The powerful anti-democratic forces that will threaten civilisation.
In one sense this post today carries an underlying political message – and in another sense, it does not. It does in the sense that if every American voter truly understood the risks of a continued relationship with oil then the tar-sands projects wouldn’t have a prayer of a chance of being allowed.
In the other sense, it does not. Because the influence and power of ‘behind-the-scenes’ oil and money is beyond imagination and, just possibly, outside the reach of democracy.
So what’s got me so agitated?
Well first is that I have been quietly reading The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins, he of Transition Totnes fame. Most readers will be aware that Totnes was the first Transition Town in the world and started what is becoming the greatest social movement of the 21st century.
In Rob’s book, on page 51, there is a diagram showing the relative energy returns from the energy invested to produce that energy – hope that makes sense! Let me explain further. For example, for every unit of energy invested in building tidal-range generators, there are eighty-seven units of energy returned. I.e. this is a great investment for mankind in terms of the net benefit.
If we look at the generation of electricity from solar photo-voltaic (PV) panels then the return is about eight units from every unit invested.
The worst return of them all is from Tar sands: just one unit returned from every unit invested. Investment and humanitarian madness!
Then next I came across this item about Tar sands on The Ecologist magazine website,
Emissions from tar sands seriously underestimated
Governments and companies making no effort to quantify the real climate impacts
Greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands operations are being significantly under-reported according to new research by Global Forest Watch Canada.
The report, ‘Bitumen and Biocarbon‘, says oil companies and governments are not accounting for emissions from deforestation. It says that when boreal forest is destroyed for tar sands development, significant amounts of greenhouse gases are emitted.
‘Governments and companies are working hard to downplay the impacts of tar sands operations, but it turns out that they don’t even know the full extent of the problem,’ said Christy Ferguson, Greenpeace climate and energy coordinator.
‘What’s worse, they’re doing nothing to find out. Denial is not a climate strategy.’
In addition, the report shows that biological carbon stored in living and decaying plants is lost when natural ecosystems are disturbed or destroyed through mining of bitumen and construction of roads, pipelines or facilities.
‘Peatlands are one of the world’s most important storehouses of soil carbon. Industrial activity in the tar sands is destroying peatlands, releasing carbon and eliminating a crucial natural mechanism.
‘Even if peatlands are reclaimed, the carbon released through industrialisation won’t be replaced for thousands of years,’ said Ferguson.
Finally, today (25th) I received in my in-box the latest TomDispatch offering. (I am indebted to Tom Engelhardt for, once again, giving me permission to reproduce in full this TomGram.)
Tom’s latest piece is written by Bill McKibben (with an introduction by Tom) and I strongly urge you to read it – the implications are global. If you read an earlier TomDispatch article by Bill re-published on Learning from Dogs on the 18th July, The Great American Carbon Bomb, today’s piece will surely make you sit up and fume; as it did me! Here it is in full.
Tomgram: Bill McKibben, Jailed Over Big Oil’s Attempt to Wreck the Planet
What might have happened if John McCain had won the presidency in 2008? One thing is certain: there would have been a lot more protest from Democrats, progressives, and the left. Take it as an irony of his election, but Barack Obama has proved remarkably effective in disarming the antiwar movement, even as the use of war in American policy in the Greater Middle East has only grown. That Obama, the supposed anti-warrior of the 2008 campaign, has paid less than no attention to his antiwar critics is no news at all. It’s now practically a cliché as well that he seems to feel no need to feed his political “base” and that, generally speaking (and explain it as you will), his base has not yet pushed back.
This has been particularly true of Obama’s wars, especially the disastrous, never-ending one in Afghanistan. Had Afghanistan been “McCain’s war,” you would surely have seen growing waves of protest, despite the way 9/11 ensured that the Afghan War, unlike the Iraq one, would long be the unassailable “good war.” Still, as American treasure surged into the ill-starred enterprise in Afghanistan, while funds for so much that mattered disappeared at home, I think the streets of Washington would have been filling. What protest there has been, as John Hanrahan of the Nieman Watchdog website reported recently, tends to be remarkably ill-covered in the mainstream media.
Obama, only two points ahead of Ron Paul in the latest Gallup Poll in the race for 2012, is a beyond-vulnerable candidate. (Somewhere there must be some Democratic pol doing the obvious math and considering a challenge, mustn’t there?) Fortunately, in another area at least as crucial as our wars, demonstrators against a Big Oil tar-sands pipeline from Canada that will help despoil the planet are now out in front of the White House — you can follow them here — and they haven’t been shy about aiming their nonviolent protests directly at Obama. Will he or won’t he act like the climate-change president that, on coming into office, he swore he would be? Time will tell. Meanwhile, let Bill McKibben, TomDispatch regular, an organizer of the protests, and just out of a jail cell, fill you in. Tom
Arrested at the White House
Acting as a Living Tribute to Martin Luther King
By Bill McKibben
I didn’t think it was possible, but my admiration for Martin Luther King, Jr., grew even stronger these past days.
As I headed to jail as part of the first wave of what is turning into the biggest civil disobedience action in the environmental movement for many years, I had the vague idea that I would write something. Not an epic like King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” but at least, you know, a blog post. Or a tweet.
But frankly, I wasn’t up to it. The police, surprised by how many people turned out on the first day of two weeks of protests at the White House, decided to teach us a lesson. As they told our legal team, they wanted to deter anyone else from coming — and so with our first crew they were… kind of harsh.
We spent three days in D.C.’s Central Cell Block, which is exactly as much fun as it sounds like it might be. You lie on a metal rack with no mattress or bedding and sweat in the high heat; the din is incessant; there’s one baloney sandwich with a cup of water every 12 hours.
I didn’t have a pencil — they wouldn’t even let me keep my wedding ring — but more important, I didn’t have the peace of mind to write something. It’s only now, out 12 hours and with a good night’s sleep under my belt, that I’m able to think straight. And so, as I said, I’ll go to this weekend’s big celebrations for the openingof the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on the Washington Mall with even more respect for his calm power.
Preacher, speaker, writer under fire, but also tactician. He really understood the power of nonviolence, a power we’ve experienced in the last few days. When the police cracked down on us, the publicity it produced cemented two of the main purposes of our protest:
First, it made Keystone XL — the new, 1,700-mile-long pipeline we’re trying to block that will vastly increase the flow of “dirty” tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico — into a national issue. A few months ago, it was mainly people along the route of the prospective pipeline who were organizing against it. (And with good reason: tar sands mining has already wrecked huge swaths of native land in Alberta, and endangers farms, wild areas, and aquifers all along its prospective route.)
Now, however, people are coming to understand — as we hoped our demonstrations would highlight — that it poses a danger to the whole planet as well. After all, it’s the Earth’s second largest pool of carbon, and hence the second-largest potential source of global warming gases after the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. We’ve already plumbed those Saudi deserts. Now the question is: Will we do the same to the boreal forests of Canada. As NASA climatologist James Hansen has made all too clear, if we do so it’s “essentially game over for the climate.” That message is getting through. Witness the incredibly strong New York Times editorial opposing the building of the pipeline that I was handed on our release from jail.
Second, being arrested in front of the White House helped make it clearer that President Obama should be the focus of anti-pipeline activism. For once Congress isn’t in the picture. The situation couldn’t be simpler: the president, and the president alone, has the power either to sign the permit that would take the pipeline through the Midwest and down to Texas (with the usual set of disastrous oil spills to come) or block it.
Barack Obama has the power to stop it and no one in Congress or elsewhere can prevent him from doing so. That means — and again, it couldn’t be simpler — that the Keystone XL decision is the biggest environmental test for him between now and the next election. If he decides to stand up to the power of big oil, it will send a jolt through his political base, reminding the presently discouraged exactly why they were so enthused in 2008.
That’s why many of us were wearing our old campaign buttons when we went into the paddy wagon. We’d like to remember — and like the White House to remember, too — just why we knocked on all those doors.
But as Dr. King might have predicted, the message went deeper. As people gather in Washington for this weekend’s dedication of his monument, most will be talking about him as a great orator, a great moral leader. And of course he was that, but it’s easily forgotten what a great strategist he was as well, because he understood just how powerful a weapon nonviolence can be.
The police, who trust the logic of force, never quite seem to get this. When they arrested our group of 70 or so on the first day of our demonstrations, they decided to teach us a lesson by keeping us locked up extra long — strong treatment for a group of people peacefully standing on a sidewalk.
No surprise, it didn’t work. The next day an even bigger crowd showed up — and now, there are throngs of people who have signed up to be arrested every day until the protests end on September 3rd. Not only that, a judge threw out the charges against our first group, and so the police have backed off. For the moment, anyway, they’re not actually sending more protesters to jail, just booking and fining them.
And so the busload of ranchers coming from Nebraska, and the bio-fueled RV with the giant logo heading in from East Texas, and the flight of grandmothers arriving from Montana, and the tribal chiefs, and union leaders, and everyone else will keep pouring into D.C. We’ll all, I imagine, stop and pay tribute to Dr. King before or after we get arrested; it’s his lead, after all, that we’re following.
Our part in the weekend’s celebration is to act as a kind of living tribute. While people are up on the mall at the monument, we’ll be in the front of the White House, wearing handcuffs, making clear that civil disobedience is not just history in America.
We may not be facing the same dangers Dr. King did, but we’re getting some small sense of the kind of courage he and the rest of the civil rights movement had to display in their day — the courage to put your body where your beliefs are. It feels good.
Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of 350.org, and a TomDispatch regular. His most recent book, just out in paperback, is Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
Copyright 2011 Bill McKibben
So perhaps you understand why every American reading this should make sure your voice is heard. And in the last few minutes – 1.30pm MT 25th August – Reuters have just put out this news release,
Nation’s Leading Environmental NGOs Unified Against Tar Sands Pipeline
Update on Day 5 of Tar Sand Pipeline Protest at the White House
See past update and background.
275 people have been arrested so far and many have been released. Today, the largest environmental groups in the US joined to send a letter to President Obama voicing their unified opposition to the Keystone pipeline and asking him to block it.
Why is this important? “For those of us out there in front of the White House, the best thing about this ringing statement is that the administration won’t be able to play one group off against another by making small concessions here and there”; says protest organizer Bill McKibben.
“There’s only one way to demonstrate to the environmental base the rhetoric of Obama’s 2008 campaign is still meaningful – and that’s to veto this pipeline. Since he can do it without even consulting Congress, this is one case where we’ll be able to see exactly how willing he is to match the rhetoric of his 2008 campaign.”
The letter says:
Dear President Obama,
Many of the organizations we head do not engage in civil disobedience; some do. Regardless, speaking as individuals, we want to let you know that there is not an inch of daylight between our policy position on the Keystone Pipeline and those of the very civil protesters being arrested daily outside the White House.
This is a terrible project – many of the country’s leading climate scientists have explained why in their letter last month to you. It risks many of our national treasures to leaks and spills. And it reduces incentives to make the transition to job-creating clean fuels.
You have a clear shot to deny the permit, without any interference from Congress. It’s perhaps the biggest climate test you face between now and the election.
If you block it, you will trigger a surge of enthusiasm from the green base that supported you so strongly in the last election. We expect nothing less.
Fred Krupp, Environmental Defense Fund
Michael Brune, Sierra Club
Frances Beinecke, Natural Resources Defense Council
Phil Radford, Greenpeace
Larry Schweiger, National Wildlife Federation Erich Pica, Friends of the Earth
Rebecca Tarbotton, Rainforest Action Network
May Boeve, 350.org
Gene Karpinski, League of Conservation Voters
Margie Alt, Environment America
New York Times Also Opposes Pipeline
In an August 21 editorial, the NY Times took a opposition against the pipeline, citing two main concerns: the risk of oil spills along the pipeline, which would traverse highly sensitive terrain, and the fact that the extraction of petroleum from tar sands creates far more greenhouse emissions than conventional production does.
Building the pipeline would clear the way for Canada to double tar sands production over the next decade to more than 1.8 million barrels a day. To do that, some 740,000 acres of boreal forest – a natural carbon reservoir – would be destroyed.
In addition to the emissions produced by tar sands extraction, would be emissions from the loss of this vast, crucial carbon sink, [editor’s note: not to mention the biodiversity it harbors.] Read the editorial:
Website: here with permission from Sustainable Business
Way to go, Bill.
Let me leave you with this picture.