Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands: Open Letter to the Anti-Tar Sands Movement

micats-1Open Letter to the Anti-Tar Sands Movement

Dear Movement,

We think it’s time for us to have a conversation: a conversation that can help us address the work we need to do in order to build the true grassroots power than can dismantle the oppressive system that tar sands companies and people in power have worked so hard to profit from. For the past four years we’ve heard “leaders” like Bill McKibben call on us to take action to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, and we’ve responded, dutifully travelling to DC to march and protest as a group. We’ve also watched as decision makers have continuously stalled and appeased this movement by refusing to approve the full pipeline, while still consenting to the production, transportation, and refinement of this toxic substance in more and more places across the continent. It is time for us to do more than submit public comments to a system incentivized to ignore us, or chain ourselves to symbols that will look good for the media. The Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands is writing this open letter to call for a dialogue and action around developing an anti-tar sands movement that focuses on the root causes of this issue and unites communities and groups in a common goal to stop tar sands in its entirety.

It has been incredibly powerful and inspiring to hear so many different voices from those fighting the tar sands system this weekend at Power Shift, but we need to be able to hear each other more – more loudly and more often. We cannot ask our brave leaders whose homes and families are being threatened by poison and destruction to appear in our program, speak to us at this conference, and form a public face for our work if we are not going to embrace their fights wholeheartedly into our movement. We cannot truly believe that we are going to make a difference if we do not acknowledge the true scope of this problem, the need to engage in work that is driven and led by the community and our potential to be our most powerful by working together in a just and compassionate manner.

The constant focus of the tar sands narrative around the President as the ultimate decision maker is both disempowering to communities bearing the burden of existing infrastructure, and disrespectful to those who have been disenfranchised and marginalized by the industrial-capitalist paradigm perpetuated by all leaders within the current system.  This sort of rhetoric feeds a privileged narrative at the exclusion of frontline communities that are seen as merely an excess of “human capital” by the system of which the President is the figurehead.

We are from the occupied territory called “Michigan,” where tar sands oil is still poisoning ecosystems, water, and humans three years after the largest inland oil spill in our history. In addition to this ongoing destruction, our elected officials are allowing Enbridge to expand this same pipeline to more than double its capacity, all while opposition to the kxl has gotten stronger. While kxl is a large part of the problem, it is time for the mainstream movement’s figureheads to stop exclusively referring to this pipeline and discouraging us from working on other tar sands issues. With urgency and strength, we implore all tar sands activists and organizations to reframe this movement to something that is more than a convenient political symbol and into something that can stop the amoral and unlawful devastation of life and our responsibility to it.

In solidarity and frustration,

The Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands

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.

BREAKING: Mobile Residents March to Draw the Line on Tar Sands on Mobile Bay

PRESS RELEASE * For Immediate Release

Press Contacts: Joe Womack, Kim McCuiston, 251-298-7952, mejacoalition@gmail.com

Mobile Residents Draw the Line on Tar Sands on Mobile Bay
New Coalition Marches on GM&O Rail Terminal Protesting Tar Sands Tanker Shipments

MOBILE, ALABAMA, SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2013, 10AM – As multiple new tar sands infrastructure proposals on Mobile’s waterfront reveal themselves, the anti-tar sands movement of greater Mobile has set its sights on the question of how tar sands is entering the community to begin with. Plans for an expanded tar sands unloading depot by the Canadian National Railway (CN) in partnership with Houston-based corporations Plains South Cap, American Tank & Vessel (AT&V) and ARC Terminal have outraged Mobile residents. Fed up with the lack of consultation and led by the newly-formed Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition (MEJACoalition), affected residents and supporters marched to GM&O Terminal to “Draw the Line” on tar sands in Mobile.

“I may be a resident of Africatown, but today I’m marching for all residents of Mobile and our efforts to stop Plains South Cap, CN and the rest from bringing tar sands into or around Mobile County. We really don’t appreciate the way that they’ve done their business,” explained Joe Womack, resident of the Africatown Historic District, the sight of intense opposition to the proposed tar sands projects. “It should’ve been above board and the community should’ve been brought in from the beginning.”

The tar sands train depot, as described in City of Mobile planning documents dating from October 4, 2012, will expand the existing CN railyard adjacent to GM&O Terminal and pipe tar sands under the Mobile River to ARC Terminal tar sands storage tanks on Blakeley Island, formerly operated by Gulf Coast Asphalt Company but acquired earlier this year by ARC in February.

Currently, tar sands are brought in via rail through rural southwestern Alabama communities over the Escatawpa River where trains have derailed twice in the last decade. The CN tar sands tanker cars then wind their way through the hearts of Saraland, Chickasaw, Prichard, and Africatown to the existing CN railyard near GM&O Terminal. To unloaded the cars into tanker trucks the tar sands slurry is taken to ARC Terminal’s Chickasaw depot, formerly Mobile Asphalt. From there, they travel yet again through the heart of Africatown across the Cochrane Africatown USA Bridge to ARC Terminal’s Blakeley Island tar sands storage facilities. The new tar sands depot near GM&O Terminal and the Plains South Cap pipeline under the Mobile River would shorten the circuit and allow for a dramatic increase in the volume of tar sands coming through Mobile for export.

Carrying colorful signs and banners reading “Environmental Justice For All,” “No Tar Sands In Mobile,” and “Africatown Not Tank Farm Town” while symbolically wearing blue and black, the marchers gathered in Cathedral Square before shoving off to the GM&O Terminal where tar sands tankers remain nearby until their unloading at ARC’s Saraland depot.

Foley, Alabama resident Kimberly McCuiston described the symbology of the black and blue color coordination, “We’ve already been deeply bruised by the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. The illnesses, the damage to our waterfront, those things still haven’t been addressed appropriately, and I’m sick of living in a dirty energy sacrifice zone. At this point, certain underrepresented communities like our neighbors in Africatown, Prichard, and Chickasaw are necessarily organizing like Selma in ’63 and I’m here to help. I’m not gonna sit idly by while environmental injustices and human rights abuses on the part of these tar sands corporations are perpetrated on my neighbors.”

Joe Womack agreed, “These projects are hazardous to the entire Gulf Coast, especially Africatown which has been repeatedly dumped on already. It’s time to clean Africatown up and stop making it a dumping ground for hazardous waste and materials in this section of the world.”

Just weeks ago, AT&V unexpectedly pulled their proposal for a massive 32-tank tar sands tank farm to be sighted in historic Africatown across the street from the Mobile County Training School, Alabama’s oldest primarily African-American Middle School. And last week saw a lower Alabama court rule against Plains South Cap corporation’s bid to illegally expropriate private property through eminent domain. That decision affirmed the right of Mobile Area Water & Sewage System to turn down the pipeline corporation’s plans to install a tar sands pipeline through greater Mobile’s primary source of fresh water, the Big Creek Lake watershed.

MEJACoalition’s march coincides with a National Call to Action called “Draw the Line” by the climate justice organization 350.org. The day of action features scores of creative events across the country and the Gulf South, with large rallies planned in areas already affected by climate change and places at increased risk from climate chaos if strong action, such as limiting tar sands exploitation, is not taken. Other events focus primarily on the Presidential Permit required for the northern segment of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which has faced unprecedented pressures from adversely affected nearby residents, tar sands refinery communities, landowners, and climate justice organizers alike.


MEJACoalition is the greater Mobile area’s first environmental justice organization.

Moving Beyond Keystone XL: Direct Action on Line 9

line 9Originally posted on Counterpunch

Moving Beyond Keystone XL: Direct Action on Line 9

By David Osborn

On the morning of June 20th a group of people walked onto the Canadian energy corporation Enbridge’s North Westover pumping station and occupied the facility. They called this blockade “Swamp Line 9”. The facility is part of what is called Line 9, a pipeline that moves oil west towards Sarnia and the refining facilities there. However, the industry has been engaged in an effort to slowly gain regulatory approval to reverse the pipeline, allowing it to carry tar sands oil east for refining or to the Atlantic coast for export. The pumping station for Line 9 had been shut down for work and remained shut down during the occupation as Enbridge employees were unable to access the site. The direct action effectively stopped all activity at the pumping station until June 26th when the Canadian authorities raided the occupation and arrested twenty people (you can support their legal fund here).

This action came after over a year of growing grassroots opposition to Line 9 and represents another escalation in the climate movement to address the failure of existing political institutions to deal with the climate crisis. It also has had the effect of continuing to raise the profile of the various efforts to move tar sands oil out of Alberta and engage people in Ontario about the issue. Here, outside of Hamilton in Ontario, much like in East Texas, Maine, Washington State, Oklahoma, British Columbia, and elsewhere communities are taking direct action to confront the root causes of the climate crisis.

In confronting the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure we also resist the devastating ecological transformation that occurs in service to markets and profit. In this sense this action, like those taking place across North America and the world, also represent people resisting the transformation of their communities by capitalism, which fundamentally drives the climate crisis with its need for exponential growth, its utilitarian view of the natural world as human-centered “resources” and its value of profit above all else.

Line 9 and Tar Sands

Encapsulated within the story of Line 9 is a glimpse of the changing energy politics of North America. The pipeline was originally built in 1975 to transport crude oil from Western Canada to Montreal refineries. Around the turn of the millenium the direction of the pipeline changed to bring imported oil into the refinery infrastructure in Ontario. With oil production booming in both the United States and Canada, and particularly with the landlocked tar sands megaproject needing to bring its product to market, the industry has slowly been trying to get regulatory approval for reversing the flow in order to bring oil westward again.

In the United States oil imports are down significantly, after peaking in 2008, as domestic production booms and there are numerous efforts to begin exploring export of not only oil, but coal and natural gas. The reversal process around Line 9 follows a prior proposal, called the Trailbreaker project, by Enbridge during 2008-2010 to reverse the pipeline to export on the Atlantic coast. The fragmenting of the current reversal efforts has allowed for easier regulatory approval and is almost certainly the result of a strategic decision by industry.

Portland, Maine enters the story courtesy of Hitler’s U-boats and their relentless campaign against Allied infrastructure during the Second World War. Tankers bringing crude to Montreal were suffering losses in the exposed entry into the St. Lawrence river. Aiming to provide for a less exposed route for tankers a 236-mile pipeline from Portland to Montreal was completed in 1941 allowing fuel for the war machine to flow with a lesser chance of encountering a torpedo. The pipeline was expanded from an 18-inch to 24-inch diameter in 1965 and some seventy tankers make a port call at the import facility each year.

The only problem is that Canadian and American demand for imported oil is only shrinking and fossil fuel corporations have made huge investments in the landlocked tar sands megaproject in Alberta. Their profits are constrained by their inability to move their product to market, especially with the recent rejection of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline by the Province of British Columbia. The $6 billion dollar project would have the capacity to ship 525,000 barrels/day of tar sands oil to an export terminal on the coast of British Columbia. It also would cross numerous unceded First Nations’ territories and has mobilized enormous opposition. With BC having rejected the Enbridge proposal, the tar sands industry is facing larger setbacks to exporting tar sands through a region they once thought was a possibility. However, it should be emphasized that though having received a significant setback the project remains very much on the table with the final authority resting with the federal government.

To describe the development of the tar sands is almost beyond words and illustrates the extent to which capital is scraping the bottom of the barrel in its suicidal attempt to perpetuate growth and profit above life itself. With the first industrial attempts to exploit the tar sands in Alberta in 1967, efforts have ramped up as increasing oil prices (also reflecting the growing lack of easily accessible oil) have made the intensive process increasingly profitable. The process to get at tar sands, which are also slated to be exploited in Utah, is an extreme version of the similar extraction processes like fracking that are incredibly damaging in the increasingly desperate attempts to get at any fossil fuels remaining. To get at the tar sands, which are then processed into oil, the boreal forests of Canada are clear cut. These forests are some of the last intact and contiguous ecosystems in the world.

Two tons of the oil-containing bitumen, which produces only one barrel of oil, is gathered by massive machinery, washed with three barrels of water (which then become toxic polluted tailings), heated by natural gas (and soon proposed nuclear power plants) and out comes some of the dirtiest and most energy intensive energy ever produced. The result is an intensely polluted environment that has become toxic for the First Nation’s people that live there and devastated their communities. This comes on top of previous and ongoing displacement, the destruction of culture and other impacts that make this a clear continuation of the intergenerational trauma produced by colonialism.

The extent of the devastation underscores the extent to which capitalism is wreaking havoc on communities of life in all their forms. Humans, fish, trees and elk alike are inconsequential when the land that sustains them is seen only in terms of a human-centered resource and profit to be exploited. Huge swaths of Alberta have already been impacted as production from the tar sands has exploded to some 1.5 million barrels per day. And all of this oil needs to go somewhere. With a proposed expansion to 300,000 barrels/day and the full reversal of Line 9, this oil could be flowing to Portland, Maine filling tankers and corporate coffers. Unless we stop them.

The actions at the North Westover pumping station were taken in this context and to prevent the movement and export of tar sands oil. They also occurred as part of the continued growth of grassroots opposition to the Line 9 reversal. In May of 2012 there was a disruption organized at a meeting of the National Energy Board, which was reviewing the first proposed reversal by Enbridge. This was one of the earliest signs of community-based, grassroots opposition that went beyond the moderate engagement by NGOs that had occurred up until that point. Earlier this year, organizers in Hamilton blockaded Highway 6 where Line 9 crosses it and shut down the freeway for 90 minutes in recognition of the average number of reportable spills that Enbridge has each year in North America.

Enbridge, anticipating the escalating opposition donated over $44,000 to the Hamilton police, which created the occasion for further actions to mark the increasingly blurred line between the state and corporations. And recently an Ontario conference in Sarnia at the west end of Line 9 about tar sands expansion was disrupted with a young Aamjiwnaang First Nations woman inside unveiling a banner that read “you are killing my generation” while people outside banged on windows and used a siren that was similar to the emergency sirens used in Sarnia to note chemical spills or gaseous escapes.

The seven day occupation provided an important escalation of action against Line 9. It also provides for important reflections about organizing within a climate justice framework, which organizers of the action have been engaging. In a June 30th post following the end of the occupation the organizers made a post titled “Replicating Colonialism in the Struggle Against Line 9”. In it they reflected on criticism about the lack of communication and consultation with the Six Nations of the Grand River despite the relationships they had with members of that community. This particular case provides important insights applicable outside of this specific example regarding relationships often pursued by settler organizations with the indigenous people on whose land they organize or who are impacted by a given project.

With the Westover occupation we can see the difficulties inherent in transitioning from a place of simply having relationships to a form of relationship in which we are deeply and consistently engaged in organizing work and within which we take leadership from the community with whom the relationship has been formed. There is important and complex work needed in developing how groups can work in solidarity with impacted communities, take leadership from those communities and at the same time develop their own campaigns which foster new leadership within their group.

In all of this it is important for us to engage the climate crisis from understandings about social justice, the uneven impacts of the crisis and the the systems of oppression and domination that so define our societies. We must deeply engage what it looks like to work appropriately with impacted communities and negotiate this depending on our own social locations. Thinking about how we are impacted by the climate crisis and how we might align that position with other communities for collective liberation is an essential and important approach.

Additionally, it is critical for us to be reflective about our actions, to acknowledge our mistakes and to start from a place of constructive engagement so that we can move forward and continue to ground our organizing in an anti-oppression framework. In their post-action reflections the organizers of the occupation at the North Westover pumping station have done important work in this direction. With this approach our organizing around the climate crisis not only opposes destructive practices but also begins to constitute new, liberatory forms of social relations that can be the basis for even greater social transformations beyond the climate.

Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

The climate movement in the United States has focused much of its resources – driven largely by mainstream environmental groups – on the Keystone XL pipeline. They have staked this out as the fight to have and have claimed its construction would be “game over for the climate”. Stopping the Keystone XL pipeline is clearly important as will be discussed later, but this strategy has been highly problematic. At full capacity the Keystone XL pipeline would move 830,000 barrels/day of tar sands oil to refineries and export facilities on the Gulf Coast of Texas. The existing Keystone pipeline system already moves 590,000 barrels/day. But Keystone XL isn’t the only way tar sands oil are proposed to be moved, nor is oil or even tar sands oil the only driver of climate change.

In addition to Line 9 and other tar sands pipelines there is a massive attempt to move the rapidly growing energy production of Canada and the United States abroad. With the advent of fracking technology and the marketability of tar sands these two nations are in the midst of an energy boom. The corporations that profit from these catastrophic developments want to move towards energy-exporting, petro-states, particularly as regulation, expansion to renewables and energy saving initiatives begin to limit domestic consumption.

In the northwestern part of the continent there is an extraordinary push to move not only tar sands oil but also coal, fracked oil and gas. With more than 15 coal, oil and gas export terminals proposed in the region it is emerging as a frontline in the push to move these fossil fuels abroad. Canadian environmental groups have had their own narrow focus on tar sands and similar to Keystone have largely targeted the Northern Gateway pipeline. However, the coal and gas export proposals in British Columbia have huge climate consequences. And despite the rejection of the pipeline, and perhaps because of it, the is a huge push to move oil by rail including a massive 380,000 oil terminal in Vancouver, WA.

Though ostensibly for Bakken shale oil, it has been made clear by the Port Commissioners reviewing the proposal that it should be prepared for tar sands oil spills and mitigation. The combined impact of these NW export projects alone would be three times that of Keystone XL. The expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which has less attention than the Northern Gateway pipeline did in regional Canadian climate politics, would move 890,000 barrels/day of tar sands to export facilities in British Columbia and oil refineries in Washington State. The Pacific Trails Pipeline has also had much less attention than Northern Gateway even though it would blaze a trail through the same region and along the same route. This pipeline would transport fracked gas and would pave the way for a renewed proposal of the recently rejected Northern Gateway Pipeline given its approval by the state and the fact that it follows the same right of way. If built Enbridge could argue that the clearcutting and service roads are already in place make for “less” impacts during construction. However, this pipeline is not going unchallenged and the Unis’tot’en have been resisting the pipeline including ejecting industry surveyors from their land and building a camp directly in the path of the pipeline.

No one pipeline is “game over for the climate” and focusing too narrowly prevents movement building across fossil fuel-type and region. In all of our work we need to broadly engage fossil fuels and the climate not only the specifics of a given project that we are opposing, whether it be fracking wells in Western Pennsylvania, a coal export terminal on the Columbia river, mountaintop removal in Appalachia or the Westover Pumping Station in Ontario. This way we can be sure to expand engagement beyond the NIMBY-orientation that political activation can often, or at least initially take, and move to broad-based systemic involvement to address the climate crisis and its roots in capitalism.

It is essential that individuals that enter a given struggle over a pipeline, fracking well or terminal over time come to see this not as a local land or pollution issue, but rather as a global climate issue. Then whatever the outcome of their local campaign they will remain engaged as part of a climate movement, rather than celebrating and going home. This is all the more important as we may lose big fights, including a potential loss with Keystone XL, and if we have mobilized people on the basis that this is the fight, we risk disengagement and burnout.

The Game is Rigged

The occupation of the Westover Pumping Station is reflective of a continuing shift in strategies and understandings of social change by the climate movement. It is also reflective of the increasing realization, particularly of late by more liberal participants in the climate movement, that the game is rigged. Politicians are bought off, they are owned by the fossil fuel corporations that we organize against and the existing political institutions are not up to addressing the climate crisis. In the United States oil and gas corporations dumped $ 150 million dollars into the coffers of candidates of both parties. This can be scary, particularly to the extent that we view these institutions and public policy as the only place in which social change can happen.

Luckily for us, the climate and the global communities already impacted by these monumental shifts this is not how social change happens. Social change happens when individuals acting together with others realize they can shape the world in which they live, that they have agency and power. Social change happens when we develop a critical consciousness about social relations and their fundamentally mutable and historically-specific nature. Direct action catalyzes this dual consciousness and is a vehicle for transformative social change.

Over the last years we have seen a huge shift towards communities taking control and taking action against the fossil fuel infrastructure that imperils their communities and the climate. This follows the strategy of historic social movements that did not focus their energy on Washington DC and instead understood that power resided and was built elsewhere. Recently the Idle No More movement has provided numerous examples of incredible action including the Aamjiwnaang blockade a of CN Railway line transporting toxic chemical into their community over twelve days in December and January. The blockade kept 420 cars per day out of the valley, which includes a series of petro-chemical facilities (i.e. chemical plants, oil refineries, rubber plants, etc.). In the fall of 2012 the Tar Sands Blockade, supported in part by Rising Tide North Texas, began in response to the construction of the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline.

With dozens of actions the blockade catalyzed thousands across the country and expanded to the north with Great Plains Tar Sand Resistance which recently shut down the construction of a pumping station near Seminole, Oklahoma. In British Columbia First Nations communities were instrumental in the setback of the Northern Gateway Pipeline and Wet’suwet’en peoples continue to take action against fossil fuel expansion with the Unist’ot’en camp, which is digging in along the proposed Pacific Trails natural gas pipeline. Also in the Northwest there have been two train blockades targeting existing and proposed coal export terminals and recently a large action and banner drop on the Columbia river that signified the region’s preparedness to engage in further direct action if any of the proposals move forward . And in Appalachia communities continue to resist mountaintop removal such as by blockading the road leading to Alpha Natural Resources, which is deeply involved in the highly destructive practice.

This is the grassroots swell of community power that has moved even the big NGOs such as the Sierra Club to take symbolic arrestable action, breaking from a 120-year ban on civil disobedience. And these are but a few examples of the many direct actions that have occurred over the last year. It is only with the inclusion of this kind of action as part of a diversity of tactics that we can address the climate crisis. Targeting politicians in this context is a losing strategy for the type of transformational change needed and fundamentally misunderstands how social change happens and where power can be built, particularly in our corrupted political institutions.

In a similar vein one might ask if it was legal strategies by large NGOs and the Supreme Court that overturned the Defense of Marriage Act recently in the United States and legalized gay marriage in many places. On the contrary all the court did was recognize and institutionalize the social change that had already happened among millions of individuals in communities across the United States through diverse organizing work, including direct action, over the course of decades. Through community-based organizing and direct action we are able to find where power truly resides, in our communities, and actualize that power to build a broad-based climate justice movement. It is only once this has occurred that existing political institutions will move to address the climate crisis. And should they be unwilling or unable to do so at that point we will have begun to build the type of movements capable of replacing them.

If They Can’t Ship It, They Can’t Sell It.

The boom of fossil fuel extraction in North America spells disaster for the climate and our communities. The petro-state, exporting dreams of fossil fuel CEOs must be stopped. The recent focus on transportation infrastructure and the circulatory flows of fossil fuels provide an excellent place for intervention and action. The nature and location of fossil fuel extraction means it must be moved to places of consumption and increasing export to markets abroad. And if they can’t move it, they can’t sell it. And if they can’t sell it, then it has to stay in ground.

This is the only moral place for fossil fuels to be in the moment in which we live. All new fossil fuel extraction must immediately stop if we want any chance of a habitable climate and a livable future. From that point we’ll need a just transition that includes an immediate and rapid reduction of existing fossil fuel use and extraction. In this movement actions such as those that occurred at the Westover Pumping Station are critical. It will be communities, taking direct action together, that will create the groundswell needed for advancing a just and sustainable future.

David Osborn is climate organizer working with Portland Rising Tide and Rising Tide North America. He is also a faculty member at Portland State University. He can be reached at david@portlandrisingtide.org..

Line 9 and Westover Pumping Station Occupation

Swamp Line 9 – http://swampline9.tumblr.com/

Hamilton Line 9 – http://hamiltonline9.wordpress.com/

Peak – Line 9 – http://www.anarchistnews.org/content/peak-resisting-line-9-april-2013

Against the Reversal – http://zinelibrary.info/files/against-the-reversal.pdf

Stopping Line 9 – http://rabble.ca/news/2012/09/enbridge-line-9-other-other-pipeline

Video about Line 9 – http://vimeo.com/56842880

Tars Sands and Associated Pipelines

Yinka Dene Alliance Against BC Tar Sands Pipelines – http://yinkadene.ca/

Tar Sands Free NE – http://www.tarsandsfreene.org/about

Blocking the Arteries of the Tar Sands – http://www.alternativesjournal.ca/community/blogs/current-events/blocking-arteries-tar-sands

Tar Sands Emissions and US-Canadian Militarization – http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/3875

Northwest Export Terminals

Rising Tide Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories – http://risingtide.resist.ca/

Portland Rising Tide – http://portlandrisingtide.org/

Sightline Report: NW Fossil Fuel Exports – http://www.sightline.org/research/northwest-fossil-fuel-exports/

Mountaintop Removal

Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival – http://rampscampaign.org/

Coal River Mountain Watch – http://crmw.net/

Mountain Justice – http://www.mountainjusticesummer.org/

Appalachian Voices – http://appvoices.org/

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition – http://www.ohvec.org/

Keeper of the Mountains – http://www.mountainkeeper.org/


Shadbush Environmental Justice Collective – http://shadbushcollective.org/

Stop the Frack Attack – http://www.stopthefrackattack.org/

Sightline Report: The NW Pipeline by Rail – http://www.sightline.org/research/the-northwests-pipeline-on-rails/

Marcellus Shale Earth First! – http://marcellusearthfirst.org/