Video call to rally: On Sunday, February 17, thousands of Americans will head to Washington, D.C. to make Forward on Climate the largest climate rally in history.
During his inaugural address on January 21, President Obama made a big commitment when he said "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations." Now environmentalists expect him to live up to those words by putting a stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, the transcontinental conduit for tar sands fuel from Canada that many scientists say could expedite climate change.
"If he doesn't reject it," said Piedmont attorney Guy Saperstein, a former Sierra Club Foundation president and prominent liberal donor, "then I think it should be all out warfare for the next four years."
Environmentalists are drawing a line in the tar sands with a series of high-profile demonstrations planned this month in Washington.
The timing of the protests is crucial because sometime before April, Obama will receive the State Department's recommendation on whether to green-light the 1,700-mile Canada-to-Texas pipeline, forcing him to make a decision he delayed during last year's presidential campaign to avoid alienating his liberal base.
Liberals who bided their time through four years of little action from the White House on climate change, and who bit their tongues during the 2012 campaign, expect payback.
The Sierra Club, based in San Francisco, plans to participate in civil disobedience for the first time in its history to call attention to the issue which include a Feb. 17 demonstration on climate change that is expected to be the largest of its kind in U.S. history.
Leading environmentalists say this is Obama's chance to redeem himself to them:
"This is the purest test Obama is ever going to face," said Bill McKibben, a prominent environmentalist and writer who is helping organize the Feb. 17 demonstration as part of a climate-change awareness organization called 350.org. "He doesn't have to ask John Boehner. He doesn't have to ask Mitch McConnell. He just needs to do it."
During a recent pipeline protest, Ramsey Sprague, a "blockader," disrupted an oil and gas pipeline conference by chaining himself to sound equipment and delivered an impassioned speech to the crowd. Sprague described TransCanada’s horrific safety record, as well as its treatment of indigenous communities and others whose land and lives are being adversely affected by tar sands extraction.
Sprague described shoddy welding practices and dangerous corner-cutting throughout TransCanada's operations as exposed by whistleblowers like Evan Vokes, a metallurgic engineer who came forward in May 2012, leading to an investigation by Canada's National Energy Board. Sprague reminded attendees that TransCanada's first Keystone pipeline has already leaked over 30 times and that other industry leaders such as Enbridge are similarly negligent, with over 800 spills since 1999. He derided TransCanada for routing the KXL pipeline through ecologically sensitive areas and through communities like the one in Douglass, TX, where construction crews are actively laying pipe within sight of the Douglass public school.
Sprague also described how activists who blockaded themselves inside the actual KXL pipe on December 3rd, 2012 could see daylight through holes in welds connecting segments of pipe – and how Tar Sands Blockade has the pictures to prove it. That mile-long section of the pipe was laid in the ground on the same day; no additional welding or inspection occurred after the photos were taken.
The flawed welds inside KXL:
"This is among the first biggest tests of (Obama's) commitment to climate change and his willingness to stand up to the oil industry and their toadies in Congress," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.
"The president has not fully put his muscle behind the effort to combat climate change," Brune said. "That's what needs to change more than anything else."