“I got a note from a pipeline welder who works in Alberta’s oil patch; he wrote to say that reading Oil Man changed his mind about Northern Gateway” | Q&A with author Arno Kopecky

The Northern Gateway project has been mention numerous times by the talking heads that appear on our screens for the past couple of years. But it took Arno Kopecky to explore British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest region and put his findings into a book titled The Oil Man and the Sea (Link to my review) to fully describe the area involved and what the project would do to the area. As Kopecky prepares to give a speaking tour of Ontario, he answered a few questions for me.


1) So how has the reaction been to The Oil Man and the Sea so far? Have you received any memorable responses to the book?

A: A few months ago I got a note from a pipeline welder who works in Alberta’s oil patch; he wrote to say that reading Oil Man changed his mind about Northern Gateway (which he’d previously supported), because he hadn’t realized how dicey the tanker routes and Enbridge’s so-called Marine Safety Plan were. So that was probably the best personal response I’ve received, though I’ve been gratified by positive reviews in places like the Globe & Mail, National Post, Literary Review of Canada, as well as warm personal notes from a lot of strangers all across Canada. Alas, the most memorable response, the one most indelibly printed in my mind, came from a man I met during my sailing trip, a man I admire greatly, who emailed me to say that what I’d written was a pile of offensive bullshit, and that my lies had pissed off a number of well-respected leaders in the north.
2) You are about to do a reading tour of Ontario. Are you hoping that the your readings will bring some awareness to the central coast region of British Columbia before the Northern Gateway project goes through?
A: It’s true that BC’s north-central coast contains a globally significant wilderness, and I’d love to share a sense of its magnificence with Canadians who may not know much about it. But more importantly, I want to talk about what Northern Gateway has to do with the rest of Canada’s pipeline battles, especially Ontario’s. This is about much more than any one pipeline, company, or oil spill, however catastrophic it may be. For instance: the National Energy Board refuses to include climate change in its consideration of environmental impacts for any public hearings into new pipelines, be it Northern Gateway or Line 9 or Energy East. Yet the oil sands are Canada’s biggest, and fastest-growing, source of greenhouse gases, the primary reason we’re failing miserably in our attempt to reduce overall GHG’s. That’s what gives the lie to anyone who accuses pipeline opponents of not-in-my-back-yard-ism…in the absence of any coherent national policy on climate change, and without any substantive federal support for alternative energy systems, slowing down these pipelines is the most viable option Canadians have for slowing down national emissions.
3) How long have you been practicing journalism? What inspired you to get into that field?
A: My first journalism gig was as the arts and culture reporter for a newspaper in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2004, but it wasn’t until I followed that with a pair of internship’s at Harper’s in New York and then The Walrus in Toronto that I realized how entertaining and illuminating journalism — specifically, long form, narrative journalism — could be. And as I started to practice, it turned out to be something I could do, which was more than I could say for the art of fiction.
4) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
A: John Vaillant is a hometown hero of mine whose writing has been a big inspiration. Rushdie, Marquez, David Foster Wallace, to choose a representative from a few other countries. At the moment I’m struggling through Democracy In America by Alexis de Toqueville, a French aristocrat who traveled through the US in the early 1800s to study the new world’s grand experiment.
5) You seem to be doing a fair bit of travelling. Is it something you enjoy? Will you be continuing to travel in the future?
A: Yep, I do love travel. Still do a fair amount of it and always will, but I’ve been falling ever more deeply in love with the west coast of Canada (I live in Vancouver), and find my urge to gallivant beyond this zone is diminishing. I’m 37, so, clearly, getting old.
6)  You seem to be somewhat active on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those formats for your work?
A: Ha – “somewhat” is the operative term, for sure. I should be way more active than I am. I see it like The Force, with a dark side that every Jedi must contend with. Trying to make sure you’re adding something genuinely valuable to that Force, rather than merely self-aggrandizing or naval-gazing banalities, is a constant challenge, just as not getting sucked into the latest elevator brawl caught on YouTube requires an act of willpower, however small. But there’s the real possibility that social media can actually improve the lives of those who use it, and so, my struggle continues.
7) Are you working on any new works right now? If yes, are there details you can share with your fans?
A: Nothing big in the works just yet. I do have a feature that I’m excited to see come out in the June issue of Alberta Views magazine (www.albertaviews.ca), describing the Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s Honor-The-Treaty battle against oil sands development in their territory, just north of Edmonton. Beyond that…stay tuned!
Kopecky speaks:  at the Ottawa Public Library on Sunday June 1; at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library on Wednesday June 4; at Hamilton’s Lawn Bowling Clubhouse (Churchill Park) on Thursday,  June 5;  and at Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation on Sunday, June 7.

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