Confessions of a well informed shale gas protester

Confessions of a well informed shale gas protester by Dr. Joseph Aicher, July 15, 2013, Telegraph Journal
At the height of media reported violence, I went to the sacred fire protest on Route 126 to “check it out.” I’ll state my bias upfront: I was a public health researcher before I became a physician. In my mind it is clear that our health depends on the health of our ecosystems, and that our health is important to a vibrant economy. It was raining, at times pouring when I arrived. Drums were pounding. Tensions seemed high. Being non-native, I did not know if I would be welcome – especially after 12 arrests the previous Friday. I was.

Many elders greeted me and asked for my thoughts. They were non-judgmental about me or my ideas and were not afraid to debate openly. Most knew their stuff. Some were very knowledgeable about Dr. Eilish Cleary’s public health report advising caution about the industry. They were frustrated that government and shale gas industry statements were unable to answer scientific-based concerns with facts. The protesters were upset at how the provincial government was being seduced by foreign companies on a promise that they would deliver jobs and prosperity, instead of considering significant short and long-term concerns that its own citizens were trying to articulate.

I could not disagree with them.

I reflect at how successive provincial governments seem to lurch desperately from one promise of economic salvation to the next. (Desperate people tend to make dismal negotiators: witness that in 2012 Corridor Resources paid only $58,000 on its 30 producing wells in Penobsquis, a royalty rate of 0.4 per cent).

Most of all, the protesters reminded each other to stay calm and wise – even though they were frustrated by media reports that they were violent. The guidance seemed to come from the grand-parents and elders. It was heeded by all – natives, Acadians, anglophones and others. Nobody seemed to enjoy being in the cold damp wind, nor were they protesting for protest’s sake. But they were compelled to be heard.

I estimate that between 70 to 75 per cent of people honked their horns in support. Some stopped to bring food, water and firewood to the sacred fire.

Only one angry carload of people shouted racial and other obscenities. They told me to “get a job.” I wanted to tell them that I had one – that I am a doctor and that I am very concerned about what is happening to the health of this province. They didn’t seem interested in listening.

Dr. Joseph Aicher, MD, MPH, MCRP holds a Master of Public Health degree and a Master of City and Regional Planning from University of California Berkeley and a BES in Environmental Planning-Design from the University of Waterloo). He also holds a Fellowship in the Royal College of Physicians.

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