Today is the last day of the tar sands protest outside of the White House. Protesters have attended for two weeks now, and over 1,000 people have already been arrested – including eminent climate scientist Dr James Hanson, environmentalist Bill McKibben, various celebrities, a vicar, and hundreds of everyday citizens who wanted to tell the President that the XL pipeline is not in their national interest. 1,000 people is a great number, but at the same time it barely represents the number of people who should have been there. Every mother and father, and every grandparent in the Washington area should have been there, speaking out for the future of their kin. There should have been flocks and flocks of young people, those who will have to face the destruction of climate change. In truth, we were all represented by those 1,000 people, not just American citizens but everyone across the globe. If global warming is not prevented, if the pipeline goes ahead and the tar sands grow, the whole world will know about it, and people, worldwide, will suffer for it.
The impact of the tar sands is estimated to be so severe that NASA’s James Hanson referred to them as being ‘essentially game over’ for the climate if Canada continues to heavily exploit them. On this basis, it seems extremely ironic that President Obama’s decision, if he votes in favour of the pipeline (as all sources indicate he intends), grants a ‘presidential certificate of national interest’ to the project. The pipeline is not in ‘national interests’, it’s not even in Canada’s interest – as its toxins pollute the environment and kill its citizens with rare, petroleum related cancers – and it is not in global interests. The only interests tar sands and the XL pipe serve are those we have so wrongly referred to as ‘progress’.
I often find that people are willing to argue with me that environmental destruction caused by humans is, in itself, ‘natural’ because we are a part of nature. Though that may be true, it gives me thought of the other social ways in which we might have evolved, had industrial ‘progress’ and western colonialism not thrived as it has. The people currently being directly affected by the tar sands are native Cree Indians who live along the waterways being polluted with mercury, lead, and arsenic, by-products of tar sand mining. They are indigenous people of the land, a people whose culture understands the interaction of environment with their lifestyles. They refer to the river as their life blood, but it now poisons them. Although the effects would be the similar for any Peoples living down stream of the tar sand, there is something telling in the fact that the people being most directly affected are the people who have a different cultural view of the planet that we live on, who have not experienced the divorce from nature that most of our western civilisation have. They represent a more natural human life on earth, as well as being a historical record of how we were able to flourish as a species in the first place. A long time ago, we were all much more like them. Had we experienced our distancing from nature waybackwhen, we would not have survived. It is only industry and ‘progress’ that allows us to function as a species removed from nature – and for this reason, we seem to be oblivious (or happy to turn our head) to the fact that we are killing something that sustains us.
Coinciding with the penultimate day of protests, yesterday’s Guardian announced that Obama had backed down on implementing tighter smog regulations in the US. Under pressure from Republicans concerned about US jobs, the news is another blow to the environment. But, can we really just blame Obama? Isn’t he just finding himself constricted by the demands of a world gone out of control when it comes to industry? A world that we have been buying in to (most of the time in complete ignorance of what we were doing)? One that now calls the shots? We may be wishing for him to defy the oil companies, the economy (to some degree), and the republicans, but many of us (99% of us?) are not defying them ourselves. Over the past 100 years, we directed this course of growth, we brought in to this industry that is destroying the planet. I suspect that Obama, informed by the world’s leading climate scientists, is not missing the bigger picture, but is under too much pressure to make a decision he does not want to make. Yet, plenty of us are missing the picture. I’ve said before that I feel we need a global change of attitude, but it begins to sounds more like what we really need to save the climate should be termed ‘revolution’ – and not one of an industrial kind.