On November 6, our four-year fight to stop the infamous Keystone XL pipeline ended when President Obama finally rejected a Canadian company’s plan to build a pipeline to transport oil from the Alberta tar sands to Texan refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.
Friday was a day of celebration for the CABA staff, many of whom were still in high school in 2011 when Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, announced the campaign to stop this pipeline. McKibben, along with other climate activists, was stirred to action after reading an essay written by NASA scientist James Hansen. Dr. Hansen, who was emerging as the world’s most famous climate scientist, said that developing the super-polluting Alberta tar sands would mean “game over” for the climate.
“Stop Keystone XL” became a rallying cry for hundreds of thousands of Americans. This pipeline carrying 800,000 gallons a day of oil at high pressure would literally bisect the United States from North to South, creating the risk of catastrophic explosions and oil spills that could pollute the country’s largest underground aquifer.
I became involved in the Keystone XL battle in September 2011, when hundreds of activists, including James Hansen and some members of CABA, staged an illegal protest at the White House. They wore business suits to show people who they were – not fringe elements but business owners and representatives of American society. On the day of their arrest, I was just returning from Indonesia, where I was accompanying Dr. Birute Galdikas, founder of Orangutan Foundation International, as she met with palm oil industry executives and government officials in her efforts to preserve orangutan habitat.
A few weeks later, I attended a Keystone XL pipeline meeting in Jamaica Plain. People who had been arrested were there, along with activists who had been to the Alberta tar sands to see with their own eyes the environmental devastation on a massive scale and the toxic pollution that results from the tar sands extraction process. I believe along with Pope John Paul, that it is our sacred duty to live simply, so that others may simply live. This is why I could not fathom to think why we would want to build this expensive pipeline which held vast economic and environmental threats to our nation.
We believed that Obama wanted to reject the pipeline. But our efforts to stop the project created a massive and well-financed backlash from every Republican in the U.S. Congress. Proponents of the pipeline claimed it would create tens of thousands of jobs. This is actually a tiny percentage of the U.S. workforce, and would hardly make a dent in unemployment. Even more, the 42,000 jobs created by Keystone XL would last for two years. In comparison, the green energy sector is growing fast enough to create over 100,000 new jobs every year. In the end, the net return on the Keystone XL would be 35 permanent jobs — far fewer than we’ve created together at Tech Networks!!!
So, how did we finally win? Can activists really take credit for the Keystone XL pipeline rejection? No, it’s rarely as simple as that. But, by shining a light on the issues, we were able to help President Obama delay it until a combination of economic and political factors created the opportunity to finally strike it down.