Category Archives: Civil disobedience

Mountain Justice activism in West Virginia

More civil disobedience against coal:

Five people boarded an empty coal barge at the Quincy Docks operated by Kanawha River Terminals in Chelyan, W.Va. and locked themselves to the boat with a banner stating “Coal Leaves Cancer Stays”. The barge was immobilized for three hours, until police removed them by 1:00 pm.

Those arrested were Ricki Draper, 21, of Greensboro, NC; Nathan Joseph, 23, New Orleans, LA; Rebecca Loeb, 24, Maynard, MA; Catherine-Ann MacDougal, 23, Rock Creek, WV; and Jacob Mack-Boll, 20, Lancaster, PA.

Keystone XL rejected

The Obama administration has officially rejected the proposed Keystone XL pipeline! That is the pipeline that prompted me to travel to Washington D.C. this summer to volunteer at the protests.

The rejection of the pipeline is good news for many reasons.

By rejecting pipelines, the jurisdictions around Alberta can slow the development of the oil sands and reduce the total quantity of fossil fuels that will be burned. These pipelines are also a major investment in an inappropriate technology. Canada needs to be working on developing a decarbonized economy, not encouraging unlimited growth in the unsustainable business of extracting fuels from the oil sands.

President Obama will probably lose a few votes over this decision, particularly from people who think oil is still the future of energy and who do not care about climate change. At the same time, I am sure he will gain some votes too for finally doing the right thing on this. The choice offered to us by the oil sands is to either profit today in a way that harms future generations or to leave the oil in the ground and invest in safer sources of energy.

Two tasks for 2012

The politics of climate change are pretty dismal right now. Canada is doing as little as it possibly can to combat the problem. The Obama administration in the United States is tied up doing other things, and regional initiatives like the Western Climate Initiative seem to be falling apart.

Given these challenging circumstances, it seems like a twofold strategy is justified for the year ahead.

First, it makes sense to work on rebuilding a political coalition calling for climate action. This is a complex undertaking that will involve everything from working to improve the electoral odds of parties and candidates who support climate action to raising the visibility of promising policy mechanisms like fee-and-dividend schemes.

Second, it makes sense to keep working to block projects that are triply-stupid, like the Keystone XL pipeline. When we build infrastructure that keeps us locked into a fossil fuel based economy, we are being wasteful in three connected ways. We are building infrastructure that will need to be scrapped when the world finally gets serious about stopping dangerous anthropogenic climate change. We are increasing the level of damage that climate change will do, both in terms of money and in terms of human suffering. Finally, we are forcing ourselves to build more appropriate energy infrastructure more quickly later.

By blocking inappropriate projects, we can avoid that triple waste. We can also show the world that there are at least some people in countries like Canada who are interested in protecting human lives more than in reaping oil profits.

It will probably be another difficult year, full of disappointments, but that is why it is necessary to keep applying ourselves to the problem with energy, creativity, and integrity.

Participant accounts of the Keystone protest

Bill McKibben and the organizers of this summer’s protest against the Keystone XL pipeline are encouraging people who participated to post an account of their experience.

I will link interesting ones as they appear.

Here’s a good one to start with: A Minor’s Reflections on the Keystone XL Pipeline and Civil Disobedience by Ariana Shapiro.

Operational security and the Keystone protest

Operational security is a bit like tradecraft — it is the set of techniques an organization uses to avoid being subject to the will of its opponents. It includes systems where existing members vouch for newcomers, secure channels of communication, and so on.

One notable thing about the Keystone XL protest in Washington is that there was none of that. All the information was online: when and where to show up for training, the aims of the organizers, the tactics to be used, the real name and photo of everyone getting arrested, and so on.

Regardless of how they felt about Keystone XL or civil disobedience, anyone who wanted to could have come to the training, to the action itself, and to the jail where participants were released.

That openness was necessary to bring together, train, and organize 1200 participants in 15 days. It is also evidence of the strong moral arguments for what was being done. The act of civil disobedience is open defiance against an unjust law, rule, or organization. The strength comes from the clear moral case of the participants and from their dedication.

The open and inclusive character of the Keystone protest were evidence of both of those qualities.

Leaving Washington

After volunteering for the entire Tar Sands Action protest against the Keystone XL pipeline, I am returning to Canada this afternoon.

All told, it was a really valuable experience. I met a lot of people who are passionate about climate change, as well as people who are skilled at organizing events of this type, which is quite an undertaking and accomplishment.

I very much appreciate how friendly and open everyone was with me. It was a pleasure to be part of this effort.

Another big day, and an appeal to the Canadian ambassador

For the second day in a row, more than 100 people got arrested outside the White House protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.

A group of Canadians also delivered a letter to the Canadian ambassador to the United States, calling on him to stop promoting the oil sands.

That seems a distant prospect. Canada seems determined to dig up and burn as many fossil fuels as possible, no matter how unjust that may be or how much it will worsen climate change.

Hopefully Obama will block this pipeline and help keep that Canadian oil buried. In so doing, he would do a great service to Canada in the long term. Climate change is not in out national interest, and the transition to renewable energy can only e delayed by the expensive and harmful pursuit of the world’s dirtiest oil.

James Hansen arrested, taken to Anacostia jail

In front of the White House today, NASA climatologist James Hansen got arrested along with 139 other people. They were calling upon President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada’s oil sands down to the refineries of the US Gulf Coast. In particular, he highlighted the fact that burning all that oil would contribute substantially to climate change, which will already occur to a dangerous extent because of human greenhouse gas emissions.

As has been the case for every day since September 21st, those arrested in front of the White House were taken to the Anacostia jail, which is the headquarters of the Park Police. Within a few hours of being arrested, all the protesters were released.

It is a bit dispiriting that a scientist of Hansen’s calibre feels the need to get arrested in protest. You would hope the American political system would be able to incorporate scientific knowledge in a more ordinary way, and that concerns like abrupt or runaway climate change would be incorporated into undertakings like the U.S. State Department’s environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Unfortunately, the American political system continues to ignore the seriousness of climate change and the policies that are necessary to reduce the risk of it becoming a catastrophe. Hopefully, this action will help to alert Barack Obama to what needs to be done, and he will take an important first step by blocking this pipeline.