The biggest lesson of 2021 is now “Before we launch into disruption- We should contemplate how hard it will be to restore order.”
History was made yesterday as protestors took control of the U.S. Capitol. It was something that leaders and media thought could never be done, although MSNBC journalist Brian Williams pointed out that there were warnings in plain sight.
It was beyond democratic process, beyond what we could even contemplate could happen in North America and there is a deeper lesson here for Canadian leaders as we contemplate disruption of our energy economy and potentially disrupting our energy and economic security.
David A. McLellan, Principal at Ridgeway Strategic Consulting, a Canadian who has lived and worked in Houston for years sees the Capitol building occupation as a result of overly tolerant attitudes towards increasingly extreme civil disobedience. Speaking to the BOE Report he noted,
“Disruption following the federal election became inevitable during the summer of 2020 when leaders failed to condemn rioting and kept tolerating the failure to socially distance while limiting church gatherings, sports and other mainstays of our culture. Regardless of which candidate emerged victorious, there was going to be disruption. The only thing that surprises me is that it took so long. America will only heal with compromise from both sides.”
Disruption, but at what cost?
Disruption carries a profound cost – a national and geopolitical global cost when ideology and rhetoric overheat with misconceptions about public policy and issues. In 2021, so-called “harmless protest gestures” are mutating – fueled by an ideological fervour that seems to justify and validate the most extreme behaviour. In the energy industry, there is a risk of exposure to not-so harmless protests. In early December, protestors in Bellingham WA were arrested for their efforts to sabotage BNSF rail lines heading north to the Canadian border. On arrest, it was disclosed they were protestors of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline trying to disrupt the supply chain of materials to the project. Shortly after, on Dec 22, a one hundred and an eight-car train carrying crude oil was derailed traveling on a BNSF WA line and is still being investigated but reports say as many as 41 attempts have been made to sabotage tracks in that county this year.
Energy disruption risk
Disruption of energy projects should not involve disruption of critical infrastructures like rail lines and supply chains not only because it would negatively impact the lives and livelihoods of many but also because of the danger involved in possible derailments. The appeal to a higher, ideological motive of “Saving the planet” much like the appeal of the “Stop the Steal” protestors is not a justification to obstruct and endanger other members of society. We seem to have forgotten this. In addition, we seem to have forgotten the opportunity for disruption to be orchestrated internationally, so many of us will be surprised to hear that rallies backing U.S. President Donald Trump were also staged in several Canadian cities.
When civil disobedience becomes toxic
Michael Binnion, tax accountant by training and current Executive Director of Modern Miracle Network, speaking to the BOE Report cautioned that we have become too complacent.
“We have begun to accept that breaking the law is acceptable civil disobedience when the cause is popular with the in-crowd. But blocking railroads, tearing down public sculpture, attacking federal courthouses, swarming the capitol buildings, and rioting and looting are not lawful protests. When we euphemistically accept some people breaking the law is merely civil disobedience, we create a slippery slope.”
Binnion says Americans, Canadians, and others are creating a precedent that if you think your cause is just then it’s “ok” to break the law. He notes that he saw one of the protestors in the U.S. capital express complete indignance that police pulled out their guns in Washington. “How could this happen in America?” was the protestor’s reaction. Binnion says he is sure the protestor was sincere because the America and to some extent the Canada we have seen in the last few years is one where there is little consequence for blockades. He asserts that the rule of law is a doctrine that says that justice is blind and the law applies equally to all. It’s what separates our society from authoritarian countries. Binnion points out that authoritarianism is a tyranny of laws and regulations that will be applied capriciously to citizens who are out of favour with authorities. He advises we must remain a liberal democracy – one where the law can be depended on to be applied to even those who are popular, and went on to say,
“So a rioter in Portland can be expected to be dealt with much like a rioter in Washington.Tolerating or even encouraging protests that generate main-stream media coverage inevitably will lead to the events we saw in Washington yesterday. The bewilderment of some of the rioters, that their actions were not acceptable, is testament to that.”
2021 is going to be a year of many changes and adjustments to those changes.
As well as our goal of the economic recovery that we are all working toward, we now have to add a goal of restoration of order and cooperation.
Maureen McCall is an energy professional who writes on issues affecting the energy industry.