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A Zero Emissions Manifesto for the Climate Justice Movement

1:19 pm in Uncategorized by Tom Weis

Cross-posted with EcoWatch & co-authored by Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr.

Zero emissions is an ambitious but achievable goal.
–UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Zero has become the most important number for humanity. Why?

Zero Emissions Now!

Any chance of stabilizing the climate hinges on transitioning to zero greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as humanly possible. Simply slowing the rise of emissions will not work. For the first time, the world’s leading climate authority, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has embraced a goal of near zero greenhouse gas emissions or below.

Top military experts and government institutions like the U.S. Department of Defense and National Intelligence Council warn that climate destabilization threatens our national security, yet global emissions just keep going up. Leading biologists like E.O. Wilson warn that the sixth great extinction is now upon us, yet emissions keep going up.

By heating the globe at such a relentless rate, we are playing a deadly game of planetary Russian roulette. In the words of Michael Mann, professor of meteorology at Penn State University: “There is no precedent for what we are doing to the atmosphere. It is an uncontrolled experiment.” If you believe your own eyes that climate chaos has already gone too far, the only logical response is to stop making things worse.

We are not suggesting ending the use of fossil fuels tomorrow. Decarbonizing our industries, homes, transportation, power generation and food production will take years of concerted effort and require every ounce of courage, ingenuity, patience and humility we possess. But intergenerational justice demands that we commit ourselves now as a nation to leading this green industrial revolution.

Some will no doubt call this goal unrealistic, saying it cannot be achieved, but they would underestimate the creative genius of the American people. What is unrealistic is thinking we can continue with business as usual and leave a habitable planet for our children. Americans are a supremely resourceful people with a long history of meeting, and exceeding, monumental challenges. While we have never faced anything as daunting as the global climate crisis, there are precedents for the U.S. overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.

When destiny came knocking during World War II, we initially resisted, then answered by leading the allied forces to victory in three and a half short years.

It took a Civil War to end the scourge of slavery, and a monumental civil rights struggle to outlaw segregation, Jim Crow laws and discrimination, but we not only overcame, we elected a person of color as President of the United States.

When President John Kennedy boldly challenged America to land a man on the moon in less than a decade, our best and brightest responded by accomplishing this seemingly impossible task ahead of schedule.

It is now time for our generation to do something great.

Zero Emissions Bandwagon

It may surprise you to learn that zero emissions has already been embraced as a goal by business leaders as well-known as Bill Gates, and world leaders as prominent as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria; UN climate chief Christiana Figueres; Prince Charles; and former President Jimmy Carter, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of The Elders.

Again, even the conservative, consensus-based IPCC supports near zero emissions or below, albeit on a year 2100 timeline that belies the urgency of their August draft report, which warns of “irreversible impacts” from continued emissions. Read the rest of this entry →

As Keystone XL Dominoes Fall, Time to Arrest Tar Sands Industry

9:15 am in Uncategorized by Tom Weis

Thanks to the courageous and indefatigable efforts of pipeline fighters everywhere, the tide has finally turned on Keystone XL.

We’ve got this.

Thanks to the courageous and indefatigable efforts of pipeline fighters everywhere, the tide has finally turned on Keystone XL. As it becomes increasingly clear that Keystone XL’s northern leg is not going through, it is time to set our sights on ending all tar sands exploitation.

The Obama administration’s latest election year delay on Keystone North is not a victory, but the dominoes continue to fall. Earlier this year, a citizen lawsuit denied TransCanada a route through Nebraska. Last month, it lost its permit through South Dakota. Now it faces a gauntlet of “Cowboys & Indians” vowing to stop it in its tracks.

We cannot let up until Keystone North is vanquished, but all signs point to President Obama nixing TransCanada’s cross-border permit after the November elections. Don’t just take my word for it.

On April 23, Rolling Stone contributing editor Jeff Goodell wrote: “I was told recently by members of the administration that the pipeline would, in fact, be rejected.” On June 18, former Vice President Al Gore wrote in this same magazine: “[Obama] has signaled that he is likely to reject the absurdly reckless Keystone XL-pipeline proposal.”

Both pronouncements come on the heels of former President Jimmy Carter pointedly warning the president that Keystone XL “will define your legacy on one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced – climate change.”

For a president who has suddenly decided to stake so much of his legacy on addressing the climate crisis, approving Keystone North would destroy any shred of credibility on this issue. It would also put an administration that prides itself on outreach to Native American communities in the position of violating the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty.

I recently had the honor of viewing the Fort Laramie Treaty with Shane Red Hawk and his family in the National Archives vault. There wasn’t time to read every word of the hand-written document, but there was time to absorb the meaning of the “bad man” clause in Article I on the faded first page:

If bad men among the whites, or among other people subject to the authority of the United States, shall commit any wrong upon the person or property of the Indians, the United States will, upon proof made to the agent, and forwarded to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at Washington city, proceed at once to cause the offender to be arrested and punished according to the laws of the United States.

Because Keystone North would cross treaty territory, its construction would blatantly violate the “bad man” clause, an arrestable offense the Great Sioux Nation will not abide. President Obama knows this because the presidents of the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux tribes declared on national television their people are “willing to die” to stop it. He also knows this because his Senior Counselor, John Podesta, visited the “Reject and Protect” tipi encampment on the National Mall in April where this declaration of nonviolent civil resistance was made.

As fate would have it, I found myself standing next to Mr. Podesta at this historic event. I thanked him for his public opposition to Keystone, then asked him to urge the president to use his bully pulpit to speak out against all tar sands exploitation (this includes preventing the tar sands barons from gaining a foothold in Utah’s pristine red rocks country).

Read the rest of this entry →

‘Moccasins on the Ground’ Aims to Shield People from ‘Black Venom’ of Keystone XL

10:03 am in Uncategorized by Tom Weis

Cross-posted with Common Dreams

First Nations people started the Keystone XL fight in the U.S. by waking up the world to the survival threats posed by Canada’s poisonous tar sands mining.

First Nations people started the Keystone XL fight in the U.S. by waking up the world to the survival threats posed by Canada’s poisonous tar sands mining. Indigenous leaders now vow to end the Keystone XL fight by vanquishing, once and for all, the northern leg of TransCanada’s “black venom” tar sands pipeline.

Oyate Wahacanka (“Shield the People”), a project of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, has erected tipi spirit camps along the northern route of Keystone XL to “stop progress along the pipeline right-of-way.” Should it need to, the tribe intends to use its “legal and moral authority” to nonviolently prevent the construction of the tar sands project. As described on their website, Lakota leaders are standing their ground against Keystone XL for the following reasons:

  • Potential loss of clean drinking water
  • Violation of treaty rights
  • Increased levels of violence that have been associated with the “man camps”
  • Increased rates of cancer affecting residents near the pipeline
  • Loss of crops and insect life caused by the hot pipes

Under the tireless leadership of Lakota matriarch Debra White Plume, Owe Aku (“Bring Back the Way”) has organized an extended series of 3-day “Moccasins on the Ground” nonviolent direct action training camps to prevent the construction of Keystone XL North. I had the distinct honor to participate in one of these life-changing gatherings last summer. As described on their website:

Lakota People, and many other Red Nations people, we have painted our faces. Our allies up north have painted their faces. For sacred water, for Unci Maka [Mother Earth], for our generations. As people of the earth, our coming generations have a right to sacred water, no policy, no corporation, no politics should be more important than that… We are in a time of prophecy, our collective action will be significant, with all the love in our hearts, we must all resist this destruction, and stand for sacred water and Unci Maka.

This Earth Day, a “Cowboy Indian Alliance” from the Keystone North pipeline route will ride into the nation’s capitol on horseback and set up tipis near the White House to call on President Obama to reject a presidential permit for the tar sands project. This public event comes two and a half years after a group of “Cowboys and Indians,” joined by Daryl Hannah, first saddled up to fight Keystone XL. The 6-day Washington, DC encampment is called Reject and Protect. As described on their website:

On that day [April 22], we will set up camp nearby the White House, lighting our fire and burning our sage, and for 5 days, we will bear proud witness to President Obama’s final decision on Keystone XL, reminding him of the threat this tar sands pipeline poses to our climate, land, water and tribal rights. Throughout those 5 days, we will show the power of our communities with events ranging from prayers at Sec. Kerry’s home and an opening ceremony of tribes and ranchers on horseback in front of the White House.

While campaigning for president in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama was adopted by the Crow Nation and given a Crow name that translates as, “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.” Barack Black Eagle would do honor to his Crow name, and to Native wisdom, by rejecting the Keystone XL permit outright. His Friday announcement to delay (again) a decision on Keystone North until after the November elections does not do this, but it shows the strength of a movement that has fought TransCanada to a standstill.

With gratitude in my heart, I thank our indigenous brothers and sisters for their fearless leadership, and for showing us how to make peace with the planet. Let all who are for the Earth unite as one human family against the existential threat tar sands pose to those living today, and the next seven generations to come.

Climate Youth Lead #XLDISSENT Civil Resistance to Ensure Our Civil Existence

11:46 am in Uncategorized by Tom Weis

 

Cross-posted with The Huffington Post

More than a thousand climate youth leaders and allies converged on Washington, DC this weekend for the largest student-led civil resistance action at the White House in a generation. They came to register their dissent against extreme fossil fuel exploitation and to demand that President Obama reject the northern leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The scene outside the White House on Sunday was remarkable. After marching through the streets, the students rallied at Lafayette Square, chanting: “Obama, come out! We’ve got some shit to talk about!” and “The people are rising! No more compromising!” A short while later, in a sudden burst of energy, a sea of bodies surged toward the White House to occupy the fence, while others fell to the ground, victims of a mock tar sands oil spill. All did it knowing they would be arrested.

Student leaders from nearly 50 universities and colleges from across the country signed the #XLDISSENT call to action, which calls “into question” President Obama’s “willingness to govern in an environmentally responsible manner.” Their statement goes on to say:

President Obama has indeed made several responsible choices, such as increasing the mileage standards for cars. But he has also made some disastrous ones. He opened vast swaths of Western lands for coal mining, repeatedly endorsed an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy approach, and even supported the Southern leg of the Keystone pipeline.

I suspect many students who participated in this action share my sense of betrayal over President Obama’s 2012 fast-track approval of Keystone XL’s southern leg (which has 70% of the capacity to transport tar sands as Keystone XL’s northern leg). By calling out the president on this gross injustice, they are reminding everyone that with Obama’s ownership of Keystone South comes responsibility for any tar sands spills that occur in Texas and Oklahoma, and for toxic emissions breathed by families living in fenceline communities near tar sands refineries in Houston and Port Arthur.

Time is slipping away for President Obama to salvage his tattered environmental legacy. He can start by denouncing Keystone North, jettisoning his “all-of-the-above” energy policy, and producing a new climate action plan that has a real chance of averting climate chaos.

In solidarity, I share this video of an emergency direct action several of us organized at the White House on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 85th birthday in January. Inspired by what Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of now,” it was a last-ditch effort to try to prevent Keystone South from starting up.

Action by action, we are building what Dr. King called “the beloved community.” Future generations will honor these young climate justice leaders who sacrificed their freedom to demand an end to these immoral assaults on our collective future. Call it civil resistance to ensure our civil existence.

Going to Jail on MLK’s B-Day to Stop Keystone XL South: “The Fierce Urgency of Now”

10:35 am in Uncategorized by Tom Weis

Cross-posted with EcoWatch

You wouldn’t know it from the lack of focus and attention by the environmental establishment, but the 485-mile southern leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has been built, is being filled and is scheduled to start up on Jan. 22. Front line reports from landowners in Texas and Oklahoma say that TransCanada has patrol planes flying up and down the line, with foot patrols searching for leaks. In a few short days, this 485-mile fuse to one of the biggest carbon bombs on the planet will be lit.

Desperate to stop this, several prominent Texas landowners urgently requested a face-to-face meeting with President Obama in early December, only to be spurned by the White House. In response, I spearheaded an emergency direct action on Jan. 15, the 85th birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., outside the White House to demand that the President order the shut down of Keystone XL south.

SLIDESHOW ►

It was there that a brave young man of faith, Jason Miller of the Franciscan Action Network, joined me to bear witness to this grave injustice being perpetrated against our children and future generations. Supported by our brothers and sisters from Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, we took direct action that ended in our arrest. One of those brothers, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, inspired me to describe it as civil resistance to ensure our civil existence. It was in the spirit of Dr. King, and what he called “the fierce urgency of now,” that I went to jail to stop Keystone XL South.

What’s happening right now in Texas and Oklahoma is deeply immoral. If President Obama does not exercise his executive authority to stop the southern leg of Keystone XL from starting up on Jan. 22, he will have committed one of the most destructive acts any president has ever committed against our children and their future by knowingly exacerbating the climate crisis. No amount of greenwashing by the president, or his political enablers, will remove the stain of Keystone XL south from his legacy. It will be forever remembered as Obama’s Keystone XL pipeline.

If Movement Fails to Draw the Line Against Keystone XL in TX & OK, We All Flunk the Climate Test

11:30 am in Uncategorized by Tom Weis

Cross-posted with EcoWatch

I had a chance to read FAIL: How the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Flunks the Climate Test, a recent report issued by the Sierra Club and Oil Change International and endorsed by a dozen other environmental organizations. The 17-page report makes a rock solid case that “constructing Keystone XL will lead to tar sands industry expansion, and tar sands industry expansion will significantly exacerbate climate pollution.”

The report documents how the Keystone XL would be a pipeline through the U.S. by delivering toxic tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries, thereby opening the floodgates for Canada’s dirty energy to be exported overseas.

What the report fails to mention, however, is the central fact that it is the 485-mile southern leg of Keystone XL already being constructed in Texas and Oklahoma — not the pipeline’s proposed northern leg — that will give TransCanada strategic access to these U.S. coastal ports.

TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline being constructed on Michael Bishop’s property in Texas.

Here’s the inconvenient truth about the Keystone XL: TransCanada does not need the pipeline’s northern leg to begin pumping hundreds of thousands of barrels of toxic tar sands daily through America’s breadbasket for export overseas. This map shows how they will accomplish this by simply connecting Keystone XL’s southern leg to Keystone I (the orange line on the map) built by TransCanada in 2010.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune is right to describe the Keystone XL as “a test of the president’s commitment” to combating climate change. But the test isn’t being given in 2014 over whether Obama approves or rejects a permit for the pipeline’s northern leg. The test is being administered right now in Texas and Oklahoma, where the Keystone XL’s 485-mile southern leg is already 90 percent constructed and scheduled to go online by late this year or early next.

Here are some key findings of the FAIL report:

• The Keystone XL pipeline is absolutely critical to the expansion of tar sands development in landlocked Alberta, because it would provide the industry with a major low-cost connection to export markets and world oil prices.

• Experts predict that the approval of the pipeline could lead to a 36 percent increase in tar sands exploitation.

• A pipeline that would contribute 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year for 50 years risks blowing our ability to mitigate dangerous levels of climate change, in and of itself.

• The Keystone XL pipeline is a linchpin to tar sands development, and increased tar sands development would be disastrous for the climate.

To borrow a phrase from the report, the question that climate protection demands we ask is this: if “from a climate perspective it is indefensible for the U.S. government to approve [a presidential permit for] this project, in light of the future implications it would have for accelerating the growth of one of the most polluting fuels on the planet,” is it not magnitudes more indefensible for the president to have approved the actual construction of this same project in Texas and Oklahoma? Why does the report fail to address this key point?

The dire findings of the FAIL report — that “Keystone XL is key to unlocking massive expansion of one of the world’s most carbon-intensive sources of oil, an environmental Armageddon” — cry out for its authors to demand that President Obama stop the construction of Keystone’s southern leg, before it is too late. But for the fearless resistance of local landowners, and the heroic efforts of the Tar Sands Blockade and Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, toxic tar sands might already be surging through the Keystone pipeline to Gulf Coast port refineries. In the words of one of those landowners, Michael Bishop: “You should not be swatting at flies where there is a lion outside your door.”

The FAIL report seals the deal on why President Obama must immediately reverse course and pull the plug on the construction of this 485-mile climate disaster. But this requires an environmental movement unified behind this demand.

Yes, we must also block the permit for Keystone’s northern leg, which would allow even more toxic tar sands to flow across America, but no one is going to buy that as a victory if TransCanada succeeds in getting their southern leg linchpin in place. If the climate movement fails to draw a line in the sand against Keystone XL in Texas and Oklahoma — and this tar sands nightmare is allowed to go online — we will all have flunked the climate test.

President Obama’s Climate Action Plan: Not Even Close

1:15 pm in Uncategorized by Tom Weis

Cross-posted with EcoWatch

President Obama during his climate speech at Georgetown University on June 23.

In June, after more than four years as president, President Obama finally proposed a climate action plan for America. True to form, the president gave an eloquent speech, with strong words for those still in denial about the severity of the crisis we face: “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.”

Unfortunately for all of us, the blueprint he presented is more PR than plan, and has zero chance of stabilizing the climate. To the contrary, it promises even more climate chaos by promoting frackingmountaintop removal coal miningoffshore and Arctic oil drilling and tar sands exploitation. It also threatens future generations with the specter of more radioactive nuclear power.

The president opened his speech with a poetic tribute to the Apollo program, a generational mission championed by President John F. Kennedy more than half a century ago. But no comparison can be made between Kennedy’s bold vision and Obama’s timid plan. At the moment in history when the moral urgency of the global climate crisis demands a U.S.-led green energy “moon shot,” President Obama offers us a cloud shot. Are we really supposed to take seriously the anemic goal of cutting carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020 when experts like Earth Policy Institute’s Lester Brown have shown that nothing short of 80 percent carbon cuts by 2020 may be enough to save civilization?

Instead of calling out Obama on his hollow words, big national environmental groups—many with deep ties to the Democratic Party establishment and the Obama White House—fell over themselves congratulating the president on his speech. This, despite the fact that neither of America’s two corporate political parties has any intention of giving up their oil-soaked campaign contributions to take on the fossil fuel lobby.

Jon Queally, writing for Common Dreams, posed the right question: “With a showering of praise from ‘big green’ groups like Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and Environment America—the last of which decided to launch an expensive ‘thank you’ TV ad for the president—is it possible that the environmental movement is easing off the pressure at exactly the moment they should be holding Obama’s feet more firmly to the fire?” This is exactly what many of these same groups did when the president postponed until after the election a decision on Keystone XL’s northern leg permit, only to see him turn around and fast-track the pipeline’s southern leg. Instead of learning from history, they repeat it.

With the aforementioned as context, let’s look at some of what the President actually said in his speech and how his words fail to translate into the action needed to help stabilize the climate in the short time humanity has left to act.

President Obama: “We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions. We’re going to partner with our private sector to apply private sector technological know-how in countries that transition to natural gas.”

Real World Translation: The President calls natural gas “clean,” despite knowing it’s a major greenhouse gas emitter. He calls natural gas “safe,” when the known dangers of fracking are causing communities across America to rise up against the poisoning of their local water supplies. The President’s plan would not only ramp up this dangerous technology domestically, but also export it overseas.

President Obama: “So the plan I’m announcing today will help us double again our energy from wind and sun.”

Real World Translation: This sounds impressive until you realize the percentage of America’s electricity currently generated by wind and solar power is in the single digits. The president’s plan ensures that the vast majority of our energy will continue to be generated from burning dirty fossil fuels.

President Obama: “So today, I’m setting a new goal: Your federal government will consume 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources within the next seven years.”

Real World Translation: This is an example of the president’s “cloud shot” mentality. It would be like Kennedy announcing a goal of flying one-fifth of the way to the moon. Two Swiss explorers just flew day and night across America in a 100 percent solar powered airplane. If they can accomplish that in the air, America can do it on the ground.

President Obama: “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

Real World Translation: Thanks to the president, the Keystone XL pipeline is already charging forward, with zero regard for carbon emissions or America’s interests. In fact, the pipeline is now 90 percent complete in Texas and Oklahoma. If Obama does not intervene to prevent the last stages of its construction, Keystone will open the floodgates to climate killing tar sands by transporting toxic tar sands from Canada to Texas refineries by the end of this year. TransCanada will accomplish this—with or without the pipeline’s northern leg—by connecting the southern leg of Keystone XL to the already built Keystone I.

President Obama: “We’re building the first nuclear power plants in more than three decades—in Georgia and South Carolina.”

Read the rest of this entry →

Obama’s Keystone Test

1:10 pm in Uncategorized by Tom Weis

Keystone XLComing on the heels of Superstorm Sandy, President Obama finally acknowledged The Climate Elephant in the Room on election night, saying to the nation: “We want our children to live in an America… that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

The president will soon have a chance to show his climate mettle by denying TransCanada a permit to build the northern leg of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. But this is not Obama’s Keystone test.

If Barack Obama truly means what he says about protecting our children from climate destruction, he will put an immediate halt to the construction of the southern leg of Keystone XL already underway in Texas. The President knows full well that if he fails to intercede in TransCanada’s brutal assault on East Texas, Keystone XL will open the floodgates to tar sands exploitation in Canada, igniting what Bill McKibben has called a “fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.”

The burden is now on the President to prove his “all of the above” energy policy does not include enabling the assault of U.S. citizens and the fraudulent seizure of private property. Will he muster the political courage to stand up to TransCanada’s corporate thuggery and defend America from this imminent economic, public health and national security threat? Not without the American people demanding it, but that is how democracy works.

This makes Obama’s Keystone test all of our test, and it is being administered right now in the Piney Woods of East Texas: pass or fail.

Photo by tarsandsaction under Creative Commons license.  This blog originally appeared in The Huffington Post