One of many home-made signs at the demonstration
Now is the time for the United States to confront climate change and respond with actions that have impact. President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union addresses the need to response to climate change: “But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”
Leading On Climate
I was one of the 40,000 vocal and passionate people gathered in Washington, DC on February 17, 2013. We wanted to voice our commitment to our planet, to future generations and to give the Obama administration a push to do the right thing. The Climate Forward rally was organized by 350.org, the Sierra Club and Hip Hop Caucus, our main focus was to urge the Obama Administration to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. The crowd included all age groups. I met people from New York, California, Michigan, Florida, Vermont and Texas. I spoke with a gentleman who attended a similar rally 3 years ago, where just 75 people showed up.
We listened to a lineup as diverse as the rally participants: 350.org founder Bill McKibben, Sierra Club President Michael Brune, Rebuilt the Dream founder Van Jones, RI Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Hip Hop Caucus president Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr, immediate past Chief of the Saik’uz First Nation in British Columbia Chief Jacqueline Thomas, Latinovations Founder Maria T. Cardona and Investor and founder of the Center for the Next Generation Tom Steyer. Each provided insight into the need to be personally responsible and work toward reduction of the carbon output into the atmosphere.
Why the Tar Sands?
NASA photo of one of five active surface mines, this one is in the Athabasca Tar Sands
The Athabasca, Cold Lake, and the Peace River tar sands in Northeast Alberta Province, Canada represents an area of land roughly the size of the state of New York or North Carolina. Some 20% of this land will be clear cut, image bulldozing all the land in Massachusetts and Rode Island combined, removing the first 30 feet of earth and then pulling the bitumen (tar sand) for processing. People who have flown over the current mining operations are stunned at the size of this open pit (currently a small percentage of 10,000 square miles of land to be surface mined). Adding the capacity of the Keystone XL pipeline (there is already a pipeline in place called Keystone that was completed in 2010) will accelerate the razing of this land.
The other 80% of the land area will be mined using a technique called In-situ, this involves horizontal drilling and requires incredible amounts of energy and fresh water. This method is very expensive, time consuming and has not been widely used to date. The impact on the land and water for this method will be devastating. Stopping the XL pipeline will also help slow this alternative method of mining.
The process of creating crude oil from the bitumen requires large amounts of water, heat and some toxic chemicals. The water and chemical mixture used to extract the crude oil is held in large open ponds (not lined) that can leach into ground water and flow into nearby rivers. Those living downstream from the Tar Sand mines have already felt the effects with significant health issues including cancer. The extraction process requires significant energy in the form of heat (Natural Gas is used) and this process is the one of the most energy intensive of all types of oil extraction.
Time to draw the line in the sand
A small number of the 40,000 marching to the White House after the rally on the Mall
You have to start somewhere; capping the current rate of tar sands extraction for the U.S. refineries makes perfect sense to begin our nation’s commitment to the generations to come. We are more resourceful then having to settle for the one of the dirtiest option: Tar Sands oil. Our dependence on oil runs deep and there is no immediate way to decrease this dependence, yet we are starting to make headway in alternatives energy sources. Our electrical output from wind and solar sources doubled from 2010 to 2011. This represents a small part of the electrical generation puzzle (just 5%) yet the potential is much larger, the US Energy department estimates that wind and solar could generate over 40% of the U.S. needs.
Climate change is real, extreme weather continues to threaten people and property. Now is the time to reduce our emissions. We do not need to build a pipeline that increases the number of oil spills over precious land and waterways (the current Keystone pipeline completed in 2010 has a history of 12 spills to date). We need to spend money to upgrade our national power grid, continue to encourage power generation from wind and solar. These methods are not solutions in themselves but can help reduce our need for coal and oil based power generation. We need to educate and ask for the help of all U.S. citizens. People want a cleaner environment and will change in response to a nationwide push on Climate.
Here are some more photos from the Rally:
One of many young people participating, what kind of enviroment will this girl live in 30 years from now?
Sierra Club President, Michael Brune speaking about his children's future.
Several indigenous tribes from Canada made the journey to Washington, DC including people from the Cree, Saik'uz and Dine' People
Many college students turned out
The crowd was vocal and polite - belief ran deep