Methane is bubbling up from the bottom of Alaskan lakes–the result of ancient organic matter thawing and decomposing from its once icy chamber in an ever warming climate. This is just one of several ways the melting of Arctic permafrost could create a precipitous increase in greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere and speed up global warming. As the New York Times noted in a recent feature on this foreboding phenomenon, “researchers are worried that the changes in the region may already be outrunning their ability to understand them, or to predict what will happen.”
As complex as this unraveling chain of events may seem, it’s not nature, but politicians–particularly those in Washington–who have made it so. Although they exhale the same amount of carbon dioxide as the average human being, theirs is just as potent and polluting as the gas bubbling out of that lake. The latest example of this can be seen in the Senate’s passage of a bill that requires the president to make a decision within 60 days on the Keystone XL pipeline–which would link Canada’s tar sands to Texas’s oil refineries or, more accurately, the dangerous melting of Arctic permafrost.
The bill is a rather duplicitous effort by Republicans to link an issue the president would prefer not to deal with (Keystone XL) to one that’s close to his heart: payroll tax breaks. As Grist explained, “They have nothing to do with tar sands. But the president wants them, so the House [and now the Senate] is taking them hostage and using them to bargain for the pipeline.”
What does this mean for Tar Sands Action, the campaign that raised the pipeline issue to a national level and pushed the president to initially delay a decision until after the election? It means the gears are churning among the organizers. They’ve been on a week-long retreat to figure out the next moves for this campaign–after a month of local and regional brainstorming–but were no doubt caught by surprise with the quick emergence and passage of this bill.
In an email to Tar Sands Action campaigners yesterday, Bill McKibben did his best to outline immediate steps to be taken:
Our hope — and what you should ask the President for when you write him — is that when he signs the bill he will say the obvious thing:
“Two months is not long enough to review the pipeline. The Canadians themselves have just delayed review of their tar sands pipelines over safety concerns, and we’ve just come through a year that set a record for billion-dollar climate-related disasters; I’m not going to do a rush job just to please the oil industry lobbyists. So this pipeline is dead.”
Since the State Department has already, in essence, said two months is not enough time, this should be straightforward.
We should know how it’s going to play out within 48 hours or so. We’re of course ready to fight like heck.
But for this weekend? If you haven’t gotten through to the White House, or you think you can round up some friends, you can send them a message here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments (the switchboard is now closed for the weekend) – and click here to spread the word on Facebook and Twitter.
Even if the president says the right thing, it seems inevitable that TSA will have to get back out on the streets. If discussions over the past month from the local level on up are any indication of what’s to come, possible courses of action include targeting Obama campaign centers as sites for protest and civil disobedience, starting divestment campaigns against the banks that finance the pipeline project, and occupying the pipeline’s endpoints in Texas and Alberta.
Washington may be far removed from the chain of events it’s facilitating up in the Arctic, but climate activists and the broad range of other folks opposed to this pipeline–including Nebraska farmers and Texas ranchers–are already catalyzing another chain of events that politicians will have a much harder time ignoring.
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If soldiers train for armed combat, why wouldn’t activists train for toppling the political-economic structure that’s killing our chance for a just future? The stakes are just as high.
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