On November 9, like a lot of people around the world, I was stunned and devastated. In the days and weeks afterward, I was hit by new waves from that same feeling, worrying in turn about Muslim registries, the undocumented, the future of life on a rapidly warming planet, and much else.
The specifics have only become more grotesque. It didn’t occur to me, for example, that Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau might raise the specter of reviving Keystone XL. Unlike Trump, Trudeau knows climate change isn’t a hoax (Chinese or otherwise); he is surely aware, too, that one of his country’s most respected energy researchers has concluded that “Canada cannot meet its global climate commitments while at the same time ramping up oil and gas extraction and building new export pipelines” (emphasis mine).
It’s like a bad dream; even most Trump voters support action on climate. The KXL battle was hard enough with Obama in office – so with Trump and his band of Koch brother oil-and-gas-lackeys running the federal government, how can people exercise enough power to retain the possibility of a decent future?
Ironically, we should listen to Trudeau, who reminded us last spring that “governments might grant permits, but only communities can grant permission.” To understand our power as citizens of the world, we have to remember that in countries where it’s still frowned upon to murder environmental activists, fossil fuel companies cannot operate without our consent. What does that consent look like? It looks like the Standing Rock Sioux deciding not to defend their water and their sacred sites.
In a democracy, passivity is implicit consent. In any political system, hopelessness is self-fulfilling. When we fight, we win.
All the oil and gas in the Bakken fields, all the coal in the Powder River basin, all the tar sands bitumen in the Athabasca: it’s all got to travel by pipeline, road, and train for many thousands of miles, right through our communities – above our watersheds, next to our schools, and through our farms. As the Lac Megantic explosion and the Deepwater Horizon spill and many others have tragically shown, there are reasons to be deeply disturbed by this even without considering the terrifying urgency of climate change.
When we do consider that terrifying urgency, we understand that what those pipelines, trucks, and trains really carry is the end of history. We cannot simply let them pass. If we refuse to let this happen – if we find the most inspiring, safe, and effective ways possible to stop this transport, we can force our political system to reckon with the climate crisis. People like Exxon CEO and Trump Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, or climate denying US Senator Jim Inhofe, don’t need to have a change of heart, and they won’t. If we make it impossible for the fossil fuel companies to carry on their deadly business because they have to deal with protests and blockades around every corner, they become financially unviable (as they are already becoming, because of the plummeting cost of renewables, as well as concerns about stranded assets).
And while transport is one of the most obvious weaknesses of the industry, it is by no means the only one. At the moment, the whole system props up our dependence on fossil fuels, so there are many rotten legs we can kick: what would it look like if constituents beset the offices of their elected representatives (local, state, and federal) by having weekly prayer vigils or lock-downs? Exactly how much of their deadly business-as-usual would they be able to get done, under these circumstances?
Or how about the banks? If each of these banks is exposed to relentless coverage of its funding of projects that essentially presume we’ll be using fossil fuels at current rates for decades – which scientists tell us means we’re marching straight to our doom – how long, exactly, do we think these projects will be attractive investments? It took mere months for some big investors to start pulling out of the Dakota Access Pipeline. And if we remove our money from those banks, and put it into community banks that loan to small businesses in our cities – how long before our communities are healthier and more resilient?
This article has been excerpted from: ‘The Fossil Fuel Industry Needs Our Consent. We Can and Must Refuse to Give It.’