Bishop Gary Gordon

Bishop Gary Gordon

September 10, 2012

It isn't the construction of the Northern Gateway pipeline that raises great concern for Bishop Gary Gordon. Rather it is the perception that the pipeline is necessary in the first place.

Gordon, bishop of Whitehorse, said the proposed pipeline symbolizes society's relentless hunger for oil, and that worries him. "We've got a great problem with the sin of coveting and we export it all over the world," said Gordon. "That's kind of a root issue, we're being driven by an insatiable need to have more but it's not solving our deepest yearning and hungers."


Enbridge has been working on its pipeline proposal since the early 2000s but didn't formally make a public announcement until 2006. The project currently aims to build a 1,177-km sub-surface pipeline from Bruderheim, Alta., to Kitimat, B.C., and its port on the Pacific Ocean.

Since plans were announced, numerous parties have voiced environmental concerns, citing deforestation, wildlife habitat destruction and potential Pacific coast spills due to the treacherous waters near the port.

The religious voice has not been silent either. Recently the United Church of Canada, the country's largest Protestant denomination at about three million strong, publicly opposed the pipeline expressing similar fears. The Anglican bishops of British Columbia and the Yukon also issued a statement questioning the integrity of the pipeline's environmental impacts.

Presbyterians representing 28 parishes in British Columbia's Lower Mainland criticized the federal government for weakening environmental reviews, citing the same concerns as their United and Anglican brethren. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is still considering whether to take a stand on the issue.


But Gordon said there's still a missing piece to the puzzle. "I don't know if we (should be) taking a position of opposing it. We (should be) taking a position of let's give this a longer second look and a longer view on the real outcomes for Canadians," he said. "We need to check our consumption and figure out a more simple way of living," said the bishop. "The sacrifices of a simpler life are quite daunting for most of us."

Gordon's not saying that we need to abandon every by-product of the oil industry - he isn't willing to give up his V8 4X4 Toyota Tundra and doesn't expect anyone else in North America to ditch their ride.

It's an idea wholeheartedly supported by Dennis Patrick O'Hara, director of the Elliot Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology, as well as an assistant professor of theology.

"We wouldn't be needing some of these (pipelines) if people weren't consuming so much and if people weren't so wasteful with resources," said O'Hara, adding that oil companies are not to blame.


"We're building this (pipeline) because we have a voracious appetite for this oil. That's a part of the conversation that I'm not seeing or hearing."

According to Statistics Canada, the annual gross sale of gasoline rose by 1.5 per cent in 2011 to 42.1 billion litres, marking the third consecutive increase despite prices rising at the pumps for Canadians.

This statistic highlights O'Hara's, and Gordon's, point that what is good for the economy is not always good for the environment - a point both men said is hard for Canadians to fully grasp.

"We have a petroleum-based economy and that's not going to be changed overnight," said O'Hara.

While profits are measured quarterly, the payoffs of environmentally friendly living aren't truly seen for many years.

"With climate change you improve your behaviour and you'll see the benefits about 35 years later," O'Hara said. "It's not that if you behave well today, things are going to be better tomorrow.

"Things are actually going to get worse before we see the benefits and things getting better."