A Climate Movement Is Born: Ozone Decision Spikes Total Arrests to 1,252 at White House Pipeline Protest

by Jamie Henn,

WASHINGTON– The largest environmental civil disobedience in decades concluded at the White House this morning with organizers pledging to escalate a nationwide campaign to push President Obama to deny the permit for a new tar sands oil pipeline.

“Given yesterday’s baffling cave on ozone standards, the need for a fighting environmental movement has never been more clear,” said Bill McKibben, who spearheaded the protest. “That movement is being born right here in front of the White House and reverberating around the country.”

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline has become the most important environmental decision facing President Obama before the 2012 election and sparked nationwide opposition, from Nebraska ranchers to former Obama campaigners. A petition with 617,428 names opposing the pipeline will be delivered to the White House today.

Over the course of the two-week sit-in 1,252 people were arrested, including top climate scientists, landowners from Texas and Nebraska, former Obama for America staffers, First Nations leaders from Canada, and notable individuals including Bill McKibben, former White House official Gus Speth, NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen, actor Daryl Hannah, filmmaker Josh Fox, and author Naomi Klein.

“Back home we are fighting to protect our land and water. This week, we decided to bring that fight to the President’s doorstep,” said Jane Kleeb, Director of BOLD Nebraska, who led a delegation of Nebraskans who were arrested this morning. “We are acting on our values and expect our President to act as well.”

McKibben also announced at the protest that the movement will continue organizing, with a Phase Two announcement within 48 hours. Click here to be the first to know details when they’re announced:

Protest organizers are already planning ways to capitalize on the surge of energy the sit-in has created. In a number of cities, people have already begun to visit Obama for America offices to tell the campaign they will volunteer and donate only after President Obama stands up to Big Oil and denies the Keystone XL permit. Along the pipeline route, groups are preparing to drive turnout to State Department hearings later this month. Thousands are expected to descend on Washington, DC for the final hearing on October 7.

Last week, nearly every major environmental group in the country signed on to a letter demanding President Obama deny the pipeline permit. “There is not an inch of daylight between our policy position on the Keystone XL pipeline, and those of the protesters being arrested daily outside the White House,” wrote the groups in their letter.

Vice President Al Gore also added his support to the protest, writing, “the leaders of the top environmental groups in the country, the Republican Governor of Nebraska, and millions of people around the country—including hundreds of people who have bravely participated in civil disobedience at the White House—all agree on one thing: President Obama should block a planned pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. The tar sands are the dirtiest source of fuel on the planet.”

Many of the people arrested at the White House wore Obama 2008 buttons as they were taken away in handcuffs.

“We are not going to do President Obama the favor of attacking him,” said McKibben. “We are going to hold the Obama campaign to the standard it set in 2008. Denying this pipeline would send a jolt of electricity through the people that elected this president.”

Executive director of the 1.4 million-member Sierra Club, Michael Brune, warned of the consequences if President Obama approved Keystone XL: “We will see an enthusiasm deficit. We won’t see our members volunteering 20 or 25 or 30 hours a week. We won’t see the same passion and intensity.”

Courtney Hight, a former Youth Vote Director in Florida and White House Council on Environmental Quality staffer, now co-director of the Energy Action Coalition, said, “Young people mobilized in record numbers in 2008 to elect a leader they believed would fulfill his promise. Yesterday, I was arrested with other young voters to call on President Obama to fulfill his promise and stand up to Big Oil.”

The White House is receiving pressure from citizens north of the border, as well. Activists in Ottawa are planning a civil-disobedience protest on Parliament Hill this September 26.

“The Canadian government is acting as the global advertising agency of the tar sands oil industry,” said author and activist Naomi Klein, who was arrested Friday. “Canadians have come to appeal directly to President Obama, to demand that he stop this pipeline and make good on his 2008 election promises.”

The proposed 1,700 mile Keystone XL pipeline would carry dirty, tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. A rupture in the pipeline could cause a BP style oil spill in America’s heartland, over the source of fresh drinking water for 20 million people. NASA’s top climate scientist says that fully developing the tar sands in Canada would mean “essentially game over” for the climate.

— by Jamie Henn

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23 Responses to A Climate Movement Is Born: Ozone Decision Spikes Total Arrests to 1,252 at White House Pipeline Protest

  1. prokaryotes says:

    So why did Obama reject the Ozone law update?

    Maybe under Bush protesters would have been ended up in Guantanamo? Ok, bad joke, but where is the progress or difference to the past administration? Im really missing some fundamental approaches here from the US government. How much renewables has the USA, in percent again?

    I can’t hear you!

  2. catman306 says:

    Extraction Rules! Time to change that.
    Show me a candidate.

    Who gets to write History if nobody wins?

  3. 1,252 American heroes!

  4. Z S says:

    I was among the arrested today. For me, the most powerful (and therapeutic, probably) moment was about halfway through the arrests, when a chant morphed into all of us screaming “YES WE CAN!” while turned to face the White House. All of the passion, the disappointment in Obama, the urgency of addressing an issue that threatens all of us, and the solidarity of the movement in three words.

  5. Joy Hughes says:

    Even if Obama truly wanted to make a stand on climate, he could only do so if we make him do it.

    McKibben, Hansen and the rest are doing the right thing. Actions like this saved the Clayoquot Sound in Canada and the Headwaters Redwood Forest in California.

  6. Lollipop says:

    Sad to have missed that, it would have been great. I was number 85 this morning. It was a powerful beginning to a movement that has much work ahead. But we will get there. I look forward to proving that my generation has what it takes to rescue our climate.

  7. fubarific says:

    Instead you might find it more effective to protest at the offices of Republican and Democratic Congresspeople, demanding they pass a law to outlaw the pipeline, and tougher regulations against such things.

    The pipeline is not illegal. It should be. That takes CONGRESS. We don’t have an elected dictatorship here. The president doesn’t make the laws, the Congress does.

  8. free transit says:

    Hansen et al truly are heroes. However, the tarsands producers are merely responding to demand. The path to success requires breaking the critical mass of the private auto, a consumer product, as the backbone of the human transport system. The quickest way to do that is to introduce fare-free buses in every city and town.

  9. Bill G says:

    It would be GREAT if youth got involved in climate as they were with Viet Nam. They stopped that war after even giving their life in protests.

    But someone needs to spell out to youth the real and dire implications of global warming. The news does NOT spell it out. Many think only Polar Bears are at risk and some islanders.

    Can someone please tell them that nearly all species, very much including man, are at extreme risk with ever escalating CO2?

  10. Bill mckibben says:

    Can I just say thanks to everyone-definitely including Joe for great coverage! On we go

  11. june savage says:

    a question that always bothers me about the folks attending the environmental issue protests – how did you travel to DC?
    i’d encourage a huge organizing effort to get local’s – DC, Virginia, etc. – to be ‘the voice’ for the rest of us who can’t ethically or economically afford to make the trip.
    maybe not so many famous faces, but large #’s of regular folks who are relentless and can show up often.
    our community in colorado was ‘activated’ by a utility-scale, hydrogen-powered solar development that would have put local ranchers out of business. we educate ourselves and were persistent, the developer withdrew.
    Acting Locally Works!
    Thanks to you all for your efforts.

  12. Aldous Tyler says:

    This was the final push I needed to make the announcement I made at the linked Facebook note.

  13. My take is here: this is really about corporate money vs the people.

    U.S. Awash in Oil and Lies, Report Charges
    By Stephen Leahy

    UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 2, 2011 (IPS) – With four times as many oil rigs pumping domestic oil today than eight years ago and declining domestic demand, the United States is awash in oil.

    The country’s oil industry is primarily interested in who will pay the most on the global marketplace. They call that “energy security” when it suits, but in reality it is “oil company security” through maximising profits, say energy experts like Steve Kretzman of Oil Change International, an NGO that researches the links between oil, gas and coal companies and governments

  14. fubarific, in the case of the Keystone XL Pipeline, because it involves Canada, the State Department is in charge, not Congress. Once the EIS and other permitting materiel is reviewed by the State Department, President Obama basically just has to give it a thumbs up or thumbs down.

    I wrote a post a few weeks ago after reading the August issue of Audubon Magazine. Some of the links in the post may help explain this process. Of course, it’s slightly out-of-date, but it may still be helpful.

  15. Bill, I want to thank you and all of the protesters, including the other arrestees posting here, for what you are doing. You are true heroes and should be honored as such. If there is a way that I can manage to join you all on October 7th, I will be proud to do so.

  16. Aldous, I tried to “write a note” on your Facebook page, but I don’t think it worked (Facebook and I do NOT get along), so I’ll repeat it here:

    I don’t know you, but I thank you for doing this. Even if your possible candidacy lasts just long enough to jar the conscience of President Obama, to be a reminder of what kind of President he was supposed to be, you will have done your best for our country.

    On a more humorous note, I would LOVE to see a debate between you and the only other (allegedly) Democratic candidate vying for Obama’s position, the one and only Randall Terry! See his FEC filing here:

  17. Thanks for the link, Stephen, very informative article. And now I’m even more pissed off about this pipeline than I was before!!

  18. Spike says:

    Interesting that he won’t act on Ozone when this is one of the win-win gases, the low hanging fruits, where intervention helps agriculture, human and animal health, agriculture and plany health generally, and climate change.

    As Krugman points out on his website the investments in the technology required would have had economic benefits at the present time.

    It really does look as though the fossil fuel lobby are running the show regardless of who gets elected.

  19. Three points: One is that although the White House protesters deserve thanks and admiration, and although the coverage on this blog has been great, the publicity still needs some work. I have been checking with people that I know here in small-town Iowa, people who generally keep up with newspapers and TV news, and I can’t find anyone who has even heard of the protests and arrests at the White House, and most of them have not even heard of the pipeline. People who have heard of this are people who frequent Facebook or Blogs. But maybe it will change after the Ozone retreat and associated publicity.

    The second is that I think the Ozone retreat was a reaction to the recent jobs report. Not that it was justified, but I was surprised yesterday at a Labor Day event at the strength of the jobs (jobs, jobs) thinking. I knew (and know) that jobs are important, but I had not realized how strongly it seems to dominate everyone’s thinking. It was so strong that some labor friends of mine could adamantly support the pipeline just for the jobs in spite of having at least some knowledge of the climate problems associated with it.

    Third, if you are wondering what sort of workings of the US governmental system could produce such inattention and unconcern to important issues such as climate, check out this ( from a former congressional staffer who just quit. It is not specifically about climate, but it applies pretty much across the board.

  20. Roger says:

    Thomas @ 15: Re publicity, DC is like Vegas: “What happens in DC (in the way of protest), stays in DC.” After all, one wouldn’t want to give millions of unhappy Americans any ideas. (Note that the above doesn’t apply to the Tea Party, due to $.)

  21. Eve says:

    Obama had a chance to rouse the nation to
    understand the reality of climate change and
    the urgency of action. He and the previous Congress had a chance to enact an economic stimulus which would have provided clean energy jobs and helped America emerge from the recession/depression. He didn’t do so and cant be expected to now.

    But is there hope?
    Is this the start of a much wider movement?
    Will the young people of America (counseled by wise older folks like James Hansen, Bill McKibben and Joe Romm etc) whose future is at stake come out in greater numbers to demand the quickest possible transition from fossil fuels to conservation and clean alternative energy sources? Will their counterparts in Europe, Asia etc join them ?
    We can hope (and act – locally or otherwise).

    Stay tuned.

  22. Chris Winter says:

    Thomas C. Gibbons makes some good points, and the article by Mike Lofgren he links to is pure dyn-o-mite.

    Since the climate quandary is mostly a political one, and based in the dysfunctional nature of American politics today, I would say that article is required reading.