Kristian Gareau

Concordia University
M.A. candidate

Supervisor: Katja Neves
Satoshi Ikeda, Concordia University
Start: 2012-09-04
End: 2016-06-15


Ecological rifts and the threat of pipeline ruptures: The case of social resistance against fossil fuel extraction and transport in Quebec, Canada.
Oil and gas pipelines once considered to be harbingers of modernity and progress are today objects of increasing public controversy. Heightened incidences of toxic oil spills, combined with the growing link between fossil fuels and climate change and biodiversity loss, have revealed the extent to which capitalist economics are at odds with the Earth and life itself. This tension has galvanized environmental activist networks in recent years against oil sands which is more polluting and carbon intensive than conventional oil. As such, oil sands extraction has become the focal point of criticism within Canada, and has emerged as a symbol of the world's continued, and potentially catastrophic, dependence on petroleum. This paper draws on ethnographic-style methods and in-depth interviews with key movement actors to unpack the cultural politics of pipeline resistance in Quebec, Canada. It considers how a loose network of environmental organisations, affected citizens and indigenous groups and leaders opposing oil sands, is imparting a potential rupture in the cultural and political landscape of fossil-fueled capitalism and consumerism. I argue that the tactics used by this anti-fossil fuel movement go beyond socio-technical and scientific questions of energy transition or sustainable development. Social resistance to oil sands infrastructure operates at three levels of political action: infrastructural, institutional, and individual/citizen. Therein, I suggest that the anti-fossil fuel movement challenges the status quo of petro-centric development and governance by uniting everyday forms of social and political struggle to a broader arena of climate change politics and debate. In this way, these actors are actively re-framing what 'modernity' means to them, and how a culturally viable—not only technically feasible—future powered mainly by renewable energy can be imagined and enacted.