Hiking the XL Pipeline – Ken Ilgunas

Checking in on Ken Ilgunas, who has been walking 1700 miles along the XL Pipeline from the Tar Sands of Alberta Canada–what he calls “the worst manmade environmental disaster in our history”– to Texas (over winter, for goshsakes!), and camping out wherever he can find shelter. I see that he finally completed his last day. His description of the last miles of his hike through “Mordor…heading toward the summit of Mount Doom: The Valero Refinery, with its billowing smokestacks and spouting towers of fire, where the XL oil would be refined and shipped off to foreign markets,” was a little chilling, since Valero gas stations are all over N. Monterey County where I live now; it’s often where I stop to get the cheapest (sometimes) gas.

During his long hike, Ilgunas listened to a lot of people who lived near the pipeline. While he gives props to the many conservative folks, pipeline workers, and church-goers who sheltered him, on his post of Day 140, he also had some criticism:

The North American conscience seems designed to very admirably care for self and family, but rare is he whose conscience is piqued by the sufferings of dwindling species, of a warming planet, and of the fate of generations to come. Unburdened by such abstract thoughts, we wish for little more than a fridge full of food, a big truck, and a warm home, and we think it nonsensical — if we think of it at all — to worry about a future we can never really predict, and certainly will never see. And while this seems all very shortsighted, it is not without sense.

But I never say anything like this to Barney or any of them. They’re all older than me, and because they’re old and I’m young, they assume they know more. And because I talk little, they think I know little, but because they talk much, I know they don’t know much. Each speaks to me as if they are doing me some great service, as if they are imparting sagely wisdom from ancient texts. But more often than not, I see that they are propagandized, only regurgitating rumors they heard at the local cafe or half-remembered falsehoods they saw on the TV. They talk in absolutes, speak expertly on every issue, and rarely if ever will you hear one say, “Well, I guess I don’t know much about that.” They aren’t free-thinking men, but stone tablets onto which dogma has etched its wicked creed.

When I started this trip, I wondered if I, perhaps, had been living too much in a bubble. Perhaps I’d been reading to many New York Times articles, perhaps I’d put too much faith in peer-reviewed science, and perhaps — surrounded by open-minded, well-educated, progressives — I might somehow be missing out on the bigger picture. Perhaps if I went out to The Heartland, I’d tap into the wisdom of the prairie and the farmers who work it. Maybe they knew the land and skies and environment in ways we suburbanites and city-dwellers don’t. Maybe, I’d find, that they had good reason to deny manmade climate change.
Read more of Ken Ilgunas’ blog, Pipe Dreams.

See also:

* Tar Sands Action, February 15, Washington DC
* Idle No More