Environmentalists won a landmark victory against huge odds this month, as President Obama sent plans for the XL pipeline back for further review. The review, which will delay the project by at least 12 months, is said to be a death sentence for the project, which should be unable to pass environmental and conservational standards.
The XL pipeline had been planned to carry crude oil from the tar sands in Canada to oil refineries in Texas. Environmentalists had warned that by encouraging the American dependence on oil, and due to the extreme amounts of pollution at its source (oil from tar sands creates three times the amount of CO2 pollution compared to regular oil), construction of the pipeline would be a final blow to the efforts being made to halt the increase in CO2, one that would propel us past the point of no return.
The victory itself, one very few thought achievable, is monumental. Before the campaign to oppose the pipeline began, its construction seemed inevitable. Despite President Obama’s promises to end the US dependence on oil, the prospect of creating jobs and guaranteeing American oil security added to the financial punching-power of the oil industry, seemed too big to oppose. The fact that the pipeline plans have been rejected is a tribute to the campaigners, led by Bill McKibben, who fought tirelessly to make sure the White House heard their voice, and serves as an open admittance of just how damaging the pipeline could be. It also shows that, as environmental matters become more and more critical, they are becoming serious issues for voters and for politicians. President Obama has, effectively, postponed a decision on the pipeline until after the 2012 elections, presumably hoping that he has protected his green vote.
The victory against the pipeline also shows how crucial pubic protests and acts of civil disobedience can be. Even as a two-week sit-in took place in front of the White House in August, the Obama administration still seemed unshakable in its plans to approve the pipeline. Over a thousand people were arrested during the fortnight of acts of peaceful, civil disobedience, yet it took a further four months of continued protest, including 12,000 people encircling the White House, to get the project stopped. It should not have been so difficult, but if protests such as this one – and those of the Occupy camps – tell us anything, it is that change can happen, but only when the very determined, who are willing to go to great lengths to defy their governments, make their voices heard.