FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

McKibben’s Folly

Last Saturday in LaFayette Park, as the two week protest of the proposed “Keystone XL” pipeline drew to a close, the mood across from the White House was jubilant. In an organized act of nonviolent civil disobedience not seen from the environmental community in years, more than 1,250 protestors had been arrested for trespassing, nearly 250 on that sunny morning alone. Throngs cheered as their compatriots were perp-walked to idling buses, some somber, others beaming despite the nylon ties binding their hands, and the entire assembly roared when each new busload rumbled off for booking. In the distance across the lawn, brightly-adorned figures passed in and out of the White House front doors. Surely they could hear the commotion – but could President Obama?

The protestors want Obama to stop Keystone XL, which would pump an estimated 900,000 barrels of tar sands oil daily from Alberta, Canada across six states to refining facilities in Texas. Tar sands oil is extracted by pumping a solution of water and chemicals into the earth’s crust – a process known as “fracking,” which threatens groundwater aquifers and produces huge amounts of waste. And because tar sands oil is dirtier and harder to refine than conventional oil, the protestors liken Keystone XL to a “carbon bomb” that would make climate change irreversible.

Obama can kill the project simply by denying it a certificate of “national interest”. But despite the celebratory atmosphere outside the White House, the signs are not good. Secretary of State Clinton has said she is “inclined” to recommend approval of the pipeline, and Obama himself marked the protestors’ penultimate day by announcing, that Friday afternoon, that he had directed Environmental Protection Agency head Lisa P. Jackson to withdraw the agency’s tightened emissions standards for smog-causing ozone. In a statement, Obama cited the need to reduce “regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty” for businesses.

It was odd, then, that many of the arrested protestors were sporting “Obama ‘08” memorabilia. This was no accident. A broad coalition including nearly every major environmental group opposes Keystone XL, but if the protestors have a single leader, it is Bill McKibben, author, activist and founder of the climate action group 350.org. McKibben, who was among the first to be arrested, was also wearing an Obama ‘08 pin, and in an online invitation, he joined rally organizers in suggesting, as a “sartorial tip,” that others do the same.

Taking the stage in LaFayette Park, McKibben explained the rationale behind the protestors’ seemingly schizophrenic strategy. Obama the candidate, he recalled, had pledged that if he were elected, the rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet would begin to heal. “I believed it,” McKibben said, and so did the others wearing Obama ‘08 gear, and this gave them a position of “moral authority” from which to confront Obama the president.

McKibben then delivered what was perhaps his most emphatic statement of the day. What the protestors would not do, he declared, is “attack Obama,” because that would only allow the

administration to “marginalize” them. Instead, McKibben said, they would work to “hold Obama to his promise.” It was a “delicate line” to tread, McKibben acknowledged, but he offered an example of the tactics the protestors would pursue: a few had already visited Obama’s newly-opened 2012 campaign headquarters and “firmly and directly” voiced their opposition to Keystone XL. What McKibben did not say – and it’s not clear that he knew – is that rally organizers had uninvited at least one speaker who surely would have attacked Obama.

Following his arrest, McKibben blogged that he had discovered an even deeper respect for Martin Luther King, Jr., as a “tactician” who “really understood the power of nonviolence.” But King also understood the famous dictum of Frederick Douglass, that “power concedes nothing without a demand.” No one has worked harder than McKibben in the fight against climate change (including Al Gore, who supported but did not attend the protest), and he is probably right that his coalition has succeeded in transforming Keystone XL from a “regional” to a “national” issue. But what is their demand?

McKibben said after the rally that Obama will “send a jolt of electricity” through his supporters if he rejects Keystone XL, but he reiterated that his coalition would not “do President Obama the favor of attacking him.” Assuming Obama heard the commotion outside his window, the question for McKibben is why Obama would listen, when he is so busy conceding to the demands of others.

Oliver Hall can be reached at:  oliverbhall@gmail.com.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
Joyce Nelson
The NED’s Useful Idiots
Lindsay Koshgarian
Trump’s Giving Diplomacy a Chance. His Critics Should, Too
Louis Proyect
American Nativism: From the Chinese Exclusion Act to Trump
Stan Malinowitz
On the Elections in Colombia
Camilo Mejia
Open Letter to Amnesty International on Nicaragua From a Former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience
David Krieger
An Assessment of the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit
Jonah Raskin
Cannabis in California: a Report From Sacramento
Josh Hoxie
Just How Rich Are the Ultra Rich?
CJ Hopkins
Awaiting the Putin-Nazi Apocalypse
Mona Younis
We’re the Wealthiest Country on Earth, But Over 40 Percent of Us Live in or Near Poverty
Dean Baker
Not Everything Trump Says on Trade is Wrong
James Munson
Trading Places: the Other 1% and the .001% Who Won’t Save Them
Rivera Sun
Stop Crony Capitalism: Protect the Net!
Franklin Lamb
Hezbollah Claims a 20-Seat Parliamentary Majority
William Loren Katz
Oliver Law, the Lincoln Brigade’s Black Commander
Ralph Nader
The Constitution and the Lawmen are Coming for Trump—He Laughs!
Tom Clifford
Mexico ’70 Sets the Goal for World Cup 
David Swanson
What Else Canadians Should Be Sorry For — Besides Burning the White House
Andy Piascik
Jane LaTour: 50+ Years in the Labor Movement (And Still Going)
Jill Richardson
Pruitt’s Abuse of Our Environment is Far More Dangerous Than His Abuse of Taxpayer Money
Ebony Slaughter-Johnson
Pardons Aren’t Policy
Daniel Warner
To Russia With Love? In Praise of Trump the Includer
Raouf Halaby
Talking Heads A’Talking Nonsense
Julian Vigo
On the Smearing of Jordan Peterson: On Dialogue and Listening
Larry Everest
A Week of Rachel Maddow…or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Ronald Reagan
David Yearsley
Hereditary: Where Things are Not What They Sound Like
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail