I’m not saying I’m not jealous of your tan, but Henry David T would be proud of what went down last week (and Boston College should be, too).
Over Spring Break, hundreds of college students were arrested for engaging in civil disobedience by cuffing themselves to the White House fence, as thousands of others cheered them on. Why? To demand climate justice, beginning with a presidential rejection of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. And yes-BC students were among the crowd of activists and supporters, as well as among the 398 who were peacefully, intentionally arrested. “They were incredibly brave and stoic and have earned tremendous respect,” one BC activist said of her peers. “It was a truly alternative Spring Break.”
I was one of the 16 BC students and alumni who attended the youth-organized event (called “XL Dissent,” to signify that our generation doesn’t consent to more fossil fuel business-as-usual). Hosted in Washington, D.C., the divestment convergence brought together thousands of college students from over 100 universities to listen to speakers, brainstorm organizing strategies for their divestment campaigns, and network with fellow climate justice leaders. The training sessions sent fired-up activists back to their colleges across the country with new skills and strategies for escalating their divestment campaigns, which together compose a tactic in the growing movement for climate justice. XL Dissent took place over two days, culminating in an astonishing protest of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline at Obama’s doorstep.
But let’s back up. Why were we willing to go to jail to stop this pipeline? Or maybe the more pressing question is, why would anyone go to freezing cold, drizzly D.C. for Spring Break? It’s because young people are getting serious about showing the world that the climate issue is really a human issue. We don’t want to see a pipeline carry 830,000 barrels a day of carbon intensive, injustice-spewing bitumen from a ravaged Alberta to a still-recovering Gulf Coast. (That’s right BP, we haven’t forgotten.) We don’t want to see climate chaos and lives lost in more super-storms like the typhoon that devastated the Philippines. What we want to see is swift, bold leadership to combat climate change. What we want to see is climate justice.
It’s important to understand that bitumen, aka “tar sands,” is not the same thing as oil. Tar sands are solid hunks of sticky sandstone that need to be heated and mixed with liquid carcinogens and then highly pressurized in order to even get them to ooze down a pipeline. So when the pipeline leaks, (and let’s be real, it will leak …) we aren’t just dealing with a regular oil spill, we’re dealing with an explosive gush of poisonous, cancer-causing sludge. Plus, tar sands emit 17 percent more of the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change than conventional oil production does. NASA’s James Hansen has called them the dirtiest of fuels on the planet and said they’d be “game over” for the climate. On top of it all, tar sands operations are the largest user of Alberta’s groundwater, and as climate change is already bringing on more droughts and water shortages (like in California), we need to be making sure people have clean water to drink, not squandering what little we have like we’re Danny McBride in This is the End. I haven’t even begun to mention all of the opposition to the pipeline and tar sands extraction among frontline communities that will be bearing the burden and the risk of the project, like indigenous peoples and the farmers of our country’s heartland. They’re the ones being put in harm’s way so this foreign TransCanada Corporation can make a quick buck when they export their product to China.
What I’m getting at is this: at a time that calls for dramatic, immediate steps to quit our addiction to the fossil fuel infrastructure, it’s insanity to build even more of that infrastructure for the most toxic fossil fuel there is. The XL Dissent protest in D.C. was in opposition to the KXL pipeline, but it was also an expression of our opposition to dependence on fossil fuels in general. We need a just and sustainable infrastructure, and we need it fast. The world is waiting on the U.S. to act, and whether it’s fair or not, it has become our generation’s responsibility to demand a huge and swift transition to a stable future.
BC-With our endowment tied up in fossil fuel interests, we won’t have a chance to “set the world aflame” because the Board of Trustees is doing it for us. Talk is cheap, and if our leaders do not act swiftly, they give us no choice but to escalate our tactics. At the White House last week, we demonstrated our conviction as we zip-tied our wrists to Obama’s fence in a call to action. But trust that our resolve will only grow in strength as more of us become aware that we are fighting not just for our own future, but also for the poorest and youngest around the globe whose already imperiled future becomes bleaker the longer we wait.