"Forward on Climate" Rally... And the Real Way Forward

March 17, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


On February 17, people poured into Washington, DC, for the Forward on Climate rally. The rally was called by 350.org, the Sierra Club, and the Hip Hop Caucus, and was endorsed by dozens of other groups.

Organizers said 50,000 people came, making it the largest climate change rally in U.S. history. People came from 30 states, as well as from other countries. Students from up and down the East Coast and Midwest, and from points beyond, arrived by the busload.

The size and breadth of the response demonstrates the heightening concern and anguish among growing numbers of people about climate change and environmental destruction. It also demonstrates the growing potential for truly massive political resistance to this destruction.

Keystone XL Review—State Department Whitewash

Two weeks after the February 17 climate protests, the U.S. State Department released a review of the new application made by TransCanada for a different Keystone XL Pipeline route. The first application was denied by Obama in late 2011, not because of the threat to the environment from climate change or because the tar sands are horribly destructive, but because Republicans forced a quick decision and Obama argued there wasn't enough time to make a "thorough review." Obama also expressed interest in the pipeline route avoiding certain environmentally sensitive areas in Nebraska, where there had been so much opposition to the pipeline that even the right-wing Republican governor was opposed. Obama then went on to fast-track building of the southern portion of Keystone XL—from Cushing, Oklahoma, to the Gulf, now underway. And now TransCanada has slightly adjusted the pipeline route in Nebraska in its new application.

The new State Department review, while claiming to be "initial" and making no definite recommendations on whether Obama should or shouldn't approve the pipeline (a decision slated for sometime this summer), completely whitewashes the threat posed by the Keystone XL Pipeline and the destruction wrought by extraction of tar sands oil in general, which the review doesn't even mention.

The review goes through some of the environmental problems that could be posed by the pipeline itself, then lists how TransCanada plans to "mitigate" them. New York Times writer John Broder remarked that the review "could provide Mr. Obama political cover if he decides to approve the pipeline."

On the danger of climate change, the review ridiculously claims that increasing the flow of tar sands oil by 800,000 barrels of oil a day will have a minimal effect on climate change. Why? Because the "Project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of the development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area." The argument here is that based on "market analysis," i.e., the needs of U.S .and other imperialist capital, if Keystone XL isn't built, the Gulf Coast refineries are going to get oil from someplace else. And if Keystone XL isn't built, well, the good old "market" will find a way anyway, shipping all the filthy tar sands oil by rail car, truck, or barges, and, well, that isn't going to be any better for the environment. Instead of Keystone XL being seen as one of a multitude of destructive projects that are linked together that all must be prevented to address the climate crisis, and that building Keystone XL can only further fuel extraction in the tar sands which really needs to just be stopped, the State Department says one or the other form of destruction is inevitable because of market reality, so it might as well be this one.

This whole review is not based on the needs of humanity and of ecosystems, which require Keystone XL be stopped and that the tar sands and other fossil fuels be left in the ground, and beyond that require that new safe and renewable technologies be rushed forward. No, it is based simply on the needs of U.S. capital and the argument that market reality is, after all, the only reality that's possible.

In the days before the main rally, 48 prominent environmentalists and others, including Daryl Hannah, Bill McKibben, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., climatologist James Hansen, and Sierra Club head Michael Brune, were arrested for civil disobedience in front of the White House.

A main focus of Forward on Climate was calling for Obama to reject construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a proposed new pipeline stretching from the tar sands oil extraction region of Alberta, Canada, to southern Nebraska. From there the oil would be piped to the Gulf Coast to be refined. Oil extracted by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) from shale in the Bakken formation of Montana and North Dakota reportedly would also be funneled through the Keystone XL pipeline.

Keystone XL would increase by 800,000 barrels per day the flow of tar sands oil, the dirtiest and most carbon polluting oil on the planet, into the U.S. The tar sands deposits are the third largest oil reserves in the world. Already 1.7 million barrels of oil per day are extracted in the tar sands. Tar sands oil is now the largest single source of oil fueling the U.S. capitalist economy. Besides representing a huge pool of carbon that if fully extracted and burned would help take the world's greenhouse gases to levels beyond critical climate tipping points, this project is already massively destructive to people and the environment. In Alberta, the largest energy and largest capital investment project in the world, is in the process of decimating a formerly pristine wild area the size of Florida. Huge regions of beautiful boreal forest are being leveled so that gobs of thick bitumen tar can be ripped from the earth by steam shovels and steamed up through wells. Lakes of toxic sludge from the tar sands extraction now cover 50 square miles, contaminating lands, lakes, rivers, and groundwater with toxins and carcinogens. Indigenous peoples report that more of them are getting cancer, and one study showed a 30 percent increase in the rate of cancer in one native community in proximity to tar sands extraction.

Many who came to DC have been outraged by and are fighting against environmental destruction: against fracking for gas and oil that is contaminating land, groundwater, and the atmosphere with methane gas and other toxins, against mountain-top coal extraction where whole mountainsides are blown up and rivers and streams are polluted and filled with rubble.

Indigenous peoples from the U.S. and Canada came to Washington to speak out and oppose the destruction of their lives, culture, and lands. Chief Jacqueline Thomas of the Yinka Dene Alliance of First Nations people in northern British Columbia spoke about efforts to stop the construction of yet another proposed tar sands oil pipeline built by Enbridge Inc. across the wilderness of Alberta and British Columbia to ship oil to Asia. She said, "Oil will spill. It's just a matter of when. They've [Enbridge] spilled in the Kalamazoo, which I hear cannot be cleaned up. They've broken their promises... They've spilled in Red Deer, Alberta. They've spilled oil in my sister, the territories of the Lubicon Cree. They've spilled oil in the Northwest Territories, the Dene brothers and sisters that I know from the Northwest Territories. And, of course, who can forget the Exxon Valdez? Of course, also, in most recent memory, we have had the BP spill, which was on the news day after day, month after month. They have hurt the brothers and sisters of the Houma nation that my sister has visited. Never in my life have I ever seen white and Native work together until now."

Forward on Climate called for this protest to explicitly seek to appeal to and pressure, rather than protest and confront, Obama, especially in the wake of statements he made at his inauguration and State of the Union addresses claiming he would finally "do something" of substance to combat climate change. Forward on Climate's call says, "The first step to putting our country on the path to addressing the climate crisis is for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. His legacy as president will rest squarely on his response, resolve, and leadership in solving the climate crisis." The stated purpose of the rally was "To tell Barack Obama it's time to lead in the fight against climate change, beginning with the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline." Forward on Climate's main logo borrowed Obama's campaign logo, sticking it in mass-produced signs at the center of the "O" in the words "NO Keystone XL Pipeline."

From the start, the strategy of 350.org and the Sierra Club around Keystone XL has been founded on the illusion that the problem of climate change stems from the "fossil fuel lobby" and/or "corporations" that wield too much power in Washington, instead of recognizing that fossil fuel extraction and production is foundational to the whole functioning, position, and competitiveness of U.S. capitalism-imperialism in the world. Under this illusion, the U.S. is seen as a democracy, maybe flawed, but with potential to find itself, right the ship, and bring the "corporations" back in line—with enough pressure from people. This completely obscures the reality that the U.S. is a ruthless capitalist dictatorship whose rulers control a worldwide system of poverty, misery, brutality, exploitation, and environmental destruction.

This illusory view fails to grasp the essential rules of capitalism's game—that everything under this system is a commodity, everything is done for profit, that capitalist production is by its nature private and driven forward by the commandment "expand or die," and that capitalism is a global system that proceeds through the domination of oppressed nations. Because of all this, there is a ruthless and never-ceasing compulsion of this system to win out and drive under competitors—for control of whole nations, regions of the world, and natural resources that fuel the system's operations. In short, this system can't be made to act according to different rules than those that make it what it is and that characterize the way the whole thing functions, even if these rules mean bringing on an environmental catastrophe.

The illusion being pursued and pushed by 350.org and the Sierra Club is that Obama is a man of conscience who is being pressured by powerful and entrenched moneyed interests, but who can also be pressured and, yes, encouraged, to see that humanity's future and, yes, his own children's future, rests with saving the climate. Obama's actual actions—from sabotage of international climate treaties, to vast expansion of offshore drilling including into regions of the Arctic that Bush was never successful in exploiting, to covering up the extent and danger of the Gulf oil spill, to the unprecedented and awful new spread of fracking of oil and gas deposits throughout formerly unspoiled regions of the U.S. itself, and on and on—are fueling environmental destruction. But these actions are not seen for what they are: the destructive and criminal actions of the head representative of the most ecosystem-destroying system in history.

While there is contradiction and motion within this movement, and some positive aspects to the role played by 350.org and the Sierra Club in that people are being activated around environmental destruction, their strategy is fundamentally a dead end. And if not broken with and ruptured out of, it will lead people not only to become demoralized but, as with the bulk of the antiwar movement, to come under the wing of the Democrats and learn to embrace the most horrific crimes, like drones, kill lists, and kill teams.

The fact is that when you confront the real problem—of a system whose very nature is bent on the destruction of the planet we live on through unstoppable competition for more resources and more profits no matter what the cost to the environment—then the reality that screams out is that all this must be resisted and that revolution is what is urgently needed—Revolution and nothing less! Only that has any chance to get us to a new revolutionary society that could address the environmental crisis and begin the process of allowing nature to heal.

Check out the Revolution special issue on the environment (revcom.us/environment) and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)

Compare State Department Review on the "National Interest" vs. Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development

The State Department review is charged with making an assessment of whether Keystone XL is in "the national interest"—note, not the interests of humanity or the environment.

Compare this State Department review:

"For proposed petroleum pipelines that cross international borders of the United States, the President, through Executive Order 13337, directs the Secretary of State to decide whether a project is in the 'national interest' before granting a Presidential Permit. ... If the proposed Project is determined to be in the national interest, it is granted a Presidential Permit that authorizes the construction, operation, and maintenance of the facilities at the border between the United States and Canada. The Department's jurisdiction does not extend to cover selection of pipeline routes within the United States. The draft Supplemental EIS was produced consistent with NEPA and will help inform that determination.

"The National Interest Determination (or NID) involves consideration of many factors, including energy security; environmental, cultural, and economic impacts; foreign policy; and compliance with relevant federal regulations. Before making such a decision, the Department seeks the views of the eight federal agencies identified in Executive Order 13337: the Departments of Energy, Defense, Transportation, Homeland Security, Justice, Interior, and Commerce, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Department is also soliciting public input on the draft Supplemental EIS."

With this from "Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development" in the special issue of Revolution on the environment (April 18, 2010):

"The socialist state must use its strengths and resources to promote revolution. The new socialist state must be a 'base area' for the world revolution. The emancipation of humanity demands this. The preservation of the planet demands this: for humanity to deal with the environmental crisis on the requisite scale and with the requisite urgency requires a totally different economic and social system and set of values. That requires socialist revolution and the spread of that revolution.

"The new socialist society will put the interests of the preservation of the ecosystems of the entire planet above its own national development. It will encourage and give scientific, technical, and organizational backing for bold international initiatives to prevent widespread ecosystem collapse of coral reefs, rainforests, critical savanna regions, etc.

"The new society will share scientific knowledge and technology with the rest of the world. It will contribute research to aid other parts of the world in dealing with various aspects of the environmental emergency—for instance, helping populations in low-lying poor countries deal with rising sea levels and flooding resulting from climate change.

"Such initiatives will require unprecedented planet-wide cooperation of scientists and others, engagement of diverse populations and systems of governance, and the involvement of local communities. And the socialist state will seek to learn from the experiences, insights, and struggles of people around the world."

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.