On the heels of the largest climate change demonstration in U.S. history in February, eco-activists are ramping up to protest extreme energy across the nation. Grass-roots activists and NGOs have put energy corporations on notice with a week of civil disobedience that signals stepped-up resistance to dirty fossil fuels.
“We’re through with appealing to a broken political system that has consistently sacrificed human and nonhuman communities for the benefit of industry and capital,” said Eric Whelan, spokesperson for the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance.
In these post-peak oil times, with rising global energy demand, corporations are scrambling for new sources of fossil fuels. To sustain their profits, they are scraping the bottom of the barrel: natural gas pockets under massive shale deposits, oil wells two miles underwater, coal that requires blowing up mountaintops to mine it, and the climate change coup de grâce, the tar sands oil fields in Alberta, Canada. And the U.S. and Canadian governments are giving them a green light.
Activists call these fossil fuels “extreme energy” because they are far more dangerous than traditional sources. It takes massive amounts of electricity, water, and toxic chemicals to obtain and process these fuels, which are often located in populated areas and fragile ecosystems. The environmental destruction and pollution caused by exploiting extreme energy will also speed climate change.
Extreme profits and pollution. The U.S. has massive natural gas and oil reserves trapped deep under layers of shale rock. Extreme energy corporations drill close to a pocket of gas or oil and pump thousands of gallons of water and toxic chemicals into the shale, causing it to fracture under pressure (hence, “fracking”) so the fossil fuels can be extracted.
But the toxic chemicals are not accounted for. They seep into groundwater and poison aquifers from which communities get water. Some wells contaminate aquifers with natural gas, turning kitchen faucets into flammable gas lines! Initially, companies like Dick Cheney’s Halliburton only fracked in sparsely populated areas. But now they are moving closer to cities, threatening water sources for millions of people.
Having extracted all the oil from easily accessible sources, oil corporations are moving farther out to sea to drill. The greed driving this expansion offshore has outpaced the development of technology to safely extract oil at these depths, resulting in disasters such as BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Now, with ice caps melting from global warming, oil barons want to drill in the fragile Arctic ecosystem.
Coal is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, but U.S. coal companies are hoping to accelerate production regardless of the consequences. One method is blowing up mountains to extract more coal from Appalachia. Meanwhile, port terminal operators and coal companies are teaming up with railroad tycoon Warren Buffett to export over 150 million tons of coal a year from the U.S. Northwest to China, India, and Bangladesh.
The development of tar sands oil fields is turning wild forest, home to thousands of plant and animal species, into toxic wasteland. Alberta is home to the largest known deposit of tar sands oil in the world; in the U.S., tar sands are opening to exploitation in Utah and Kentucky. Tar sands oil, or “bitumen,” is a sticky substance mixed with toxic chemicals to allow for travel through pipelines.
Extreme energy corporations hope to build the Keystone XL pipeline across pristine landscapes and the largest aquifer in the U.S. to processing facilities on the Gulf of Mexico. Pipelines carrying tar sands bitumen are much less safe than other oil pipelines, as shown by recent spills in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River and the town of Mayflower, Ark. But while Keystone XL grabs headlines, energy giants are quietly loading oil onto trains bound for processing facilities across the nation.
Fighting for the planet’s future. In the face of the environmental devastation caused by these projects, people are organizing a broad fight-back. Whelan described recent direct actions as “the beginning of a concerted resistance to the fatal status quo imposed by capitalism.” Activists are connecting climate change and profits — and making their stand.
Grass-roots environmental groups launched the “Fearless Summer” campaign in June, starting with a week of actions against corporate polluters that called out their political and financial backers.
Members of Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance took direct action in Oklahoma by chaining themselves to construction equipment used to build the Keystone XL pipeline. Utah Tar Sands Resistance blocked crews laying the groundwork for tar sands development at PR Springs.
Protesters with Capitalism vs. the Climate and Hands Off Appalachia were arrested in Stamford, Conn., at the headquarters of financial services giant UBS, which funds mountaintop removal companies. And Climate First! occupied two TD Bank locations in Washington, D.C., to demand divestment from Keystone XL.
Rising Tide, an international anti-capitalist climate change network, took action in the Pacific Northwest to educate the public about plans to turn the region into a fossil fuel export corridor. In Montana, they rallied against coal exports at a county courthouse. They visited the Army Corps of Engineers in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to protest a decision to not include environmental concerns in building new coal terminals. And activists in Seattle and Portland, Ore., visited the offices of climate criminals to protest fossil fuel exports. More actions are planned for the future.
Meanwhile, 350.org — the big kid on the climate activism block led by noted author Bill McKibben — has called for another week of action in July, called “Summer Heat.”
Big energy has money and politicians on its side. But its destructive practices are inspiring a new generation of activists to get involved passionately in defense of the planet. This movement has the potential to unite the working classes across oceans and national boundaries.
Send feedback to Mark Drummond at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To listen to this article and others from this issue, click here.