More than 40 Indigenous activists, Gulf Coast residents, and other climate leaders have reportedly occupied the U.S. Department of the Interior, demanding no new fossil fuel leases on public lands and waters. Several arrests have also been reported. The protesters entered the lobby of the department chanting, "Keep it in the ground!"
The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that is taking part in the events, said the action represented an escalation of the Keep It In The Ground campaign and continues the message of a demonstration last month in which four people were arrested while protesting fossil fuel lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico.
It is also a gesture of solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux in their resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Climate activists from around the country who collectively make up the massive Keep It In The Ground movement delivered more than 1 million signatures to the White House on Thursday calling for an end to fossil fuel use.
The event marked the one-year anniversary for the Keep It In The Ground movement, which began with a call from more than 450 nonprofit groups and organizers for President Barack Obama to take action on fossil fulels and stand up to Big Oil.
"We have come from across the country to deliver a powerful message to President Obama's doorstep—enough is enough. It is time to change our relationship with fossil fuels as a country, which means no new leases and no new pipelines, period," said Diana Best, Greenpeace senior climate and energy campaigner.
The action also comes as people contend with climate crises around the country, such as the recent historic flooding in Louisiana—where recovery efforts are still ongoing—and the continuing Native American resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). Many of the activists at Thursday's event were Indigenous and frontline community members.
"We are getting repeated wake up calls and yet we stay asleep. The time is now—this moment—to end federal leasing of our natural resources and keep this oil where it belongs: beneath the ground," said Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.
Osprey Oreille Lake, executive director of Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International, said, "Around the world and across the U.S., the impacts of the climate crisis reveal themselves with more alarming force every day....The people have spoken—we are rising for climate justice, and we are calling for President Obama to end all new fossil fuel leases on public lands and waters, and immediately terminate plans to build the Dakota Access Pipeline."
In light of the landmark Paris climate agreement, which the U.S. formally signed during the Group of 20 (G20) summit in China this month, the activists say there is no more time to waste in implementing the changes needed to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C. They also challenged Obama administration to step up its climate leadership after it moved fossil fuel lease auctions online to avoid being confronted by environmental activists.
"Climate change is here," said Lindsey Allen, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network. "We're seeing record floods in the Gulf, wildfires in the west, with frontline communities bearing the brunt of this. We need real climate leadership now—not tomorrow, not in the next administration, but today."
Continuing to auction fossil fuel leases on public lands and waters and pushing for the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline "defies logic," Allen said. "[T]hey fly in the face of the newly signed Paris agreement and all the other positive things the president likes to say. It's time for him to act."
The actions are being updated on Twitter with the hashtag #KeepItInTheGround.