefits for her family and community.

“Each and every one of us can stop this,” said Jody.

During the discussion and at a second, smaller roundtable event on October 29 called “Women Speaking Out About Climate Change and the Proposed Energy East Pipeline with Jody Williams,” participants suggested actions that people in Ottawa could take:

  • Contact your city councillor with your views (Jody noted that 29 towns in her home state of Vermont have passed resolutions against tar sands oil);
  • Contact your provincial and federal representatives;
  • Support clean energy and divest from stocks in oil companies;
  • Groups and individuals can spread the word, use the arts to engage people and identify the real costs of the proposed pipeline;
  • Support Ecology Ottawa and others coming together around the issue, and sign the Ecology Ottawa petition.

Jody Williams also visited some of the sites where the pipeline through Ottawa would be located, including the Baxter Conservation Area, the Rideau River, homes and farms, and spoke with people living in the area.

Tinda Sebe-Sikaneta, who was featured in the Nobel Women’s Initiative’s 16 Days of Activism, speaks about the Energy East pipeline here:

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