On Sunday, Aug 28th, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C. will open. The dedication — now long overdue — will serve as a reminder of Dr. King’s enduring legacy of justice, love, compassion — and activism.
The dedication falls right in the middle of a two-week period when, in the spirit of King, over 2,000 activists will meet at the White House to voice their opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The 1,700-mile oil pipeline, if built, would carry tar sands oil from my home country of Canada down along the spine of the U.S. all the way to the Gulf Coast.
It’s an ambitious proposal to build an immensely long pipeline, and if President Obama approves the Keystone XL, the distance between his rhetoric and reality will grow proportionally. Upon his election, the president told us that this was the moment “when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” But full exploitation of the tar sands would put the climate at extreme risk, which is why scientists such as Michael Mann and James Hansen oppose the pipeline.
The arguments for the pipeline have included energy independence, pipeline safety, and cheaper fuel prices. One by one each has been knocked down as people come to grips with the reality that increasing oil supply is no way to deal with oil addiction or climate change — our twin challenges when it comes to our energy choices. Consider these facts:
• According to government body in charge of pipeline safety, between 2000 and 2009, pipeline accidents were responsible for 2,794 significant incidents and 161 fatalities in the United States.
• According to NRDC projections, scaling up our use of renewables and increasing our energy efficiency can go a long way to offsetting the use of tar sands oil, if not meet them completely.
• The physics that control our climate are not waiting around for politicians to parse through the arguments for the Keystone XL and figure out how to message yet another step in the wrong direction. We are experiencing climate change now, and no amount of wishing it away or political posturing is going to change that reality.
Of course, the company behind the pipeline, TransCanada, and its other supporters have done everything they can to manipulate the process (including creating fake Twitter personas). It hired Secretary of State Clinton’s former deputy campaign director as their chief lobbyist, and recently released Wikileaks documents show U.S. envoys working with Canadian energy bosses to insure “favorable media coverage.”
We can’t have business as usual anymore. This is the message that the sit-in will send loud and clear to TransCanada and the president, a former community organizer himself who has a bust of King in the Oval Office. The president knows what a people powered movement can accomplish.
King challenged the conscience of the nation, and he was shot down in Memphis as he was putting together the Poor People’s Campaign, a new effort to tackle economic justice and housing for the poor in the U.S. Today’s climate activists are channeling King’s courage by taking their message straight to the doorstep of the president. The eyes of the world are watching.