June 2011, Week 4


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Wed, 22 Jun 2011 21:35:11 -0400
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Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Wendell Berry Call for Civil
Disobedience on Tar Sands

Peter Rothberg
June 22, 2011


Haven't heard about the Tar Sands?

The Tar Sands, also known as the oil sands, are one of the
largest remaining deposits of oil in the world, and
efforts to extract the resource from a mix of clay and
other materials underneath Canada's Boreal forest have
created the biggest, and by the accounts of numerous
scientists and environmental groups,  the most
environmentally devastating, energy project on earth.

TransCanada, one of the largest companies involved in tar
sands exploration, has proposed a 1,661 mile, 36-inch
extension of the newly built Keystone Pipeline from
Alberta, Canada to oil refineries of the United States.
This would expand the capacity for refining oil produced
from Alberta tar sands by approximately one million
barrels per day.

Time for the fight-back.

A group of leading environmental activists, many
associated with the grassroots group 350.org, and many of
them Nation writers, have issued a call and invitation for
concerned citizens to take part in a campaign of
non-violent direct action this summer in Washington, DC,
in all likelihood, organizers say, during the last two
weeks of August.

Why DC in the sweltering summer? That's when 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, some of whom want to
build the so-called 'Keystone XL Pipeline' from Canada's
tar sands to Texas's refineries.

The guidelines for participation are strict. Participants
must pledge to:

1) Be utterly peaceful in all aspects of this
action-physical and verbal.

2) Be dignified in dress and demeanor - these are serious
issues, and we want to be taken seriously.

3) Attend an action training and briefing before I join
the action. Knowingly and freely assume all risks, even if
arising from the negligence of others, and assume full
responsibility for my participation in this action.

Read the full letter below, signed by Maude Barlow,
Wendell Berry, Tom Goldtooth, Danny Glover, James Hansen,
Wes Jackson, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, George Poitras,
David Suzuki and Gus Speth. The missive clearly makes the
case for the campaign and details the horrific
consequences if TransCanada's plan proceeds.

Check out how to take part in the actions or otherwise
support them and please post the letter to your social
networks, forward it to your email list and talk about it
with your friends and family.  


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

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.



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