On Sept. 3, 2011, I spent three hours in a jail cell. I was alone in a small steel box, shivering in my rain-soaked sundress, with no sense of time. I was scared, but more strongly I felt sad and worried. I was 17 — two months away from having a political stake in my country. If going to jail didn’t get the message across to my politicians, I wasn’t sure what else I could do.
I was one of 1,252 people arrested in protest of the Keystone XL pipeline in late summer 2011, part of the largest display of civil disobedience in the U.S. in 30 years. Every day for over two weeks, a crowd would gather on the sidewalk in front of the White House with signs and banners. We would sit down, hold hands and wait for the police warnings (it’s illegal to stop moving on a sidewalk in a secure area). Most people paid a $100 fine instead of being charged with a minor infraction and were released with no legal consequences. As a minor, my situation was a little different. I was held in a juvenile facility while my dad was arrested, processed and released to come retrieve me.
The protest was catalyzed by a call to action from 11 climate justice movement leaders in Canada and the U.S., including Bill McKibben, James Hansen, Wendell Berry, Gus Speth, Naomi Klein, Tom Goldtooth and Maude Barlow. They were responding to the State Department’s plans to approve a 1,700-mile long pipeline proposed by the energy company TransCanada. The pipeline would bring 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the Alberta’s tar sands to refineries in Texas. Since it would cross an international border, the State Department has ultimate power to approve or decline the permit.
Proponents of the pipeline hail it for energy security, job creation and economic stimulation. However, I am convinced that a sustainable, equitable, green economy will better achieve these goals than tar sands exploitation and the construction of the pipeline. Fox News hit the nail on the head vis-à-vis the pipeline when the conservative news source published an article last January titled “Six Reasons Keystone XL Was a Bad Deal All Along.” Their first reason was that Keystone XL would not reduce foreign oil dependency, and in fact would increase domestic oil prices. Additionally, TransCanada overstated the number of jobs to be created. Another issue Fox News raised was that the current Keystone pipeline leaked 12 times in the last year, and the environmental concerns about these leaks are justified. Finally, mining tar sands would exacerbate global warming.
Check out the article, or any of hundreds published in the last year, for facts backing up each of these points. In the words of James Hansen, leading climatologist at NASA, the pipeline and the extraction of tar sands in Canada spanning an area the size of England would essentially be “game over” for the climate.
President Obama delayed a decision on the pipeline following the protests in summer 2011 and a 12,000-person rally in D.C. that November. But TransCanada is pushing through with its plans undeterred. Over the last several months, the company has been installing piping for the southern segment running through Oklahoma and Texas. They’ve been met with staunch displays of civil disobedience from affected residents and climate justice organizers — from physical blockades to hunger strikes. Just this past month, there have been anti-Keystone actions in Nebraska, Massachusetts, Missouri, Texas and Maine.
Based on Obama’s inaugural address, it seems possible that he’s coming around on the climate issue. He dedicated more sentences to climate change in his speech than he did for any other issue for his upcoming term, saying, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
Instead of waiting for Obama to act on his words, we must hold him to them. On Feb. 17, Americans and Canadians will once again gather in Washington, D.C., to nonviolently demand that Obama take leadership against climate change and reject Keystone XL. I’ve heard over 10,000 people are already signed up for this non-arrestable action.
This is not a game, where losing is okay. We need to act now, and I hope you’ll join us.
Ariana Shapiro is a freshman in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .