by Mary Lovell
This weekend was my 31st birthday, and I had the joy of yelling and skinny dipping in bioluminescent waters, every motion of my body lighting up the waves around me, the salt on my lips. There is little as freeing and as humbling as jumping into cold water, the sea bringing out my inner child, shrieking and playing. I live on the West Coast of North America, on the Salish Sea.
Yesterday, my partner and I processed local salmon to keep in our freezer. We are living near a community with local fishery management, where thousands of salmon return every year. The salmon return brings eagles and osprey, and further up the coast, bears.
We returned the blood, guts, bones, eggs, skin, all that we didn’t use to the inlet the salmon came from, knowing the nitrogen feeds this entire ecosystem. Salmon are the lifeblood of this coast, their silvery scales tough as they determinedly return year after year. The animals that eat this salmon often bring their bones up unto the shores, where the nitrogen from their remains feed the forest, fertilizing the trees. Local Indigenous communities have been subsisting off of this salmon for thousands of years.
At Chief Seattle days in Suquamish, where I live—I was helping to hand out salmon to residents that have lived in this region since time immemorial, and the community thrives with the salmon. Salmon give their whole lives to this place, returning to their homes from thousands of miles away, and give the largest sacrifice one can make, returning their bodies to the river to provide for their young. This is the miracle of life and death, the splash and whirls of salmon dancing their way to demise, a smelly salty and powerful rhythm that defines the region.
Yet, I fear for the salmon’s lives, and for the very backbone of this place, of this community. As industry has logged the region and development steals the trees that once shaded these narrow streams, and water warms from the changing climate, humans are surrounding these beautiful beings with everything from dams to overfishing. The local killer whale that lives from the salmon is endangered because the salmon counts are low, and the increase in vessel traffic means that the sound that they use to hunt together is preventing them from fishing.
A major pipeline expansion—Trans Mountain—is being constructed as we speak, the roar of machines tearing up a swath across this earth, and this pipeline would bring a sevenfold increase in oil tanker traffic to the region. The oil that moves through the existing Trans Mountain pipeline and the related expansion is diluted bitumen which sinks in salt water and is impossible to recover, and the oil tankers that carry it are moving through one of the busiest channels in North America. Just last week there was a shipwreck that led to many gallons of diesel spilling in the region, demonstrating this ongoing risk of shipping accidents. The construction is ongoing in a wild salmon bearing river, in spawning grounds.
All of what I hold dear is at risk every day from corporate driven expansion, akin to death by a thousand paper cuts. Corporate power has people believing in the almighty dollar over the very essence of our humanity.
One of the major decision makers related to this life threatening industrial expansion is the insurance industry. The industry makes multi-million-dollar deals with pipeline companies lining the pockets of the wealthy, instead of prioritizing the health and well-being of communities.
Liberty Mutual still hasn’t ruled out the Trans Mountain pipeline, and there’s no mystery as to why: money talks. Some of the company’s wealthiest board members have close ties with the oil and gas industry, with important folks in the company’s upper echelons simultaneously profiting off of positions in tar sands companies.
This week Trans Mountain’s insurance certificate expires on August 31st, and is being renewed behind closed doors- the company having filed to keep the insurance information secret. Despite this, people in Denver, Boston, Toronto, Vancouver and Seattle, are taking action at Liberty Mutual, and delivering a petition with thousands of their customers calling on them to drop Trans Mountain—a quarter of a million people signed on in total.
We are taking action because tar sands expansion poisons the water that fish rely on, resulting in deformations and poisoning, increasing cancer rates for communities at the sites of extraction, and driving the climate disasters we see every day from hurricanes to wells going dry.
Years from now, Liberty will look back on this decision with remorse if they continue to support the status quo of corporate power instead of listening to the communities who seek nothing but clean air, food to eat, clean water to drink, and a healthy climate. We deserve better. With billions invested in oil and gas, and insurance contracts for some of the largest expansions of oil and gas in the world, Liberty is currently materially supporting projects that put us all at risk.
The question is, will Liberty leadership change the course? Or will the company keep choosing profit over people. The ball is in your court, Liberty. We know this Salish Sea is worth defending, but do you?