The decision to let this pipeline come through America is the most fateful decision you will ever make, Mr. President. It would be like jabbing a dirty needle into this country from Canada. It would be like lighting a fuse on a carbon bomb.
These were the words of Van Jones as he addressed last month’s “Forward on Climate” rally in Washington, D.C. attended by at least 30,000 other protesters demanding a separation of “oil and state.” Jones brandished some of the day’s more vivid imagery to evoke the threat posed by the expansion of Canadian tar sands oil production, which would be facilitated by the Keystone XL pipeline. The “carbon bomb” metaphor has been a favorite of anti-Keystone activists ever since NASA scientist James Hansen first endorsed the term in 2011.
Citing Hansen’s science, Bill McKibben and the 350.org crowd have launched the most visible wing of the anti-pipeline movement. Their resources have allowed them to draw “historic” numbers to Washington and exert some pressure on a president whose position on climate could not be more riddled with contradictions. (On February 17, when thousands rallied outside the White House, Obama did his best to ignore them.) To their credit, mainstream figures like McKibben and Hansen have repeatedly shown their willingness to engage in civil disobedience over Keystone XL. Their most recent action took place in February, when—some twelve hours after Obama trumpeted his climate leadership in his State of the Union address—dozens of protesters including Hansen, Sierra Club director Michael Brune, and actress Darryl Hannah staged a sit-in in front of the White House to demand the president live up to his promises. McKibben and a handful of others went so far as to chain themselves to the White House gate.
Given Obama’s unique power over the pending pipeline decision, these major climate activists have good reason to take the battle to Obama’s front yard, and their civil disobedience in Washington has succeeded in garnering publicity. While the president continues to ignore the environmentalists addressing him, though, grassroots activists along the pipeline’s projected route have mounted a more militant direct action campaign to slow its progress. Under the umbrella of the Tar Sands Blockade, protesters have sat in trees, locked themselves to tractors and podiums, and even barricaded themselves inside a section of pipe.
Throughout this time, First Nations activists in Canada–and now in Utah, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Minnesota–have been fighting the tar sands closer to the source. Their ongoing resistance against fossil fuel projects far and wide, recently bolstered by the Idle No More movement, have been central to stalling the expansion of tar sands production.
These various protests have highlighted the XL pipeline’s strategic importance in the battle over North America’s energy future—and its dramatic projected impact on the global climate. Keystone XL is only one of many proposed pipelines that could export Canadian tar sands oil, as this excellent map compiled by Inside Climate News attests. Despite widespread assertions among U.S. policymakers and media that Canadian tar sands will be exploited whether Keystone XL is built or not, however, statements by energy executives and other industry insiders have largely confirmed environmentalists’ assessment of the pipeline’s importance.
In the Indypendent, Michael Klare cites a pro-pipeline editorial in Oil & Gas Journal that describes the controversy over XL as a conflict over “fundamental views about the future of energy.” Further statements from politicians and other officials involved with the development of tar sands all point to the same conclusion, writes Klare: that without Keystone XL, the exploitation of the tar sands will not be economically viable.
Throughout the protests, the pipeline’s advocates have quietly stood their ground. Their ranks include senators—the fifty-three most vocal pipeline supporters have received an average of over $550,000 each in campaign contributions from fossil fuel companies, according to statistics compiled by Oil Change International—but also New York Times columnists and labor unionists. After the State Department released a draft environmental impact statement last week claiming that the XL pipeline “would not accelerate global greenhouse gas emissions or significantly harm the natural habitats along its route,” Inside Climate News reported that two of the consulting firms that provided the State Department with analysis have close ties to the oil industry. It is unclear whether this news would have shaken Times columnist Joe Nocera, who cited the State Department report as evidence that James Hansen is leading a misguided crusade against the pipeline. Nocera complained that Hansen, a “government scientist,” is vocally opposing oil companies rather than sitting quietly in his NASA lab. He threw in a swipe at Venezuela for good measure, which was subsequently debunked by attentive readers.
More disappointing was the AFL-CIO’s quiet endorsement of the pipeline. It’s a pity that neither the unions nor the government are staffed with more people like Van Jones—Obama’s original “green jobs czar,” quickly forced to resign after a Fox News uproar over his early radicalism—who argues that climate and labor interests are aligned rather than in conflict with one another.
Evidently, the battle over Keystone XL is far from over. Regardless of the president’s decision, however, protests against the pipeline have sown the seeds of a more robust U.S. climate movement, with a diversity of tactics and participants beginning to match the scope of those affected by new dirty energy production.
“He appeared as an indestructible ox…”
The post-mortem battle over Hugo Chávez’s legacy has begun.
In The Nation, Greg Grandin claims that “Venezuela might be the most democratic country in the Western Hemisphere.” He reiterates his positive verdict in a roundtable with other Chávez supporters on Democracy Now!
Owen Jones defends Chávez’s democratic credentials and lauds the leader’s anti-poverty initiatives in the Independent, while acknowledging the recent rise of crime in Venezuela and some of Chávez’s alliances with Iran, Syria, and Libya.
In the Guardian, Tariq Ali hails the late Venezuelan president’s challenge to the Washington consensus, his charisma, his imposing physique, and his love of reading:
History, fiction and poetry were the loves of his life: “Like me, Fidel is an insomniac. Sometimes we’re reading the same novel. He rings at 3am and asks: ‘Well, have you finished? What did you think?’ And we argue for another hour.”
Similarly enthusiastic is David Sirota, who describes Chávez’s “economic miracle” in Salon.
Slate is less sympathetic.
Jacobin editor Bhaskar Sunkara sees in Chávismo “the fiery rhetoric of Italian fascism tempered by the warm and fuzzy egalitarian core of Scandinavian socialism.” Last year in Dissent, he called Chávez a “postmodern Perón.”
The New Yorker‘s John Cassidy comments on how Chávez rather successfully grappled with the “resource curse” that tends to plague oil-rich nations. Earlier this year, the New Yorker published a smug anti-Chávez feature entitled “Slumlord,” which emphasized the growth of slums and the rise in violent crime in Chávez’s Venezuela.
James Hansen’s fee-and-dividend strategy, which aims to redistribute revenue from a carbon tax as a lump sum to taxpayers, has “objectively revolutionary” appeal, according to the Monthly Review.
In more cabinet news (to follow up on last week’s Partial Readings):
Interior secretary nominee Sally Jewell channels Sheryl Sandberg in a defense of expanded fossil fuel drilling on public land.
Gina McCarthy’s EPA appointment signals more mixed prospects for Obama’s second-term environmental agenda.
“You can’t eat buzz”: a freelance journalist’s spar with the Atlantic prompts a discussion about paying (or not paying) writers in the internet age. Notably absent from the discussion was Harper’s publisher John R. Macarthur, who has famously lamented the Internet’s “proletarianization of the writer” and related evils. He once advised Columbia journalism students:
Put up paywalls on blogs, if you must blog, for pennies if that’s all the market will bear. But at least hold fast to the principle that writing is work, that writing has value, and that writers should be paid.
Harper’s employs half a dozen unpaid, full-time interns.