Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Forward On Climate Rally

On February 17, I was lucky enough to sleep in and enjoy my breakfast before making the 15-minute Metro journey to the Washington Monument for the Forward on Climate rally. But thousands of people travelled from all over the country for this moment—the biggest climate rally in history—to protest the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and to let President Obama know that we expect bold climate leadership.

It was a bitterly cold day (by D.C. standards at least), but the energy was palpable. Volunteers passed out buttons and posters as participants emerged by the dozens from the Metro tunnel onto the National Mall. People from all walks of life, including some dressed as polar bears, migrated to the stage near the Washington Monument, where Hip Hop Caucus’s Reverend Yearwood was acting as MC for the event, getting the crowd to jump and wave their arms for the climate, as well as their core temperatures.

Despite the cold, more than 40,000 people crowded together, all willing to ignore their temporary discomfort in the name of acting on behalf of an issue that has a far greater timeline, scope, and potential to inflict suffering much worse than being chilly for a few hours. A diverse group of people spoke to show solidarity with the crowd. Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree tribe of Alberta, told the crowd how her community was already being affected by the horrifying process of extracting tar sands oil in Alberta. High cancer rates plague the communities adjacent to the operation. She reminded us of this certainty: “If this pipeline goes through, it will be at the cost of human life, air life, water life.”

We also heard from Tom Steyer, a member of the financial community and a clean energy investor. “For the last thirty years I have been a professional investor, and I am here to tell you one thing: the Keystone XL pipeline is not a good investment.” The speeches were impassioned, clear, and concise.

The Keystone XL Pipeline does not make sense. The pipeline will be transporting oil from tar sands in Canada to the Gulf Coast. At the source, tar sands extraction requires clear cutting Boreal forest in Alberta, which completely devastates this rich ecosystem and poisons the waterways and adjacent communities. Although the companies responsible for this destruction are required under Canadian law to restore the area to a condition similar to what was there originally, evidence suggests this very well could be an impossible task. In order to separate the sand from the oil requires large amounts of hot water—which relies on fossil fuels to heat—adding to the already atrociously high environmental impact.

This oil will then be transported through the Keystone XL pipeline, which runs through America’s heartland: over rivers, aquifers, and precious farmland. When it comes to oil pipelines, it is not a matter of if a spill occurs, it is a matter of when. The pipeline will put our water, food, and diverse prairie ecosystems at risk.

When the oil finally arrives in the Gulf, it is not for American consumption, and it will not reduce domestic oil prices. Period. After its journey across the U.S., the oil will be shipped abroad. Sure, the construction of the pipeline may create some jobs. But a pipeline only gets built once. And then these jobs will end. And then where will we be? With a long, metal straw, transporting a dirty fuel source out of the U.S. in the name of corporate profits and maintaining the status quo. Why not invest in creating long-term, skilled jobs that make us globally competitive? Building wind turbines and solar panels, operating wind turbines, and installing solar panels are part of the solution. Investing in a destructive, finite, greenhouse gas-producing fuel source is not.

Van Jones, President Obama’s former advisor on green jobs and a climate activist put it this way: “This is the last minute, in the last quarter, of the biggest, most important game humanity has ever played. President Obama, all the good that you have done, all the good you can imagine doing, will be wiped out by floods, by fires, by superstorms, if you fail to act now to deal with this crisis, that is a gun…pointed at the head of the future.”   

Climate change is the most complex and urgent conundrum the human race has ever faced. The Keystone XL pipeline, the development of Canada’s tar sands are simply not part of the solution. What is part of the solution is education. At Wild River Academy, I am excited to engage with high school students about what climate change is, what it means, and how we as individuals and as a community and as a movement we can create a hopeful, bright future for ourselves.

40,000 people gathered to speak truth to power on February 17, to let President Obama know that the climate simply cannot wait. And it will not wait. We must act now because every moment lost is another child with asthma, another home flooded by a superstorm, and another species gone extinct. The sooner we act, the faster we create good, green jobs, increase our quality of life with more livable communities, and create a viable, bright future for ourselves. On February 17, the American people said peacefully, but forcefully, that climate change mitigation must be a priority, and we will not stand aside and let our future go up in smoke.

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