Posts Tagged ‘Alberta tar sands’

Tar Sands: Civil Disobedience Called For

Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Wendell Berry Call for Civil Disobedience on Tar Sands

From June 23rd, original found here

Today, a group of eleven leading activists and environmentalists released a letter calling for people to join them in Washington DC this August to take part in civil disobedience to help stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Want to join in? You can sign up to take part here.

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 likely 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 president 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 power plants 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. TransCanada Pipeline, the company behind Keystone, has hired as its chief lobbyist for the project a man named Paul Elliott, who served as deputy national director of Clinton’s presidential campaign. Meanwhile, 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 through Labor 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 the government for change. We’ll do what we can.

And one more thing: we don’t want college kids to be the only cannon fodder 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; 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 (and whose careers won’t be as damaged by an arrest record) to step up too. 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, to the date in September when by law the administration can either grant or deny the permit for the pipeline. 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.

Winning this battle won’t save the climate. But losing it will mean the chances of runaway climate change go way up—that we’ll endure an endless future of the floods and droughts we’ve seen this year. And we’re fighting for the political future too—for the premise that we should make decisions based on science and reason, not political connection.  You have to start somewhere, and this is where we choose to begin.

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
  • Wendell Berry
  • Tom Goldtooth
  • Danny Glover
  • James Hansen
  • Wes Jackson
  • Naomi Klein
  • Bill McKibben
  • George Poitras
  • David Suzuki
Gus Speth

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.

‘Quote of the day’ w. this post: “Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy, it is absolutely essential to it.” Dr. Howard Zinn

P.S. from me: I’ve blogged about the tar sands before. The post here lists some good viewing if you want to learn more about the awfulness of the Alberta tar sands horror.


07 2011

Flaming Out

Every once in a while I have to take a complete break from “reality.” Just had me one of those times! I think of it as “going down a rabbit hole,” or being in a Very Deep Pit(!) for a day or two. I’m very very lucky on 2 counts here: first of all, that I can get away with doing this. Secondly, that my Very Deep Pit days are usually just one day long. I’m very fortunate on that score!

I’m never really quite sure what sets this off in me. All of a sudden my energy for shit-disturbing – for anything, really! – just drains right out of me. About all I am able to make myself do is lie in bed & read a junky novel (or two).

It may not have helped my spirits too much that the other night I watched CBC’s ‘The Nature of Things’ 2-hour special “Tipping Point: The Age of the Oil Sands” (due to be repeated, btw, on Saturday, Feb. 5th).

I’d say it’s utterly essential viewing. Powerful…sobering…illuminating…shocking. I think ALL Canadians have a duty to watch this documentary! To learn what is now driving the Canadian economy. And the price that is being paid – in terms of the truly appalling environmental damage & the horrendous social & health impacts on those who live “downstream” in Alberta. And our governments’ shocking complicity in this scandal (both Alberta’s provincial government, & our federal one).

Don’t we all have a duty to learn about this???

Maybe if we did all watch it, & allow it to really hit home, we’d finally get off our butts & get really serious about conserving energy & consuming less & driving less & not hopping on planes every 25 seconds just because we feel like it.

Shoot – Americans really need to watch it!! Apparently, it is the U.S. that is consuming most of what comes out of the Alberta tar/oil sands.

Well, anyway, as I say, I went into a bit of a pit afterward. I ignored the phone & my email & my work for a day.

Today I seem to be back to “normal.” Had a long walk, did some errands. Will play catch-up today for what didn’t get done while I was down the rabbit hole.

In World as Lover, World as Self Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal Joanna Macy says, “It is good to realize that falling apart is not such a bad thing. Indeed, it is as essential to evolutionary and psychological transformation as the cracking of outgrown shells.” Spiritual leader J. Krishnamurti said “It is not a sign of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society.”

So I’m not ashamed of my occasional “down the rabbit hole” days, & I’m not going to apologize for them.

This is such a stunning & beautiful world, this Planet Earth we have been given, & our lifestyles & our endless wants & rapacious technologies are trashing it. I reckon an occasional bout of despair is really only to be expected.


P.S. Joanna Macy is quite brilliant on the subject of despair, actually – despair and empowerment. Another wonderful thing she once said is that “Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.” It’s true…

(1) The “Very Deep Pit” is a phrase borrowed from Winnie-the-Pooh. Winnie-the-Pooh & Piglet…well – read the book! It’s in Chapter V, ‘In Which Piglet Meets a Heffalump.’ It was during the immediately-post-marriage-break-up phase of my life that I began borrowing the Very Deep Pit phrase. I used to joke that I was living in a Very Deep Pit – VDP for short. I still get a big kick out of the phrase…


01 2011

Change … or Die?

This may not be my most popular blog post ever, given the title I’m insisting on putting on it.

I’m usually pretty darn polite, & I generally hope to inspire readers with positive sentiments & a cheerful tone.

Today I am feeling pretty discouraged; not gonna lie to you.

A quick tour of some Copenhagen-related news items shows me that “the old boys’ club” is still firmly in charge – of the planet, of the meetings & of our (never-more-precarious) future.

Okay, I’ll qualify that. There are oodles of awesome inspiring, intelligent activist men working their butts off to make the world change. I know personally a few who are doing their very utmost, & I feel proud to know such inspiring individuals for doing their own very considerable best to change the world.

I guess, then, what I will call the people who are firmly in charge is “the old poops club.”

These are the people with their heads in the sand & their hands on the reins – of the banks, of the industries that are helping to destroy the Earth; of the tar sands & the oil industry, in Canada, in particular.

Meanwhile, millions of people all over this brilliant beautiful planet of ours are writing letters, occupying offices, hanging banners, demonstrating in the streets (& getting their heads busted) because they love this planet & Life itself. Doing hunger strikes! Shedding clothes in the streets to draw attention to the climate crisis. Ringing church bells to shout out the need for change.

The sheer passion, energy & creativity of the human spirit that infuses all these activists is a wonder to behold. I’m so proud of us!! It’s exhilarating, it’s inspiring & it’s wonderful.

& then there are those darn “old poops.”

Leading us right over the cliff like a flock of lemmings, bent & intent on our own destruction.

What is a person to do???

I sure have no quick or easy answers, dear Reader.

I like to think I’m not one of the old poops, although I’m now closer to 60 than 50.

I’ve recently occupied a federal (Canadian) politician’s office & been arrested, & you never know what I may get up to next. At this point, I have nothing to lose. I’ve had my kids, I’ve had my “career,” & I have no great faith that “life as we know it” will continue to look the way it looks now, with comfortable salaries, pensions & “security.” There is no security in a world gone mad. No jobs/pensions/or healthy people on a ravaged planet, hmmm?


I’ll keep on writing, agitating & trying to share some key ideas here on this blog & in my other writings.

Frugality, “living more with less” & being an activist are ideas/ideals I’ll continue to live by.

I think if more of us choose to do the same, the world will change. It is changing…

I’ll continue to work mostly on behalf of the young people I meet. The ones who are putting their hearts where their ideals are, inspiring us all with their energy, passion, idealism & a deep, deep love of Planet Earth & the glorious privilege of life – Life! – here.

I encourage you to do the same!


P.S. You might want to consider reading the brilliant Derrick Jensen essay ‘Beyond Hope.’ You can find it here

P.P.S. There is a 6-minute CBC documentary about the sit-in that 7 of us did in Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s office on Nov. 30th. You can find it here You may have to scroll thru the list of climate-related items on the right-hand side in order to find the one entitled “Climate Sit-in.” Lots of good viewing there!!

P.P.P.S. If you haven’t already read Paul Hawken’s brilliant, inspiring book Blessed Unrest – How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming (Viking, 2007), get thee to a bookstore or library, and get reading!!


12 2009