Valve Turner's View: Doing nothing about oil, pipelines poses the far greater risk
On Feb. 4, I was part of a team which entered an Enbridge pipeline valve site in Itasca County with the intent of stopping the flow of tar-sands oil that is daily reducing the likelihood that my children will grow up into a safe and stable world. We immediately called the company and informed it we intended to turn the safety valve and wished to cooperate to stop the deadly flow as safely as possible. Enbridge ultimately turned off the pressure and closed the valve remotely.
We were accused of "posing a threat to (our)selves and other innocent bystanders," as a Feb. 8 commentary in the News Tribune stated. This was an obvious abuse of logic and seemed an attempt to distract folks from the real and ongoing threat to public safety, which is the pipelines themselves.
According to Enbridge's own records, there were more than 800 spills from its pipelines between 1999 and 2010. None were caused by us "valve turners" — indeed, no valve turners have ever caused a spill. In 1991, more than 50,000 barrels of crude leaked from a Lakehead (now Enbridge) pipeline into the Prairie River in Itasca County, which went unnoticed by the company until residents reported foul odors.
Imagine you are walking the streets after dark and witness a woman being assaulted by a man trying to take her purse. You intervene and stop the violence. Afterward the aggressor acts indignantly, accusing you of putting the woman at risk. "You could have elbowed her in the face!" he cries with a look of shock and concern.
This is the level of absurdity we are dealing with when activists stepping in the way of violence are accused of recklessly endangering the public. Enbridge is making money hand over fist by putting thousands of communities at risk. If its federally mandated safety shut-off valves cannot be turned without putting the public in danger, that speaks volumes about Enbridge's own reckless immorality, not those who dare to try and stop the company.
Safety was our number-one concern before and during our action on Feb. 4. We researched tirelessly and made every effort to ensure that we first and foremost did no harm. The cost of our standing by and doing nothing would have been, by far, the greater risk.
I haven't even mentioned the lethal threat posed to the entire world by climate change caused by burning fossil fuels. If Enbridge representatives are losing sleep over the millions of gallons of inefficient and toxic tar-sands oil they are helping to turn into atmospheric carbon dioxide every day, they aren't telling the press about it. The oil they are transporting comes from the Alberta tar-sands fields, which NASA scientist James Hansen described as "game over for the climate" if allowed to continue to be drilled.
We also were accused in the News Tribune of hypocrisy because we use fossil fuels ourselves (Reader's View: "Hate to say hypocrites, buuuuut..." Feb. 10). It is true that I was born into a society dependent on fossil fuels from the bottom to the top. This is not happenstance. The fossil-fuel industry has spent untold billions over the last century to make sure its stranglehold on the global economy is utter and complete.
As we were being driven to the jail by an officer following our action, he said to us, "You know, we could have got off fossil fuels a long time ago, but it's all just about money and power." He was right.
Because of this, it is monumentally difficult, perhaps impossible, to extricate oneself completely from fossil-fuel consumption. I know because I have been trying my heart out for years to do so — and so have my closest friends, including the other valve turners. We have had many successes. I live joyfully without electricity. I heat with wood, ride my bike, and am building a farm with horses, not tractors, in mind. Am I pure? Certainly not. Does that mean I should give up the fight? No way.
Imagine an innocent prisoner locked in a cage of someone else's design for someone else's profit. When she protests and shares a vision for a more beautiful life, some of the other prisoners laugh and mock her bitterly. "What a hypocrite," they jeer. "She eats prison food, sleeps on a prison bed, even her ideas come from prison books. How dare she complain?"
We must not be discouraged by those who tell us we have no right to fight for a livable future — at the same time that we give full effort to being the change we wish to see in the world. We will not win by ragefully tearing at the violent structures leading us to doom. Rather, it will be by making the new structures we are creating irresistibly beautiful, and by putting ourselves in the way of the violence with a full loving heart, saying, "No. Absolutely not."
Daniel Yildirim lives and works on a small farm near Viroqua, Wis., with his wife and four children and is part of the Catholic Worker movement. On Feb. 4, he was arrested with three others after they attempted to shut down an Enbridge oil pipeline in north-central Minnesota.