Published: Mar 06, 2013 04:46 PM
Modified: Mar 06, 2013 04:47 PM
President Obama in his recent State of the Union address emphasized the urgent need to address climate change: “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy and the most severe drought in decades and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence, or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.” Is the president serious about tackling the growing crisis of climate change or is he simply teasing us with eloquent rhetoric?
A massive rally of 50,000 people (35,000 according to the Washington Post) gathered in front of the Washington Monument on Feb. 17, a frigid and blustery day, to test the president’s resolve by urging him to reject approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. More than 100 concerned citizens from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community participated in the protest.
Objections are that the pipeline will (1) prolong our dependence/addiction to fossil fuel by exploiting lower grade, higher polluting sources of oil (Canadian tar sands); (2) threaten the environment in this country if the pipeline is compromised; (3) destroy sacred lands of native people in Canada; and (4) contribute more carbon emissions to the environment.
Proponents of the pipeline argue that it will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and provide badly needed jobs and further that emissions related to oil from tar sands are a fraction of that from coal. These arguments and counter-arguments make clear that environmental issues are never without controversy. But the controversy begs the question, “When will we end this madness?” Stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline has become the cause for those who say “Let’s stop now, or at least begin now the radical transformation required for a clean energy economy.”
Speakers at the rally included Bill McKibben, leader of 350.org , who said “For 25 years our government has basically ignored the climate crisis: now people in large numbers are finally demanding they get to work.” Dem. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the only congressman who spoke at the rally, warned that approval of the pipeline would create a “credibility gap” for this administration. Indigenous women from Canada spoke passionately about care for Mother Earth.
After listening to the speakers, the protestors marched on Constitution Avenue, up 17th Street, and on to Pennsylvania Avenue past the White House. How did President Obama react to this largest environmental protest in history? He played golf in Florida with Tiger Woods and two Texas oil and gas barons, Jim Crane and Milton Carroll.
Those of us who marched don’t have an “answer” for an economy that is not based on fossil fuels. They have been at the heart of the global economic expansion of the last 100 years. We know there likely is no “clean energy” substitute for the explosive power of oil and its easy transportability. Our answer is simply that we have to take climate change seriously and that exploiting all the sources of fossil fuels available is not compatible with a healthy planet. We have to change. We can’t move from disaster to catastrophe, even if it means we have to slow down a bit.
The president is entitled to his vacation and he can play golf with whomever he wants. Yet, he has a responsibility to govern and to be attuned to critical priorities. If he were, he would have been present at the White House on Feb. 17 and would have stood with those who came to protest. We were and are his allies in combating climate change. The message we carried was and is the same as that of the president: “We must act before it is too late.”
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