Photographer to Travel Proposed Tar Sands Pipeline Route, Questioning Canada’s Energy Future
Robert van Waarden is a Dutch-Canadian photographer whose trade has taken him far and wide to shoot for outlets such as National Geographic Traveler, Canadian Geographic and the British Council. An ambitious new project of van Waarden’s, however, will be keeping him closer to home—and close to the environmental issues that inform much of his work.
Van Waarden, who is based out of Montreal, Canada, is raising funds for “Along the Pipeline,” a series of photographs documenting the route of the Energy East pipeline. If approved, the $12 billion pipeline project will pump 1.1 million barrels a day of bituminous oil from Alberta’s tar sands to St. John, New Brunswick.
TransCanada, the company behind the Energy East proposal, has already grabbed plenty of headlines for its controversial Keystone XL project, which has been called “the biggest rallying point for the environmental movement in generations.”
With a decision on Keystone XL expected from the Obama Administration within the next several months, Energy East is well positioned to become the next big environmental battle in North America.
Like Keystone XL, Energy East would transport highly carbon-intensive tar sands oil. The environmental costs of extracting and burning this fuel are enormous, requiring the wholesale destruction of boreal forests and the removal of four tons of earth for every barrel of oil produced. Tar sands oil also has a heavy carbon footprint, with estimates saying that the full lifecycle emissions of tar sands oil from "wells to wheels" are up to 37 percent higher than those of conventional crude.
Compared to Keystone XL, however, Energy East will be even longer (4,400 kilometers vs. Keystone’s 1,897 kilometers), it will transport even more tar sands crude (1.1 million bpd vs. Keystone’s 830,000 bpd), and it will require the construction of more pump stations (about 70 vs. Keystone’s 41).
Like many in Canada, van Waarden worries that the impacts of the pipeline could be potentially ruinous. Sending vast quantities of tar sands oil through the pipeline would speed climate change while also threatening rivers and aquifers across the country. As a recent spill of diluted bitumen in Michigan shows, cleaning up a tar sands oil spill is no easy task, and cleanup efforts may even damage the environment as much as the spill itself.
Van Waarden hopes that by interviewing and photographing those who live along the proposed route, he will be able to give the proposed pipeline a human face. In an interview with TckTckTck, van Waarden said:
The main focus of [the project] will be on portraits, and the specific reason for that is because the theory of change around visual imagery, and say, climate change activism, is more about personal storytelling and is also about solutions-based imagery—images that inspire people to become part of something.
While the photographs will be the heart of the project, van Waarden admits, “from a storytelling aspect, the portraits won’t be enough.” He plans to also include text alongside the portraits to provide context and give more weight to the narrative he is creating.
As van Waarden envisions it, his project will add more voices into a nationwide conversation about energy policy that he sees as necessary—and even inevitable:
In one sense it’s a project about the Energy East pipeline and the impacts it could have, and in the other sense it’s really about who Canadians are and where we want to go when it comes to energy futures and resource development. I think Canada really needs to start to engage again in that climate change discussion. Something really has to happen; we have to determine where we’re going.
There could hardly be a better time to join the conversation. Despite spending $22 million on pro-tar sands public relations and advertising in the U.S. and Europe, the Canadian government’s approach to energy development is starting to raise red flags internationally. Last year, Foreign Policy labeled Canada a “rogue, reckless petrostate,” and this week an opinion piece in the New York Times laid bare the shocking policies of the Harper Administration, which have rolled back 70 environmental laws, officially withdrawn Canada from the Kyoto Protocol (making it the first country to do so), and slashed funding for climate- and pollution-related science.
In Canada, opposition to the reckless extraction of fossil fuels is mounting. Energy East alone (just one of at least six pipeline construction plans currently underway in Canada) has generated a wave of concern and controversy. Winnipeg, Manitoba’s largest city, is seeking assurances that the pipeline will not endanger its water supply. North Bay, Ontario has announced that it will file for intervenor status in the approval process, and a recent energy board hearing in Kenora, Ontario had local residents raising concerns about TransCanada’s unsatisfactory engagement of native communities and the impacts of a diluted bitumen spill.
And so it goes. All across Canada, communities are coming together in the face of the Energy East proposal—something that van Waarden sees as an unexpected gift:
What I think is really exciting, when you look at all this, is that we’ve never had a project from the Canadian Rockies east that has brought progressives or the environmental movement of Canada together. We’re seeing communities in Winnipeg and First Nations in Winnipeg that are reaching out to First Nations from Northern Gateway. And then they’re talking to First Nations outside of Montreal. And we’re seeing it with [other] communities as well; they’re starting to share stories.
In the conversation about Canada’s energy future, there is no doubt that stories matter. Soon enough, van Waarden will make his contribution; he expects to start his journey in mid-spring, with a public exhibition of his photographs—and the stories that go along with them—scheduled for late this summer.
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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