Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)’s
Global Emergency Operation (GEO)’s
Compassion for Animals Road Expedition #6 (CARE-6)
Field Journal #4
July 17, 2008
My last entry was written in Missoula, and now I’m in Janesville, Wisconsin, at the home of Marv and Betty Burns, parents of WI activist Amy Burns, with Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota already behind me. I arrived at 1:30 last night, from Minneapolis where I started driving around 9 pm. Betty had left the back door open for me and I just walked in and went straight to my assigned bedroom, which was spic-and-span as always, with a stack of fresh towels on the bed, and the faint night-lights left on. One of her two cats, Libby, was there to welcome me. As I had half-expected, I found the proof copy of “Homo Sapiens! SAVE YOUR EARTH” lying in the center of the bed facing the heavens. The first thing I did in the room after laying down my laptop and toiletry kit was to pick up the book and hold it in my hands. It was a magical sensation. Of course I’ve held thousands of books in my hands since I began reading some 60 years ago, but I’ve had this magical feeling holding a book only once before, and that was when I picked up a copy of my first book “Omni-Science and the Human Destiny” for the first time back in 2003. I’ve never had a child of my own, but it must be what a mother and father would experience when they hold their new-born child in their arms.
While I was still in Missoula, I had a few phone conversations with Lynn Wolff, the Organizer of the Dakota Resource Council head-quartered in North Dakota, which culminated in him making a series of phone calls to his colleagues in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. These states have something in common. They all have separate pipelines planned or already partly constructed, all stemming from Canada of course – the Montana one(s) coming straight down from Alberta, the Dakota one(s) down from Saskatchewan and the Minnesota one(s) down from Manitoba, all ultimately originating from the Alberta tar sands. Lynn’s efforts led to a series of meetings on my way east.
I left Missoula on July 14, Monday, around 8:30 a.m.. My first stop was Billings MT, driving time over 4 hours. The person to meet there was Mike Scott of the Northern Plains Resource Council, whose office is situated in a “green” building called Home On The Range, of some local fame, time set for around 1 pm. His group is a soft one in my view, and though they are aware of the pipeline situation, are hesitant to do hardcore battle against their government, and does not seem to look beyond the U.S. border to the root cause in Canada and do battle there. They appear to work only with the private landowners whose land would or might be impacted negatively by the pipeline. Their pipeline is in the public consultation process and they seem to be concentrating on this front. I asked him if any pipeline has been stopped by this process, and he said no. When I asked him to have their organization join the Coalition to Abolish the Tar Sands (CATS) to cut the pipelines upstream, he quickly responded with, “I’ll have to run this past the board.” When I asked him to come to Billings Gazette newspaper office with me, he said a very quick no, adding that currently, their organization had no hard position or strategy to present to media on the pipelines issue.
I called up the Billings Gazette myself, and talked to the editor Steve Prosinski. He was friendly enough, but said that he had no reporter available that day, but asked me if I would be in town the next day. Unfortunately, I had to go to Bismarck ND for further meetings the next morning. Anyway, without Mike’s cooperation to provide a local angle for a local newspaper story, chances are that there would be no story for the Gazette. I could check with Prosinski by phone when I have time, but a phone-call is likely all it’s worth. While walking towards my car on the way out, I noticed, to my unpleasant surprise, that my rear right tire had run itself almost bald since the start of the trip, and the left one wasn’t much better, neither had much tread left before the tour in the first place. It would be downright dangerous to run on them much farther, especially if it got wet, which thankful it didn’t, but no time to change tire tires for now, at least not till I get to Wisconsin. Meanwhile I reduced my speed from 125 kph (80+ mph) to about 115 kph (75 mph, which is the standard interstate speed limit in these parts).
By the time I arrived in Bismarck, it was around 9 pm. I got a room at the Motel-6 right off the highway, room cost about $50. At one point, after loading my laptop, etc. into the room, I went out to my car one more time, and found that I’d left the key-card in the room. So I went back to the office to get a spare key-card. In there was a young man at the counter getting a room, and behind him in the small lobby was an older gentleman around 55, with salt-and-pepper hair and beard, waiting to get a room. While the young man was about done, I’d had a light chat with the older gentleman, and told him with some embarrassment that I had locked myself our of my room. He offered for me to go before him, since to get a spare key-card would take much less time than to book a room. I thanked him, got I spare key-card, said good-night and left. The next morning, I went to my 9 a.m. meeting with Mark Trechock, head of the Dakota Resource Council and Lynn Wolff’s boss, and Mary Mitchell and Wayde Schaefer, both of the Sierra Club, at the Mr. Delicious cafe. We had a little initial laugh when Mark recognized me as the guy who locked himself out of his room, and I him as the courteous gentleman who let me go first. In the meeting, it was Mark who talked the most, and most freely. All three had pretty well accepted that the pipeline through North Dakota was a done deal, but its extension into South Dakota was still being fought. Upon being asked to join CATS, Mark had no trouble saying yes, whereas the Sierra Club people again said they had to consult their board. Before ending the meeting, one of them mentioned an anti-tar-sands group in Montevideo MN, called Clean Up the River Environment (CURE). Finally, there was a group not just about the pipelines, but about the tar sands itself, for me to talk to.
While in Bismarck, I also had a long phone conversation with Stephanie Trask of Dakota Rural Action, South Dakota, and they are tackling the pipeline that is now coming down from North Dakota, but again, I feel that their method is a little on the soft side, and concentrating only on the local property owners impacted by the pipeline..
Before leaving Bismarck, I called the newsroom of the Bismarck Tribune. I’ve been forewarned that all North Dakota politicians and media and average Joe either pay no attention to global warming or think/say that global warming is a hoax, and are generally in favor of the pipeline. The editor John Irby, on the other hand, was friendly, and passed me on to a reporter-columnist named Crystal Reid. Crystal invited me to go into their office for the interview. The interview lasted a good half an hour and it went well, but even before it began, Crystal had forewarned that there were no promises.
After the interview, I drove on to Fargo, ND, to meet with Lynn Wolff. We met in a restaurant parking lot around 8 pm, and shared a late bite. He looked exactly like the image I had formed of him based on his voice on the phone – late 60s, slightly heavy-set, and very affable. He and I liked each other on sight, and had a nice dinner together, during which he called his wife to look up CURE for me, and went on to make an appointment for me with CURE for first thing the next morning, while I called the Fargo Forum daily newspaper, and had a 20 minutes chat with the night editor, who sounded interest, but again no promises.
After saying goodbye to Lynn around 9 pm, I drove on towards Montevideo, but soon ended up on a slow 2-lane highway, which, just past midnight, brought me to a town called Morris about 40 miles from Montevideo. Along the way, all gas stations were closed, and all small towns and villages seemed asleep. Morris was the first place with a motel, and there was no guarantee there would be anything in Montevideo when I got there. So, I went to a road side Super8 in Morris, which proved to be full, but the counter lady made a phone call for me, and found me a room in a nearby motel called the Prairie Inn for $69; no choice but to take it, but that would be about the last motel I would need for much of the rest of the trip.
The next morning, I spent some time on the internet before driving the 40 miles from Morris to Montevideo, and got there in time for lunch, CURE’s treat. The executive director is named Patrick J. Moore. When I called CURE to inform them of my ETA, I asked the front lady if Patrick had come from British Columbia, to make sure he was not the infamous Dr. Patrick Moore who had turned from being a co-founder of Greenpeace to a logging advocate. Good thing he was not. Patrick, in his late 50s, with bushy grey hair, invited his colleague Duane Ninneman, 40s, bald but with a full dark beard, titled Long Range Development Consultant, to join us for lunch. I liked them both, and they are both well versed with the tar sands. In fact, while in their offices, Moore gave me a copy of “STUPID TO THE LAST DROP – how Alberta is bringing environmental Armageddon” by William Marsden, to keep. When I asked them to have CURE join CATS, Moore said without hesitation, “Absolutely.” I asked him, “You don’t have to run it past your board?” He said, “I can make unilateral decisions for CURE.” So that’s a done deal.
Moore also lined me up with an environmental attorney for Plains Justice in Minneapolis named Paul Blackburn and his spouse Kelly Fuller, environmental advocate. After the lunch with Patrick and Duane, I drove on to Minneapolis and arrived at Paul and Kelly’s by 7 pm. We chatted until about 9 pm, and I punched into my GPS the address as Marv and Betty Burns in Janesville, Wisconsin, where I will be staying for the next several days, ETA 1:30 in the morning. I finally got to bed by about 2 a.m…
This morning, I woke up around 8 Central time, and read in bed for a while before getting up for a shower. I started on STUPID TO THE LAST DROP. Its Prologue outlined how the oil industry considered used low-yield atomic bombs to extract crude oil from the tar sands. And its Chapter 1, titled Highway to Heaven, started as follows:
Dr. John O’Conner, the coroner for Fort McMurray, had warned me: “Never drive Highway 63 south or north on Thursdays…Sundays or Mondays.”
“Shift changes at the oil sands. The traffic is crazy. Your heart is in your mouth.”
Then, he told me about the last accident he investigated: it’s winter and dark. A logging truck swerves to avoid a pickup truck parked on the shoulder but with one wheel on the road, its driver fast asleep. Logs fly off the flatbed, piercing the windshield of an oncoming van. Two workers died, one screaming for an hour before his heart finally gave out…
Let me add to not drive on Hwy 63 on Saturdays either, the day I almost had the head-on collision while passing two vehicles.
Now, it’s July 17, Thursday, afternoon. At 6:30 pm, I’ll be giving a talk in a park in Beloit WI. Last time I got a newspaper article out of it. Let’s hope for a repeat performance this time.