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Why this West Vancouver woman hasn’t eaten for 10 days

Susan Bibbings says she will continue her climate hunger strike for up to 30 or 40 days — the point she says she risks her life
Susan Bibbings
Susan Bibbings at her home in West Vancouver. As of Sept. 23, 2022, she had not eaten for 10 days as a protest against climate inaction and the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in Northern B.C.

Susan Bibbings hasn’t had a bite of food in 10 days. At her home in West Vancouver, the hunger strike has slowed her speech, left her lightheaded, and 12 pounds lighter.

“I’m starting to feel definitely weak,” she told Glacier Media.

“My goal is to go to either 30 or 40 days.”

Beyond that, Bibbings says, she risks death.

Bibbings, who is not Indigenous, describes her hunger strike as a Water Ceremony to “honour the water of the world.” She says she stopped eating to shine a light on Wetʼsuwetʼen First Nation opposition to the $5-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline currently under construction in Northern B.C.

Coastal GasLink is currently at work drilling under the Morice (Wedzin Kwa) River, an important watershed for the Wetʼsuwetʼen people that has become a flash point between Indigenous blockaders and police.

“This is kind of a last stand for the last river,” Bibbings said of the moment.

Escalating tactics

Bibbings’s hunger strike is the latest escalation in a long line of climate and environmental protests in B.C. that have gathered a renewed sense of momentum in recent years.

Last year, logging blockades at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island led to over 1,000 arrests in the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. 

Since then, activists have turned to a number of tactics to keep pressure on governments to take action on climate change and a growing biodiversity crisis.

Some have taken to blocking highways to get their message across, while others, like The Tyre Extinguishers, have taken up operations in B.C. targeting large gas-powered vehicles by deflating their tires.

Such direct action against individuals has frustrated many drivers across B.C., and in some cases, has led to violent confrontations. It's even prompted a group of drivers calling itself Clear the Road to threaten to file a class action lawsuit against the blockaders. 

Susan Bibbings on highway
Susan Bibbings glued her hand to the Sea to Sky Highway along the North Shore's Upper Levels in June 2022 to protest against the destruction of old-growth trees in B.C. | Save Old Growth

For her part, Bibbings has been charged with mischief twice over the past 12 months, first in October 2021, when she joined Extinction Rebellion in blocking traffic to Vancouver International Airport, and again in June of this year, when she glued her hand to a section of the Sea to Sky Highway on the North Shore to protest against the continued destruction of old-growth forests in B.C.

On Friday, a B.C. judge handed her a suspended sentence, with 18 months' probation and 60 hours of community service over the two incidents. 

Climate anxiety ‘normal’

Bibbings’s lawyer Elizabeth Strain said the judge in the case recognized a psychiatric assessment they presented in court, which showed the 46-year-old suffered from ‘eco-anxiety’ and ‘eco-depression.’

Strain said they were ultimately mitigating factors in the woman’s sentencing.

Crown prosecutors had been looking for “specific deterrence,” including seven days of jail time because Bibbings had blocked traffic in West Vancouver while her first charge was still before the courts in Richmond. 

What the judge recognized, said Strain, was that “normal people are now starting to exhibit depression and anxiety because of the climate emergency.”

Some doctors looking to treat distress caused by environmental change — known as solastalgia — have turned to prescribing nature for their patients. Other researchers say there's evidence people have found success controlling growing anxiety by taking part in politics, protest or daily activities to effect positive change. 

“I don’t have a choice but to take action,” said Bibbings when asked if her hunger strike had helped her mental health.

Over a week into Bibbings’s hunger strike, the 46-year-old mother says the lack of food has left her feeling “very focused.” In addition to her husband supporting her through the next several weeks, Bibbings says she has a doctor overseeing her health.

So far, she says the experience has brought her clarity of purpose.

“There’s no white noise,” she said. “I’m committed to taking a stand.”