Defusing the tar sands climate bomb

March 19, 2013
by phil
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In this month’s show we look at why it’s imperative that Barack Obama says no to the Keystone XL pipeline if he is serious about acting on climate change, and if he doesn’t want to be implicated in the cultural genocide of First Nations in Canada. The pipeline would help drive Canada’s proposed expansion of its already devastatingly destructive tar sands industry and we talk to the people who are fighting the project through direct action, a nationwide divestment campaign, legal challenges and a range of imaginative interventions. We also look at how Canada and the UK have been secretly meddling in Europe’s attempts to say no to dirty tar sands oil. But we start the show by looking at the way the actual climate and perhaps the political climate is changing in the US as President Barack Obama starts his second term of office. Featuring:

Obama’s second term

The extreme weather that hit the US in 2012 is just a taste of what’s to come according to a Federal report. As Barack Obama entered his second term of office he renewed his commitment to act on climate change and US opinion polls show support for action on climate change as well as increasing awareness of the link between global warming and extreme weather. But Obama is unlikely to use the strong powers he already has – to phase out dirty coal-fired power stations, say no to Arctic drilling and deny the Keystone XL pipeline – without strong public pressure.

Keystone what?

The Keystone XL pipeline has become an iconic fight for the climate movement because it would facilitate the expansion of tar sands oil production in Canada which top NASA scientist James Hansen has said would mean “game over” for the climate. Campaigners are increasingly turning to civil disobedience in this fight to improve the odds in a country where politicians have been corrupted by oil dollars. Wen Stephenson collected some powerful testimonies from young people who have taken direct action.

In Oklahoma and Texas, landowners have joined environmentalists in a rolling campaign of direct action against the construction of the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline which Obama has already approved. The campaign has included tree sits, hunger strikes, people locking themselves inside pipes and occupations of TransCanada’s offices. After a SLAAP suit in which TransCanada sued for $5 million, Tar Sands Blockade have been banned from what the company is claiming is its land. In response the campaign has launched a new wave of action directed at TransCanada itself and the companies that invest in it.

Cultural genocide

Besides the threat it poses to our climate and to landowners in the US, tar sands development also carries the threat of cultural genocide for First Nations in Canada. The pollution of ground water by the massive lakes of toxic tailings produced as a waste product by tar sands extraction is entering the food chain and increasing the incidence of cancer in communities such as the Athatbascan Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) settlement at Fort Chipewyan. ACFN are fighting two new proposed Shell projects close to their territory through ongoing legal challenges. The community has also taken part in direct action after Canada rewrote its environmental laws in accordance with the wishes of oil lobbyists in order to expedite expansion of tar sands without due regard to the environment or the rights of First Nations peoples. This obscene act by the Harper government helped spark the nationwide uprising Idle No More and ACFN are threatening an escalation of direct action unless the government retracts this legislation. First Nations from Canada and the US are starting to work together to fight the legislation, the tar sands and the proposed pipelines.

Keep tar sands out of Europe!

In Europe we are engaged in our own struggle to say no to tar sands oil. We can be tar sands free if legislation designed to reduce emissions from transport fuels (the Fuel Quality Directive or FQD) goes ahead. Studies have shown tar sands oil to be 23% more polluting than conventional oil. The Canadian government unleashed a multi-million dollar PR and lobbying campaign against the legislation, enlisting the UK government as a key ally. So far these conspirators have been successful in postponing a vote on the legislation, raising the spectre of tar sands oil coming into Europe by the back door via Pembrokeshire in Wales. The UK Tar Sands Network has been working to expose this unwelcome meddling with some viral interventions while building a coalition of support for the FQD. The next vote on the legislation is now likely to be in October.

Divestment campaign takes off

Understanding that climate change can’t just be solved by fighting one pipeline at a time and requires a diversity of tactics, have launched a nationwide divestment campaign to highlight the liability that oil investments increasingly represent and to position climate as a moral issue. They explain:

Divestment isn’t primarily an economic strategy, but a moral and political one. Just like in the struggle for Civil Rights here in America or the fight to end Apartheid in South Africa, the more we can make climate change a deeply moral issue, the more we will push society towards action. We need to make it clear that if it’s wrong to wreck the planet, than it’s also wrong to profit from that wreckage. At the same time, divestment builds political power by forcing our nation’s most prominent institutions and individuals (many of whom sit on college boards) to choose which side of the issue they are on. Divestment sparks a big discussion and — as we’re already seeing in this campaign — gets prominent media attention, moving the case for action forward … By divesting from fossil fuels, colleges and universities are not only building the case for that government action, they’re starting this important discussion about the fossil fuel industry’s “stranded assets.

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