This blog post is by Geoff Gardner of West Fairlee, Vermont. Geoff is a member of a No KXL activist group in the state's Upper Valley.
This is a story about the first action, last June 16th, of our little NoKXL affinity group in the Upper Valley of Vermont. But it’s also a story about a kind of event activists can’t e
xpect to happen every time they hit the streets but find inspiring whenever anything like it does occur.
Our group is made up of twenty or so people most of whom have signed the pledge—sponsored by Rainforest Action Network, Credo and The Other 98%—to risk arrest resisting the Keystone XL pipeline. Most of us have also attended one of the non-violent direct action training sessions held in our part of Vermont early this spring and last fall.
On the expectation that the State Department and the White House would decide to issue—or not issue—the pipeline permit some time in May, our plan was to assemble as many people as possible in Montpelier, the Vermont capital, if and when the announcement to issue the permit was made. Our idea was that after rallying at the State House we would march the few blocks to TD Bank, where members of our affinity group would block the entrance to the bank, risking arrest.
TD Bank is one of the ten largest banks in American and is a member of the TD Bank Group conglomerate, owned by Toronto-Dominion Bank, the second largest banking institution in Canada. Taken together, TD Asset Management and Toronto-Dominion Bank own more than $1.8 billion in TransCanada stock, making TD the company's second largest shareholder. TransCanada is the company that is exploiting tar sands in Alberta and seeking to build the Keystone XL pipeline across the U.S., to carry tar sands from the Canadian/U.S. border to the Gulf of Mexico where it would be shipped out to enter the global oil market.
TD Bank is also the most important way the State of Vermont is implicated in the environmental damage and destruction caused by TransCanada’s tar sands extraction in Alberta and in the enormous human and environmental hazards posed by the Keystone XL pipeline here in the U.S. This is because Vermont deposits most
of its cash, some 66% of it, in TD Bank. In 2013 alone, Vermont paid TD Bank more than $787,000 in fees. This is why we wanted to demonstrate at the Vermont State House and then risk arrest at TD Bank if and when the KXL pipeline was approved in May.
But then in the middle of April, the White House and the State Department announced the permit decision would be delayed, quite possibly till after the November mid-term elections. The reasons they cited for the delay were their need to review the unprecedented 2.5 million public comments submitted on the issue as part of the permitting process and the need to await an appellate court’s decision on a Nebraska case that could result in relocating the route of the pipeline. With this delay in mind, our group’s consensus was that we should delay our plan to risk arrest until a decision to permit the KXL pipeline was issued, whenever that might occur. At a meeting in May, we decided that in preparation for this we would build a context for our act of civil disobedience by educating the public as well as we can about TransCanada’s
extreme extraction of tar sands in Alberta, the Keystone XL pipeline, TD Bank’s participation in both and the State of Vermont’s use of TD Bank. To do this we agreed to demonstrate in Montpelier as frequently as we can, raising and explaining all these issues.
June 16th was the date we picked for our first demonstration. In preparation, members of the group made signs, learned a song to sing, produced a huge banner a
bout the pipeline on one side and about TD Bank’s involvement in it on the other side, and wrote up an informational leaflet, again about the pipeline on one side and TD Bank on the other. A number of the artists among us also invented and produced a huge protest puppet on wheels, dubbed Mama Keystone. All this done, we were ready to go.
In this state where weather can be one kind of challenge of another in all four seasons of the year, we had the best possible luck. June 16th was a brilliantly sunny, clear and beautifully warm spring day. We assembled a while before noon on the sidewalk in front of the State House, being careful to keep off the capital lawns as the lone security guard on the scene asked us to do. Soon we were ready to hand out our leaflet and raise our banner and our signs. We got Mama Keystone up on her wheels, began to sing our song as we headed off slowly down State Street toward TD Bank at the corner of State
and Main. Walking slowly and pausing from time to time to sing and display our message to the lunchtime crowd, we were cheered by the large number of passers by who offered words of encouragement and the many passing drivers who honked and waved at us. I think we were all happy to see how many people seemed to be well informed about the KXL pipeline issue already. And I for one did not hear a single person challenge or jeer us on the issue. A number of people freely grouched and grumped at us for the room we were taking up on the sidewalk as they rushed along to do their lunch hour errands—understandable enough in a town and on a street where nearly every day one group or another demonstrates on every issue imaginable.
When we reached Main Street, we lined up at the curb in front of the entrance to TD Bank. From this vantage point, the windows of the bank looked opaque and the building rather forbidding and impenetrable. I found myself wondering if the people inside the bank, and especially the bank officers, were even aware that we were outside demonstrating—and demonstrating specifically against their bank. And then something quite remarkable happened.
Here's how it seemed to happened from my end. I asked one of our organizers whether he thought it would be a good idea to go into the bank and give the manager one of our fact sheets. He hesitated and then asked if I thought it was a good idea. I said I thought it was a great idea. I took one of the flyers and headed to the door just a few steps away. As I approached it, I found I was right behind Nina, my oldest friend in our group. We seemed to have had the same idea at exactly the same minute. This made me laugh.
"Oh good!" I said. "I'd like to leave one of these leaflets with you. I’m with the demonstration outside, and I think you’ll be interested in this information." I turned the flyer over and pointed to the TD Bank logo up at the top of the page. His eyes opened wide and he began to read.Then I noticed that Nina apparently was heading inside with a young woman just ahead of her who had a very determined look on her face and in her bearing. Once we three were inside the bank, the young woman took her place in line for the next teller, and Nina told me she had handed one of our leaflets to this young woman, who said she knew all about the pipeline issue, had been to Washington to demonstrate against KXL and was in complete agreement with us. Nina had then turned the fact sheet over and asked, "But do you know this?" The young woman was startled by TD Bank’s involvement in TransCanada. She said she was heading into the bank anyway and now was going to withdraw all her money because of the pipeline. Nina waited in line with her, and I headed down in the direction of the offices and the bankers sitting at desks with their computers and their clients.
In the very last room in a corner, a man in his early forties and dressed very casually was sitting at a computer his back turned toward me. I walked into the room and stood at the far end of the conference table between us. He turned, smiled pleasantly and asked if he could help me. I asked if he was the manager. Rather proudly he said, "Yes, I'm the manager and a vice-president."
I went back out to where Nina was waiting while the young woman was negotiating her business with the teller. Soon the manager/vice-president came out of his room and walked toward us. As he walked behind the counter to where the tellers were, he asked if the could do something for us. I said we were with the young woman. In a pause, I pointed him out to the young woman and said he was the manager and vice-president and maybe it would be a good idea to tell him what she was doing. She nodded happily in agreement.
Nina and I went back outside and rejoined our demo. A while later, I saw the young woman come out of the bank. She didn’t see me, and I didn’t notice if she and Nina had any further conversation.
Walking back to the State House with Nina and her husband Doug once the demo was over, we paused outside a café just short of the bridge across the river on State Street. We stood there talking for a while, and before very long that same young woman came along down the sidewalk and approached us. She stopped and happily told us she had in fact withdrawn all her life's savings—$15,000—from TD Bank. She even showed us the teller's check in her bag. As she was also happy to tell us, she made a point of informing the manager/vice-president about what she had done, explaining her action in relation to the bank's involvement with TransCanada and the pipeline. Apparently he wrote down as much as he could of what she was telling him and said he would bring it to the attention of his higher-ups. She asked where we thought she might best deposit that big check of hers, and Doug suggested whatever credit union was closest for her. She took another one of our flyers and may eventually be in touch with us. This hasn’t happened yet, but she already is on the 350.org list.
It was the courage and spontaneous decisiveness of this young woman that impressed us most. But I think we all were also inspired by the obvious fact that our hour on the street had informed and sparked at least one person strongly enough so that she took an action of her own that sharply and immediately brought to the bank's attention our presence, why we were there and the possible consequences for the bank of our presence on their corner.
I think the next time we arrive, TD Bank will be quite a bit more aware of us, and that manager and vice-president may be smiling a little less pleasantly than he was in June.
In late June, a team of RAN staff travelled to Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada to participate in the Tar Sands Healing Walk, which is organized and hosted by members of the local First Nations Communities. Walking amidst the tar sands destruction was a humbling and powerful experience.
This blog post is one of a series, sharing our impressions and reflections.
Our journey in Alberta began in Fort McMurray, a boomtown where the international oil industry has set up a base of operations from which to conduct tar sands extraction. The scale of the industry anchored in Fort McMurray is difficult to overstate: the town sits on one of the world’s largest oil deposits, the Athabasca tar sands. The extraction of Alberta’s tar sands constitutes the world’s biggest industrial project, and massive mining operations directly abut Fort McMurray.
We landed at the brand new Fort McMurray international airport, where workers were putting the finishing touches on the terminal’s décor, as if the place had been quickly constructed in anticipation of our arrival. Immediately, signs of the tar sands-driven boom were apparent; gift shops featured oil sands tee shirts and advertisements announced new direct international flights to Las Vegas, enabling well-paid oil workers to quickly spend their paychecks on gambling and entertainment.
More than 80% of Canada’s tar sand workers are male, and Fort McMurray was full of bulky guys. On the plane, I overheard a pair of oil workers talking about how they had gained over 100 pounds while living in company-provided housing at a tar sands refinery, a by-product of boredom and sedentary machine-operation. As if to justify the weight gain, the workers then turned their conversation to the “couple of houses” each had bought with their tar sands earnings.
Many of Fort McMurray’s workers seemed focused on buying real estate with oil profits; the town was awash in oil industry publications that combined breathless accounts of lucrative tar sands expansion, advertisements for mining companies, and tips on homeownership and real estate. According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, capital investments in the Canadian tar sands have jumped more than 400% since 2006, stretching the municipality’s resources and skyrocketing population and property values in Fort McMurray. Expansion, growth, money, and oil are the watchwords of the day.
On the edge of town we visited the Oil Sands Discovery Centre, a shrine to the technological process of extracting and refining the tar sands. Sponsored by the Albertan government with heavy support from industry, the Discovery Centre was most remarkable for what it was not included in its displays. As in Fort McMurray and the tar sands industry more broadly, the Oil Sands Discovery Centre lacked any acknowledgement of the climate impacts stemming from the tar sands. It was as if the oil industry town existed in an alternative reality where climate change did not exist and endless expansion of tar sands mining was completely unopposed by the global community. This was a step beyond climate denialism; it was an outright refusal to even recognize that the concept of climate change exists.
In place of the gaping hole where climate concerns should have been, the Oil Sand Discovery Centre touted Fort McMurray’s incredibly ironic ban on single-use plastic bags, and offered an appeasing video insinuating that oil industry reclamation efforts are akin to the millennia of sacred land stewardship practiced by Indigenous First Nations groups. While we immediately smelled a rat in the oil industries claims of reclamation, it wasn’t until we joined the Athabasca Chipeywan and Mikisew Cree First Nations that the abject hideousness of industry claims came into focus.
When we left the world of Fort McMurray’s oil settlers and joined First Nation host communities at the Tars Sands Healing walk, what we heard and saw laid bare the poisonous horror that lurks beneath the sheen of Alberta’s lucrative tar sands boom and industry’s expansionist dreams.
Part Two, "Indigenous Nightmares", will be posted next week.
1. Visitors at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre in Fort McMurray.
2. Oil industry magazines predict growth for Fort McMurray and tar sands mining.
3. Fort McMurray is dwarfed by nearby tar sands mines.
4. An ironic sign at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre.
Last week, a team of RAN staff travelled to Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada to participate in the Tar Sands Healing Walk, which is organized and hosted by members of the local First Nations Communities.
Walking amidst the Tar Sands destruction was a humbling and powerful experience. We are putting together a series of blogs to share our impressions and reflections. This, our first one, is a photo-diary of the walk.
1. Grand Chief Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Derek Nepinak, Chief Allan Adam and Grand Chief Philip Stewart addressed the walkers at the beginning of our day. Each spoke about the importance of protecting land for future generations and the impacts that Tar Sands mining is having on First Nations Communities in Canada.
2. Aboriginal elders led procession under a banner reading “Stop the Destruction Start the Healing”. Along the way we stopped to pray for the land’s healing with offerings of tobacco, water and song.
3. We walked for more than nine miles around Syncrude’s excavation site, refinery and tailings ponds.
4. Many of the vehicles that passed our walk were transporting ‘potable water’. The local groundwater has been polluted by the Tar Sands mining operations.
5. This ‘Tailings Pond’ contains waste water from the Tar Sands extraction process. The neon work-suited scarecrows have been placed to deter birds from landing on the pond. 1600 ducks died after landing on a Syncrude tailings pond in 2008.
6. We were accompanied on the walk by two First Nations drum groups.
7. The air was thick and heavy with fumes from Syncrude’s refinery.
8. We passed a ‘work camp’ where Syncrude workers live, in the shadow of the refinery.
9. The RAN team, next to Syncrude’s refinery.
10. We passed several areas labeled as ‘reclamation’ sites. These bore no resemblance to the healthy Boreal forest ecosystem that existed before the mine was developed.
Stay tuned for future blog posts sharing our impressions and reflections.
— Alliance of 31 First Nations
This week, despite broad public opposition, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper approved Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline. The Northern Gateway pipeline, seen as a backup option to the Keystone XL pipeline that is currently mired down in a political quagmire in the U.S., would ship 500,000 barrels of bitumen a day through British Columbia to the Pacific coast.
The approval sparked loud protest from First Nations groups and environmentalists. Opposition to Enbridge has already been heightened in British Columbia and with the Harper government’s announcement, opponents took to the streets of Vancouver and promised fierce resistance to the pipeline.
First Nations groups in Canada, which have long fought the pipeline, vowed to defend their land and their sovereignty with no surrender. In an unprecedented show of unity, 31 First Nations and tribal councils have signed a letter announcing their intention to "vigorously pursue all lawful means to stop the Enbridge project."
Furthermore the Uni’stot’en Clan has maintained a blockade encampment in the path of Enbridge and other proposed pipelines on their territory in British Columbia since 2009. Upon the Northern Gateway announcement they stated they “are prepared to continue to defend their territories against the incursion of government and industry.”
The environmental left has also vowed to fight back against Northern Gateway. Direct actions, protests and legal battles are being planned to stop the pipeline.
Immediately after the announcement, environmentalists launched sit-ins in Member of Parliament offices in opposition to the decision. Four were arrested at the office of James Moore, Conservative MP and Minister of Industry.
One of the four was Jackie DeRoo, MBA, a mother and retired businesswoman: “I'd never even been to a protest until Northern Gateway came along and I began to learn about climate change,” she said. “If ordinary citizens like me are willing to get arrested to stop this project, Harper can expect blockades that will make Clayoquot look like a picnic.”
At the same time as the Northern Gateway pipeline and Keystone XL campaigns, Enbridge have lobbied for a system of pipelines to send hundreds of thousands of barrels of tar sands south to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Enbridge has multiple pipelines proposed in the United States.
The oil giants are not backing off on draining the Alberta tar sands of every last drop of oil. Nor should the opposition back off in the slightest.
Photo: Direct action at Minister of Industry James Moore's office
As Protesters Gather Outside Chevron Shareholder Meeting, Investors Call On Company To Rethink Ecuador Strategy
In failing to negotiate a reasonable settlement prior to the Ecuadorian court’s ruling against the company, we believe that Chevron displayed poor judgment that has led investors to question whether our Company’s leadership can properly manage the array of environmental challenges and risks that it faces. We call upon Chevron to fully disclose to shareholders the risks to its operations and business from the potential enforcement of the Aguinda verdict. We also call upon the Company to reevaluate whether endless litigation in the Aguinda case is the best strategy for the Company and its shareholders, or whether a more productive approach, such as reaching an equitable negotiated settlement, could be employed to protect shareholder investments and prevent any further reputational harm due to protracted litigation.Trillium has also filed a request with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether Chevron has "appropriately disclosed to its shareholders the scope and magnitude of financial and operational risk" from the guilty verdict in Ecuador. And, as the Guardian reported today, the New York State Common Retirement Fund filed a shareholder resolution that would require Chevron to appoint an independent board member with environmental expertise. Pat Doherty, the director of corporate governance at the New York State office of the comptroller, told the Guardian: "The fact that Chevron didn't have someone with this expertise on the board probably helped contribute to the problem. We're suggesting that Chevron's take no prisoner approach has arguably also made things worse." RAN teamed up with Amazon Watch a couple weeks ago to commission a report on Chevron's liability in Ecuador that highlights the discrepancy between what Chevron’s lawyers have been arguing in court and what the company has been telling investors. US Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan passed a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the Ecuador verdict after Chevron’s lawyers told him the company faces “irreparable injury” to its business operations if the verdict were to be enforced, while assuring investors that it faces no risk whatsoever. It’s way past time Chevron was honest with its shareholders and took responsibility for its pollution in Ecuador and around the globe. Today’s protest is sure to be a lively and colorful affair. Stay tuned for pics and video.
are often buying vague promises instead of the reductions in greenhouse gases they expect. They are buying into projects that are never completed, or paying for ones that would have been done anyhow, the investigation found. Their purchases are feeding middlemen and promoters seeking profits from green schemes that range from selling protection for existing trees to the promise of planting new ones that never thrive. In some cases, the offsets have consequences that their purchasers never foresaw, such as erecting windmills that force poor people off their farms. Carbon offsets are the environmental equivalent of financial derivatives: complex, unregulated, unchecked and – in many cases – not worth their price.Stanford University researchers found that up to 2/3 of offsets in international markets are not delivering any additional reduction in emissions compared to business as usual, which means that buyers are getting ripped off and the offsets are doing nothing to slow climate change. The attempt to "buy" our way out of climate change has left us with a corrupt system with little accountability where very little is done to reduce emissions. At RAN, we began the Climate Action Fund (CAF) to take a fundamentally different approach. Starting with our own organization, we calculate the annual carbon emissions associated with our operations, including travel. We then apply an internal price — effectively a tax — on that carbon. These modest revenues are then invested directly in frontline community groups that are organizing against the extraction and combustion of dirty fossil fuels in the first place. The Climate Action Fund is also open to individuals and businesses that want to participate in CAF-supported efforts to tackle the root causes of climate change. The CAF contributes 100 percent of donations directly to community organizations that are fighting to protect land and people, as well as to keep millions of tons of CO2 in the ground. Rainforest Action Network is inspired by the work these frontline community groups are doing and honored to be able to support and promote their amazing work. We hope to be able to get more and more progressive organizations and companies involved with the CAF and learn how to green their business, reduce their carbon footprint and make direct contributions to groups on the frontlines of the battle to end our addiction to dirty fossil fuels and reduce dangerous carbon emissions contributing to climate change. Get started with Climate Action Fund!