Perfect storm from Alberta threatens climate crisis

by Rob Brinkman

A perfect storm of ecological, human and climatic catastrophe is brewing in Alberta, Canada. The mining of Canadian Tar Sands and plans to pipe the resulting toxic brew to the Texas Gulf Coast for refining and likely export will mean, in the words of world-renowned climatologist Dr. James Hansen, “game over” for efforts to stabilize Earth’s climate.

The exploitation of the largest pool of fossil carbon fuel in this hemisphere, and the second largest on the planet, is also destroying one of the largest boreal forests, threatening both wildlife and the home of indigenous peoples. This is an all too familiar story in the history of western exploitation of natural resources in which native peoples are pushed onto what are viewed as marginal lands, only to find that the resources in these lands become viewed, erroneously, as essential to our energy-hog lifestyle.

In an effort to kickstart a campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline proposed to pipe the tar sands across the breadbasket of America, Tar Sands Action, together with, organized a unique civil disobedience campaign outside the White House which resulted in the arrest of 1,252 people over 13 days.

I was arrested on Aug. 24 with 51 other people committed to pressuring President Obama to deny the required permit for the pipeline. The charge was failure to obey a lawful order; I was released hours later after paying a $100 bond forfeiture.

This action began on Aug. 20 with the initial group, including organizer Bill McKibben, being arrested. The Capitol Police, having been informed in advance that these demonstrations would continue for two weeks, decided to hold this first group in jail for the weekend pending arraignment. They told the organizers that they did this to deter others from coming for future days of protest, which only increased the resolve of more people to come. On subsequent days, the Capitol Police reversed course and offered bond forfeiture to all others arrested.

Each day’s action became a ritual for both police and demonstrators with the numbers arrested growing significantly in the second week. Media coverage also increased, spurred by the arrests of Dr. James Hansen, and Darryl Hannah the following day. There were themes to many of the days. I was arrested with a group of activists from the Gulf Coast; there were days featuring people from the states the pipeline would pass through, days of religious leaders, and a day of indigenous leaders.

The campaign to stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline continues. Since the last day of arrests on Sept. 3, tar sands protesters have greeted Obama at every domestic public appearance he has made. While I am unaware of any planned visits locally, there are actions we can do in this community to support the anti-pipeline campaign.

It will be a challenge to convince Obama to do the right thing; however, justice for the affected first peoples of Canada, protection of wildlife and the natural environment, and preserving a future through preserving a stable climate, are not optional. It is past time a new renewable energy future was charted; if we do not begin to end our addiction to fossil fuels now, when will we?

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