Activism

Published on June 28th, 2011 | by Zachary Shahan

Help Stop Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline {TAKE ACTION}

tar sands action

11 veteran U.S. and Canadian scientists and environmentalists (Maude Barlow, Wendell Berry, Tom Goldtooth, Danny Glover, James Hansen, Wes Jackson, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, George Poitras, David Suzuki, and Gus Speth) have jointly called for non-violent disobedience in front of our grand White House this summer to try to stop the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Succinctly put by Brendan Demelle over at DeSmog Blog: “This proposed Transcanada pipeline, which must be approved by President Obama in order to proceed, would carry filthy tar sands oil from Alberta to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries, and further solidify North America’s commitment to mutual fossil fuel addiction for generations to come.”

And leading environmental activist & author Bill McKibben writes: “This is one issue where the president has total control–he has to grant or deny the necessary permits. Congress can’t get in the way. It’s where Obama can get his environmental mojo back. But we need him to lead.”

More on leading climate scientist Dr. Jim Hansen’s take on this issue as well, from Demelle:

“Climate scientist James Hansen, another signatory, notes that there’s enough carbon in the tar sands, were it all burned, to increase the atmospheric concentration of CO2 by nearly 50%. If the tar sands get fully developed, said Hansen, ‘it is essentially game over’ for the climate.”

Sounds good, eh?

I feel like coming over there from Poland to take action (but that would be a little counter-productive and hypocritical).

But, you probably can take action!

The action is not focused on complaining to Obama, but on respectfully and dutifully putting pressure on him to do the right thing and protect our world from catastrophic climate change.

“The last thing we want to do is harass the president–instead we’re asking people to dig those Obama buttons out of their closet and wear them when they protest. The president asked supporters to keep pressuring him once he was in office, and we’re going to try and make it clear there is real support for action on climate,” McKibben said.

The stakes in this matter are clearly high and there is no gray area — the project needs to be stopped!

Here’s the full letter/call to action from the scientists & leading environmentalists:

Dear Friends

This will be a slightly longer letter than common for the internet age—it’s serious stuff.

The short version is we want you to consider doing something hard: coming to Washington in the hottest and stickiest weeks of the summer and engaging in civil disobedience that will quite possibly get you arrested.

The full version goes like this:

As you know, the planet is steadily warming: 2010 was the warmest year on record, and we’ve seen the resulting chaos in almost every corner of the earth.

And as you also know, our democracy is increasingly controlled by special interests interested only in their short-term profit.

These two trends collide this summer in Washington, where the State Department and the White House have to decide whether to grant a  certificate of ‘national interest’ to some of the biggest fossil fuel players on earth. These corporations want to build the so-called ‘Keystone XL Pipeline’ from Canada’s tar sands to Texas refineries.

To call this project a horror is serious understatement. The tar sands have wrecked huge parts of Alberta, disrupting ways of life in indigenous communities—First Nations communities in Canada, and tribes along the pipeline route in the U.S. have demanded the destruction cease. The pipeline crosses crucial areas like the Oglalla Aquifer where a spill would be disastrous—and though the pipeline companies insist they are using ‘state of the art’ technologies that should leak only once every 7 years, the precursor pipeline and its pumping stations have leaked a dozen times in the past year. These  local impacts alone would be cause enough to block such a plan. But the Keystone Pipeline would also be a fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous.

How much carbon lies in the recoverable tar sands of Alberta? A recent calculation from some of our foremost scientists puts the figure at about 200 parts per million.  Even with the new pipeline they won’t be able to burn that much overnight—but each development like this makes it easier to get more oil out.  As the climatologist Jim Hansen (one of the signatories to this letter) explained, if we have any chance of getting back to a stable climate “the principal requirement is that coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground.” In other words, he added, “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.” The Keystone pipeline is an essential part of the game. “Unless we get increased market access, like with Keystone XL, we’re going to be stuck,” said Ralph Glass, an economist and vice-president at AJM Petroleum Consultants in Calgary, told a Canadian newspaper last week.

Given all that, you’d suspect that there’s no way the Obama administration would ever permit this pipeline. But in the last few months the administration has signed pieces of paper opening much of Alaska to oil drilling, and permitting coal-mining on federal land in Wyoming that will produce as much CO2 as 300 powerplants operating at full bore.

And Secretary of State Clinton has already said she’s ‘inclined’ to recommend the pipeline go forward. Partly it’s because of the political commotion over high gas prices, though more tar sands oil would do nothing to change that picture. But it’s also because of intense pressure from industry. The US Chamber of Commerce—a bigger funder of political campaigns than the RNC and DNC combined—has demanded that the administration “move quickly to approve the Keystone XL pipeline,” which is not so surprising—they’ve also told the U.S. EPA that if the planet warms that will be okay because humans can ‘adapt their physiology’ to cope. The Koch Brothers, needless to say, are also backing the plan, and may reap huge profits from it.

So we’re pretty sure that without serious pressure the Keystone Pipeline will get its permit from Washington.  A wonderful coalition of environmental groups has built a strong campaign across the continent—from Cree and Dene indigenous leaders to Nebraska farmers, they’ve spoken out strongly against the destruction of their land. We need to join them, and to say even if our own homes won’t be crossed by this pipeline, our joint home—the earth—will be wrecked by the carbon that pours down it.

And we need to say something else, too: it’s time to stop letting corporate power make the most important decisions our planet faces. We don’t have the money to compete with those corporations, but we do have our bodies, and beginning in mid August many of us will use them. We will, each day, march on the White House, risking arrest with our trespass. We will do it in dignified fashion, demonstrating that in this case we are the conservatives, and that our foes—who would change the composition of the atmosphere are dangerous radicals. Come dressed as if for a business meeting—this is, in fact, serious business.

And another sartorial tip—if you wore an Obama button during the 2008 campaign, why not wear it again? We very much still want to believe in the promise of that young Senator who told us that with his election the ‘rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet start to heal.’ We don’t understand what combination of bureaucratic obstinacy and insider dealing has derailed those efforts, but we remember his request that his supporters continue on after the election to pressure his government for change. We’ll do what we can.

And one more thing: we don’t just want college kids to be the participants in this fight. They’ve led the way so far on climate change—10,000 came to DC for the Powershift gathering earlier this spring. They’ve marched this month in West Virginia to protest mountaintop removal; a young man named Tim DeChristopher faces sentencing this summer in Utah for his creative protest.

Now it’s time for people who’ve spent their lives pouring carbon into the atmosphere to step up too, just as many of us did in earlier battles for civil rights or for peace. Most of us signing this letter are veterans of this work, and we think it’s past time for elders to behave like elders. One thing we don’t want is a smash up: if you can’t control your passions, this action is not for you.

This won’t be a one-shot day of action. We plan for it to continue for several weeks, till the administration understands we won’t go away. Not all of us can actually get arrested—half the signatories to this letter live in Canada, and might well find our entry into the U.S. barred. But we will be making plans for sympathy demonstrations outside Canadian consulates in the U.S., and U.S. consulates in Canada—the decision-makers need to know they’re being watched.

Twenty years of patiently explaining the climate crisis to our leaders hasn’t worked. Maybe moral witness will help. You have to start somewhere, and we choose here and now.

If you think you might want to be a part of this action, we need you to sign up here.

As plans solidify in the next few weeks we’ll be in touch with you to arrange nonviolence training; our colleagues at a variety of environmental and democracy campaigns will be coordinating the actual arrangements.

We know we’re asking a lot. You should think long and hard on it, and pray if you’re the praying type. But to us, it’s as much privilege as burden to get to join this fight in the most serious possible way. We hope you’ll join us.

Maude Barlow – Chair, Council of Canadians
Wendell Berry – Author and Farmer
Tom Goldtooth – Director, Indigenous Environmental Network
Danny Glover – Actor
James Hansen – Climate Scientist
Wes Jackson – Agronomist, President of the Land Insitute
Naomi Klein – Author and Journalist
Bill McKibben – Writer and Environmentalist
George Poitras – Mikisew Cree Indigenous First Nation
Gus Speth – Environmental Lawyer and Activist
David Suzuki – Scientist, Environmentalist and Broadcaster

P.S. Please pass this letter on to anyone else you think might be interested. We realize that what we’re asking isn’t easy, and we’re very grateful that you’re willing even to consider it. See you in Washington!

Image via Toban Black


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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.



  • John Reilly

    Why would we want to risk a spill? The only upside is higher profits for oil companies. They don’t care about us or our country they are ONLY concerned with PROFITS and how much goes into their pockets.
    Stop the Keystone XL Tar Sands pipeline NOW!

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  • This is important issur regarding saving our environment. Oil and coal had there time now america needs clean energy. Wendell berry is right. The agriculture experts and farms of the future need our attention. The rural america needs our help now. Belong to the land and it will take care of your needs. Respect nature and it will respect you. If we take care of dead zones like the gulf of mexico or the rivers and lakes of kentucky understand it takes a responsible citizen and a commu.ity to fully take charge of our future generations who will be the care takers of our farms air forest lakes and rivers. Call your local and federal representatives and help make change for the future generations.

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  • You would rather us be dependent on foreign oil than get our own?

    What about all of the jobs that this would create for Americans?

    • Britney, the best way to not be dependent on foreign oil is quite clearly to not be so dependent on oil for transportation. I’m sorry, but the short-term gains of such a society are far and away smaller than the long-term harms.

      Oil creates jobs much less so than emerging and new technologies. So, that’s basically a backwards argument.

  • This is an important issue, thanks for covering it at length!

    One critique: The statement :

    “How much carbon lies in the recoverable tar sands of Alberta? A recent calculation from some of our foremost scientists puts the figure at about 200 parts per million”

    …is not a clear metric or gauge of the environmental threat (200 ppm of what? The tar sands themselves, the tar? The emissions per gallon/barrel?). PPM is typically used for atmospheric concentrations. It would be more helpful to know, on average, how much carbon is released (estimated) per extracted metric ton (or even gallon), and/or the total estimated CO2 increase from, say, the first 10 million barrels extracted/processed…

    That’s all. Thanks again.

    • Thanks, Michael. Unfortunately, that’s part of the letter, so I can’t edit it 😀

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