Courageous Leaders at the White House Gate
While elected officials argue about how much money to take away from safety nets and infrastructure to redistribute to the wealthy and to those who are destroying our planet, 398 true leaders got arrested outside the White House this past Sunday.
These true leaders, sometimes referred to as belonging to the ‘Millennial Generation’, know that those who walk the halls of Congress are failing them. They know that elected officials in their home state legislatures, in their counties in their cities and their townships are failing them as more fracking permits are approved and as more wetlands give way to development. They especially know that Obama is failing them by not taking the bold positive action for the environment he promised a year ago in a speech at Georgetown University.
More than knowing, they have good reason to feel so gravely concerned that they are willing to stage a ‘die-in’ and strap themselves to the White House fence knowing full well that they were likely to be arrested. It’s not too late, but we’re damn close and this generation is the one that may be the last to be able to do anything about reversing the effects of decades of the pollution we’ve been spewing out into our environment. They certainly are the ones feeling the full brunt of the failures of past generations.
Climate change is the most pressing issue of these times. Parents often say they are fighting for their children’s futures. In the case of the fight against the Keystone pipeline and other climate change issues, their children must fight for their own future.
In his Georgetown speech, on June 25, 2013, Obama pledged to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse emissions and using renewable energy. He declared, “The question now is will we have the courage to act before it’s too late.”
It is a question to which Obama himself must be held accountable. In a January 2014 press release by the Sierra Club after a draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was published by WikiLeaks, Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said that the draft chapter on environment in the TPP, “falls flat on every single one of our issues – oceans, fish, wildlife, and forest protections – and in fact, rolls back on the progress made in past free trade pacts.” Obama strongly and sometimes clandestinly supports the TPP in spite of how it compromises his commitment to the environment. Obama is faulted by environmentalists for delaying the implementation of EPA environmental regulations during the year of his reelection bid. He made environmentalists cringe during his State of the Union speech this year when he referred to natural gas (which is extracted through fracking) as an alternative energy solution.
And now, with a green light from the State Department, based on a report that has conflict of interest input in it, the decision on the Keystone XL pipeline is inching closer toward Obama’s pen. He has said that he will approve if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” This is yet another thin line in the sand.
The Keystone XL pipeline poses dire consequences for the environment. We cannot know the future, but TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, has a record that speaks for itself. In June 2010, TransCanada CEO Hal Kvisle stated, “Construction and operation of the Keystone Pipeline system will continue to meet or exceed world-class safety and environmental standards.” In the following year, his company was responsible for 12 oil spills, one of which dumped 21,000 gallons of oil in North Dakota.
If Obama signs the Keystone XL permit, he will have squandered the public trust. Influence, politics, the disputed promise of jobs, and the dubious ‘energy independence’ mantra are short-sighted and do not reflect the will of the people. The propaganda machine is in full swing to sway public opinion to support this pipeline. However, the risk not only outweighs the supposed benefits, it comes from a limited perspective. It is the Millennial generation who has the perspective we need as a nation. They are the ones who will see the irreversible impacts if true leadership does not take hold for the environment. Obama was elected to lead. He needs to make the decision to be a true leader by standing with those who came to 2600 Pennsylvania Avenue this past Sunday.
So a better question is, ‘who has the courage to act before it is too late?’
Dressed in oil soaked sackcloth, those courageous citizens and leaders beseeched upon President Obama to not sign the Keystone XL construction permit. We must hope their plea can persuade Obama to be a courageous leader.
During a Democracy Now! interview, 350.org Founder, Bill McKibben said that Obama can salvage his environmental record by heeding the call to reject the pipeline.
If Obama signs the permit, his blinded supporters will say to environmental detractors something I’ve heard hundreds of times, “You don’t understand, Obama has to work with Congress, industry, money, politics….” It’s the same old story and if he signs the permit, Obama can put his ‘hope & change’ yard signs on the trash heap (although recyling them would be better). What the politicos need to realize when they blame some other force to be what is pushing Obama’s hand away from his platitudes on the environment, that this reflects what Millennials know. Activist, Christopher Wahmhoff put it very well while speaking at the #NoKXL demonstration, “The power is not in that building it’s out here.”
[Tweet “Op/Ed on the courage & leadership of #NoKXL protestors http://bit.ly/1cAUojJ #climatechange #tarsands”]
This thought is an indication of the emerging revolution taking place in our nation. The established politicians are ignoring it, while still attempting to claim it in their election speeches.
‘Out here’ is where the courageous are taking positive and bold action for the environment. I am confident that their work will continue to happen, regardless of whether ink flows on the permit or not. Without true leadership by our elected officials, ‘out here’ is exactly where it must happen.