time to actually listen

to native americans, after 525 years

~ bill mckibben
grist online, 8/22/16

dakota access protest by joe catron, flickr

dakota access protest
photo by joe catron, flickr

The center of the fight for our planet’s future shifts. But this week it’s on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation straddling the border between North Dakota and South Dakota. There, tribal members have been, well, standing like a rock in the way of the planned Dakota Access Pipeline, a huge hose for collecting oil out of the Bakken shale and carrying it off to the Midwest and the Gulf where it can be made into gasoline.

The standoff has been picturesque and dramatic, featuring American Indians on horseback. But mostly it’s been brave and lonely, far from most journalists and up against the same forces that have made life hard for Indigenous Peoples for centuries.

The U.S. Army, for instance. It’s the Army Corps of Engineers that last month granted Energy Transfer Corporation the permit necessary to start construction near the reservation, despite a petition signed by 150,000 people, and carried—on foot—by young people from the reservation all the way to Washington. That would be the same U.S. Army that—well, google “Wounded Knee.” Or “Custer.” “Washita River.” “Pine Ridge.”

That’s not really ancient history, not any of it. It’s the reason that Native Americans live confined to bleak reservations in vast stretches of the country that no one thought were good for much of anything else. But those areas—ironically enough—now turn out to be essential for the production or transportation of the last great stocks of hydrocarbons, the ones whose combustion scientists tell us will take us over the edge of global warming.

And if former generations of the U.S. Army made it possible to grab land from Native people, then this largely civilian era of the Army Corps is making it easy to pollute and spoil what little we left them. As the corporation said over the weekend, it was “constructing this pipeline in accordance with applicable laws, and the local, state and federal permits and approvals we have received.”

But it’s not constructing it in accordance with the laws of physics. July was the hottest month ever recorded on our planet, and likely, say scientists, the hottest month since the beginning of human civilization. And in any event, those “applicable laws, permits, and approvals” are merely the cover for the latest plunder.

A spill from this pipeline would pollute the Missouri River, just as spills in recent years have done irreparable damage to the Kalamazoo and Yellowstone rivers. And that river is both the spiritual and economic lifeblood of the Standing Rock Reservation, one of the poorest census tracts in the entire country.

Forget, for a minute, the threat to the reservation, and forget, for a minute, the endless history of unfairness. Think instead of what it might mean if the Army Corps, or the Obama administration, simply said: “You know what, you’re right. We don’t need to build this pipeline.”

It would mean that after 525 years, someone had actually paid attention to the good sense that Native Americans have been offering almost from the start. It’s not that American Indians are ecological saints—no human beings are. But as the first people who saw what Europeans did to a continent when given essentially free rein, they were the appalled witnesses to everything from the slaughter of the buffalo to the destruction of the great Pacific salmon runs.

And in recent years they have been the vanguard of the movement to slow down climate change. Why did the Keystone XL pipeline not get built? Above all because Indigenous Peoples on both sides of the border took the lead in a battle that stretched over a decade. Why did Canadian leaders fail in their efforts to replace it with the Northern Gateway pipeline? Because tribes and bands across the west of that country made it clear they could not be bought off. Why will the easiest-to-access deep-water port on the Pacific coast not be turned into the country’s biggest new coal export terminal? Because the Lummi Nation at Cherry Point joined with protesters across the region to say no. This same dynamic is at play around the world, where Indigenous Peoples from the Amazon to the coral atolls of the Pacific are doing more than anyone else to slow down the grinding destruction of our earth.

One has the ominous sense of grim history about to be reenacted at Standing Rock. North Dakota authorities—who are in essence a subsidiary of the fossil fuel industry—have insisted that the Sioux are violent, that they have “pipe bombs.” There are rumors about calling in the National Guard. The possibility for renewed tragedy is very real.

But the possibility for a new outcome is there as well. The Army Corps of Engineers might back off. The president might decide, as he did with Keystone, that this pipeline would “exacerbate” climate change and hence should be reviewed more carefully. We might, after five centuries, actually listen to the only people who’ve ever successfully inhabited this continent for the long term.

If you’re interested in joining the fight but can’t get to North Dakota, there’s a rally on Aug. 24 from 1:00–5:00 p.m. in Washington, D.C., outside the federal court that’s considering challenges to the permits, at 333 Constitution Ave NW.

Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College, and a founder of 350.org. He is a member of Grist’s board of directors.


bill follows eaarth mother to jail

by George Zornick
Tuesday, August 23, 2011 / Nation of Change
Progressive Journalism For Positive Action

Originally published Monday, 22 August 2011 in The Na­tion.
Copy­right © The Na­tion – dis­trib­uted by Agence Global.


bill mckibben addressing protestors outside white house

Civil Disobedience on Tar Sands Begins Outside the White House

More than seventy activists were arrested at the north gates of the White House Saturday during a protest against the Keystone XL pipeline

The largest act of civil dis­obe­di­ence by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists in decades began out­side the White House this morn­ing, as more than sev­enty ac­tivists were ar­rested at the north gates dur­ing a protest against the Key­stone XL pipeline, which if ap­proved by the ad­min­is­tra­tion would carry 900,000 bar­rels of oil per day from Al­berta, Canada to the Gulf of Mex­ico.

The ac­tivists, who sat down at the gates at 11 am hold­ing large ban­ners read­ing “Cli­mate change is not in our na­tional in­ter­est,” were warned three times by US Park Po­lice to move along, and were hand­cuffed and re­moved after they re­fused. More than 2,000 peo­ple have pledged to be ar­rested out­side the White House every day until Sep­tem­ber 3, in daily in­stall­ments of sev­enty-five to 100 peo­ple.

The Key­stone Pipeline would carry oil gouged from the “tar sands” of Al­berta—areas where soil is thick with bi­tu­men, which can be re­fined into syn­thetic crude oil. The process is en­vi­ron­men­tally dev­as­tat­ing. Parts of Al­berta have al­ready been rav­aged by the ex­trac­tion, and the re­fin­ing process in­volved cre­ates twice the green­house gases as pro­duc­ing a nor­mal bar­rel of crude.

Since the pipeline would cross an in­ter­na­tional bor­der, the State De­part­ment has ju­ris­dic­tion and is com­plet­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment of the pro­ject, which could be re­leased this week. The White House will have ninety days to de­cide whether to grant a per­mit for the pipeline. The grass­roots group 350. org, which in­cludes many Na­tion writ­ers, has called for a cam­paign of non­vi­o­lent di­rect ac­tion aimed at per­suad­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion to deny the per­mit.

The Al­berta tar sands rep­re­sent the sec­ond-largest repos­i­tory of oil in the world, and cli­mate sci­en­tists are hor­ri­fied with the prospect of pump­ing that much car­bon into the at­mos­phere. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Bill McK­ibben, who led today’s ac­tion, noted that if all of the oil were ex­tracted overnight it would in­crease the car­bon in the earth’s at­mos­phere from 393 parts per mil­lion to 550 parts per mil­lion—a dev­as­tat­ing in­crease. NASA cli­mate sci­en­tist James Hansen re­cently wrote that since phas­ing ex­ist­ing car­bon emis­sions out is al­ready an enor­mous task, “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is es­sen­tially game over.”

Be­yond the cli­mate con­cerns, there’s the issue of pipeline safety—Key­stone XL would tra­verse the en­tire coun­try, from Mon­tana to the Gulf of Mex­ico. Any­one un­con­cerned with po­ten­tial pipeline fail­ures should note the re­cent in­ci­dent un­der­neath the Yel­low­stone River, where an Exxon pipeline rup­tured and spilled over 1,000 bar­rels of crude into the river.

There are, of course, mas­sive fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests be­hind the con­struc­tion of Key­stone XL. Tar sands com­mer­cials are ubiq­ui­tous on tele­vi­sion, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing news pro­gram­ming. The in­dus­try, led by the Amer­i­can Pe­tro­leum In­sti­tute, has launched an enor­mous ad­ver­tis­ing and lob­by­ing push.

McK­ibben ral­lied the ac­tivists in Lafayette Park mo­ments be­fore the ac­tion began, and noted the enor­mous amount of money on the other side of the fight. “There is enor­mous pres­sure com­ing down on the White House from the fos­sil fuels in­dus­try. These are the rich­est peo­ple. They are the most pow­er­ful peo­ple on our planet. They usu­ally win,” McK­ibben said. “We have to find a dif­fer­ent cur­rency to work in. Our cur­rency today and for the next two weeks is our bod­ies and our cre­ativ­ity and our spirit. And that’s all we’ve got to put up against all that money, and we will find out if it’s enough.”

Since Con­gress is not in­volved in this de­ci­sion, the White House is the de­ci­sive choke­point for the Key­stone XL pro­ject—Obama doesn’t have to tan­gle with in­dus­try-friendly mem­bers of Con­gress. McK­ibben told re­porters in Lafayette Park that “it is re­ally the en­vi­ron­men­tal test for Barack Obama, re­ally in the course of his first term.”

Many of the ac­tivists wore but­tons from the Obama 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, which cli­maxed in Den­ver at the De­mo­c­ra­tic Na­tional Con­ven­tion, where Obama fa­mously marked the mo­ment “when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” McK­ibben pre­dicted that “if Barack Obama mans up and says ‘no’ to this thing, it will send a surge of elec­tric­ity through all of the peo­ple who voted for him three years ago. It’ll be the re­minder of why we were so en­am­ored with this guy in 2008.”

When the ar­rests began, the ac­tivists—in­clud­ing McK­ibben, Fire­DogLake founder Jane Hamsher, Lt. Dan Choi, and Ver­mont Law School pro­fes­sor Gus Speth—re­peated chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, Key­stone XL’s got to go” and “Ain’t no power like the power of the sun, be­cause the power of the sun don’t stop.”

They were hand­cuffed with zip ties, led one-by-one into a tent set up by the US Park Po­lice, processed and loaded into the back of a large van as tourists watched. The ar­rest­ing of­fi­cers gave the ac­tivists water over the course of the two-hour process, which took place in the swel­ter­ing late-sum­mer heat of Wash­ing­ton. Sev­eral ac­tivists noted that if Key­stone XL isn’t stopped, the hottest weather is surely yet to come.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


George grew up in Buffalo, NY and holds a B.A. in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Prior to joining The Nation, George was Senior Reporter/Blogger for ThinkProgress.org. He worked as a researcher for Michael Moore’s SiCKO and as an Associate Producer on “The Media Project” on the Independent Film Channel. His work has been published in The Los Angeles Times, Media Matters, and The Buffalo News.

Copy­right © The Na­tion – dis­trib­uted by Agence Global.