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D.C. Protests That Make Big Oil Quake

Posted on Aug 23, 2011
tarsandsaction (CC-BY)

An officer prepares hand restraints as protesters prepare to be arrested in front of the White House.

By Amy Goodman

The White House was rocked Tuesday, not only by a 5.8-magnitude earthquake, but by the protests mounting outside its gates. More than 2,100 people say they’ll risk arrest there during the next two weeks. They oppose the Keystone XL pipeline project, designed to carry heavy crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

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A “keystone” in architecture is the stone at the top of an arch that holds the arch together; without it, the structure collapses. By putting their bodies on the line—as more than 200 have already at the time of this writing—these practitioners of the proud tradition of civil disobedience hope to collapse not only the pipeline, but the fossil-fuel dependence that is accelerating disruptive global climate change.

Bill McKibben was among those already arrested. He is an environmentalist and author who founded the group, named after the estimated safe upper limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of 350 ppm (parts per million—the planet is currently at 390 ppm). In a call to action to join the protest, McKibben, along with others including journalist Naomi Klein, actor Danny Glover and NASA scientist James Hansen, wrote the Keystone pipeline is “a 1,500-mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet.”

The movement to oppose Keystone XL ranges from activists and scientists to indigenous peoples of the threatened Canadian plains and boreal forests, where the tar sands are located, to rural farmers and ranchers in the ecologically fragile Sand Hills region of Nebraska, to students and physicians.

Asked why the White House protests are taking place while President Obama is away on a family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, McKibben replied: “We’ll be here when he gets back too. We’re staying for two weeks, every day. This is the first real civil disobedience of this scale in the environmental movement in ages.”


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Just miles to the east of Martha’s Vineyard, and almost exactly 170 years earlier, on Nantucket, Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave, abolitionist, journalist and publisher, gave one of his first major addresses before the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Douglass is famous for stating one of grass-roots organizing’s central truths: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Demanding change is one thing, while getting change in Washington, D.C., is another, especially with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives’ hostility to any climate-change legislation. That is why the protests against Keystone XL are happening in front of the White House.  Obama has the power to stop the pipeline. The Canadian corporation behind the project, TransCanada, has applied for a permit from the U.S. State Department to build the pipeline. If the State Department denies the permit, Keystone XL would be dead. The enormous environmental devastation caused by extracting petroleum from the tar sands might still move forward, but without easy access to the refineries and the U.S. market, it would certainly be slowed.

TransCanada executives are confident that the U.S. will grant the permit by the end of the year. Republican politicians and the petroleum industry tout the creation of well-paying construction jobs that would come from the project, and even enjoy some union support.

In response, two major unions, the Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transport Workers Union, representing more than 300,000 workers, called on the State Department to deny the permit. In a joint press release, they said: “We need jobs, but not ones based on increasing our reliance on Tar Sands oil. … Many jobs could also be created in energy conservation, upgrading the grid, maintaining and expanding public transportation—jobs that can help us reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency.”

Two Canadian women, indigenous actress Tantoo Cardinal, who starred in “Dances With Wolves,” and Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane in “Superman,” were arrested with about 50 others just before the earthquake hit Tuesday. Bill McKibben summed up: “It takes more than earthquakes and hurricanes to worry us—we’ll be out here through Sept. 3. Our hope is to send a Richter 8 tremor through the political system on the day Barack Obama says no to Big Oil and reminds us all why we were so happy when he got elected. The tar sands pipeline is his test.”

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 900 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

© 2011 Amy Goodman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate

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By Inherit The Wind, August 28, 2011 at 6:58 am Link to this comment

You are fascinating:
First you start with the absurd teabagger/Rick Perry false assertion that man-made global warming doesn’t exist.  Right. That’s why 50 years ago the North West Passage was not navigable and now Canada and Russia are fighting over who has the legal rights to the NOW navigable and insanely lucrative Passage. Imagine: No need for the Panama canal or going round Cape Horn for ships that exceed Panamex standards.  Within 100 years the areas being flooded today by Irene will be well under water as the Greenland, Polar and Antarctic ice caps recede further than they have since before the last ice age.

I’ve shown several times how the petition of 100 “Scientists” doubting man-made Global Warming is a phony…I know one personally and HE is a medical doctor running a dialysis unit.  My lawn service guys know more about meteorology than he does—it affects them more.

Then, after all this, you go on to propose absolutely sane and necessary actions that we, as a nation, DESPERATELY need to take, to create alternate non-carbon based energy alternatives.  I’ve long been an advocate of wind, solar and hydrogen energy generation, and am aware, as you are, of the ridiculously outdated infrastructure that needs to be improved to get those alternatives into the grid.

Can you imagine the energy this nation would save if every home had either solar panels or a white roof?  One estimate of white roofs was that if every American home had one the energy savings would be equal to pulling half the cars off the road! We use just that much air conditioning!  Solar panels allow you to either reduce energy usage or even feed the grid.

New York tried to implement a plan where skyscrapers had local natural gas generators. Yes, they do add CO2, but the energy efficiency and reduction of diesel and coal emissions would be SO great and it would help prevent summer brown-outs and reduce overall city pollution.  Consolidated Edison fought it tooth and nail and with every dirty trick they could.  The result? No local generators!

Skyscrapers have MASSIVE surfaces exposed to sunlight.  Are they covered with solar panels? No. Why?  “too expensive”.

Our ability to generate clean (or cleaner) energy from multiple sources has be deliberately and vindictively hampered for 30 years since the Oil industry got their first pet President, Ronald Reagan, in office.  When Mitch McConnell can, with a straight face, argue that Exxon Mobile NEEDS its oil subsidy money, is it any wonder we remain fossil-fuel dependent?

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By cH@inR34cT10n, August 27, 2011 at 12:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dear Amy,

first of all i want to THANK YOU AND YOUR TEAM for the excellent, ongoing and unbiased report of the oil spill issue. There is no other mediaoutlet that i am aware of which does something even remotely similar.

I am from Europe and am very concerned since day one.
The devastation is visible all over the GOM area (youtube links will show some). It was a very though time for me to see this desaster increase in magnitude form day to day over months.

I think it is terrifing to see the most important ecological system of our planet die.

I think it is terrifing to see how mighty BP has become. BP controlled the coastguard, the mainstream media, the scientists, the clean up workers, well virtualy everything and regarding to information about funds, i found on the net, they may even be in control of greenpeace to some degree regarding this matter, which would explain their silence over the past months.

Please continue to cover this topic.

yours s. chain


TruthDig sucks because one cannot post links.

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By drbhelthi, August 25, 2011 at 2:12 am Link to this comment

See the man in the nice uniform? He’s here to “Serve And Protect”.
The question is who and what?  berniem

No longer in question.
This appearance is the std. for the “Swat Team types” who put on
black uniforms, break into dwellings at 03:00 hrs. with automatic
rifles, and kill an adult and child or two. 

Investigators later discover that they attacked the wrong address,
yet decline to offer even an apology, saying they were only doing
their job. 

More recently, they attack farms, that sell fresh, whole milk (that
has not been plasticized via pasteurization and homogenation) and
non-Monsanto vegetables, claiming that the Food and Drug
Administration has not approved either, thus they may not be sold.

It all began with the NAZIs in the USGOV, 1945, and Operation Paper
Clip, with reiterations til 1952. Later accelerated by the GHWBushSr
entourage. GOTO

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By berniem, August 24, 2011 at 9:42 am Link to this comment

See the man in the nice uniform? He’s here to “Serve And Protect”. The question is who and what?

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By Lisa Simeone, August 24, 2011 at 8:21 am Link to this comment

Obama’s only calculus is:  ‘how many votes will I get if
I okay this pipeline, and how many votes will I get if I
nix it?’  That’s it.  That’s all he cares about.  Gaining
and keeping power.

His actions so far show that he’s in bed with corporate
titans.  His inclination has to be to approve it.  But if
he fears losing—finally—the hundreds of thousands
of supporters who still haven’t woken up to his
constant betrayals—then he might disallow it.  We’ll

We’ll also see how many get arrested in October as
well as now:

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By Michael Cavlan RN, August 24, 2011 at 8:19 am Link to this comment



You should visit firedoglake.

They eat Trolls and apologists for breakfast there. Then continue the discussion unbroken. You see, we happen to understand that trolls such as yourself are here for one reason only.

To disrupt.

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By AnAlienEarthling, August 24, 2011 at 7:39 am Link to this comment

Why claim that “there is no conclusive evidence” about the anthropogenic account of climate change? Among natural scientific disciplines, there is never “conclusive evidence” for any specific account - that is one of the reasons why Karl Popper (and members of the Vienna Circle and other Verificationists) insisted on “falsifiability” as the criterion for a genuine (natural) scientific
claim. A claim for which no falsifiability conditions can be specified - such as an alternative hypothesis - fails to be a genuine (natural) scientific claim. It is for this reason that mathematical claims fail as claims of natural science, e.g., there could be no “evidence” that 2+2 did not equal 4 - however, this is not to claim that “there is conclusive evidence” that it does. The additive claim is simply not one subject to evidence at all. In short, your claim that “there is no conclusive evidence” is, at best, vacuously true, and at worst, completely uninformative.

On the other hand, the evidence that supports the anthropogenic account is overwhelming; indeed, it is as overwhelming as the evidence that supports the physical laws responsible for the operation of the elevators, escalators, cars, and airplanes that you ride. However, the evidence here is also “not conclusive”! However, would that ever inhibit you from riding these mechanisms?

To be fair, you are correct that we do NOT NEED the anthropogenic account “to justify” our moral action for Earth: the imperative to act does not pivot on this account. Rather, it pivots on the inherent paradox that the very fossil-fuel dependency that seems to secure our survival actually engenders our extinction. This is the paradox with which all of us live, but which most of us want to deny.

It is unfortunate that most Americans are scientifically illiterate - and given the cuts in education, will probably remain so for another generation. Americans are the ones most responsible for the devastation to Earth.

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By SarcastiCanuck, August 24, 2011 at 7:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Our Minister of Foreign Affairs here in Canada,publicly stated in Washington a few days ago,that if the U.S. does not want our oil then the Chinese are more than happy to purchase it.Either way,we in Canada will be both the benefactors of increased revenue and the victims of the destruction the tar sands will cause.First Nations tribes,fish and wildlife are already showing signs of increased cancer and death rates.
No matter how many or how much you protest,the reality is that Mr.Obama will capitulate to the thirst for oil.It is bigger then him or any other politician in this world.If anybody out there has a practical solution for this,they will be the hero of the century.Its a royal catch-22.

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By Lafayette, August 24, 2011 at 2:19 am Link to this comment


MC RN: At least to folks who are not apologists for the imperialist actions of the current regime in DC.

Right, if one does not agree with all the statements of the Looney Left, then one is (ipso facto) an “apologist”.

For a definition of the word “ideologue”, look in the mirror.

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By Lafayette, August 24, 2011 at 1:41 am Link to this comment


AG: these practitioners of the proud tradition of civil disobedience hope to collapse not only the pipeline, but the fossil-fuel dependence that is accelerating disruptive global climate change.

She is spouting nonsense.

There is NO conclusive scientific evidence of this happening. There is only global warming as there has been cyclically and episodically for millions upon millions of years.

The melting of the polar icecap is causing some scientists to go ballistic, but it is still NOT conclusive proof of a durable non-cyclic activity.

Better global warming than global freezing.


Still, none of the above is intended to espouse a continued dependence upon the carbon molecule as our primary source of energy for electricity and transportation.

America is THE predominant global polluter nation - see the numbers regarding greenhouse effect CO2 emissions here.

That pollution is killing our children, slowly, slowly - but surely. Deaths attributed to air pollution are in the very low numbers (see here), but how would you like to have a child of yours counted in that 3% number given?


Btw, a Stimulus Spending program to create jobs would look like this:
1) Enhance a dilapidated electricity grid towards making it more efficient
2) Embark upon an aggressive program to implant windmill farms in rural areas, and
3) A tax deduction for materials necessary to better insulate American homes,
4) Stiff controls on oil/gas fired electricity generating plants.

All the above measures would do wonders to reduce both pollution levels and the exorbitant cost of energy AS WELL AS create jobs.

Too obvious? Too cogent? Of course - for the Tea-Party Crazies that control the HofR.


It is nonetheless goodness to see Americans getting off their duffs to protest something/anything in these trying times. (There must be a barbecue somewhere in that event. Maybe on the White House lawn, with Barack and family serving hamburgers? ;^)

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By Michael Cavlan RN, August 23, 2011 at 10:36 pm Link to this comment

One of the people involved in this action and arrested for it, Bill McGibbons has been having his articles covered over at firedoglake.

As for Amy Goodman, well given recent and not so recent events, she is loosing credibility fast. At least to folks who are not apologists for the imperialist actions of the current regime in DC.

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By ocjim, August 23, 2011 at 9:11 pm Link to this comment

The Obama administration is probably the most cowardly of Democratic presidents after a long line who resisted caving to big oil interests. His allegiance to plutocrats continues.

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By ash channan, August 23, 2011 at 8:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

so it’s not only the tar sands that are strip mined its the water that this operation destroys three gallons to one of oil add to that the mix of oil and precious alberta water for the transport of the slurry through the pipes to texas. Alberta looses water gives away oil revenue that comes from refined product to inefficient texas refineries that are never upgraded because 70% of dollars are given to wall street the whole concept is stupidity and greed, alberta suffers texas suffers the planet suffers then you die from cancer

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By EmileZ, August 23, 2011 at 5:48 pm Link to this comment

Stay stay stay people if you can, because frankly, right now you are not likely to get much press.


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