McKibben on Tar Sands Action: “The Largest Collective Act of Civil Disobedience in the History of the Climate Movement”

— Bill McKibben

This weekend, the Tar Sands Action received its 2000th commitment to participate in civil disobedience at the White House. We’re now sure this will be the largest collective act of civil disobedience in the history of the climate movement….

Together, we’ve raised the bar. No matter what happens in the coming weeks and months, your commitment to this action will leave its mark. Thank you.

Along with that exciting milestone, I wanted to let you know about two events that will be happening during our time in DC.

First, a big rally has been organized for September 3rd so that we can end our action by showing our full strength. This is an all-comers event for everyone who wants to support the action, including folks who can’t risk arrest. The rally is called for Noon on the 3rd – please spread the word.

Also, a group of local artists and musicians are putting together an event on August 27th called ‘How to Defuse a Carbon Bomb: Artists Against the Keystone XL Pipeline.‘ The event will be happening in St. Stephen’s church, right next to our training – for those of you who will be in DC on the 27th, I highly recommend you clear your schedule for this. Visit their Facebook Event for more details.

JR:  That’s McKibben writing about Tar Sands Action on its website.  Here are excerpts from his WashPost op-ed, “A watershed moment for Obama on climate change“:

The issue is simple: We want the president to block construction of Keystone XL, a pipeline that would carry oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta down to the Gulf of Mexico. We have, not surprisingly, concerns about potential spills and environmental degradation from construction of the pipeline. But those tar sands are also the second-largest pool of carbon in the atmosphere, behind only the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. If we tap into them in a big way, NASA climatologist James Hansen explained in a paper issued this summer, the emissions would mean it’s “essentially game over” for the climate. That’s why the executive directors of many environmental groups and 20 of the country’s leading climate scientists wrote letters asking people to head to Washington for the demonstrations. In scientific terms, it’s as close to a no-brainer as you can get.

But in political terms it may turn out to be a defining moment of the Obama years.

That’s because, for once, the president will get to make an important call all by himself. He has to sign a certificate of national interest before the border-crossing pipeline can be built. Under the relevant statutes, Congress is not involved, so he doesn’t need to stand up to the global-warming deniers calling the shots in the House.

But the president does need to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, which has done its best to influence the decision. Since the State Department plays a role in recommending a decision, the main pipeline company helpfully hired the former national deputy director of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign as its lead lobbyist. WikiLeaks documents emerged recently showing U.S. envoys conspiring with the oil industry to win favorable media coverage for tar sands oil. If you were a cynic, you’d say the fix was in.

Still, the final call rests with Barack Obama, who said the night that he clinched the Democratic nomination in June 2008 that his ascension would mark “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Now he gets a chance to prove that he meant it. In basketball terms, he’s alone at the top of the key — will he take the 20-foot jumper or pass the ball? It’s a rare, character-defining moment. Obama can’t escape it simply by saying that someone else will burn the oil if we don’t. Alberta is remote, and its only other possible pipeline route — to the Pacific and hence Asia — is tangled in litigation. That’s why the province’s energy minister told Canada’s Globe and Mail last month that without the Keystone pipeline Alberta would be “landlocked in bitumen,” the technical name for the heavy, gooey tar that is its chief export. Critics may argue otherwise, but Obama’s call is key; without it, that oil will stay in the ground for at least a while longer. Long enough, perhaps, that the planet will come fully to its senses about climate change.

It’s hard to predict what will happen. Earlier this summer Al Gore tossed up his hands in despair: “President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis,” Gore said. “He has not defended the science against the ongoing withering and dishonest attacks.” Yet it’s hard to give up on the image of the skinny senator from Illinois and the young people who were his most fervent supporters — young people who, according to pollsters, wanted a climate bill by a 5-to-1 margin. That didn’t happen, of course; for now, the Keystone pipeline is the best proxy we have for real presidential commitment to the global warming fight.

— Bill McKibben. The writer is the Schumann distinguished scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont and has helped organize


Below are old comments from the previous Facebook commenting system:

There is a *major* difference between the light crude of the Saudi Arabia oilfields and the Tar sands and that’s the energy required to extraxt the oil! The Tar sands will require one barrel of oil (energy) for every five extracted (Saudi fields is something like 1 to 100 or so). So there will be hugely more carbon emissions per galon made available at the pumps in the USA!
Heating and pumping that stuff all the way to Texas will cost a lot, the pipeline will cost billions… all of that will “find it’s way” to the prices at the pump! The times of cheap motoring around are history, with or without KeystoneXL.
The Oil comanies will not say this because they’d like you to drive those big inefficient cars as long as possible… to their profit.

Instead of spending Billions of dollars in construction (temporary jobs) and billions more to buy the oil from abroad, you should be investing that cash in your own high-tech industry and -jobs: sustainable power! Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Wave-energy etc. etc. Think: what is China doing? You want China to corner your home-market?

High-tech jobs help your economy, bring in regular paycheques and pay regular taxes. So, by simply doing what’s best for your economy you have the added benefit of knowing you helped fight greenhouse gas emissions a (significant) bit. A win-win & no-brainer indeed!

9 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 19 at 1:11pm

Jud Hindes

Well said Francis! :)

1 · Like · Reply · August 19 at 1:19pm

Leif Erik Knutsen · Top Commenter · Friends with Joseph Romm

I invested ~$25,000 in my new solar PV and it is giving me a return on investment here in WA of ~10%. Match that on Wall Street if you are not an inside trader. It is on my property and I can fondle it if I want.

7 · Like · Reply · August 19 at 1:20pm

L.D. Gussin

Yes, well said. A McKibben piece two weeks ago expanded on this theme:

Like · Reply · August 20 at 10:32am

Leif Erik Knutsen · Top Commenter · Friends with Joseph Romm

I will be sending daily letters to the White House telling them that I am there in spirit if not in body. (I live on the opposite side of the Nation.)

4 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 19 at 12:12pm

Leif Erik Knutsen · Top Commenter · Friends with Joseph Romm

Caring people need to make an “electronic flash mob” out of this issue.

4 · Like · Reply · August 19 at 12:14pm

Eric Carlson · Associate Professor, Applied Behavior Analysis at The Chicago School of Prof. Psychology

Leif, well said! Time for Obama to step up to the plate and do what he should have done and what many voted him into office to do. Teabaggers are a blight on this country’s political process. I also have left coast job responsibilities that week and weekend, but will also be emailing and calling the White House each day to lend support to those who are there.

2 · Like · Reply · August 19 at 12:55pm

Jeffrey Davis · Top Commenter

Good Luck.

To all of us.

4 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 19 at 2:10pm

Rommy Lopat · Lake Forest, Illinois

I have been a reader of Bill McKibben’s books forever and trust his word. I must be living under a rock, but I didn’t know about this project. Whoa! Halt! Stop!

2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 19 at 1:43pm

Leif Erik Knutsen · Top Commenter · Friends with Joseph Romm

“See” the antarctic as no one ha seen it before. Cool ice flow map.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 20 at 12:47pm

John Tucker · Top Commenter · Tulane University

Its hard to believe oil shale and tar sands development could be going forward. Even if a moderate Republican was in charge. I hate to say it but this administration seems totally content to deal and compromise everything away unless heavily prodded.

Good luck.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 19 at 5:18pm

John Tucker · Top Commenter · Tulane University

Probably anyone here with a blog, twiterer stuff and/or facebook should be mentioning this and perhaps linking to the James Hansen paper. Spamming other sites with it too.

Like · Reply · August 19 at 7:46pm

Todd Tanner · Works at Freelance writer

Bill McKibben was arrested this afternoon.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 20 at 9:14pm

sasparillafizz (signed in using Yahoo)

Well, climate change hasn’t mattered to this admin since the beginning – they consistently went with coal and oil industry choices consistently. They are now in campaign mode – which means campaigning for the swing voters and Obama knows that the Republicans will bash him for keeping production down and oil prices high.

Politically the easy choice is to approve the pipeline (another weapon the GOP could use would be defused) and it would be consistent with previous administration behavior anyways. Although Obama could just let the decision hang there until after 2012 and then cancel it – that would take some serious forward thinking about what would be best for the country instead of the next election and doesn’t seem likely.

One way or another (whether now or another president) the tar oil will be coming here (there’s too much money involved for our bought our government) – the best thing we can do (individually), IMHO, is get off gasoline cars as quickly as possible (finances allowing).

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 19 at 10:16pm

Robert Fanney · Top Commenter · Flagler College

We need to be building solar panels and wind farms. Not more pipelines. Cheers to you all for this!

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 19 at 4:21pm

Peter S. Mizla · Top Commenter · Vernon, Connecticut

Wear the T shirt to the Gym—-a few looks- sticker on the car- good luck!

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 19 at 3:36pm

Paul Magnus · Top Commenter

I would just like to urge you all to view the video found via pages below on the debate between elders Canadian environmental icon David Suszuki and Thay Nhat Hanh a well renown peace activist and Zen master (He was nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel peace prize).

I have come through various stages in realization of what GW now means and our collective reaction in addressing it. Realization that this is a serios problem; frustration of the denial and inaction of so many; realization that it is not just a problem, but a catastrophe; what that means for my kids;.

Frustration, anger and despair. This conversation between David and Thay Nhat has brought me some peace and strength in dealing with the situation….
…See More

Like · Reply · Subscribe · Monday at 12:05am

williamgreen0204 (signed in using Yahoo)

The development of oil sands/tar sands (call them whatever you like) DOES NOT depend on whether or not the Keystone XL line is built, as the oil sands/ tar sands product could also find its way onto the global oil market via other routes.

The result of stopping XL would be to substitute greater U.S. oil imports from outside North America for oil that would otherwise flow though XL, and send the oil sands/tar sands product to more distant markets outside North America. The extra intercontinental movements of oil if XL and other such projects were to be stopped would actually INCREASE energy-related greenhouse gas emissions relative to the level that would be expected if the pipeline were not built.

This planned action is akin to throwing a book of matches at a burning world, and I really don’t understand why Joe/CP would provide …See More

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 20 at 10:32am

Miles Lunn · Simon Fraser

I fully agree with this one never mind buying oil from Canada vs. Saudi Arabia has other benefits. Canada is a friendly liberal democracy while Saudi Arabia is a monarchy that oppresses its own people and is one of the biggest sponsors of terrorism against the West. I haven’t read it, but there is a book called Ethical Oil which explains why buying oil from Canada as opposed to Venezuela and the Middle East is more ethical.

Like · Reply · August 20 at 1:23pm

Joan Savage · Top Commenter · SUNY-ESF

Lessening dependence on foreign oil is helpful in several ways, but that is subordinate in importance to cutting dependence on combustion. We need to reduce combustion globally; that is essential and urgent. The pipeline is just one of many elements.

Like · Reply · August 20 at 9:25pm

  • newburg (signed in using Yahoo)

It’s true that the tar sands are likely to be exploited as long as oil prices are high enough, but wouldn’t the pipeline make it more economical/profitable for producers, and a safer investment? In that case it still facilitates (potentially INCLUDING exports to China). Ultimately, though, if we want tar sands to be less viable, we need cap & trade or some similar system that recognizes externalized costs.

1 · Like · Reply · Sunday at 2:29pm

chrislocktherock (signed in using Yahoo)

Like · Reply · Subscribe · Sunday at 1:43am

  • chrislocktherock (signed in using Yahoo)

A two hour documentary on CBC that aired last Feb

Like · Reply · Sunday at 1:44am

Joan Savage · Top Commenter · SUNY-ESF

Canadian press:
Tar sands protest begins Saturday at White House.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 20 at 9:45am

sasparillafizz (signed in using Yahoo)

Here is the previous tar sands pipeline the Obama Administration already approved (back in 2009 when we still thought he was serious):

The already approved one goes into Wisconsin bringing ultra high CO2 oil to the midwest.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 19 at 10:29pm

Joan Savage · Top Commenter · SUNY-ESF

I hope the blog-silence this fine morning means that readers will be getting an update from the sit-in sooner or later. Anyone find a live-feed?

Found a map of the proposed pipeline:
The map reveals that some of the dirty oil may be exported via Port Arthur TX.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 20 at 9:40am

Paul Magnus · Top Commenter

Soaring Cancer Rates down stream of Tarsands…
(why does the gov cover this up? Our governments are failing us!)

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 20 at 1:26am

Terry Gallagher · Chicago Theological Seminary

We will be in D.C. Sept 1-3 as part of this movement to awaken America to the crisis of Global Warming. How about joining us?

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 20 at 7:29am

Elizabeth Hill · Pastor at Memorial United Methodist Church

Thanks for taking a stand for those of us who cannot be in DC. God’s peace and blessings!

Like · Reply · August 20 at 8:55am

Prokaryotes – · Top Commenter (signed in using Hotmail)

I wish I could join you guys.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 19 at 10:47pm

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