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Challenging Tar Sands at its Source

With fracking changing the US oil-production and consumption numbers so dramatically, it seems time to challenge the notion that tar sands – and the carbon released if tar sands production continues to climb– is the “make or break point,” an “endgame” whose development signifies “game over for the climate,” as stated several years ago by Dr. James Hansen. Tar sands development is no less extreme, of course, no less destructive, no less genocidal to those living in the affected areas. Shutting down the tar sands– completely, and not negotiated as a phase out nor leaving the corporations in power afterward– is more important than ever, and on as many fronts as possible.

But climate change is already wreaking havoc around the planet with weather and seasonal disruptions and changes on an extreme level, only more so in general trend year after year. It’s been said already that the “fast approaching climate change” has arrived– but what has not has been sober re-thought of what to do about this. If tar sands being stopped alone is no longer able to do much to stem the rising tides of climate change, then certainly stopping only the Keystone XL is not even much more than a small, moral victory. So why is it still being pursued with vigor by official environmentalism, the same officialdom that continues to speak of The Obama administration as an ally for this struggle?

Let’s have a gander at two of the headlines generated by the very latest volleys in the KXL saga this week.

Environmental movement to test its muscle in keystone final stretch” is reprinted in the Miami Herald, of all places. The same article was elsewhere titled: “Keystone XL opponents ready final efforts.”

The piece utters this gem of a line: “…now comes the final test for a resurgent U.S. environmental movement that has put all its chips on blocking the Canada-to-Texas tar sands pipeline.” The piece, originally penned for Inside Climate News, is not new in tone. Similar “final showdown” predictions have made many an article suitable for some months now.

Instructive that we are seeing the notion that this is a test for “the” movement, as if the stopping of climate chaos was akin to passing the the final round of American Idol. The notion of playing poker with a struggle that is not all that significant in terms of the actual science of the situation is mortifying. But the fact remains, regardless of all evidence to the contrary– Obama and the administration have been tagged as Bill McKibben’s 350.org’s ally in the fight against a single pipeline.

The foundations that gave us brand Obama have marketed the struggle against KXL – this is not news. The real problem now, however, is we are starting to truly reap the benefits of a campaign led by the naked self-interest of marketing. It seems sadly ironic that the great analysis and renunciation of branding that is in No Logo has not born out in creating a real, fighting force at the top of the PR Eco leadership– even with Naomi Klein on board of 350, the politics and science of a real climate fight has instead branded and marketed this one white male intellectual from the United States rather than realistically tackle the issue.

And the means of operation continues to hold to the fashionable model, created most significantly by the Pew Foundation, most strongly in the US in the 1980′s. While the tar sands are rightly condemned for being exported (or developed at all) to the United States, the American-big capital model of social control of environmental movements through “high donors” has been imported into Canada. The funders pick their targets, make backroom funding grants that have as the stipulation the need for a “win.” A “win” may actually be absolutely horrible in final terms for a community directly over run by development, but if the funded environmentalist groups can get credit from a funder for “work well done,” this is what is discussed as a “win.”

Environmentalists and organizations that are speaking on behalf of other real social movements may often decide to abandon someone else’s struggle, and in so doing find a cut and run “deal”to first “get the win.” The “win” is declared when the steering capital accepts the terms and is likely to consider funding the environmentalist(s) again.

The struggle over the climate is simply so big now, and so overwhelming, that leaving this kind of politics in the central lead is irresponsible. If movements can operate in a means needed to stem climate change it must say the opposite of the Obama administration – and be willing to say what 350.org has been silent about. Tar sands are as dangerous as ever, and given the speed of both tar sands and parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere even more vital to shut down. But this has to take place along with fracking oil and gas, the impossibility of false biofuel solutions, only long term solutions around wind or solar and other energies need consideration.

If a person is bleeding, you don’t begin by trying to determine which vein is going to have the best “stop the bleeding” impact and tie only it off. The entire area losing blood must immediately be addressed. You don’t stop and negotiate how to have the action that caused the massive injury in a safe manner before you end the spilling of further blood, either. I am no lawyer, but I believe such a priority list would be cause for malpractice.

Survival itself, as a goal, is not radical nor extreme, but extreme extraction is exactly that. We need to start using the words that the environmentalists who are owned by big capital will not “de-growth.” Indeed, the size of paycheques, lobbying efforts, etc of Big Green is not in the realm of the energy ruling class, but it has a whole layer of growth-economy based privilege. They can no more call for growth limits– even in the emergency framework we are sliding further into, every second– than a school of fish can call to drain the oceans.

Such is the reason for no change being made in the demands around KXL. The “win” is not in yet, and the administration has brilliantly dragged the US Big Greens chasing the pipeline without being told they are running off a cliff by their own well-to-do leaders.

That people who have never thought of resistance have opened their eyes to a world of climate change and resistance is inspiring. But those who call themselves “leaders” such as 350 are essentially now lying to people and they will be asked to get arrested anyhow, come this March 2.

And now the federal government of Canada, the provincial governments of BC and Alberta and several Big Green’s with Big Money (and, in many cases, corporate partnerships) will follow the same hole in BC’s Gateway struggle– while other developments silently advance.

In both cases, big money foundations have coerced (or simply asked) that the recipients of their largesse get their “wins”. The movement of 350 (and north of the border, Tzeporah Berman‘s Tar Sands Solutions Network) has been separated from all the other anti-extreme extraction struggles (save for the odd tweets in “support” here or there) throughout Turtle Island.

To get the “win” now, given that it has become a public relations exercise, is more important than anything else. As such, so it would seem, both governments have safely tucked the largest media reps into a pool that involves sound bites and dead ends of frustration. We need better. There is another way to help the movement grow: demand an end to growth, and growth-inspired media activism.

If we simply must use gambling parlance, we missed the table where we could get the wins fast enough on the smaller stakes of KXL or Gateway. The casino is closing, and we must go all in, tackling the industrial society as a whole. And fast. I can’t say how to get it done– all I know is the society that must be stopped by our collective actions is the same society that high financed ENGO’s are a part of, the very same fabric.

The actions called for by 350.org are, again, to tell Obama he’s really nice and pretty please stop this one pipeline. They have remained completely silent on the basic questions around the structure of society itself. So long as we are silent on growth, I can’t help but recall the words of Martin Luther King jr.– who expanded his understanding of who “friends” were to include poor whites and those struggling to end imperial war. MLK is the type that the eco-marketers like to exploit, but if we cannot hear the word “growth”, well as MLK said:

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Macdonald Stainsby is an anti-tar sands and social justice activist, freelance writer and professional hitchhiker looking for a ride to the better world, currently based in Vancouver, Canada. He can be reached at mstainsby@resist.ca

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Macdonald Stainsby is an anti-tar sands and social justice activist, freelance writer and professional hitchhiker looking for a ride to the better world, currently based in Vancouver, Canada. He can be reached at mstainsby@resist.ca

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