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Resistance to Enbridge’s Line 3 Oil Pipeline:
An Eco Psychological Perspective on the End of Fossil Fuels
Alison A. Brooks
Pacifica Graduate Institute
Depth Psychology with Specialization in Community, Liberation,
Indigenous and Ecopsychologies
Dr. Edward Casey
April 17, 2021
This paper will use an ecopsychology perspective to explore the significance of the Indigneous led resistance to Enbridge’s Line 3, an oil pipeline project that could represent a watershed moment in the movement away from the climate destroying fossil fuel economy and towards a Just Transition and an Indigenous Green New Deal. Line 3 transports highly carbon intensive tar sands crude oil from Northern Alberta for 340 miles from northern Minnesota to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, WI. I will briefly describe the resistance efforts to protect the Great Lakes, led by indigenous communities, and explore the eco psychological significance of this movement at the heart of environmental justice, climate change, and Indigneous Rights in the Great Lakes bioregion.
Keywords: environmental justice, water protection, climate change, Indigenous Rights, fossil fuels, ecopsychology, Green New Deal
The Line 3 oil pipeline reconstruction project is one part of a larger project by Enbridge, a Canadian owned oil company, to expand across the Great Lakes Region. There are contingent projects in Wisconsin and Michigan which, if the plan to rebuild Line 3 is approved in Minnesota, will carry crude oil to the Gulf of Mexico.
Tar sands crude oil is extracted from under the boreal forests of Alberta, Canada, requiring deforestation and an inefficient, energy and water intensive process. Tar sand emissions are 3.2 to 4.5 times higher than conventional oil and have between 14-37 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil. (NRDC, 2012) The years-long battle to stop Line 3 is on the front line of the movement to divest from the fossil fuel industry, a movement rooted in Indigenous leadership and 500 years of resistance against settler colonialism.
Since 2014, hundreds of thousands of people and dozens of organizations across the country have called for the cancellation of Enbridge’s plans to abandon the existing Line 3 pipeline, which was built in the 1960s and is now cracked and corroding.
Enbridge states that the safest solution is to abandon the existing pipeline and construct a brand new pipeline, which they claim will be safer. Environmental justice activists argue that Enbridge’s track record shows that their newer pipes demonstrate no reduction in the risk of an oil spill. They claim that it is corporate profits, not safety, at the root of their pipeline expansion- the new pipeline will be able to carry twice as much oil and will expand Enbridge’s access to global markets by transporting to the Gulf of Mexico.
Many entities, including the Minnesota Department of Commerce, have stated that Enbridge failed to provide a long term demand forecast for the oil that the pipeline would transport, and call into question whether a new pipeline is needed. The resistance is also motivated by serious concerns about the catastrophic ecological impact of an oil spill on the Great Lakes watershed, the violation of treaty rights, and increased militarization associated with extractive industries.
Enbridge publicly states a commitment to safety and sustainability but the cost to replace Line 3 is equivalent to all of Enbridge’s investments in renewable and alternative energy since 2002. In 2019, 97% of Enbridge’s expenditures were devoted to oil and gas. In February of 2021, the company secured a $1 billion “Sustainability Linked” credit which will be used for expanding fossil fuel transportation. (Enbridge, 2021) Enbridge has developed sophisticated image management techniques which echo the trend in the Big Oil industry towards greenwashing, the short term psychology of denial, and the cooptation of narratives of the Earth’s resilience and regenerative qualities to avoid responsibility. (Nixon, 2011, p. 22) This greenwashing can be seen as part of a larger rhetoric of neoliberal resource development which displaces the human and ecological costs of development onto future generations. (Nixon, 2011, p. 26)
Honor the Earth, an organization led by Aanishanabe activists including Winona LaDuke, claims that a new pipeline transporting twice as much oil is not what is needed at a time when there is an urgent shift away from a fossil fuel economy. Honor the Earth, a group that develops “needed financial and political resources for the survival of sustainable Native communities” and that has raised over two million dollars over the last 20 years of operation for over 200 Native communities, points to the high levels of inefficiency and waste associated with the fossil fuel industry. Honor the Earth joins with environmental justice activists around the world in proposing a just transition from this destructive economy and way of life.
We believe a sustainable world is predicated on transforming economic, social, and political relationships that have been based on systems of conquest toward systems based on just relationships with each other and with the natural world. As our mission states, we are committed to restoring a paradigm that recognizes our collective humanity and our joint dependence on the Earth. (Honor the Earth)
Enbridge is the largest energy consumer in Minnesota, and the Line 3 pipeline will create more carbon emissions at a time where we urgently need to transition to a wiser use of energy. For Indigneous activists like Winona LaDuke, the resistance to Line 3 is part of the larger opportunity which climate change presents for moving towards an Indigneous Green New Deal. Pointing to the vast renewable energy resources in wind and solar, and the promise of industrial hemp, Honor the Earth describes the Just Transition as a framework for a fair shift to an economy that is ecologically sustainable, equitable and just for all. Honor the Earth presents climate change as an opportunity for a massive retooling of America’s infrastructure, energy and future.
The Native led resistance to fossil fuel expansion and movement to protect clean water for future generations is based in Indigenous knowledge systems rooted in the interdependence of all things. For the Anishanaabe, nature has intrinsic rights and is not a commodity to be bought, sold, or exchanged. Western colonization violently interrupted this relationship of vital connection to the earth and “imposed anthropocentric norms and domination over nature.” (Perez & Longboat, 2019) For indigenous people in the Great Lakes region, the assault of water insecurity is an ontological struggle that gets to the heart of survival and self-determination. In the Anishinaabe worldview
...water, the lifeblood of Mother Earth, is essential for the preservation of a traditional and contemporary way of life. For many of these communities, a lack of water security is a persistent problem which influences all aspects of life. Codified in Indigenous knowledge systems and taught by First Nations Elders are teachings for balanced relationships with creation—behavior necessary for survival and to ensure sustainability for future generations. These cases point to the need for a decolonizing framework to resource management, calling for holistic and participatory perspectives to governance, and recognition of spiritual and cultural relationships with nature. (Perez & Longboat, 2019, 191)
In Anishinaabe traditions, human beings' relationship with water is marked by reverence, reciprocity, respect, and responsibility.
Specifically, water is life, and there are cultural teachings and ceremonies that guide appropriate relationships with water. These are stewardship roles and responsibilities for what is considered a most sacred gift. From this view, living ‘‘the good life’’ means living a life of honoring the sacred gifts of creation. For the Anishinaabe, the spiritual relationships and natural order of the universe are maintained by practicing the teachings and conducting ceremonies associated with water. Water security involves enabling water to fulfill its role to provide for Mother Earth; by doing so, She will provide for all of her creatures. In this context, water insecurity results when water cannot perform its natural role because of disrespect from pollution or withdrawals which alter its natural character. (Perez & Longboat, 2019, 192)
The Seven teachings of Anishanaabe begins with respecting Indigenous Knowledge. Honor the Earth points to the fact that the original Green New Deal was Indigenous and reminds us that fossil fuels are a hundred year aberration, not the norm.
The Just Transition which Honor the Earth works for shares deep interconnections with Vandana Shiva’s vision of Earth Democracy. In her book, Earth Democracy, Justice, Sustainability and Peace, Indian Environmental Justice activist and physicist Vandana Shiva (2015), describes this vision as rooted in:
[protecting] the ecological processes that maintain life and the fundamental human rights that are the basis of the right to life, including the right to water, the right to food, the right to health, the right to education, and the right to jobs and livelihoods. (p. 7)
Earth Democracy brings together the local, the global and the universal, envisioning a planetary consciousness that prioritizes ecological security, living economies, and the recovery of an Earth identity that reintegrates human activities into the earth’s ecological processes and limits.
What role does eco-psychology play in contributing to this transition away from fossil fuels?
The fight to get Enbridge to cancel their Line 3 pipeline development is the front lines of the climate crisis and the transition away from a fossil fuel economy. Avoiding the most catastrophic consequences of climate change means cutting carbon emissions in half over the next ten years. In Transitioning to a New Normal: How Ecopsychology Can Help Society Prepare for the Harder Times Ahead, Raymond De Young argues that moving away from the one time era of resource abundance led by false prospects of endless growth will require us to accept biophysical constraints and lay a new foundation for “sustainable, interdependent, and mutually enhancing relations with nature as well as within the human community.” (Section 1)
De Young argues that at some point people will no longer need to be persuaded to reduce consumption - there will be no other choice. It will be “unavoidable, directly perceivable and palpable.” (Section 2) He suggests ecopsychology can support society through processing the grief and loss of a familiar and convenient way of life and awaken people to the therapeutic effect of interaction and interconnectedness with the natural world.
DeYoung (2013) points to the “embedded benefits” in this transition. Ecopsychologists can guide society to embrace the benefits to our well being that come from connection with nature. We have an opportunity to discover what regular and intimate connection with nature can open up for society, and how a sense of satisfaction, purpose, achievement and fulfillment can emerge from living a simple life in reciprocal and respectful relationships with the Earth. We can re-envision our relationship with resources and anticipate, familiarize ourselves with, and learn to feel at home in a future lifestyle that is compatible with ecological limits.
In Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Rob Nixon discusses the difficulty in a context of media sensationalism and the “politics of speed” to gain public attention for the “formless threats whose fatal repercussions” are “low in instant spectacle but high in long term effects.” Nixon (2011) looks at the psychological fantasy of oil in modern society, describing this “enchantment” with oil as a miraculous solution providing a life of complete convenience and freedom:
...the oil encounter lends itself to populist fairy tales of sudden bounty that easily sour into volatile disillusionment, as people possessed by outsized dreams find themselves captive instead to outsized military regimes and the disenchantments of a ruined environment.
He describes oil as fantasy inducing and a “lubrication of human greed” that is followed by a mass disenchantment as militarization and ecological destruction inevitably follow. Describing the Louisiana wetlands after the BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophic oil spill, Nixon (2011) illustrates the potential catastrophic consequences of an oil spill in the Great Lakes watershed:
...the withered marsh grass and the oil-silenced pelicans, robbed of voice and flight, their slimed wings giving them the appearance of evolution sent into reverse, as if these were the very first birds struggling to extract themselves from the primordial ooze. And thus the pelicans, like the Exxon Valdez sea otters, became traumatic, charismatic stand-ins for a microbial and cellular catastrophe whose temporal and physical dimensions we are ill equipped to imagine and the science of which we do not adequately understand. (p. 269)
Nixon (2011) echos other authors in describing the hidden benefits of moving away from fossil fuels and investing in post-hydrocarbon possibilities including reducing risk of relying on foreign oil, reducing the risks associated with domestic drilling, and job creation.
So what do ecopsychologists have to offer in facilitating this just transition, of which resistance to Enbridge’s Line 3 is an urgent concern? In Radical Ecopsychology, Psychology in the Service of Life, Andy Fisher outlines four tasks of Eco-Psychology - the psychological, philosophical, practical, and the critical task. The psychological task is to “acknowledge and better understand the human-nature relationship as a relationship.” (Fisher, 2013, p. 7) Our understanding of significant relationships must expand to include other-than-human beings and the natural world itself as true interactants, as fellow beings or kin. Fisher (2013) notes the lack of public recognition that the ecological crisis is a psychological crisis, and the silence of the field of psychology on the issue of environmental destruction.
Ecopsychologists can facilitate people in establishing and recognizing their relationship with the Earth, with place, and with resources as equally significant relationships as human to human relationships. We can work towards honoring the water, the air, the minerals, and the animal world as “ensouled others” who we have a responsibility to respect and an opportunity to commune with.
In the philosophical task, Fisher (2013) points to the need to expand our understanding of psyche as transcending the body or soul and encompassing the natural world - “returning soul to nature and nature to soul.” The practical task of ecopsychologists, he says, is to develop therapeutic and recollective practices towards an ecological society - to address the emotional and spiritual conditions that underly the ecological crisis, and to cultivate “psychologically informed practices or interventions aimed at creating a life celebrating society.” (Fisher, 2013, p. 13)
The critical task, according to Fisher (2013), is to recognize that “the earth will not be saved while issues of justice, power and emancipation go ignored.” (p. 21) He says
...if our goal is ecological consciousness and if our society produces a devitalized, narcissistic consciousness instead, then it is imperative that we give critical attention to the social order. (Fisher, 2013, p. 22)
Tying our alienation from nature to our alienation within human society, the critical task is to incorporate social analysis into ecopsychology. By following the leadership of those at the margins of race, class, ability, gender, and sexual orientation, ecopsychologists can facilitate the linkages between the transformation of how humans relate to the ecosystem with the transformation of all systems of domination and oppression.
The current catastrophes of the climate crisis present humanity with an urgent opportunity to envision and create a new era of localized, living cultures and economies that are based in interdependence, creativity, nourishing life and protecting the Earth’s resources for future generations. The resistance to Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline could represent a turning point, a watershed moment so to speak, away from fossil fuels and towards an Indigenous led Green New Deal.
De Young, R (2013). Transitioning to a new Normal: How
ecopsychology can help society prepare for the harder times ahead. Ecopsychology, volume 5 (issue 4), 237-239. https://www-liebertpub-com.pgi.idm.oclc.org/doi/10.1089/eco.2013.0065
Enbridge. (2021, February 12) Enbridge Reports Strong 2020 Financial Results.
Fisher, A. (2013). Radical ecopsychology: Psychology in the service of
life. Suny Press.
Honor the Earth. (2020, April 2016) No Fossil Fuels In the Great Lakes.
Natural Resource Defense Council. (2012, March) The Keystone XL Tar Sands
Pipeline Hinders Climate Change Progress.
Nixon, R. (2011). Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor.
Harvard University Press.
Perez, M and Longboat, S. (2019). Our shared relationship
with land and water: perspectives from the Mayangna and the Anishinaabe.
Ecopsychology, volume 11 (issue 3), 191-198.
Shiva, V. (2015). Earth democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace.
North Atlantic Books.
The Red Nation. (2021). The Red Deal: Indigenous Action To Save Our Earth. Common Notions.
Indigenous-led Resistance Efforts to Line 3:
Giniw Collective is "an indigenous-women, 2-spirit led frontline resistance to protect our Mother, defend the sacred and live in balance. We stand unafraid. Prayers into action"
The Line 3 Legal Defense Fund "provides financial support for legal fees and transportation costs to court appearance for people who risk arrest due to their opposition to Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline expansion project."
Honor the Earth: "In our Anishinaabe prophecies, this is called the time of the Seventh Fire. This is a time when our people will have two roads ahead of us - one miikina, or path, which is well-worn - but scorched - and another path which is green. It will be our choice upon which path to embark. That is where we are.
Honor the Earth uses indigenous wisdom, music, art, and the media to raise awareness and support for Indigenous Environmental Issues. We leverage this awareness and support to develop financial and political capital for Indigenous struggles for land and life." https://www.honorearth.org