Partner Spotlight: Eric Swanson, Dogwood Initiative

• April 20, 2012

Eric Swanson, Dogwood Initiative

Every two weeks the TckTckTck team proudly recognizes one of the 300+ partner organizations making up our global climate movement.

This time we’re thrilled to share an interview with one of our Canadian partners on the front lines of the battle against the Alberta oil sands. Eric Swanson of the Dogwood Initiative took some time from campaigning to keep oil tankers off the coast of British Columbia to talk about the ‘audacious’ mission of his organization, why the ‘No Tankers’ campaign has successfully attracted audiences across the political spectrum and how President Obama may have unintentionally aided their cause.

TCK: What inspired you to start the ‘No Tankers’ campaign? 

ERIC SWANSON: Dogwood Initiative has a broad and audacious mission. We want local communities to have firm control over their own lands, air, and water. We want to advance recognition of aboriginal title and rights. We want to inspire action on climate change at all levels, and we want to challenge the foolishness of a perpetual growth economy. These things can be difficult to talk about, so we needed to start from a place of common ground.

We knew that No Tankers could be that common ground. We, like most British Columbians, are in favor of protecting our coast and all that it provides from the risk of oil supertankers and spills. We knew that if we mobilized a campaign against oil tankers, a broad cross section of society would join our side and powerful forces would align against us. In the ensuing crucible of conflict, we were confident that we could not only help bring victory for our coast, we could help catalyze a different way of making decisions over the use of resources in B.C.

TCK: When President Obama denied the application for the Keystone XL pipeline in February, all eyes switched to the two proposed pipelines in British Columbia – in particular the Enbridge Northern Gateway. Has the increased attention been helpful for your ‘no tankers’ campaign? 

ERIC SWANSON: The most important result of President Obama’s decision on Keystone was its apparent effect on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet. Before the Keystone decision there had been years of bluster from industry and government about sending oil to China if the US didn’t want it. After the Keystone decision, bluster became action. Harper and his Minister of Natural Resources went on the offensive, launching public diatribes against opponents of oil tankers and Enbridge and seemingly working behind the scenes to fast-track the project.

When the Prime Minister so obviously chose the side of Big Oil, it galvanized a lot of opposition in B.C. Our supporter-network grew by 50% in a single month, and we had powerful and unusual allies emerge from the woodwork to fight back against Harper’s push.

TCK: This campaign has been very successful in bridging the standard divide between traditional environmentalists and conservatives. Why do you think that is? How could other organisations potentially replicate what you’ve been able to do?

ERIC SWANSON: Many environmentalists and conservationists are Conservatives. But there’s a lot of messaging and hippy-dippy storytelling out there that alienates these people. One of the first rules of organizing is to talk to people from where they’re at, not from where you want them to be. We want to have a conversation about why a perpetual growth economy is actually a really stupid idea, but that’s not where most people are at.

We’re dedicated to eventually bringing people there, but we have to start by talking about things that bridge those stale divides. In B.C. people from all backgrounds share a desire to protect our coast and our salmon rivers, and people from all backgrounds agree that local people should have more control over their own home. So that’s what we work on and talk about, and that’s why our network of supporters includes people of all political affiliations.

TCK: How can your colleagues in the TckTckTck campaign support the ‘No Tankers’ campaign? What’s the single most important action they can take today to help you succeed? 

ERIC SWANSON: You mean the single most important three-part action?

  1. Spread this link to sign the No Tankers petition for individuals: www.notankers.ca
  2. And this link to sign the No Tankers petition for businesses and other organizations: http://dogwoodinitiative.org/no-tankers/petition/business-petition
  3. And like us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dogwood-Initiative/78753328415

Petitions themselves have minimal effect, but ours is how we build an active and engaged network. First you sign the petition, then we figure out which political districts you’re in and we offer you ways to join with others in your area to influence your local decision makers

TCK: What do you believe the best energy solution for British Columbia is?

ERIC SWANSON: I’m not going to pretend to know the answer to that, and nor should our Premier or anybody else. I think the answers will come from each local community. Let them figure out what combination will work best for them, and then kick our provincial and federal governments into supporting local solutions, sometimes through province-wide measures like a price on greenhouse gas pollution, and sometimes not. I think there’s a lot of room in B.C. for more solutions to trickle-up from the bottom.


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