As many as 36,000 to 40,000 people bore down upon Washington on Sunday February 17 to demand stronger governmental action on climate change and to call for rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Among the organizers was the Sierra Club, which has lifted its ban on civil disobedience for the first time in its 120-year history to address climate change. At least a dozen environmental organizations and indigenous groups, as well as various celebrities and noted tribal members, pulled together for the Forward on Climate rally, as it was called. A few days earlier the executive director of the Sierra Club, Michael Brune, had been arrested along with two members of the Kennedy family, actress Darryl Hannah and more than 40 others at an anti-Keystone rally outside the White House.
An article on Huffington Post after the rally noted that Indigenous Peoples had been the first to bring the wider public’s attention to the pipeline and related issues, ultimately generating a united front from all walks of life.
“This fight against Keystone XL started with indigenous leaders who saw firsthand the devastation of the tar sands in Canada,” wrote Jamie Henn of 350.org, the environmental group he co-founded with activist Bill McKibben. “It spread to farmers and ranchers along the pipeline route, Nebraskans and Texans who are still fighting for their homes.”
Actresses Rosario Dawson and Evangeline Lilly were there on Sunday, as was hedge fund manager and environmentalist Tom Steyer, Reuters reported.
President Barack Obama is in a tight spot when it comes to deciding on the Keystone XL pipeline, the $7 billion, 1,700-mile pipeline extension that would carry 830,000 barrels of oil daily from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico coast, as The New York Times reported. On the one hand, Obama vowed as recently as his State of the Union speech last week to tackle climate change whether Congress steps up or not. The tarry consistency of oil sands crude and its reputation as “dirty” oil means that mining it further could exacerbate climate change. On the other hand, the Times noted, Obama risks alienating Canada if his administration rejects the pipeline, and Canada is one of the U.S.’s staunchest allies.
“The signal of a rejection of a permit by the president would be a significant change in the Canada-U.S. relationship,” Greg Stringham, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’ vice president for oil sands and markets, told The New York Times. “Canada, right now, with our potential growth in energy, is looking for security of demand wherever that might be throughout the world.”
The Times called it a “decisive moment” for the environmental movement in this country, adding, “For groups like the Sierra Club, permitting a pipeline carrying more than 700,000 barrels a day of Canadian crude into the country would be viewed as a betrayal, and as a contradiction of the president’s promises in his second inaugural and State of the Union addresses to make controlling climate change a top priority for his second term.”
Washington wasn't the only place to see protesters on Sunday. Hundreds turned out in Chicago, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune, and as many more for a climate-related Idle No More gathering in Colorado.