Forget the reign of Tywin Lannister and his bloodthirsty brood of children, grandchildren and henchmen raping and pillaging their way through the fantastical land of Westeros while hapless Starks are beheaded and scattered to the winds. Our own world’s fate is similarly imperiled by the fossil fuel empire’s own game of thrones, power and profit at the expense of the “smallfolk,” eco-systems and the climate itself.
The Lannisters have nothing on Rex Tillerson and Greg Boyce. These dark lords of the carbon economy are raping and pillaging their way through our planet’s vital life systems and climate. Companies like Exxon and Peabody Coal have created a dark age that has been marked by the extraction, transportation and combustion of oil, coal and natural gas. The Lannisters may have dropped “the big one” on Catelyn Stark, Robb Stark and Robb’s beloved dire wolf Grey Wind at the Red Wedding, but Big Oil and Big Coal perpetrate the slaughter of a thousand Red Weddings every day.
- Coal Mining. For over forty years, coal companies have strip-mined Appalachia for the last remaining seams of coal while ending the power of organized labor by reducing workforces through mechanization. The regulation of strip-mining opened up loopholes that allowed coal companies to literally explode the tops off of mountains. To date over 500 mountains have been destroyed by mountaintop removal. Countless creeks, rivers and other water sources have been poisoned. And thousands of people have been exposed to the worst effects of dirty air and dirty water from mountaintop removal. In the interior west, Big Coal is further mining huge coal reserves in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.
- Natural gas and fracking. For the past decade we’ve seen the proliferation of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), which stimulates wells drilled into gas and coal-bed methane. This process has had a huge human impact and created a toxic legacy on the environmental landscape as well as local community health. Large-scale fracking operations are spreading across North America.
- Oil infrastructure. The biggest environmental fight since the forest wars of the 1990s has manifested around the Keystone XL pipeline. But Keystone XL is only the beginning as Big Oil is building a network of pipelines throughout Canada and the United States. Spills and leaks are growing concerns as Big Oil weaves this spider web of death and destruction across the continent.
- Fossil fuel exports. The coasts are also becoming hot spots of attention as dozens of oil, gas and coal proposals are on the table in the Pacific Northwest and a fight is growing over a fracked-gas export terminal on Chesapeake Bay. Industry doesn’t just want to use mined and fracked fossil fuels for domestic energy production, they also want to export dirty fuels for big profits to Europe and Asia.
Finally, top scientists with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC) released the mother of all climate reports. It included dire warnings around drought, famine, social unrest and melting icebergs. While the House of Lannister’s wars may have left Westeros in a shambles, the Houses of Exxon and Peabody, with the compliance of craven politicians, are leaving our world in a world of shit.
But don’t despair! As Jon Snow and Arya Stark are discovering in “Game of Thrones,” direct action is the antidote to the gloom and doom crushing down on us. People realizing the true weight of fossil fuel extraction’s impact on the climate, the land and communities have become a thousand flowers blooming new resistance from Alaska to Appalachia.
In our world, bold and effective organizing replaces sword play and barrels of wildfire to fight back against the dark lords of the fossil fuel economy.
In 2012, an alliance of climate activists and Texas landowners launched the Tar Sands Blockade, which organized a number of daring actions up and down the route of the southern leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. This included an 80-day tree blockade that stood directly in the path of pipeline construction. Tar Sand Blockade activists faced brutal police violence, felony charges for non-violent actions and civil suits from TransCanada.
In 2013, the Michigan Coalition against Tar Sands, or MICATS, organized similar actions against Enbridge pipeline and tar sands processing operations in Detroit. Three of the MICATS spent over a month in jail while awaiting sentencing.
And things aren’t slowing down in 2014. The heartland and both coasts are fighting back against the robber barons of coal, oil and gas.
In southern Illinois and St. Louis, Peabody Coal is feeling the heat. Not only has a ballot initiative trying to get a $60 million tax break in the city of St. Louis revoked been putting pressure on Peabody, but students at Washington University at St. Louis have begun a sustained occupation of their campus calling for Peabody CEO Greg Boyce to be removed from the Board of Trustees. At coal mines in the Shawnee Hills in southern Illinois, a community has begun fighting back against Peabody’s pillaging of the land.
In South Dakota, native bands are establishing camps along the route of the northern leg of Keystone XL. To date, at least three camps have been established. Lakota leaders have vowed that TransCanada will only build that pipeline if they are “dead or in prison.”
In the Marcellus Shale, Earth Firsters have joined with local farmers and landowners in campaigns against natural gas extraction. In the west, Rising Tide activists in Oregon, Idaho and Montana are supporting Indigenous allies and local communities against the tar sands megaloads. The megaloads are house-sized shipments of tar sands refining equipment bound for Alberta.
Finally, the growing fight against a proposed fracked-gas export terminal on the Chesapeake Bay, aka Cove Point, has started waves of grassroots organizing and civil disobedience to prevent its construction. Potentially a huge fight led by local communities, small environmental organizations and grassroots direct action groups, Cove Point is a choke point for overseas natural gas exports. Closing it down could have huge impacts on the viability of gas markets domestically and abroad.
More fights are brewing this year against fossil fuel terminals in the Pacific Northwest, against the Energy East tar sands pipeline in eastern Canada and New England, against continued mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia and against the final decision of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Like the heroes and heroines of Game of Thrones, we’ve got our work cut out for us.