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Within a week, five chapters in the Rising Tide’s Northwest network took action in three cities against against tar sands, fracking and oil exports.

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RTNA Analysis: The Climate Movement’s Pipeline Preoccupation

Originally posted in Earth Island Journal

The Climate Movement’s Pipeline Preoccupation

Yes, Keystone XL is horrible – but so are plenty of other fossil fuel infrastructure plans

By Arielle Klagsbrun, David Osborn, Kirby Spangler and Maryam Adrangi

Architecturally, a keystone is the wedge-shaped piece at the crown of an arch that locks the other pieces in place. Without the keystone, the building blocks of an archway will tumble and fall, with no support system for the weight of the arch. Much of the United States climate movement right now is structured like an archway, with all of its blocks resting on a keystone – President Obama’s decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.

This is a dangerous place to be. Once Barack Obama makes his decision on the pipeline, be it approval or rejection, the keystone will disappear. Without this piece, we could see the weight of the arch tumble down, potentially losing throngs of newly inspired climate activists. As members of Rising Tide North America, a continental network of grassroots groups taking direct action and finding community-based solutions to the root causes of the climate crisis, we believe that to build the climate justice movement we need, we can have no keystone – no singular solution, campaign, project, or decision maker.

The Keystone XL fight was constructed around picking one proposed project to focus on with a clear elected decider, who had campaigned on addressing climate change. The strategy of DC-focused green groups has been to pressure President Obama to say “no” to Keystone by raising as many controversies as possible about the pipeline and by bringing increased scrutiny to Keystone XL through arrestable demonstrations. Similarly, in Canada, the fight over Enbridge’s Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline has unfolded in much the same way, with green groups appealing to politicians to reject Northern Gateway.

However, the mainstream Keystone XL and Northern Gateway campaigns operate on a flawed assumption that the climate movement can compel our elected leaders to respond to the climate crisis with nothing more than an effective communications strategy. Mainstream political parties in both the US and Canada are tied to and dependent on the fossil fuel industry and corporate capitalism. As seen in similar campaigns in 2009 to pass a climate bill in the United States and to ratify an international climate treaty in Copenhagen, the system is rigged against us. Putting Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the keystone of the archway creates a flawed narrative that if we, as grassroots groups, work hard enough to stack the building blocks correctly to support them, then elected officials will do what we want. Social change happens when local communities lead, and only then will politicians follow. While we must name and acknowledge power holders like Obama, our movement must empower local communities to make decisions and take action on the causes of the climate crisis in their backyards.

Because of the assumption that the climate movement can trust even “sympathetic” politicians like Obama, these campaigns rely on lifting up one project above all else. Certain language used has made it seem like Keystone XL is an extreme project, with unusual fraud and other injustices associated with it. Indeed the Keystone XL project is extreme and unjust, as is every fossil fuel project and every piece of the extraction economy. While, for example, the conflict of interests between the State Department, TransCanada and Environmental Resources Management in the United States, and Enbridge and federal politicians in Canada, must be publicized, it should be clear that this government/industry relationship is the norm, not the exception.

The “game over for climate” narrative is also problematic.  With both the Keystone and Northern Gateway campaigns, it automatically sets up a hierarchy of projects and extractive types that will inevitably pit communities against each other. Our movement can never question if Keystone XL is worse than Flanagan South (an Enbridge pipeline running from Illinois to Oklahoma), or whether tar sands, fracking or mountaintop removal coal mining is worse. We must reject all these forms of extreme energy for their effects on the climate and the injustices they bring to the people at every stage of the extraction process. Our work must be broad so as to connect fights across the continent into a movement that truly addresses the root causes of social, economic, and climate injustice. We must call for what we really need – the end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure and extraction. The pipeline placed yesterday in British Columbia, the most recent drag lines added in Wyoming, and the fracking wells built in Pennsylvania need to be the last ones ever built. And we should say that.

This narrative has additionally set up a make-or-break attitude about these pipeline fights that risks that the movement will contract and lose people regardless of the decision on them. The Keystone XL and Northern Gateway fights have engaged hundreds of thousands of people, with many embracing direct action and civil disobedience tactics for the first time. This escalation and level of engagement is inspiring. But the absolutist “game over” language chances to lose many of them. If Obama approves the Keystone XL pipeline, what’s to stop many from thinking that this is in fact “game over” for the climate? And if Obama rejects Keystone XL, what’s to stop many from thinking that the climate crisis is therefore solved? We need those using the “game over” rhetoric to lay out the climate crisis’ root causes – because just as one project is not the end of humanity, stopping one project will not stop runaway climate change.

The fights over Keystone XL and Northern Gateway have been undoubtedly inspiring. We are seeing the beginnings of the escalation necessary to end extreme energy extraction, stave off the worst effects of the climate crisis, and make a just transition to equitable societies. Grassroots groups engaging in and training for direct action such as the Tar Sands Blockade, Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, the Unist’ot’en Camp, and Moccasins on the Ground have shown us how direct action can empower local communities and push establishment green groups to embrace bolder tactics. Our movement is indeed growing, and people are willing to put their bodies on the line; an April poll by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication found one in eight Americans would engage in civil disobedience around global warming.

However, before the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway mainstream campaigns come to an end, we all must recognize the dangers of having an archway approach to movement building. It is the danger of relying on political power-holders, cutting too narrow campaigns, excluding a systemic analysis of root causes, and, ultimately, failing to create a broad-based movement. We must begin to discuss and develop our steps on how we should shift our strategy, realign priorities, escalate direct action, support local groups and campaigns, and keep as many new activists involved as possible.

We are up against the world’s largest corporations, who are attempting to extract, transport and burn fossil fuels at an unprecedented rate, all as the climate crisis spins out of control. The climate justice movement should have no keystone because we must match them everywhere they are – and they are everywhere. To match them, we need a movement of communities all across the continent and the world taking direct action to stop the extraction industry, finding community-based solutions, and addressing the root causes of the climate crisis.

Arielle Klagsbrun is an organizer with Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment and Rising Tide North America, and is a 2013 Brower Youth Award winner. David Osborn is climate organizer with Portland Rising Tide and Rising Tide North America. He is also a faculty member at Portland State University. Maryam Adrangi is a campaigner with the Council of Canadians and an organizer with Rising Tide Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories. Kirby Spangler works with the Castle Mountain Coalition and Alaska Rising Ride.

Rising Tide Philly Targets TD Bank’s Cherry Hill Headquarters Over Investments in Tar Sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline

RT PhillyRising Tide Philly Targets TD Bank’s Cherry Hill Headquarters Over Investments in Tar Sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline

Local grassroots climate change group takes action against the largest funder of the Keystone XL pipeline and presses for a clean energy future.

Contact: Elias Schewel, Rising Tide Philly

Contact: mr.schewel@gmail.com / 267 918 9739

Cherry Hill, NJ – On August 20 at 9:00 AM, a group of citizens concerned about climate change’s effects on the Philadelphia region and on southern New Jersey will gather to peacefully protest in front of the TD Bank headquarters located at 1701 Route 70 East, Cherry Hill, New Jersey.  The protesters are pushing for TD Bank to stop its funding of tar sands petroleum extraction in Alberta, Canada, because of the threat this practice presents to the global climate and to First Nation peoples in Alberta.

TD Bank is also a major funder of the Keystone XL pipeline which would bring tar sands petroleum from Alberta to Texas to be refined and exported. “We want TD Bank to withdraw its funding from both the KXL pipeline and from tar sands extraction, now,” Rising Tide Philly organizer Kevin Starbard summed up the demands.

The Friday protest is organized in coordination with a simultaneous action of hundreds of activists mobilized by 350.org as part of the national Draw the Line weekend of action to hold President Obama accountable for his campaign promises on renewable energy.

The Rising Tide Philly protest in Cherry Hill was planned with help from citizens in Texas and Oklahoma who are fighting the pipeline as part of the Tar Sands Blockade.

Philadelphia resident Rachel Leone explained the importance of connecting TD Bank and Tar Sands extraction in the environmental movement: “Tar sands extraction is already poisoning the water supply of thousands of indigenous people in central Canada, in violation of multiple treaties, and we here in Philadelphia will continue to suffer the worsening effects of climate change, things like Superstorm Sandy, if dirty energy projects like tar sands extraction don’t stop.”

Over 69,000 people across the nation have signed CREDO’s Pledge of Resistance against the Keystone XL Pipeline. Tens of thousands more will attend nationwide Draw the Line protests meant to get the message to Obama that climate change is a major concern, and we will hold him to his campaign promises.  Until Obama’s State Department blocks the KXL Pipeline and until TD Bank divests from tar sands, Rising Tide Philly will continue to target TD Bank for their profiteering from climate disaster and genocide of indigenous people in Alberta.

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Oklahoma: Two Activists Lockdown to Protect Cross Timbers from Tar Sands

tejasTwo Protesters Lock Themselves to Equipment to Protect the Cross Timbers from Tar Sands

Press Contact: Eric Whelan, gptsrmedia@gmail.com, 405-863-2888

Monday, April 29th: Spaulding,OK Earlier this morning two Texas residents locked themselves to machinery being used to construct TransCanada’s dangerous and controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in Spaulding, OK through Muscogee Creek Nation land by treaty. Benjamin Butler and Eamon Treadaway Danzig took action today to prevent the Cross Timbers bioregion from being poisoned by this inherently dangerous tar sands pipeline, just as the surrounding wetlands and residential areas have been poisoned as a result of Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline rupture near Mayflower, Arkansas. The Gulf Coast Project is the Southern segment of TransCanada’s 7 billion dollar Keystone XL pipeline, which is slated to transport toxic diluted bitumen from Cushing, OK, to Gulf Coast refineries in Houston and Port Author. Recent Tar Sands spills in Minnesota and Arkansas, as well as an explosion at a Tar Sands refinery in Detroit have highlighted the urgency in stopping Tar Sands extraction and transportation.

Butler and Danzig are acting as a part of Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, a growing coalition of groups and individuals dedicated to stopping the expansion of Tar Sands infrastructure throughout the Great Plains. Their actions follow the escalating number of work-stopping actions that have occurred in Oklahoma this past month.  Both anti-extraction activists cite concern of the effect a spill will have in the Cross Timbers bio-region that they call home. Their action comes in the wake of the rupture of Exxon-Mobile’s Pegasus pipeline which spilled Tar Sands bitumen in neighboring Mayflower, Arkansas. In addition to the high rates of sickness that the surrounding community displayed, the spill in Arkansas has polluted Lake Conway and has had devastating effects on local wildlife. The permanent effect on people’s livelihoods and the health of affected ecosystems remains to be seen.

“This pipeline is essential for continued tar sands exploitation which poses an imminent threat to the health of indigenous communities near the point of extraction, fence-line communities around the toxic refineries, and ultimately the health of every living being along the route,” said Benjamin Butler, who was born at Tinker Air force Base in Oklahoma. “I believe in a more beautiful world, one where the profits of a corporation don’t outweigh the health of the people and the planet.”

“These companies come through with false promises and leave sickness and devastation in their wake,” said Eamon Danzig of Denton, TX. “People in Mayflower experienced fainting, nausea, and nosebleeds from the benzene gas which separates from the diluted bitumen in a spill and hovers above the ground. Leaks, ruptures, and other accidents on tar sands pipelines are so commonplace and inevitable that I can’t let this pipeline be built through the Cross Timbers.”

The Tar Sands megaproject is the largest industrial project in the history of humankind, destroying an area of pristine boreal forest which, if fully realized, will leave behind a toxic wasteland the size of Florida. The Tar Sands megaproject continues to endanger the health and way of life of the First Nations communities that live nearby by poisoning the waterways which life in the area depends on. This pipeline promises to deliver toxic diluted bitumen to the noxious Valero Refinery at the front door of the fence-line community of Manchester in Houston.

Currently, there is staunch resistance to the expansion of Tar Sands infrastructure—Lakota and Dakota peoples in “South Dakota” have sworn to protect their land and people from the Keystone XL, lifelong Oklahomans and Texans are consistently halting construction of the inherently dangerous Keystone XL, and the Unis’tot’en Camp has entered the third year of their blockade of the Pacific Trails Pipeline.