Here in Nebraska, the controversy over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline has largely focused on the danger of an oil spill contaminating our groundwater resources. Nationally though, growing numbers of people are warning of the irreparable damage that tar sands oil will wreak on the climate if we burn the filthy fossil fuel that the pipeline would haul.
While a vocal group of skeptics continue to argue that the science of human-caused global warming is unproved or even an outright hoax, the human role in climate change now is beyond doubt. The overwhelming majority of the world's climate scientists (98 percent, according to the Washington Post) clearly put the blame for global warming on the increased carbon emissions produced from burning coal and oil.
According to the world's most celebrated climatologist, Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, "if tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over." The carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will rise precipitously, triggering uncontrollable climate change well before the end of this century. The world, Hansen warns, already is facing a "climate emergency."
The last thing we should be doing is building a pipeline to transport this toxic fuel.
Not over the Ogallala Aquifer. Not anywhere.
To date, however, the administration has refused to take a principled stand on this critical issue, opting to passively let the permitting process go forward. But with the State Department on track to issue a final decision before the end of the year, the opportunity to influence the White House is narrowing.
So James Hansen and over a thousand other American citizens are marching on the White House, risking arrest for trespassing. During a two-week period that ends Sept. 3, activists wearing business suits and "Obama for President" buttons will -- in dignified and nonviolent fashion -- literally put their bodies on the line to urge the president to honor the promise he made in accepting the 2008 Democratic nomination that his election would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal." In the largest collective act of civil disobedience in the history of the climate movement, these Americans will be asking President Barack Obama to publicly declare that he will not sign a certificate of national interest permitting this transnational pipeline to be built.
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And I will be one of a thousand people sitting in front of the White House.
As a native Lincolnite, homeowner and a mother, I'm doing as much as I personally can to reduce my carbon footprint. I've insulated my home, installed Energy Star appliances and light bulbs and even erected solar panels on my roof. I drive less, bicycle more and eat food produced locally and organically. But a consumer can only do so much. Conservation and energy efficiency only go so far.
I can't stop the tar sands oil from being mined. I can't stop coal mining in Wyoming or West Virginia, or oil drilling under the sea or in the Arctic. Only the politicians in Washington can do that. And unlike the fossil fuel industry lobbyists and U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which gives more money to candidates than the Republican and Democratic parties combined), I can't make huge financial contributions to influence the political process.
But as a citizen -- beyond voting and contacting my elected officials -- I can make a moral statement with my body.
This month, for the first time in my 62 year-old life, I will be intentionally violating the law and risking personal arrest. Along with the other thousand-plus activists who will be marching on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I will be asking Obama to stand up to the fossil fuel lobby that is seeking to scrape every last bit of coal and suck every last drop of oil out of the earth, no matter how much damage is done to our fragile ecosystems: the land, air and water. I will be urging him to back us away from the climactic tipping point that threatens to bring our species (and most of the other species on the planet) to the brink of extinction. I will be beseeching him to unilaterally break us of this destructive fossil fuel addiction and instead promote safe, green energies like wind, solar, wave and geothermal.
And until Obama publicly declares that he will not sign a certificate of national interest, I will sit in front of his house and respectfully refuse to leave.
Carol Smith plans to leave for Washington on Wednesday.