August 3, 2011

Have You Ever Been to a Sit-In? Here’s Your Chance!

A tried and true method to focus attention on important issues is civil disobedience. Now citizens concerned about climate disruption are calling for a sit-in at the White House this month!  If you’ve never done it, this is a sit-in worth attending.

Many of the best informed climate scientists and ecologically conscious citizens are inviting all of us to join them in Washington D.C from August 20 to September 3rd – that gives you a choice of daily peaceful protests over the course of 15 days.

As they say in the open invitation letter, this is serious stuff!

What’s all the fuss about? – Well, I told you, this is very serious business. Consider this metaphor I modified from 350.org’s May Boeve:

The Tar Sands of Canada represent the biggest carbon bomb that could end life on Earth as we know it. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas is the fuse.

The Proposed Tar Sands Pipeline - One Signature from President Obama and it's a done deal!

As James Hansen ( NASA’s top climatologist) put it, “burning coal must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground.” He went on to say “if tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over.”

The Tar Sands of Alberta, Canada

This kind of threat to humanity get’s under my skin; it makes me angry. You can see what I wrote about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their efforts to deny climate change here. Well, the U.S. Chamber is at it again, they just announced their “Partnership to Fuel America” claiming they want to keep America “clean”. You guessed it, their first priority is to promote the pipeline! Such deceitful green washing makes my blood boil. What about you?

Last weekend, I visited my young adult son (way wiser than his age) in Durango and he said he couldn’t be an activist any longer because it made him too depressed and angry. He said, spreading love is the answer. Well, I couldn’t argue with that. At the same time, as I returned to Boulder in my somewhat fuel efficient 2001, 4 cylinder – 5 speed, PT Cruiser, I tuned into Public Radio and got riled up again, the warrior energy in me was activated. Listening to “The Ring of Fire” interview with Bill McKibben, grabbed my undivided attention. He was exposing more details about the Keystone XL pipeline project. I took a deep breath and reflected upon my challenge to turn anger into positive action in the world, fully aware that anger can be a powerful pure source of energy when used with skill and compassion in a productive, non-harmful manner. Add in some real love (there’s that word again) as my son Brady suggested and solutions flow with greater ease.

In my days as a pro-peace activist, sit-ins were all the rage. We weren’t talking about sitting on a meditation cushion in an Ashram back then, we were sitting to protest an immoral war. Heck, I still have a silk screened poster that says: Strike for the Eight Demands.  One of those demands was “Strike because there is no poetry in your lectures and your classes are a bore.”  In an era of deadly serious geo-political blunders, activists tried to be witty and maintain some semblance of humor. It wasn’t easy then and it isn’t easy now.

The Harvard Strike of 1969 - Student Activism at its peak

It was hot back in the spring of 1969 and it’s hotter now. Back then it was the political climate that was hot, now it’s both.  Politics boil over in dysfunctional behavior and the climate is heating nearly out of control. In fact 2010 has tied 2005 as the hottest two years on Planet Earth in the modern era and we all know what’s happening right now in the midst of a deadly heat wave across our continent. Go ahead and blame it on Sun flares if you must, does that excuse or justify spewing more toxic pollutants into our atmosphere?

The Dalai Lama reminds us: “It is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest potential for doing good, both for oneself and others”

The issue at hand – as if the dirty oil and dangerous pipeline isn’t enough, consider this: Tar Sands operations use nearly 350 to 400 million cubic meters of water per year, twice the amount of water the city of Calgary uses in a year. That’s three barrels of water to extract 1 barrel of crude oil. Ninety percent of the polluted water is dumped into human-made tailing ponds, full of cyanide and ammonia, festering as toxic sludge. Beyond the extraction impacts, transporting oil in pipelines is risky business with terrible consequences. Is our addiction to oil and profits worth turning the water from this gorgeous Athabasca River into sludge?

The Athabasca River near Jasper - photo by Joseph J. Novak

Am I exaggerating? I think not. I have a personal connection to the Athabasca River, since I spent a few days of my honeymoon in a picturesque cabin, literally on the banks of this beautiful river. Every night, several Elk gracefully crossed the shallow narrows at sunset, with a magnificence only present in pristine wilderness settings.

The ExxonMOBIL Pipeline recently fouled 80 miles of Montana’s Yellowstone River in just the first few hours of the spill. More than 240 miles of the river has been tainted and the damage is impacting the Missouri River too. This same pipeline had 12 ruptures in one year and numerous safety violations. Too bad for the share holders who may be more interested in the profit from their stocks than the trout and health of an entire ecosystem. In a terrible sort of way, the good news is this latest spill was simply too big to go under the radar. Predictably, the ExxonMobil media spin-machine downplayed and misinformed the public and regulatory agents every slimy step they took, attempting to reduce public outrage.

Put in perspective this Exxon pipeline, built in 1991, carried 40,000 barrels of conventional oil per day, the proposed Tar Sands pipeline, if approved, will carry 830,000 barrels of corrosive crude oil that is far more dangerous to transport than conventional crude. 71% of Albertans support a moratorium on new Tar Sands projects, according to a recent survey. Here is one more ironic twist, it takes approximately 1. to 1.25 gigajoule of energy to extract a barrel of bitumen (tar sand oil ) and upgrade it to synthetic crude, most of this energy is provided by natural gas, however, since natural gas production peaked in Alberta in 2001, it is likely that oil sands requirements will be met by cutting back on natural gas exports to the U.S. – so, we’ll be trading one of the “cleaner” burning fossil fuels for the dirtiest.  Makes sense, eh?

Are these factoids enough to inspire a trip to Washington to demand clean energy now? As Mark Hertsgaard recently wrote in The Nation quoting Bill McKibben, (and I elaborate and paraphrase here): “When Obama first came into office, he wanted citizens to keep pressing him”. He said, “demonstrating grass roots support for his progressive agenda would be the best way to give him room to operate.”  Do you need a more formal invitation than that? Remember, we deserve the government we allow.

What does Hillary Clinton have to say about it all, well it would be an international agreement, so the State Department may spin this into a “National Security” issue, trumping ecological concerns.  All the way back in October she said she was “inclined” to “sign off” on the deal. If you want to approach Daniel Clune, Princial Deptuy Assistant Secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans , International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, ( doncha love government titles?) I’d suggest you read this article in the Los Angeles times for more background. Beware, the on-line article is sprinkled with banner ads for get rich quick investments in OilSands and Natural Gas extraction.

If you absolutely can’t show up in Washington, and you live anywhere near Colorado, check out this web site and put September 24th on your calendar for Moving Planet day, a nation wide initiative to let your elected officials know where you stand, in this case, it will be a bike ride!

If we can storm the beaches of Normandy, we can certainly sit on the steps of the White House… here is where you can sign up to join the sit-in and stop the pipeline. If you prefer to do on-line activism, sign the petition to President Obama here.

As Johnny Cash and Burl Ives remind us in this obscure video clip: “We’ve got a lot of work to do”


Onward with courage

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