Pages tagged "Energy"

Taking Back Our Power

Electric utilities aren’t moving as fast as we need them to in phasing out fossil fuel use. Even when almost nine out of ten Americans say that renewable energy is important to America’s energy future, utilities are building and expanding plants to burn more fossil fuels. Why don’t they listen?

Turns out, they don’t entirely need to. Utility companies are traditionally natural monopolies in the communities they serve, so they’re not afraid of losing customers. Plus, private utilities have a lot of money — which means enormous amounts of lobbying power to fight for the status quo (read: fossil fuels). Case in point: in 2014, Exelon, a company with 7.8 million electricity and gas customers, paid $2.4 million to the Edison Electric Institute, an industry group that lobbies against solar infrastructure and consumer energy choice.

There is an alternative, however. Public utilities — owned by cities — are much more responsive to the communities they serve. Through municipal utilities, cities can ramp up renewable energy projects at a pace that aligns with their climate goals. Plus, municipal utilities feed their profits back into infrastructure maintenance and climate resiliency projects  instead of into the pockets of corporate executives and shareholders. Public control allows for more just decisionmaking over energy  the same energy that powers a community’s homes, schools, and hospitals.

So, how can we turn the trend toward de-privatization of our energy systems? How can we reclaim — and clean up — our power? 

Here are two promising paths forward. 

  • Municipal utilities. Supported by citizens looking for localized control, cities are buying back their utilities from private companies. Just over a year ago, the city council of Boulder, Colorado voted to create a municipal utility. The people see this as the way to bring more renewable energy into the mix and help the city reach its climate goals. Taking back control of the city’s electrical system is a complicated process — but Boulder citizens are in for the long haul.

  • Community operated renewable projects. Not everyone has the house or capital required to put solar panels on their roofs. And not everyone is serviced by a utility connected to a renewable energy plant, which lets them opt to use clean energy to power their homes. Turns out, there’s something in the middle of homegrown and utility-scale renewable energy: community operated solar gardens. Community solar happens when groups raise money to build a solar array in a vacant lot, or on a municipal building. In Alberta, Canada  yes, the same Alberta that is home to Canada’s carbon bomb of oil sands — the First Nation Lubicon Lake Band is breaking ground on a solar array that will power a community health center, with excess energy going back into the grid.

The traditional utility model, where sprawling utility companies insist that fossil fuel expansion is necessary and benign, isn’t satisfying populations with a growing concern about where their energy comes from. Communities are getting more and more creative with how they envision powering their homes and businesses. The urgency of climate change means we can’t wait for these companies to slowly come around to the logic of renewable energy. It’s time for private, profit-seeking utilities to relinquish their power to more democratic institutions.

This month at RAN we’re asking how the systems we encounter every day  food, energy, water, and labor  can be reimagined to #ChangeTheCourse toward a just and climate-stable future. Join the conversation at!

Coal Finance Case Study: Putting Communities and a World Heritage Site at Risk for a New Power Plant



As part of RAN's work to call on banks to commit to the Paris Pledge and end financing for coal and coal-fired power prior to the Paris climate summit this year, we'll be highlighting case studies of destructive coal projects around the world. This case study, authored by Greig Aitken from BankTrack highlights the Rampal coal plant planned for Bangladesh, which would have devastating impacts on communities, a World Heritage-listed mangrove forest, and the climate. Just last month, three of France’s largest banks (BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole, and Société Génerale) committed to refrain from financing the project.


Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to climate change. When powerful storm surges hit this low lying country, the world’s largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, provides a natural barrier which protects hundreds of thousands of lives. But this could change if a joint venture between India’s National Thermal Power Company (NTPC) and the state-owned Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) moves forward with Rampal, a proposed 1,320 megawatt coal power plant. Construction of the Rampal plant’s associated infrastructure has already been built, jeopardizing the livelihoods of 500,000 inhabitants. Displacement of local residents has taken place in highly irregular circumstances, leading to allegations of human rights violations, including forcible displacement of local communities. Displacement has also disproportionately impacted the Hindu minority community in the region. Bangladeshis from all walks of life have banded together to oppose the project, culminating in 20,000 joining a five-day, 400 kilometer “Long March” from the capital city Dhaka to Rampal to protest the plant. This action and the human rights violations already taking place are the subject of a 2014 documentary film, Long Live Sundarban.

The Sundarbans received UNESCO World Heritage site status in 1997. According to independent environmental assessments, the project would have a range of disastrous and irreversible impacts on the richly biodiverse Sundarbans. In June 2014, UNESCO published a State of Conservation report on Sundarbans, expressing concern about the Rampal project. While there has been no formal acknowledgement to date of international investor interest in the project, it is estimated that the joint Bangladeshi-Indian venture may be seeking up to $1.2 billion in additional financing for the project. However, the project has become so controversial that Norway’s pension fund withdrew investments from all of NTPC in March 2015 after the country’s Council of Ethics recommended excluding Rampal from the fund’s portfolio.

Guest Blog: Patrick Robbins, Sane Energy Project

KathleenRice.jpgThe message below comes to you from Patrick Robbins, an ally and activist working to promote wind power for Long Island's energy future for the following petition.

Sometimes you have a choice that’s just a no-brainer. Right now, Long Island is considering whether or not to lease part of the ocean off of its south shore for wind power. This area could generate up to 700 MW of energy for New York homes, and would be far enough offshore that most residents would never see it. The wind power companies are ready to go, and studies indicate that such a project would generate many thousands of jobs. Sounds great, right? 

Here’s the thing—there’s also a liquefied natural gas (LNG) port being considered in the exact same location. This is Liberty Natural Gas’s Port Ambrose project, a dirty energy project that would take offshore wind in this area off the table. Port Ambrose would present a security and explosion risk by bringing giant tankers of liquefied natural gas into one of our country’s most heavily trafficked ports. It would be destructive to the marine environment both during construction and operation—according to the company, construction for the mainline alone would impact 197 acres of ocean floor. This would impact the bottom-dwelling species that make the ocean floor their home, with consequences all the way up the food chain.

Finally, Port Ambrose would lead to further fracking up and down the northeast. While the company claims that Port Ambrose will be for import only, this claim doesn’t stand up—the market trend for American shale gas right now is for exports, and the same company is currently working on another project in the U.K. where they could get far higher prices. Once Port Ambrose allows fracked gas to reach foreign markets, drilling suddenly becomes much more profitable, and measures like New York’s hard-won fracking ban begin to look much more tenuous. We know that fracking impacts our soil, our water, our air, our health and our climate in ways that we cannot allow. These are some of the reasons why the coastal community of Long Beach, which would be most directly impacted by Port Ambrose, has unanimously opposed the project, and why more and more elected officials are opposing Port Ambrose every week.

Fortunately, the choice isn’t settled yet. Both New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have veto power over this project. We can make our voices heard by commenting on the Port Ambrose environmental impact statement, by signing this petition calling for Governor Cuomo and Governor Christie to veto the project, or by reaching out directly to Governor Cuomo and Governor Christie here

Tell them to choose wind over LNG—because really, how easy a choice is that?

Patrick Robbins is the Communications and Development Coordinator for Sane Energy Project. He is an activist and author based out of Brooklyn, New York.

Challenging Corporate Power at the Biggest Climate March in History

This post is by the RAN staff who were in New York as part of the People's Climate March: Lindsey Allen, Ginger Cassady, Susana Cervantes, Adrienne Fitch-Frankel, Chelsea Matthews, Scott Parkin, Claire Sandberg, Amanda Starbuck, Laurel Sutherlin, Emm Talarico, Christy Tennery-Spalding and Todd Zimmer. 

Wow, these past few days have been an exhausting and exhilarating whirlwind of activity and activism here in New York City. 

As world leaders gathered yesterday for the UN Climate Summit, much of RAN’s staff and network was recovering from back to back, power-packed days of nonstop organizing, training, marching, meeting, movement building and risking arrest to challenge corporate power at the heart of the global financial system. 


You’ve likely heard the superlatives. Sunday’s People’s Climate March was the largest demonstration for climate action in history, with more than 400,000 people — from all walks of life and all over the country and across the world — joining together in the streets of Manhattan to demand a change of course from the dangerous path towards climate chaos we are all headed down. The global media coverage of the march meant that, for once, the old chant was true: "The whole world is watching!" 

Of course no one is naïve enough to think a big march is going to solve climate change overnight. But equally, all of the great social movements of our time have been catalyzed by pivotal mass mobilizations that ratcheted up pressure on the power structures of the status quo and spurred those present — and those watching — into further action. 

The vibrant and wildly diverse display of humanity we witnessed in the streets was breathtaking and truly inspirational — there is just nothing quite like the electricity of glimpsing the immense power of people joined together in mass collective action. The fossil fuel industry may be the wealthiest in history, but on Sunday we reminded the world that money is not the only form of power.1 


But we did not start or stop our work here with the march. The network, from board to staff, from Eugene, Ore., to Charlotte, N.C., from former interns to celebrity supporters, has been busy helping to support and add strength to many facets of this week’s sprawling mobilization. 

We organized an all day workshop on Friday to share tactics and strategies for challenging corporate power to a large and enthusiastic crowd of supporters. Afterwards we hosted hundreds of activists and change makers for a Happy Hour for Hellraisers networking extravaganza that was part reunion, part relationship building and part letting off steam. 

It was after the march, though, that things got really exciting. Responding to a call from the Climate Justice Alliance for civil disobedience actions to add urgency to Sunday’s march, local organizers issued an invitation to Flood Wall Street. As both the symbolic and literal epicenter of global capitalism, Wall Street’s main players must be held accountable for funding the current climate crisis as well as actively opposing organized efforts to wean our economy off fossil fuels. 

Unlike Sunday’s permitted march, the Flood Wall Street protest Monday morning was in direct defiance of business as usual and the thousands of people who gathered knew we were risking arrest by participating. After listening to rousing speeches by Indigenous and frontline community leaders and Naomi Klein about the stakes we face at this moment in history, the crowd, all wearing blue, streamed into the streets and overwhelmed traffic, bringing it to a halt. 


The raucous but peaceful procession flooded the streets surrounding Wall Street’s iconic bull and then sat together in the streets, unfurling a 10-foot wide, 300-foot long banner, legible only to those in the office towers, helicopters and drones overhead, that read "Capitalism = Climate Chaos: Flood Wall Street"

For many hours the protest shut down one of the busiest thoroughfares in any financial district in the world, chanting the anthem of the day: 

        People gonna rise with the water 
        We’re gonna calm this crisis down 
        I hear the voice of my great granddaughter 
        Saying: “Shut down Wall Street now!”2 

Yesterday took us from the streets to the halls of power. RAN's very own Lindsey Allen and Laurel Sutherlin attended the U.N. Climate Summit, where they saw encouraging steps by governments and companies,3 and witnessed a huge campaigning victory firsthand. They watched as the CEO of one of RAN’s oldest and most intransigent targets, Cargill, stood next to U.S. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and announced an unprecedented zero-deforestation pledge. Cargill is the biggest importer of palm oil in the U.S. and the largest private company in the world, and this sweeping global commitment covers its entire empire.4 

That massive climate, human rights and biodiversity milestone follows years of hard, committed campaigning by RAN and its allies. It’s a bracing reminder that while — as Frederick Douglass said — power concedes nothing without a demand, together we can challenge corporate power and win. 

More than ever, this week affirmed for all of us that executives and politicians will not and cannot save us now. Only a strategic, determined and diverse social movement like the one we saw in New York can truly change the course of history. 

The RAN crew returns to San Francisco with new allies and fresh resolve to double down on our efforts to keep carbon in the ground and to lift up the voices of those ready to enact real climate solutions. We are reinvigorated in our fights to protect the forests of Indonesia, to prevent reckless coal mining in Australia and Appalachia, and to end extraction of the North American tar sands. 


1. "Challenge Corporate Power in the Streets of NYC," September 21, 2014, Rainforest Action Network

2. "#FloodWallStreet," September 22, 2014, Rainforest Action Network

3. "The Proximity of Hope at the U.N. Climate Summit," September 23, 2014, Lindsey Allen, Rainforest Action Network

4. "Cargill commits to zero deforestation across entire global supply chain: all commodities," September 23, 2014, Rhett A. Butler, Mongabay

Please Sign-in: Happy Hour for Hellraisers

: Happy Hour for Hellraisers

Searching For a Decolonized Mind

syncrude.jpgIn 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.

The tar sands developers try to camouflage their industry, so you don’t know it’s a part of a greater system of oppression. From the main roads around the tar sands industry only thick forests and an immense turquoise sky are visible. These lands are valuable to the First Nations people including the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, the Beaver Lake Cree, and the Mikisew Cree, who have always lived in the vicinity and whose health and livelihood in many ways depend on the land. Unfortunately, these lands are also valuable to the oil industry, because the tar sands underneath contain bitumen, an extremely dirty form of petroleum.

From within the industrialized area, where companies extract tar sands oil, the scene is very different. By the oil extraction sites there are no trees. In a land that should be forest everything is barren—a man-made desert of depleted sand. There are no birds. There are no living creatures. There are “tailings ponds”, industrial waste sites that are filled with mercury, lead and arsenic. The water is actually toxic to drink. The air is toxic to breathe. Still to the human eye, the calamity of the situation is left uncertain. You can see this one instance of environmental destruction, but you can’t see the system of oppression that enables it. The oil industry hides behind the camouflage of economic “development” and “reclamation.” The oil industry allies with the government. It allies with investors who gain monetary benefits from its development. It allies with an international system that approves of destroying land for oil. All those allies are people who fail to see oppression for what it is, and want to uphold it.

With increasing frequency I hear people pointing at climate change and environmental destruction as the cause of human rights violations. The development of the tar sands in Canada is no exception. The Alberta tar sands are the largest industrial project in the world, and one of the most controversial. Their development has been linked to extremely high rates of fatal cancers, displacement, and loss of traditional ways of life for the many First Nations that live in the vicinity. After participating in the Tar Sands Healing Walk I cannot help but ask: if we learn the history of colonization of the First Nations people, wouldn’t we better understand the tar sands? If we looked at the environmental destruction of the tar sands as a symptom of colonization, our understanding of the struggle against such destruction would change.

Colonization has dictated who has rights to land, air, water and even traditional culture for most of modern history.  For example, here in California water rights were historically “first in time, first in law.” This granted water rights to the first settler to claim a water source, completely ignoring the actual first people of the land. “Common law was founded on a racist precedent,” said Derek Nepinak, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba at his keynote address the night before the healing walk. Just like water rights in California, the development of the tar sands is based on a racist common law. The tar sands belonged to the First Nations people, but Canada has in many ways betrayed the rights of the people in favor of the oil industry. Historically, colonization was often fatal for those who had to suffer it in their daily lives. This is still true for the First Nations people who live by the tar sands. Worst of all, its fatality is part of the intent.

We can stop the destruction of the tar sands by taking action. For example, we can protest the many pipelines being built, that will carry the tar sands oil and further enrich the industry. However, stopping the tar sands does not prevent this same oppression from happening somewhere else. Without an end to colonization once and for all, even ending the development of the tar sands may not be enough. We need to not only stop the current threats, but leave no room for such injustices to continue.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Fighting oppression is no little feat. But perhaps one step is looking deeper at ourselves, especially those of us who are settlers in North America. We should understand the real history of the tar sands and its relationship to colonization, and no longer let the oil industry make a fool of us with its camouflage and illusions.

I have seen the effects of colonization left behind on my family’s ancestral lands, but seeing it so alive and well during the Tar Sands Healing Walk was a shock to my system. Unfortunately it’s not a shock for those who experience it on a daily basis. One of the most powerful messages came from Frank Waln, a musician from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. In the chorus of his song “Oil for Blood” he sang of the effect the Keystone Pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast, would have if built:

Oil for blood
Oil for blood
Making you rich, you soil my love
Oil for blood
Oil for blood
My mother is clean, that oil is mud

(Keystone) Everything’s RED
(Pipeline) Now everything’s dead

Vermont Stands Up Against Keystone XL



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 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.

Industry’s Dreams, Indigenous Nightmares: A Visit to the Alberta Tar Sands


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.

industry_mags_600x416.jpgMore 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.

Ft._Mac_600x660.jpgOn 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.

Irony_At_the_Oil_Sands_Discovery_Centre_400x600.JPGIn 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.


Communities Speak Out Against Coal Plants

This morning, the EPA announced limits on carbon pollution from power plants. That's a welcome step in fighting climate change—and it wouldn't have happened without communities speaking out against coal plants. Here at RAN, we're proud of the role our network of friends and activists has played in building pressure over the last several years.


Stop TXU! Activists stage protests against financial institutions linked to Texas utility company TXU’s controversial plans to build 11 new coal-fired power plants as part of an expansion strategy that would make it the single largest corporate greenhouse gas emitter in the Unites States. Winter 2007. Photo: Andrew Stern.



University of Kentucky Fossil Fools Day. Students raise a wind turbine atop a coal mound as part of an action for Fossil Fools Day at University of Kentucky. April 1, 2008.



Wise Coal Action. Virginia residents and anti-coal activists form a blockade to disrupt the construction of Dominion's Wise County Coal-Fired Power Plant. September 2008.



Capitol Climate Action. Thousands of activists surround the Capitol Coal Plant in Washington DC to demand its retirement. March 2009.



Duke Energy's Cliffside Coal Plant. RAN activists holding a banner in front of Duke Energy's Cliffside coal plant in Cliffside, North Carolina. The banner action coincided with the release a new report, The Principle Matter: Banks, Climate & The Carbon Principles. January 2011.



Crawford Coal Plant Banner. Six activists with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), Rising Tide North America, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and the Backbone Campaign climbed the fence to Midwest Generation’s controversial Crawford coal plant in Little Village. The activists unfurled a 7' x 30' banner atop a 20-foot tall sprawling coal pile that feeds the power plant, which reads: "Close Chicago's Toxic Coal Plants." April 2011.



Stand with Pat: Tell BofA to Stop Funding Coal. Grandmothers Pat Moore and Beth Henry and seven others were arrested outside of four different Bank of America branches in Charlotte, NC delivering a simple yet urgent message to the bank: they must STOP funding coal. November 2012. Photo: © Paul Corbit Brown.

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