Saturday, August 20, 2011

Stop the Tar Sands: Stand Tall Generation Y

This post originally appeared last week in a Daily Kos blogathon featuring responses to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. If this were to be approved, the pipeline would bring tar sands oil from Canada to the US Gulf Coast and serve as the fuse to one of the largest carbon bombs on the planet. If we are to have any hope of mitigating the catastrophic consequences of climate change, this carbon must stay in the ground. Here's why I'm participating in civil disobedience against the Keystone XL this week.

I've always balked a little at the notion that we should take action on climate change for the sake of our children, and for our children's children. This idea rubs me the wrong way because it creates a temporal disconnect with the immediacy of these issues, reinforcing the misconception that climate change is something that isn't happening while giving those suspicious of doing good for the environment another reason not to care. That, and of course it's not true. We need to take action on climate to save ourselves too.

Whenever I hear someone reference future generations in relation to climate change I can't help but think, "They're talking about me. These adults are talking about me." See, I was born in the late nineteen eighties which means that if US life expectancy is anywhere near accurate I will still be alive well after 2050. To put it simply, if I don't take action on climate then I'm not only jeopardizing my branch of the family tree but my own existence entirely. I don't have the luxury of playing wait and see. None of us do. Of course I'm an adult too now and as we charge further into the 21st Century an idea that may be a vestige of environmental messages of old becomes less and less relevant as more climate-passionate young people join the cause and conversation.

Climate must be a priority now. Our current greenhouse gas trajectory exceeds even the worst-case fossil fuel intensive projections made in 2007 for emissions over the next 100 years. The following video depicts a message Bill McKibben articulated beautifully in a Washington Post op-ed in May: Connect the dots. The destructive consequences of a changing climate are happening all around us.

When I first heard about the two weeks of civil disobedience in Washington I thought this is an incredible and unique opportunity. Through our participation we can show the one man responsible for approving or rejecting the pipeline, President Barack Obama, that we mean business. The groundswell of support for this action and the satellite protests that have cropped up across the country for those who cannot make it to DC prove that we've grown tired of our leaders' inability to make significant progress on climate change. Oftentimes when I think about direct actions I can take to have a positive impact on the environment my mind wanders to behavior changes in my personal life. But participating in civil disobedience is a whole different animal, and for me a no-brainer. Let's get this country's attention and convince the Commander in Chief to stop one of the most destructive projects in discussion today.

I recently came across a passage of a speech Obama gave back in 2006. He said:
"The issue of climate change is one that we ignore at our own peril. There may still be disputes about exactly how much we're contributing to the warming of the earth's atmosphere and how much is naturally occurring, but what we can be scientifically certain of is that our continued use of fossil fuels is pushing us to a point of no return. And unless we free ourselves from a dependence on these fossil fuels and chart a new course on energy in this country, we are condemning future generations to global catastrophe."
Without a doubt President Obama has diverged from this message. Sure, he may not think he has enough remaining political capital to craft meaningful climate legislation, especially when current members of Congress advocate abolishing the EPA and recently rejected a measure that would have admitted the climate is changing and human activities are the cause. In the midst of such an obstructionist political setting it's up to us to show him he's not alone. Further action simply cannot wait. He needs to understand that approving the Keystone XL pipeline would be a direct affront to those who elected him.

Therefore this post is a call to all members of Generation Y to come out in strength and stand tall outside the White House starting this weekend. The votes of the 18- to 25-year-old demographic were essential to Obama's victory in 2008 and we need to hold him accountable. We’ve inherited quite the complex global problem and it’s up to us to solve it, or perish. We ARE the future generation we’ve heard so much about. The clock is ticking.

I remember in the very first announcement on Grist about the plans for the civil disobedience there was a portion which read: "We don’t want college-age kids to be the only cannon fodder in this fight.... Now it’s time for people who’ve spent their lives pouring carbon into the atmosphere (and whose careers won’t be as damaged by an arrest record) to step up too." Fellow Gen-Yers, will we get arrested? It's entirely possible. We're not supposed to stand still in the location where we'll be gathering outside the White House. But this space offers President Obama such a prime view of us we simply can't pass it up. Should we let the threat of tainting our personal records deter us from showing our support for this cause? Never. Would we want to work somewhere that couldn't understand and accept the type of thoughtful and principled action we'll be engaging in? I don't think so. I will be outside the White House a week from today, on Tuesday August 23rd, and I hope you will join me.

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