…in which the author reflects on the first national environmental victory of his generation.
When I became aware of the Keystone XL campaign, I really had no idea where it would lead. On the one hand, I thought, this pipeline is just the type of thing Candidate Obama would have decried; if there were ever a president who would stop the project, it would be he. On the other hand, President Obama has barely talked about clean energy in recent months, not even mentioning climate change in his State of the Union address. Quite the opposite, his Interior Department announced a massive coal mining expansion earlier this year.
Considering the confidence within the industry–TransCanada had already spent millions on pipe, signed contracts with suppliers, and begun seizing land–victory seemed unlikely. Yet this didn’t change the anti-KXL movement, beyond charging it with urgency. The struggle, to me at least, was not something you take part in because you expect to win. It was more, “Years from now, how do I explain why I didn’t speak out against this?”
The answer is that you don’t. You speak, you write, you rally; and you do it with enough savvy to give yourself a decent chance. Then, if you lose, you can say that you fought the good fight.
That’s how I went into this: with the hope that all activism requires but also with the understanding that, too most onlookers, the Keystone XL was a done deal. So imagine my surprise when, in the midst of research for yet another anti-KXL article, I check my email and see that the pipeline has been delayed until 2013, and that this delay could prove fatal.
For me and many other young people, this success was especially meaningful. It was one of the first, if not the first national environmental victory of our lifetime. We had watched the wheels of dirty politics turn–and we’d seen them grind to a halt. To be part of something like that is nothing short of inspirational. I’ve realized that Tim DeChristopher was right when he said we “have more than enough power” to win these battles.
I’ve also realized that, where individual concern falls short, collective action is powerful. Changing your lightbulbs won’t stop an oil pipeline. For that matter, selling your car, swearing off airplanes, and moving into an off-the-grid earthship won’t either. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but they don’t address the root causes of our problems on a big enough scale. Change is created by passionate, focused, collective movements. And that is what we now have.
We should come away from the Keystone XL victory encouraged, but we don’t have much time to congratulate ourselves. More challenges are already on the horizon. The gas industry is pushing for 20,000 fracking wells in the Delaware River watershed, a water source for millions. A vote will take place on November 21–and the White House could play a decisive role. Meanwhile, the Republican candidate for 2012 is almost sure to come out swinging against clean air, water, and energy.
But now we’re prepared. We’re organized and energized. As a movement, we know we can make a difference.
Image: Josh Lopez/Tar Sands Action