Climate Activists Tell Warren Buffett Why They Are Blocking His Coal Trains, Via James Hansen

NASA’s James Hansen sent out this email Tuesday:

The following Letter to Warren Buffet can be found on my website.

Sent By Mail:

Warren Buffett
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
3555 Farnam Street
Suite 1440
Omaha, NE USA 68131

Dear Mr. Buffett:
We want to inform you that on Saturday, May 5th, from midnight to midnight, we intend to prevent BNSF coal trains from passing through White Rock, British Columbia to deliver their coal to our coastal ports for export to Asia. We have chosen May 5th to take this action because it has been designated an International day of action by, with the theme “Connecting the Dots.” We can’t think of a more important connection to emphasize than the one between burning coal and putting our collective future at risk.

Who we are and why we are prepared to engage in civil disobedience to stop your coal trains:
We are a group of citizens in British Columbia, Canada who are deeply concerned about the risk of runaway climate change. There is a broad scientific consensus that we must begin to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions this decade to avoid climate change becoming irreversible. At the same time, governments and industry are eager to increase the production and export of fossil fuels, the very things that will ensure climate change does get worse.

These two things are irreconcilable, and since we can’t dispute the scientific findings or change the laws of nature, those of us who care about the future must do what we can to reduce the production, export and burning of fossil fuels – especially coal.

Since we know what is at stake we feel a moral obligation to do what we can to help prevent this looming disaster.  On Saturday May 5th that means stopping your coal trains from reaching our ports.

Our actions will be peaceful, non-violent, and respectful of others. There will be no property destruction. We are striving to be the best citizens we can. We will stand up for what we believe is right and conduct ourselves with dignity.

Why we are involving you:
We know that you have canceled plans to have your utilities build coal fired power plants. Like us, we are sure you know that coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels; when burned it produces the most global warming pollution per unit of energy. We assume you are familiar with the growing number of scientists – including NASA’s Dr James Hansen, and IPCC member Dr Andrew Weaver – who warn us that if we burn the world’s accessible coal reserves we will destroy the benign and hospitable climate that has allowed human civilization to flourish.

What we can’t understand is why you allow your railway, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, to continue shipping vast amounts of US coal out of Canadian ports to be burned in Asia. No matter where this coal is burned, it brings us closer to a climatic point of no return.

Mr Buffett, you have spoken eloquently about the need for shared sacrifice. But with all respect sir, when it comes to climate change it appears that other people are doing all the suffering while you profit from the very causes of the problem. That’s not fair, and we urge you to apply the same moral reasoning to the climate crisis as you have to the problem of economic inequality in your country.

You are in many ways an important figure of conscience in the world. We appeal to you to seize this opportunity and make a bold decision on coal. With your support we can ensure a healthy future for our children and people around the world.

We acknowledge that this action is taking place on unceded Coast Salish territory.


British Columbians for Climate Action

Chief Willard Cook, Semiahmoo First Nation (sent by fax)
Andrew Weaver, University of Victoria
James Hansen, Columbia University
Bill McKibben,

Specific details on our intention to stop your coal trains on May 5th:
For 24 hrs on May 5th we are prepared to stop all loaded coal trains traveling west/north that approach mile 122 (White Rock pier) on the New Westminster Subdivision, Northwest Division, of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.  From dawn to dusk on May 5th we will also stop all unloaded coal trains traveling east/south approaching mile 122.

We will not interfere with other freight trains using this line on May 5th, nor will we interfere with the movement of Amtrak Trains using the New Westminster Subdivision on that day:

  • Cascades # 513, passing mile 122 at approximately 7:40 a.m. en route to Bellingham;
  • Cascades # 510, passing mile 122 at approximately 10:30 a.m. en route to Vancouver;
  • Cascades # 517, passing mile 122 at approximately 6:45 p.m. en route to Bellingham; and
  • Cascades # 516, passing mile 122 at approximately 9:50 p.m. en route to Vancouver.

We will step off the tracks well in advance of the arrival of Amtrak service. Our spotters to the south and north will give us notice of the approach of any freight traffic, and we will step away for these trains as well. A 21 MPH speed restriction is in place for some distance both sides of mile 122 of the New Westminster Subdivision, which is the site of a well used foot crossing that is safe and familiar to both pedestrians and train crews.We are confident that we can safely remove ourselves from the tracks to allow the passage of Amtrak service and freight trains.

Our spotters in the USA and Canada will provide us with notice well in advance if coal trains are moving anywhere on the New Westminster Subdivision on May 5th. We ask you to stand down all coal traffic on this day in order to avoid a confrontation at mile 122 and potential disruption of passenger rail service.

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20 Responses to Climate Activists Tell Warren Buffett Why They Are Blocking His Coal Trains, Via James Hansen

  1. Leif says:

    Good on you James. Add my name to the proxy list. I will be there in spirit and heart.

    Captain Leif Knutsen

  2. MarkfromLexington says:

    Wow! Now that takes courage and incredible resolve.

    Just what we need to change our destructive habits.

    What can we do to support you?

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    Buffet paid $26 billion to buy out Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, one of his biggest bets ever. Their main business is the coal death trains.

    If Buffet ends up doing the right thing and takes a big loss on Burlington, that might inspire other wealthy investors to take a hard look at the earth- and themselves.

    If Buffet eats that loss, it would be a far more constructive action than piling up a fortune and turning it over to the Gates Foundation, which is deep into GM and Big Pharma, and is invested in fossil fuels.

  4. Anne van der Bom says:

    Be there?

  5. Christopher Parker says:

    Keep in mind that railroads are common carriers and are legally required to carry anything the shippers will pay for. In this case, the move crosses international borders, so I don’t know if that principal applies or not (presumably there it is spelled out in some treaty).

    Coal is perhaps 25% of the railroad’s business, the balance being the normal mix of merchandise and quite a bit of grain.


  6. Paul Magnus says:

    A very nice place to retire to… White Rock.

  7. M Tucker says:

    “Climate Activists Tell Warren Buffett Why They Are Blocking His Coal Trains”

    Because it is easy! Too hard to get coal companies to stop loading coal onto trains. Cannot stop coal companies from selling it to “Asian” nations. Can’t stop “Asian” nations from buying and burning coal. Afraid to actually target China. So sorry Warren all we have is an attack on you.

    “…those of us [Canadians] who care about the future must do what we can to reduce the production, export and burning of fossil fuels – especially coal.” We will not be stopping Canadian tar sand oil but we will be stopping American coal and Warren we have selected you as our whipping boy. Congratulations!

    I wonder how much business cargo trains would have if they did not haul coal to American power plants 24/7? No plans to stop those trains? Hmmmm

  8. Tim Palmer says:

    “But it was that day in Iowa when we visited our parents’ grave sites that I realized those coal trains are death trains. The railroad cars may as well be loaded with the species themselves, carrying them to their extermination.” James Hansen; Storms of My Grandchildren, p. 239.

  9. Mark E says:

    Suppose Buffet’s RR stops carrying the coal?

    Then someone else’s RR will carry the coal and Mr Buffet can bring his sleeping bag to camp out on the tracks with everyone else…. Now THAT would be cool.

  10. John Tucker says:

    I dont know if this is a correct avenue of assault. I would rather see people educated, a tax levied and cuts legislated.

    Greenpeace is using tactics like this in Europe to cut off nuclear power and has done the same here.

    Im sure they are involved in these protests.

    If they are successful it will negate ALL the renewables installed and scheduled to be installed here and then some.

  11. John Tucker says:

    True, even more so where this coal will be used.

  12. Mark E says:

    BTW…. is civil disobedience a weekend recreational activity, done with the assumption that there will be no real penalty?

    Or does it

    What exactly is the “harshest penalty possible” for conspiring to interfere with interstate rail traffic?

  13. Rick says:

    Good for these activists! Buffet could care less about the environment. Anyone who thinks he’s a good guy, is in denial.

  14. Lollipop says:

    I actually think that’s a really good question. I think the answer should be both. There should be oppertunities (like Keystone) for people who can do it as a weekend gig, with low risk. And opportunities for peaceful CD that carries a greater risk, like Tim Dechristopher’s action. We need both.

  15. IANVS says:

    And so it begins.

    “God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty…. And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” –Thomas Jefferson, Nov 13, 1787

  16. Joan Savage says:

    It is not trivial to stop a coal train under normal circumstances.
    Are the engineers forewarned? Buffet doesn’t have direct supervision of them.

    Recalling the case of Rachel Corrie, crushed to death by an armored bulldozer in Israel in 2003, I don’t count on equipment operators to make safe decisions when presented with an unfamiliar situation.

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Do you think that Jefferson ever imagined that humanity would willingly commit auto-genocide?

  18. IANVS says:

    We imagine that local authorities will be playing cowcatcher.

  19. IANVS says:

    We imagine that Jefferson might put his pen to paper & ink us another “history of repeated injuries and usurpations,” this one to Uncle Sam.