Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Taking on Climate Change in Saint Louis

Last August over a thousand people were arrested in a 2-week long action outside the White House protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. Then in November over 10,000 people, myself included, made the symbolic act of forming a human chain around the White House to show our combined rejection of the pipeline. Fours days after that Obama announced that he would not be approving the pipeline plan he was presented with bringing about widespread and well-deserved euphoria. This was all very short-lived as a few weeks later Obama approved the southern leg of the pipeline, setting the stage for the entirety of its construction to move forward piecemeal. Tens of thousands of people began to reassess their tactics.

Take the pipeline as a line in the sand, something that a large segment of the population (you don’t get 10,000 people to Washington on one issue that often) understand the consequences of crossing. Many see the implications of not crossing that line: they know nearly everything in this industrialized society is brought to them by oil, they know how they were able to travel to DC in order to stop the monstrously destructive tar sands projects. Yet despite all this, they are willing to say “enough, we must stop this and move in a different direction.” Many of the tens of thousands of people will put their bodies and possibly their lives on the line to stop the Keystone XL pipeline from existing. They won’t do this because they are selfish, they will be doing it out of deep-seated love for this planet and everything that inhabits it. They’ll do it because they understand that if the pipeline isn’t stopped, we’ll be doing far more as a species than just shooting ourselves in the foot.

Missouri is currently facing droughts and record heat. Crops are being decimated causing the government to have to step in to assist. Over twenty-five people have died in the St. Louis-area from issues related to heat. These events are bound to become more common as we continuously “load the dice” when it comes to the climate.

Last summer, hundreds took the streets in Saint Louis for the Midwest Rising Convergence in order to make clear how local corporations are directly responsible for leading us to the edge when it comes to our climate. With the Convergence and the actions outside the White House, we witnessed an escalation for the climate movement. This summer, this escalation has continued. Just this past Saturday, Texas landowners and activists were trained in how to do soft and hard blockades, in preparation for the attempted building of the southern leg of Keystone XL. On the same day, over fifty people in West Virginia stopped mining for three hours on the Hobet Mine, the largest mountaintop removal mine in the county. They used soft blockades, hard blockades and tree sits, with a handful of people locking themselves to machinery. And then they faced intense scare tactics from Friends of Coal, purposeful ignorance from State Police and for one West Virginian-native, a bloody beating while in jail.

This heightened level of conflict is scary. I was in West Virginia last weekend and when the gun shots went off near our campsite, I was not feeling particularly brave. However, there is a benefit to bringing conflict into the open, to forcing a level conversation that has not been had in this country about what climate change means for our futures. At the end of the day, those gun shots were nowhere close to enough to scare people away from Appalachia because we all have intense moral clarity on why we were there: to fight for the health and well-being of the people of Appalachia, the mountains that surround them and the climate that impacts us all. Conflict is an inherent component of social movements; it is individuals unwavering belief in what is right in the face of the Bull Connors or the KKK that forces others to choose a side and pushes them to action.

In St. Louis, we do not have coal mining or oil drilling or gas fracking. We do have a tar sands pipeline, trains and barges running through our city that transport coal, and refineries and corporations - many of the most important corporations. We have the headquarters that make the decisions on how to mine, where to ship, how much to pay their workers and who to lobby.

Because we do our organizing work locally we know that Saint Louisans are increasingly worried about climate change. Extreme weather such as we are facing now forces us to contemplate all manner of future scenarios, both for the well being of our planet and the people that inhabit it. We know that people are looking for ways to empower themselves in order to leave a healthy planet for future generations (and quite possibly even their own).

We invite everyone to a community discussion on ways to fight back against the causes of global warming this Thursday, 6 PM, at Central Reform Congregation (5020 Waterman Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108). We are confident that working together we have the power to create the just and sustainable world that we so desperately need.

See you in the future,
Arielle & Chris
Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) and Mud Lab

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