Opinion: They tore down the wall, we can stop the pipelines

By guest contributor Derek Leahy
Sunday last week marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. When I still lived in Berlin, my favourite November 9th activity was to go to the bridge where the Wall was first breached in 1989 – the Boesebruecke. I’d sit on the cold damp concrete of the bridge, pop the cork on a mini-bottle sekt (similar to champagne) and just wonder what it was like to be there that night.
In recent years, I have become more curious about how East Germans brought down the Wall and how I can apply those lessons to my own efforts to stop the tar sands. But even after telling the ‘Fall of the Wall’ story for five years as a Berlin tour guide, I still do not fully understand how and why it happened. I know the steps that led to the demise of the Wall though.
I know it started with small meetings in churches and people discussing a better future. Small meetings eventually grew into small protests, and by the end those small protests morphed into massive demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people demanding a better future.  
It was in pursuit of a better future the Wall was swept away. The fall of the Wall by itself did not bring about the end of an oppressive East German government. It did signal the beginning of the end for the government and the system it had imposed. Everything changed after that and there was no stopping it either.
With TransCanada applying two weeks ago to build the biggest tar sands pipeline in Canada (Energy East), it has me wondering if stopping the pipelines is our fall of the Wall.
Stopping the pipelines from Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and Line 9 projects, to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project to Energy East will not by itself shut down the tar sands. But wouldn’t it signal the beginning of the end for the industry if Canadians stop tar sands bitumen from reaching our west and east coasts?
It is a hard one to predict. No one knew the Berlin Wall would fall when it did either. I do think one important lesson to draw from the fall of the Wall is not to lose sight of that better future. Those small meetings taking place in East German churches in the late 80’s were, as far as I know, not exclusively about bringing down the Wall. An end to the Berlin Wall was part of the bigger picture of attaining democratic freedoms and rights that had been denied to many.
So don’t let yourself get drawn into the ‘we’ll-just-build-safer pipelines’ arguments and ‘pipeline versus rail’ debates too often. Keep your eyes on that better future for Canada. A future where First Nations, Metis and Inuit rights and cultures are respected. A future where living in a healthy environment is a right. A tar sands-free, and a fossil fuels-free future.
It makes me laugh just a little to think that one day years from now a grey-haired version of myself may be drinking a commemorative glass on champagne sitting in the place where a pipeline pumping station once stood and reminiscing on how we did it.
Happy anniversary, Berlin. Keep pushing for that better future, Canada.

This was first published at the Sierra Club.

Derek grew up in the sleepy little town of Brooklin, Ontario in Canada.  After his experience as a backpacker in Copenhagen, Denmark during the UN Climate Change Summit in 2009, Derek decided it was time he stood up for the planet. Shortly thereafter he created International Stop the Tar Sands Day (international rallies to raise awareness about the destructiveness of the tar sands)  and plans on continuing to raise awareness about the tar sands and the need to act upon climate change this decade in the years to come.


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