On Thursday, Oct. 27, author and journalist Ken Ilgunas presented to SRU students on his journey across the potential Keystone XL Pipeline in the Midwest U.S. His presentation was brought to campus by SRU’s President’s Commission on Sustainability and the Office of Sustainability, who assisted financially and helped promote the event on campus.
Ilgunas’ presentation offered a view that is usually not heard of: the right to roam. After experiencing college debt and paying it off, he decided to make a journey on his own. He hiked from Hardisty, Canada to the Gulf Coast along the proposed placement of new oil pipelines.
What I believe to be the most fascinating and eye-opening part of his journey was where he started. This is where the oil traveling down the pipeline comes from, the Athabasca oil or tar sands of Alberta, Canada.
To reach the oil, the forest must be stripped to uncover what is underneath. What was once a beautiful boreal northern forest is now a vast ghastly landscape like an undeveloped city horizon.
These forests are a huge carbon sink for the environment. For the oil to flow properly down the pipeline, it has to undergo an extracting process that leaves residual pools of byproduct. These built-up pools can then seep into nearby water sources.
The Indigenous people in Alberta and other tar sand areas must face the consequences that fossil fuel companies put on them and drink contaminated water. This is an environmental injustice.
Across his journey were rural people whose land was chosen by TC Energy to be developed for this pipeline. While some were won over by the monetary incentive, others did not want a pipeline on their property.
Many times, these pipelines leak, causing environmental devastation to the property.
Most often, TC Energy would offer money to residents who would sign a contract, but if they denied it, they would threaten to come back later and offer less money than before. They promised to continue to do so until the day they had to construct the pipeline, and by then, they would offer no monetary compensation.
Fortunately, the permit to complete the new XL section of the pipeline was denied by the Biden Administration in early 2021.
Ilgunas offered much insight into a world that we should be advocating for, not depleting the resources of.
When it comes to activism, he reminds us that we should acknowledge the other side by having that uncomfortable conversation. Sometimes, all it takes is a personal story to shift someone’s view on a topic.
We also need to educate the next generation and help to come up with solutions. The youth are what drives a country.
And lastly, voting is crucial in deciding who will make environmental policies that benefit the earth and the future of humanity.
The rest of Ilgunas’ trip to SRU also involved visitations to a few classrooms to tell students about his college debt journey and how he was able to clear it after two years. He attended grad school without accumulating any more debt.
His advice is to “take a journey.” He highly suggests paying for the journey on your own, going for a long time, doing it independently and writing about it along the way.
If interested in learning more from Ilgunas, you can check out some of his published works: Walden on Wheels, Trespassing Across America and This Land is Our Land.