Monday, November 25, 2013

Protesting the KXL pipeline

Hell hath no fury like a hippie scorned.
Hello friends. It turns out that summer in Seattle is delightful and I got distracted for a few months, so please forgive my rusty writing skills.

I am very much against the Keystone XL pipeline project, as are most people who have done more than three minutes of research into the issue. The pipeline extension's effect on climate change alone would be "game over" in terms of guaranteeing more carbon pollution. On top of that, the inevitable enormous spill from this pipeline is more than likely to devastate key components of our ecosystems. James Hansen's short essay "Silence is Deadly" is a stunning summary of the serious consequences that would result from building this pipeline. A few political aspects have changed since this paper was written, but the message remains the same. What possible reason could there be that we would allow such a thing to be built on our land, or anywhere on our planet? 

Answer: money. Isn't that always the answer?

I can go on and on about this KXL monster itself, but I would rather tell you about my experience protesting it. I signed up with 350 to protest KXL Sunday evening outside of a northwest Seattle home where President Obama was attending a private fundraiser. Since my invitation got lost in the mail, I decided the next best thing to rubbing elbows with the POTUS would be to wave a sign at him. I just wanted to remind Barry that KXL was a bad idea and if he really loved us he would not approve the project. I donned my best Obama sweatshirt and met the hippies environmentalists at the agreed upon location. There were quite a few people already waiting when I arrived around 4:30 p.m. It did not take long to realize that, whether or not this was intentional, the protesters' language was not only anti-KXL, it was anti-Obama

This I did not like. The best example of my frustration? One of their chants went like this:

Hey, Obama!
We don't want
Your pipeline drama!

This sounds like a taunt from a middle schooler who has been held back a grade...twice. (To be fair, some of the other chants made sense and had better messages.) One woman near me quickly moved to a location across the street, literally distancing herself from us, saying "Oh no, I'm going over there, I'm for Obama." To her and many others, we protesters sounded like we were against Obama, not just the pipeline. And there is a huge difference between those two ideas.

At one point, a protester leader made a classic "us vs. them" comment through his megaphone about how we were outside the fundraiser, and not inside the house, because none of us had $1,600 to spend on a ticket to the dinner. He implied that President Obama only listens to the big donors. I just don't think this sort of rhetoric is productive: who are we to judge what people spend their money on? If I had $1,600 to spend on a political fundraiser, I would go and hopefully have a chance to voice my opinion on how terrible KXL is and how Obama should not approve the project. Is it crazy to think that some of the donors at last night's fundraisers were doing exactly that? Why assume that someone attending an Obama fundraiser is not pro-environment? I would imagine the donors who were inside the fundraiser actually have similar values to those of us who were outside the fundraiser. Why create an "us vs. them" mentality?

In general I really do believe that 350 is a great organization with a strong and important message. And perhaps the individual protesters, not the organization, were the real problem. I liked the inflatable KXL monster they brought (see photo above). But to attack Obama with such childish remarks makes me angry. How is that tactic going to further the 350 cause? Really, all it does is placate the protesters. It is a distraction. Many of the protesters were eager to join in the chanting, no matter how little thought was put into it. I am sure that some of the less intelligent ones went home and slept soundly, thinking "I did a great thing today, I gave that scoundrel Obama a piece of my mind." Firing up the base with mindless messages, without really accomplishing anything, reminds me a lot of the Tea Party's tactics.

We climate activists are better than that, and this issue is too important for us to manufacture outrage on top of the real outrage this issue warrants. We have reason and facts on our side, so I don't need your drama, 350 protesters. President Obama is the first sitting president to publicly acknowledge climate change and the need to take action to reduce our carbon emissions. Let's work with him, not against him.

I agree that it is wise to address all politicians with a healthy dose of skepticism, but what evidence do we have that Obama is anti-environment? Has he done everything perfectly? No. Has he accomplished a few key things using the shreds of political capital he has left? Yes. (My favorite small example of this: "An obscure new rule on microwaves.") 

Furthermore, ascribing the "pipeline drama" to Obama is such a distortion of reality. I suppose the proverbial ball is in Obama's court on the KXL approval, but implying that this is Obama's issue alone (as if this was his original idea to cut a disastrous pipeline through America and that there are no outside forces affecting this decision) alienates the thousands of people who blogged, phone banked, canvassed, and otherwise fought to get this president elected.

I'm interested in getting things done, not just getting people worked up. Until I'm proven wrong, I'm going to continue to protest KXL and support my president.