Last week the Canadian government sent a letter to President Obama offering vague promises of reducing carbon emissions from the tar sands in return for the right to build the pipeline. Scientists and energy analysts quickly pointed out that this was nonsense -- it’s as if you were to begin your diet with two dozen jelly doughnuts, or plan to quit smoking by buying another carton or two of cigarettes.
I think this means the Canadians are getting a little desperate. They know the tide has turned against this pipeline in the U.S.
An article in The New Yorker magazine this week called the fight over Keystone XL “the most prominent environmental cause in America.” The article also pointed out that now there are TV ads airing around the country telling the truth: that this is an export pipeline that will threaten every town it passes with ugly spills.
Just two years ago everyone told us this was a done deal. Now we’ve clearly got a chance.
The Canadian government is going all-out right now, and we need to do so as well. September 21st is the day -- that's when we will Draw the Line to oppose the pipeline and the tar sands it would carry. The President has made his promises, and now he needs to keep them. That means stopping the pipeline, and stopping it now.
Extra innings, overtime, at the buzzer: pick your sports cliché, but now’s the moment. Stopping Keystone XL won’t stop global warming -- but it would keep a huge pool of carbon in the ground, and perhaps begin to turn the tide against the relentless greed of the fossil fuel industry. That would be a big deal indeed.
Bill McKibben, co-founder and director of 350.org, joins Democracy Now! to discuss "Draw the Line," a national day of action this Saturday to protest the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Already this week on Monday, 13 people were arrested during a protest in Houston in front of the offices of TransCanada, the company behind the controversial project. McKibben has just come out with the new book, "Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist." McKibben argues that Obama’s pending decision on whether to approve or reject the Keystone XL’s construction is a historic opportunity. "If [Obama] says no to the Keystone pipeline, he will be the first world leader ever to say, 'Here is something we are not going to build because of its effect on the climate,'" McKibben says. "It might have the effect of unfreezing the climate negotiations that have been wrecked ever since Copenhagen … Sometimes Obama, correctly, can blame his absurd Congress. But in the case of the Keystone pipeline, he gets to make the call himself. So he darn well better make that call."
AMY GOODMAN: What is it about the oil, tar sands?
BILL MCKIBBEN: Is incredibly dirty stuff. They call it Bitumen. It is oil mixed with sand. So, you have to — not only is it dirty like all oil terms of carbon emissions, but it is extra dirty because you have to heat it up or whatever to get it out of the ground in the first place. I was just up there this summer to look at the tar sands complex. The technical name for what was going on Mordor, it is unbelievable. You just can’t imagine how gruesome it is. But, its biggest effect in the end is the pool of carbon that it pours into the atmosphere that drives the global warming that accounts for the pictures you just showed from Colorado. We’ve destabilized the planet’s climate system, and the only question is, how much farther we are going to go.
Read an excerpt from Bill McKibben’s New Book "Oil and Honey" after the jump...
Thousands of climate activists marched Saturday through the streets of Richmond, California to the gates of the Chevron refinery, as part of a protest against the oil giant and other fossil fuel companies.
Chanting "arrest Chevron," protesters sat in front of the refinery gates before being handcuffed by police in riot gear. The event was scheduled to mark the anniversary of the August 6th explosion and fire at the refinery that generated a huge plume of black smoke and sent 15,000 people to hospitals complaining of breathing problems.
More than 200 people were arrested Saturday outside the oil giant's Richmond refinery during the protest, and many cited safety issues at the plant and the company's global environmental practices, among other complaints.
The arrests came hours into a protest that began with a rally Saturday morning outside the Richmond BART Station and a march west to Chevron's gates. By the time the demonstration reached the refinery, the crowd numbered into the thousands.
Protesters chanted outside the gate and drew a giant sunflower using biodegradable paint on the pavement. Police began making arrests when the demonstrators, many of them carrying sunflowers, walked onto company property and refused to leave.
"The showdown was about more than one local community's battle with its largest employer and biggest polluter, however. It represents the latest example of a fast-growing movement by environmentalists across the United States to organize rallies, marches and civil disobedience for more action to reduce greenhouse emissions
"The pace is picking up very dramatically," said Bill McKibben, one of the event organizers.
McKibben is a Vermont writer who cofounded the nonprofit group 350.org, which has organized thousands of similar events in the past five years. He was among the first people arrested Saturday. McKibben said protests are increasing because people are frustrated that Congress has not passed national laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the coal, oil and other fossil fuel industries despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the planet is warming.
"Everybody thought at first that if you have a problem this big that scientists said is a problem, then our system would act," McKibben said. "That was my assumption. But at a certain point it became clear that wasn't happening. The science was no match for the money. They've purchased the U.S. Congress."
McKibben, a professor at Middlebury College who was awarded a 1993 Guggenheim Fellowship for nonfiction writing, said the movement's major goals include convincing President Obama to cancel the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would allow Canada to export tar sands oil to U.S. refineries in Houston and other cities. Boosting federal funding and tax credits for solar, wind and other renewable projects, is also among the goals, along with passing a federal carbon tax or cap-and-trade program, similar to California's, that would offer incentives for using fewer fossil fuels."
Eventually, 210 people were arrested, nearly all of them on suspicion of trespassing, police said. They were cited and released.
"(Enbridge Northern Gateway) has presented little evidence about how it will respond in the event of a spill," the province wrote in its submission to the Northern Gateway Pipeline Joint Review Panel.
"Put another way, it is not clear from the evidence that NG (Northern Gateway) will in fact be able to respond effectively to spills either from the pipeline itself, or from tankers transporting diluted Bitumen from the proposed Kitimat terminal."
The strongly worded submission made clear the B.C. government believes the company has yet to lay out how it would respond to a catastrophic spill - something it said is particularly important here.
"The project before JRP (Joint Review Panel) is not a typical pipeline. For example: the behavior in water of the material to be transported is incompletely understood; the terrain the pipeline would cross is not only remote, it is in many places extremely difficult to access; the impact of spills into pristine river environments would be profound," the province wrote.
"In these particular and unique circumstances, NG should not be granted a certificate on the basis of a promise to do more study and planning once the certificate is granted. The standard in this particular case must be higher," it added.
"'Trust me' is not good enough in this case."
Founder of 350.org Bill McKibben said Friday, the decision marks an important win for the climate movement. Anti-tar sands campaigners will now be looking for Obama to follow suit and reject TransCanada's bid to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, a separate export route for Alberta's tar sands that would pass south to the Texas coast.
"For years the tar sands promoters have said: ‘if we don't build Keystone XL the tar sands will get out some other way,'" McKibben said in a statement.
But, he continued, "British Columbians just slammed the door on the most obvious other way, so now it's up to President Obama. If he approve Keystone XL he bails out the Koch Brothers and other tar sands investors; if he rejects the pipeline, then an awful lot of that crude is going to stay in the ground where it belongs."
This also certainly makes plans to export tar sands oil much more complicated.
350.org founder Bill McKibben's sermon delivered on April 28 at the Riverside Church in NYC, on the topic of climate change.
Here are some excerpts from McKibben's inspiring sermon titled "God's Taunt":
...Rather, Job has to answer as all mortals did up until our time, because all of a sudden we've gotten rather large. Our first sense of that sudden change in stature came with the detonation of the first atom bomb at Alamagordo in the New Mexico desert. J. Robert Oppenheimer, watching the mushrooming cloud, quoted from the [Bhagvad Gita], from the Hindu scripture - "We are become as gods, destroyers of worlds."
But the images of those blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were enough to persuade us, so far at least, to go no further down that path, thank god. We could imagine the horror of those titanic explosions. We, so far, have NOT been able to adequately imagine the effect of the explosion of billions of pistons in billions of cylinders every minute of every hour of every day, but those explosions are wrecking the earth just as surely and almost as fast as nuclear war.
Consider that, so far, human beings have burned enough coal and gas and oil to raise the temperature of the planet 1 degree Celsius...the energetic equivalent of exploding 400,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs every day...enough energy so far to melt the Arctic...We've taken one of the largest physical features on earth and we've broken it, and with the others not far behind. The oceans are now 30% more acidic...The atmosphere itself, because warm air holds more water vapor than cold, is now 5% wetter than it was 40 years ago, which loads the dice for drought and for flood...
They have five times the amount of coal, gas and oil that is safe to burn -- and they are planning on burning it all. Left to their own devices, they'll push us past the brink of cataclysmic disaster -- life as we know it will be irrevocably altered forever. Unless we rise up and fight back.
Do The Math chronicles follows the climate crusader Bill McKibben as he works with a rising global movement in a David-vs-Goliath fight to change the terrifying math of the climate crisis.
This growing groundswell of climate activists is going after the fossil fuel industry directly, energizing a movement like the ones that overturned the great immoral institutions of the past century, such as Apartheid in South Africa. The film follows people who are putting their bodies on the line the Keystone XL Pipeline and leading universities and institutions to divest in the corporate polluters hellbent on burning fossil fuels no matter the cost.
The film also features a veritable who's who of the climate movement including Dr. James Hansen (Director, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies), Naomi Klein (Author, The Shock Doctrine), Lester Brown (President, Earth Policy Institute), Michael Brune (Executive Director, Sierra Club), Majora Carter (Founder, Sustainable South Bronx), Jessy Tolkan (Co-Executive Director of Citizen Engagement Laboratory), Phil Radford (Executive Director of Greenpeace), James Gustave Speth (Co-Founder of Natural Resources Defense Council), Mike Tidwell (Executive Director, CCAN), Van Jones (CNN Correspondent & Author, The Green Collar Economy), Bobby Kennedy Jr. (President, Waterkeeper Alliance ), among others.
The short documentary "Dance of the Honey Bee," is narrated by Bill McKibben, and takes a look at the determined, beautiful, and vital role honey bees play in preserving life, as well as the threats bees face from a rapidly changing landscape.
Prominent environmental leaders, including the head of the Sierra Club, were arrested Wednesday after tying themselves to the White House gate to protest the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The protesters demand that President Barack Obama reject the pipeline, which they say would carry “dirty oil” that contributes to global warming.
Executive Director Michael Brune is the first Sierra Club leader in the group's 120-year history to be arrested in an act of civil disobedience. The club's board of directors approved the action as a sign of their opposition to the $7 billion pipeline, which would carry oil derived from tar sands in western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the president of Waterkeeper Alliance, was arrested along with his son, Connor, the 18-year-old ex-boyfriend of singer Taylor Swift. In an emailed statement from his organization, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said "It's unfortunate that civil disobedience is the only recourse against a catastrophic and criminal enterprise that will enrich a few while impoverishing the rest of humanity and threatening the future of civilization."
Along with the Kennedys, 350.org founder Bill McKibben, and actress Daryl Hannah were also arrested. Hannah was previously arrested for separate Keystone pipeline protests in Texas last October and at the White House in August 2011.
McKibben said in a statement from Tar Sands Action, “We really shouldn’t have to be put in handcuffs to stop KXL–our nation’s leading climate scientists have told us it’s dangerous folly, and all the recent Nobel Peace laureates have urged us to set a different kind of example for the world, so the choice should be obvious."
Tar sands pipelines have a horrendous track record: the existing Keystone 1 pipeline leaked twelve times in its first year, and at least thirty times to date. In 2010, the added dangers of tar sands pipelines were demonstrated by Enbridge’s Line 6B pipeline spill of over a million gallons of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The Kalamazoo Tar Sands spill is the costliest inland spill in United States history, draining the oil spill coffers and placing the $800 million and rising price tag onto the backs of local and federal taxpayers. But it is not the monetary burden that weighs heaviest; the toll on human life, health and local ecosystems is immeasurable, and in the immediate, the toxicity of the diluted bitumen and undisclosed proprietary chemicals has proven devastating.
Video call to rally: On Sunday, February 17, thousands of Americans will head to Washington, D.C. to make Forward on Climate the largest climate rally in history.
During his inaugural address on January 21, President Obama made a big commitment when he said "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations." Now environmentalists expect him to live up to those words by putting a stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, the transcontinental conduit for tar sands fuel from Canada that many scientists say could expedite climate change.
"If he doesn't reject it," said Piedmont attorney Guy Saperstein, a former Sierra Club Foundation president and prominent liberal donor, "then I think it should be all out warfare for the next four years."
Environmentalists are drawing a line in the tar sands with a series of high-profile demonstrations planned this month in Washington.
The timing of the protests is crucial because sometime before April, Obama will receive the State Department's recommendation on whether to green-light the 1,700-mile Canada-to-Texas pipeline, forcing him to make a decision he delayed during last year's presidential campaign to avoid alienating his liberal base.
Liberals who bided their time through four years of little action from the White House on climate change, and who bit their tongues during the 2012 campaign, expect payback.
The Sierra Club, based in San Francisco, plans to participate in civil disobedience for the first time in its history to call attention to the issue which include a Feb. 17 demonstration on climate change that is expected to be the largest of its kind in U.S. history.
Leading environmentalists say this is Obama's chance to redeem himself to them:
"This is the purest test Obama is ever going to face," said Bill McKibben, a prominent environmentalist and writer who is helping organize the Feb. 17 demonstration as part of a climate-change awareness organization called 350.org. "He doesn't have to ask John Boehner. He doesn't have to ask Mitch McConnell. He just needs to do it."
During a recent pipeline protest, Ramsey Sprague, a "blockader," disrupted an oil and gas pipeline conference by chaining himself to sound equipment and delivered an impassioned speech to the crowd. Sprague described TransCanada’s horrific safety record, as well as its treatment of indigenous communities and others whose land and lives are being adversely affected by tar sands extraction.
Sprague described shoddy welding practices and dangerous corner-cutting throughout TransCanada's operations as exposed by whistleblowers like Evan Vokes, a metallurgic engineer who came forward in May 2012, leading to an investigation by Canada's National Energy Board. Sprague reminded attendees that TransCanada's first Keystone pipeline has already leaked over 30 times and that other industry leaders such as Enbridge are similarly negligent, with over 800 spills since 1999. He derided TransCanada for routing the KXL pipeline through ecologically sensitive areas and through communities like the one in Douglass, TX, where construction crews are actively laying pipe within sight of the Douglass public school.
Sprague also described how activists who blockaded themselves inside the actual KXL pipe on December 3rd, 2012 could see daylight through holes in welds connecting segments of pipe – and how Tar Sands Blockade has the pictures to prove it. That mile-long section of the pipe was laid in the ground on the same day; no additional welding or inspection occurred after the photos were taken.
The flawed welds inside KXL:
"This is among the first biggest tests of (Obama's) commitment to climate change and his willingness to stand up to the oil industry and their toadies in Congress," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.
"The president has not fully put his muscle behind the effort to combat climate change," Brune said. "That's what needs to change more than anything else."
Today, delegates from nearly two hundred nations are gathering in Qatar for the UN'sThis new campaign is spreading an urgent message face-to-face all over the country, as this group of activists visit over twenty cities in the USA. Their message: it's simple math. We can burn 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2°C of warming – anything more than this risks total catastrophe for all life on the planet. The problem: fossil fuel corporations now have 2,795 gigatons in their reserves, five more times the safe amount . . . And they’re planning to burn it all – unless we rise up to stop them."> COP18 – the latest round of UN climate talks aimed at cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.
While they all try to talk it out in Qatar, Bill McKibben and his grassroots initiative with 350.org may achieve far more on the ground than any solemn swear of re-commitment to the Kyoto Protocol will at Qatar. This new campaign is spreading an urgent message face-to-face all over the country, as this group of activists visit over twenty cities in the USA. Their message: it's simple math. We can burn 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2°C of warming – anything more than this risks total catastrophe for all life on the planet. The problem: fossil fuel corporations now have 2,795 gigatons in their reserves, five more times the safe amount . . . And they’re planning to burn it all – unless we rise up to stop them.