Already, more than a thousand people have signed up to be arrested over two weeks beginning Aug. 20 — the biggest display of civil disobedience in the environmental movement in decades and one of the largest nonviolent direct actions since the World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle back before Sept. 11. (Among the first 500 to sign up, the biggest cohort was born in the Truman administration, followed closely by FDR babies and Eisenhower kids. These seniors contradict the stereotype of greedy geezers who care only about their own future.)
The issue is simple: We want the president to block construction of Keystone XL, a pipeline that would carry oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta down to the Gulf of Mexico. We have, not surprisingly, concerns about potential spills and environmental degradation from construction of the pipeline. But those tar sands are also the second-largest pool of carbon in the atmosphere, behind only the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. If we tap into them in a big way, NASA climatologist James Hansen explained in a paper issued this summer, the emissions would mean it’s “essentially game over” for the climate. That’s why the executive directors of many environmental groups and 20 of the country’s leading climate scientists wrote letters asking people to head to Washington for the demonstrations. In scientific terms, it’s as close to a no-brainer as you can get.
But in political terms it may turn out to be a defining moment of the Obama years.
That’s because, for once, the president will get to make an important call all by himself. He has to sign a certificate of national interest before the border-crossing pipeline can be built. Under the relevant statutes, Congress is not involved, so he doesn’t need to stand up to the global-warming deniers calling the shots in the House.
But the president does need to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, which has done its best to influence the decision. Since the State Department plays a role in recommending a decision, the main pipeline company helpfully hired the former national deputy director of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign as its lead lobbyist. WikiLeaks documents emerged recently showing U.S. envoys conspiring with the oil industry to win favorable media coverage for tar sands oil. If you were a cynic, you’d say the fix was in.
Still, the final call rests with Barack Obama, who said the night that he clinched the Democratic nomination in June 2008 that his ascension would mark “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Now he gets a chance to prove that he meant it.
We have our first clue: The author of this article, Bill McKibben, was arrested outside the White House today:
Police arrested 65 environmentalists outside the White House Saturday as they staged a demonstration urging President Obama to block a proposed pipeline that would bring oil from Canada’s oil sands projects to Gulf Coast refineries.
People arrested include Bill McKibben, the prominent climate activist and founder of 350.org; Jane Hamsher, who founded the popular liberal blog Firedoglake; and Gus Speth, whose career includes co-founding the Natural Resources Defense Council and chairing the White House Council on Environmental Quality in the Carter Administration.
We have yet to see Barack Obama stand up to any industry, so its hard to imagine him standing up to the petroleum industry.
To keep up with this, visit Tar Sands Action.