Obama Speech To COP21 Should Encourage Climate Protests

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Note: The artile below begins with a focus on stopping Keystone as an example of a success of the climate movement. President Obama uses it as a way to claim to the world he is serious about climate change. Of crouse, stopping a pipeline is a rarity, but it is important to note a few things that undermine Obama’s claims and should encourage escalation of protest. First, Obama approved the southern leg of the Keystone which is now flowing with oil to the Gulf. So, how serious is he when claims “We’ve said no to infrastructure that would pull high-carbon fossil fuels from the ground.” Second, under Obama there have been thousands of miles of pipelines for carbon and methane approved and built with the approval of the federal government. Obama uses the word “carbon” when describing climate infrastructure, but methane is also a major climate gas and under his energy policy — “all of the above” energy — methane gas often coming from highly risky fracking extraction has expanded. All of this indicates that we need to keep building the front-line, on-the-ground movement to blockade, delay and protest putting in place any infrastructure that contributes to more climate gases. KZ

A new activist movement is building its strength

During President Barack Obama’s address to world leaders at the Paris climate conference Monday, he cited, in unspecified terms, his rejection of the Keystone XL oil pipeline as evidence that the U.S. is doing its part to lower worldwide emissions. “We’ve said no to infrastructure that would pull high-carbon fossil fuels from the ground.” he said.

This little factoid has already gotten lost in the series of opening speeches that author Rebecca Solnit has called a “parade of clichés.” But it should stand out as a pretty remarkable thing—rejecting a pipeline is just plain weird.

A look at America’s history of building pipelines shows just how unusual Obama’s Nov. 6 rejection of Keystone was. We’ve been building oil pipelines for 150 years (the first came in the form of wooden gutters built in the 1860s), yet as a nation we’ve never made much of a hullabaloo over one, save the Alaska pipeline in the 1970s, which was eventually built.

The rejection is even more remarkable considering the number of pipelines in the country: According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there are 150,000 miles of oil pipelines in the U.S. Add gas pipelines and we have more than 1.7 million miles of pipe.

Obama’s move could be considered a watershed moment in environmental history, yet in his Nov. 6 speech there was no soaring rhetoric—just pragmatic frankness about how this rejection will give the U.S. more credibility in the climate talks. The pipeline, he said, had taken on an “overinflated role in our political discourse.”

For years, proponents of the pipeline have said similar things. According to them, opponents have been wasting their time because the pipeline, in a world crisscrossed by pipes, wouldn’t make much of a difference on emissions and we might as well take the 50 permanent jobs. This impression was all but validated by the State Department’s environmental impact statement published in January 2014.

But the impact statement failed to take into account the human component of a movement. What will it mean for the spirit of a movement if it, for the first time, succeeds in stopping a pipeline? Will such a victory inspire other groups to take on other pipelines? Could a bolstered, more confident movement shift its focus to, say, ending oil transported by rail, and, in the long run, affect emission numbers in a roundabout way?

Every movement needs symbols, litmus tests and roles. It needs clear-cut battles and clear-cut victories. Movements need a Selma to get to a Civil Rights Act, a Stonewall to get to gay marriage, a Boston Tea Party to get to independence. These events don’t lead straight to legally sanctioned justice. Rather, they function as small steps forward. They’re things movements can hang their hats on.

The rejection of the pipeline will not bring the fossil fuel industry to a screeching halt, nor has it become a global rallying point at the climate talks. But the fight over it has started a new trend in pipeline opposition. What were once normal and never-before-questioned conveyances of energy are now facing unprecedented levels of scrutiny, ire and resistance.

Citizens across the continent, concerned about loss in property values,unmanageable oil spills and climate change, are taking on one of the most powerful industries in the world—the fossil-fuel industry. Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline in British Columbia and itsSandpiper pipeline in Minnesota have received stiff opposition from concerned citizens. Momentum of TransCanada’s 2,800-mile Energy East pipeline has stalled. Efforts to lay gas pipelines across the Northeast have been stymied, like Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a550-mile pipeline that would go through the states of West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. Energy Transfer Partners’s Dakota Access pipeline is being fought in Iowa.

Perhaps the most unusual thing about these pipeline battles is who’s doing the fighting. These environmentalists aren’t just the young and the liberal from the East and West Coasts. They include older generations from conservative and rural Midwestern states not known for their environmental activism. For example, one of the groups that made headlines in the fight over the XL was the Cowboy and Indian Alliance, a collection of farmers, ranchers and Native Americans. No longer just the territory of college students and hippies, the environmental movement has welcomed scores of salt-of-the-earth landowners to its ranks and has industry leaders quaking in their wingtips.

America’s Natural Gas Alliance President Marty Durbin calls the intensification of opposition toward new energy projects “Keystone-ization.” Alexander J. Pourbaix, a TransCanada executive, said: “It would be naïve for any energy infrastructure company to think that this would be a flash in the pan.”

It’s true that plenty of pipelines have recently snuck under the radar, but the rejection of Keystone may mean that oil pipelines are destined to the outmoded fate of horse-drawn wood wagons and whaling ships sooner than imagined. And it’s not just oil pipelines: Coal has long been under siege, and there’s a growing unease over fracking. We may well be moving toward—albeit at a steady crawl—a future with far fewer fossil fuels.

In his Monday address, Obama said that one of the enemies of the climate conference is “cynicism.” Whatever happens in Paris, with the rejection of Keystone he’s given many of his supporters what he promised long ago: hope.

Ken Ilgunas is the author of Trespassing Across America: One Man’s Epic, Never-Done-Before (and Sort of Illegal) Hike Across the Heartland, about his walk along the route of the Keystone XL pipeline, to be published April 19, 2016 by Blue Rider Press.

  • occupyRUScom

    During ‘Occupy Wall Street’ ENCAMPMENT-DAY’s i saw this fella with a sign that read; “THE FART SMELLA.” Believe it r Not. But NOW i understand.

    PS: i Would Love To FART IN OBAMA’S FACE” like What the ‘Pie-Thrower (Aaron ) Used to Do to U.S. Politicians! SoForget Throwing Stinky-Shoes at’m!

  • easywriter

    Don’t listen to what he says, pay attention to what his feet are doing.

  • AlanMacDonald

    Likewise, I think Obama is still playing a game.

    He has however, just this week for the first time exposed that the crony-capitalist corporate (and banking) system is based on gaming the biggest ‘flaw’ of making phony profits by dumping ‘negative externality costs’ on the people and government of our former country — which truth he exposed in the Q&A session in France on Global Warming and CO dumping in the atmosphere, which was a hell of a surprising thing to admit, since even Krugman doesn’t expose the extent of this scam to dump, stuff, or ram up our collective arses this hidden ‘negative externality’ faux profit pump, which is the major underLYING factor that the Disguised Global Crony-Capitalist Empire uses to support itself and eff the rest of us.

    I was.surprised to the nth power that good old Mr. Okie Doke would say anything like this. Maybe he’s trying to do a little CYA for his legacy BS.

    Anyway, I’ll be watching Secret Agent 008 to see what he does next — and will only change my opinion if he somehow has the stones and guilt about the effing he has been doing to the 99% of us and our former country in service to the Empire IF/WHEN he ‘outs’ the DGC-C Empire itself as the agent and CAUSE of this ‘negative externality cost dumping’ fraud of their economic screwing.

    There certainly seems to be some strange shit going on here if the Commander in Chief political puppet of the Empire is dishing economic dirty tricks of the same Empire that he’s supposed to be working for, eh?