Tuesday, December 03, 2013
For most of us, probably, Wiebo Ludwig was a dangerous man, a criminal who blew up oil and gas machinery. To Chris Hedges, however, Wiebo is to the petro-state what John Brown and Harpers Ferry were to slavery.
The man who waged North America’s first significant war against hydraulic fracturing was from Alberta, an eccentric, messianic Christian preacher named Wiebo Ludwig who died last year. He, with his small Christian community in the remote north of the province, sabotaged at least one wellhead by pouring cement down its shaft and blew up others. The Canadian authorities, along with the oil and gas barons, demonize Ludwig as an ecoterrorist, an odd charge given that they are the ones responsible for systematically destroying the environment and the planet. And as the ecosystem deteriorates—and the drive by corporations to extract the last remaining natural resources from the earth, even if it kills us all, becomes more and more relentless—the resistance of Wiebo Ludwig is worth remembering.
“Wiebo felt that our society was in a spiritual crisis, rather than an environmental or an economic crisis,” David York, whose film “Wiebo’s War” is a nuanced portrayal of Ludwig and his fight with the oil and gas industry, told me when I reached him in Toronto by email. “He felt that our addiction to fossil fuels, rampant consumerism and materialism, addictions, breakdown of family units were all symptoms of a society that has lost its root connection to God. Further, he felt that we are in a kind of end times state, where the forces of good are in a terrible struggle with the forces of evil. He wasn’t so crass as to put a timetable on it, but in his view ‘any fool can see the times.’ ”
That one of our era’s most effective figures of resistance against the oil and gas industry was a devout Christian is perhaps not coincidental. I do not share Ludwig’s Christian fundamentalism—his community was a rigid patriarchy—but I do share his belief that when human law comes into conflict with God’s law, human law must be defied. Ludwig grasped the moral decadence of the consumer society, its unchecked hedonism, worship of money and deadening cult of the self. He retreated in 1985 with his small band of followers into the remoteness of northern Alberta. His community, called Trickle Creek, was equipped with its own biodiesel refinery, windmills and solar panels—which permitted it to produce its own power—a greenhouse and a mill. Its members, who grew their own food, severed themselves from the contaminants of consumer culture. But like the struggle of Axel Heyst, the protagonist in Joseph Conrad’s novel “Victory,” Ludwig’s flight from evil only ensured that evil came to him.
...“Wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions,” wrote Henry David Thoreau. And this is what happened to Ludwig.
...Ludwig’s first acts of sabotage were minor. He laid down nail beds on roads. He smashed solar panels. He blocked roads by downing trees. He disabled vehicles and drilling equipment. But after two leaks of hydrogen sulfide sour gas from nearby wells—which forced everyone on the farm to evacuate and saw numerous farm animals giving birth to deformed or stillborn offspring, as well as five human miscarriages or stillbirths within Ludwig’s community—and after the destruction of two of his water wells, he declared open war on the oil and gas industry. He began to blow up oil and gas facilities. He said he had to fight back to “protect his children.”
...The sabotage did not end with Ludwig’s 2012 death. There are reports of ongoing sabotage along the path of the XL pipeline and in the Alberta oil fields.
“I’d also say that sabotage in the oil patch is one of the oil and gas industry’s dirty little secrets,” York said. “It is widespread, and to many landowners it is a natural consequence of the industry’s attitudes and behavior to those whose land they are occupying. The industry doesn’t make a big fuss because they don’t want to encourage the response.”
...Ludwig said: “We feel weak in all the things we are fighting. I think the match is very unequal. But it’s all right. Instead of griping about it, we might as well give ourselves to it.”
If Harper unleashes his public/private security-intelligence force in support of Enbridge, the Communist Party of China, and the American energy giants who populate Athabasca, we may see Wiebo Ludwig's spirit reborn only, this time, en masse. Most of us, I'm pretty sure, will draw the line at civil disobedience at the risk of incarceration and possible SLAPP suits, but there are many who have vowed to attack the infrastructure itself.