Yesterday, after many years of delay, President Obama cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline project that would bring the bitumenous oil from the Alberta tar sands to the oil refineries on the Gulf coast.
The pipeline was condemned as opening up tar sands production and enhancing carbon pollution causing climate change. James Hansen famously said in 2011 that it would be game over for the climate if the Keystone XL pipeline was ever allowed to be built.
Stopping the Keystone XL project became highly symbolic for the climate movement and entailed building a broad coalition of indigenous first nation people, ranchers, students, scientists, and activists from all walks of life and from across Canada and the United States.
It involved civil disobedience at the point of construction and more symbolic arrests in front of the White House to lobby and pressure the Obama administration to walk the talk on climate action and not be bullied by the cashed up fossil fuel lobby.
“This is a historic moment, not just for what it means about avoiding the impacts of this disastrous pipeline but for all of those who spoke out for a healthy, liveable climate and energy policies that put people and wildlife ahead of pollution and profits,” said Valerie Love with the Center for Biological Diversity in a media statement. “President Obama did the right thing, but he didn’t do it alone: Millions of Americans made their voices heard on this issue, and will continue pressing Obama and other political leaders to do what’s necessary to avoid climate catastrophe.”
“History will hopefully remember this as a moment when the tide began to turn significantly against the forces that have fueled the climate crisis for so long. And there’s no doubt that this hard-earned win attests to the power of the climate movement and sends an undeniable message that Americans want clean energy now,” Love said. “We still have a lot of work to do to get off fossil fuels, but this is proof we have power and we’re on the right track.”
This video from 350.org features Bill McKibben explaining some of the lessons learnt along the way.
"This is the fight of our time, maybe the fight of all time, so be part of history." Bill McKibben says on the video.
In 2011 James Hansen described in a Reuters news report the Keystone pipeline as essentially Game Over for a stable climate if the pipeline goes ahead. See a discussion on Realclimate science blog.
"If the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over," Hansen, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration climatologist, explained about reclaiming a stable climate. "The principal requirement is that coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground."
From the climate change action rhetoric of Obama's 2013 inauguration address, at last he has heeded the many calls to cancel the Keystone XL project as not in the economic interests of the United States, and certainly not in the interests globally for a safe climate.
The Yale Climate Forum highlighted that the decision was in sync with most American views: only 24% were extremely/very confident it's a safe way to transport oil.
There were more than 2 million comments submitted to the U.S. State Department, tens of thousands participating in rallies against Keystone in all 50 states, and thousands of citizens arrested in peaceful civil disobedience to stop the pipeline.
As a citizen journalist based in Australia I watched and reported on some of the KXL protests over the years:
- Climate Citizen, 22 February 2013 - Across the US Tens of thousands march against Keystone XL tar sands pipeline
- Climate Citizen, 23 March, 2013 - Interfaith religous activists arrested in Climate civil disobedience outside the Whitehouse
- Climate Citizen, 5 April, 2013 - San Fransisco protests turn up heat on Keystone tar sands pipeline for Obama
- Climate Citizen, 5 April 2013 - Seattle protestors lock Canadian Consulate in Tar sands protest
- Climate Citizen, 4 March, 2014 - USA: 398 arrested in civil disobedience at the White House saying no KXL
This presidential decision adds to the momentum for climate action going into the Paris UN climate conference which starts on November 30, 2015.
But before you get your hopes too high: Paris is unlikely to deliver the emissions cuts to limit warming to 1.5 degress or 2 degrees. National delegations are still playing the diplomatic game of lose-lose.
Bill McKibben, writing in the New Yorker, says: "We won’t close that gap between politics and physics at the global climate talks next month in Paris. The proposed agreement for the talks reflects some of the political shift that’s happened in years since the failed negotiations at Copenhagen, but it doesn’t fully register the latest developments—almost no nation is stretching. So Paris will be a way station in this fight, not a terminus."
Already grassroots groups around the world are preparing to mobilise people into the streets for the weekend of 28-29 November to motivate our politicians and diplomats to negotiate a binding deal and a safe climate for us all, and to continue to mobilise for climate action from government and business into the future.
This is the fight of our lives for our future, and children's future.