Tar Sands a Turning Point to Save Life?

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CommonDreams.org

Tar Sands a Turning Point to Save Life?

Historic Action to Stop Pipeline That May Push Climate Crisis Beyond Human Control

After the ice is gone, would Earth proceed to the Venus syndrome, a runaway greenhouse effect that would destroy all life on the planet, perhaps permanently? .... I’ve come to conclude that if we burn all reserves of oil, gas, and coal, there is a substantial chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale, I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty." Phase out of emissions from coal is itself an enormous challenge.  However, if the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over."
     - Pre-eminent climate scientist Dr. James Hansen

Some will react with skepticism to the sweeping tone of this title. There are so many worthy causes to pursue, and countless good people engaged in wonderful efforts to make this a better world.  Yet all efforts to move humanity in a positive direction depend upon one thing -- a planet that can continue to support life. This is literally the "common ground" that binds together all activists for progressive social change. If we lose that battle, all hope for a transformed world becomes meaningless and of course impossible to manifest.

Stop Tar Sands action 18th June 2011 - Flag with handprints 03

There is precedent for the recognition of such a "common denominator" moment. During the 1980s, there was the transcendent, over-arching danger presented to all humanity by the nuclear arms race and threat of nuclear war. Huge demonstrations rocked many of the world's capital cities. The largest protest in U.S. history up until that time brought nearly a million people to the United Nations in New York City in 1982. 

We now stand perilously close to a climate "tipping point" where tremendous natural forces will be set in motion which humanity will be powerless to stop. Earlier this year, 17 Nobel Prize winning scientists issued this joint statement: 

"Science makes clear that we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. ...We can no longer exclude the possibility that our collective actions will trigger tipping points, risking abrupt and irreversible consequences for human communities and ecological systems. We cannot continue on our current path. The time for procrastination is over. We cannot afford the luxury of denial. " -- Stockholm Memorandum

A group of climate scientists recently released an open letter to President Obama urging that he block the tar sands oil pipeline. Excerpt:

"When other huge oil fields or coal mines were opened in the past, we knew much less about the damage that the carbon they contained would do to the Earth’s climate system and to its oceans. Now that we do know, it’s imperative that we move quickly to alternate forms of energy—and that we leave the tar sands in the ground." 

One of the signers - Dr. James Hansen - is described by Al Gore: "When the history of the climate crisis is written, Hansen will be seen as the scientist with the most powerful and consistent voice calling for intelligent action to preserve our planet's environment."   Hansen warned the world 25 years ago, and has acted as the conscience of the scientific community - never hesitating to speak the truth no matter how daunting. He is now saying we are at the turning point on whether citizen activism will hold back the catastrophe.   

Just when all effort must be made to break our society's addiction to fossil fuels, oil corporations are pushing for a massive step in the wrong direction. They are developing a new source of oil in Canada via a highly destructive process, and wish to export it to the U.S. through a pipeline. Their goal is to move this oil on such a vast scale as to become the new "Saudi Arabia". 

The effort to pass Congressional legislation aimed at reining in carbon emissions has been completely paralyzed by the big money of the fossil fuel lobby. All legal avenues have been exhausted.  Under such circumstances, Hansen and others are saying we must now turn to the honorable and principled moral power of nonviolent civil disobedience.

At the very same time that the nation will be dedicating a new memorial to honor the most well known advocate of nonviolence in American history -- Martin Luther King -- people of conscience will be gathering outside the White House to take a stand against tar sands oil madness. Gandhi said: "Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the State becomes lawless or, which is the same thing, corrupt.... Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of humankind."   A series of nonviolent actions will be taking place from Aug. 20 to Sept. 3.  A special day for the religious community is set for Aug.29.     

As the pipeline crosses an international boundary, authority to proceed must be issued by the president. With these actions directed toward Obama, there is a real chance to break through the Congressional quagmire. He has stated his belief in the reality of the climate crisis and his commitment to take serious action. Now is the time to test his sincerity. Obama has also said that it is the "job of the people" to hold him accountable. For this reason, there is a need for as many people as possible to take part in these actions.   

Collectively, these actions are likely to become the largest civil disobedience on climate in U.S. history. Already, nearly 2000 people have signed up. This is a "line in the sand" -- the tar sands!  Please spread the word. One easy way is to forward these brief videos of endorsements by actor Mark Ruffalo and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.  Feel free to forward this invitation or simply the following action site (which provides more information on particulars and how to sign up):  http://www.tarsandsaction.org  

Additional Resources:  

Website for more background on the issue:  http://www.dirtyoilsands.org

Other video resources shed further light:

Nobel Prize scientist Andrew Weaver on climate impact of burning tar sands oil:   http://youtu.be/25x_sSvZUIo
Health impact of tar sands megaproject: http://youtu.be/xenYLY5lU58

Dr. Hansen on danger of runaway greenhouse effect: http://youtu.be/ACHLayfA6_4

An award-winning film uses stunning aerial photography to explain climate disruption and show the magnificence of what will be lost if we fail to prevent catastrophe:  

"HOME": [2 minute trailer] :  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a74nAerEONE

[Free full film] :   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqxENMKaeCU

Gary Houser

Gary Houser is a long time public interest writer, currently a documentary producer working on climate tipping points, and a founding member of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group. Email: mountainmist8 [at] yahoo.com

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