Tag Archives: Keystone XL pipeline

Defusing the Carbon Bomb

The Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline has been described by its opponents as one of the biggest carbon bombs on the planet. This pipeline is designed to open up the Canadian tar sands to exploitation: sands contain naturally occurring mixtures of sand, clay, water, and a dense and extremely viscous form of petroleum technically referred to as bitumen. It takes a hell of a lot of water and energy to separate the oil out of this dense mixture, and even then the oil still needs to be refined. The Keystone XL pipeline will bring crude down from Canada, all the way across the lower forty nine, to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Of course there are many hazards associated with transporting oil all the way across the continental U.S.  In addition, however, we need to be asking ourselves a crucial question: should be really be opening up a massive store of fossil fuel at this date in history? Shouldn’t we be putting our money and our engineering expertise into developing renewable energy sources? The Keystone project, seen from outside, seems more like some sort of bizarre suicide pact or irrational, instinctual death wish than the work of a species capable of rational planning. The picture to the left shows what is left of the Canadian boreal forest after oil is extracted from the tar sands: a moonscape.

Oil company stooges in Congress recently passed legislation forcing President Obama to make a decision whether to move forward with the Keystone XL project before the end of this year.

In response, a protest campaign has developed that looks set to be one of the key struggles of the climate justice movement. Starting last night, protesters began engaging in acts of non-violent civil disobedience outside the White House to send a message to Obama. This campaign is going to last two weeks, with people being arrested solidly from now until the beginning of September. It promises to be one of the most significant campaigns of direct action in the nation’s history, and hopefully will help spark increasingly intense struggles for climate justice in the U.S. and around the world.

Here’s a link to the Tar Sands Action website, which contains information about the demonstrations and suggestions about how to engage in solidarity actions.

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Killer Coal

Last night I went to see the film The Last Mountain, an incredibly powerful documentary that chronicles the struggle of West Virginian communities against the pulverization of their land and lives by coal mining outfits like Massey Energy Corporation.

As these photographs suggest, mountaintop removal, a process used by Massey and other companies to mine coal with little manpower, is unbelievably destructive in environmental terms.  The corporations involved are literally creating a moonscape in the Appalachians, all in the name of greed.  Unfortunately, as The Last Mountain shows, many coal miners support such short sighted attitudes because they are afraid that they will lose their jobs if they don’t comply with the greed of their bosses.

The resilience and determination of individuals who challenge mountaintop removal, which has corrupted not just the air and creeks of the mountains of the Appalachians but also the political process and regulatory agencies such as West Virginia’s EPA, is really inspiring.  The film contains a series of stirring portraits of local citizen-activists who have risen up in opposition to the tide of cancer, pulmonary disease, and physical displacement that has swept across their rural communities.

The film also does a nice job in showing how outside activists, from celebrity environmental lawyers like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to young radicals with the climate justice movement, can help leverage local people’s protests.

I was also particularly impressed by The Last Mountain‘s ability to situate these struggles in relation to the broader struggle for climate justice. The film explains the toxic byproducts of electricity derived from coal and argues powerfully for a different, renewable energy system.

Protest around mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining is heating up.  Last month Appalachian activists led a five-day March on Blair Mountain to protest MTR.  It just so happened that one of the people at the screening of The Last Mountain was a West Virginian who’d been involved in the march.  The link above features lots of audio tracks from the march, but I hope to do an interview with the guy I met at the screening and post it here – keep your eyes open for this.

In addition, earlier this week, activists Catherine-Ann MacDougal and Becks Kolins began a tree-sit to block Alpha Natural Resources strip mining operations on Coal River Mountain.  The banners they’ve suspended from their tree-sits 80 feet in the air read “STOP STRIP MINING” and “FOR JUDY BONDS,” the latter being a reference to an Appalachian anti-MTR leader who died earlier this year of cancer.  Judy’s daughter, Lisa Henderson, said in support of the tree-sit, “I hope that today’s actions serve as a symbol that the struggle to live peacefully and pollution-free in the Coal River Valley did not end when my mother’s life did.  My mother and I often compared the fight to survive here on Coal River to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s.  I am sure that generations from now, our children will look back on this movement also and the actions of the people involved, and ask the question of their elders, ‘Whose side were you on?’”

As The Last Mountain shows, tree-sitting is a dangerous and grueling form of non-violent direct action, with mining companies often using ear-splitting noise machines similar to those deployed by the U.S. military in Iraq in order to try to break the morale of protesters.  We should try to lend the activists support with solidarity actions and letter writing campaigns to local papers.

Other protest actions relating to Climate Justice are on the horizon.  On August 4th, community members are calling for direct action at BP’s New Orleans offices in protest of the oil company’s continued lack of accountability for the devastating oil spill.

In addition, in late August and early September, thousands are converging and risking arrest over 15 days at the White House in protest of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Time to heat things up for Killer Coal and other dinosaur extractive industries.

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