My story about yesterday’s march in New York City is here.
REPORT FROM THE PEOPLE’S CLIMATE MARCH
“A healthy movement has lots of creativity,” Judy commented as we walked down New York’s 42nd Street toward the conclusion of the People’s Climate March. By that measure, the movement to reverse climate change is pretty healthy.
Today’s march featured lots of costumes, chants, street theatre, props, dances, puppets, and marching bands as well as slogans galore on banners and signs, many of them hand-made. Many marchers carried signs that read “I’m marching for…” with a blank space each person could fill. Organizations also brought printed placards for their members to carry to spread their own messages.
“To Change Everything We Need Everyone” was an official slogan printed on hand-hed silk-screened banners and large ones carried high above the marchers. Vanessa Simwerayi, for whom this was her first big march, said she was impressed with the big flat screen displays at several intersections showing solidarity marches taking place all across the world. “Climate is something everybody has to face,” said Vanessa’s brother, Addy. Marchers were more diverse in age than race, but it can certainly be said that the climate issue is getting significant attention from an aroused public.
Slogans and chants gave more attention to fracking and tar sands than any other issue, at least in the sections of the march I observed. I was glad to see a couple groups of marchers with banners calling attention to northern New England’s local tar sands threat, the prospect that the Portland-Montreal pipeline could be re-purposed to carry tar sands-derived oil for Montreal to South Portland, Maine.
Addy Simwerayi said he was pleased to see local community groups calling attention to other social justice issues.
Without a rally at the beginning or end of the march, it was impossible to see or feel the size of the crowd. It also meant that the march’s message was delivered through the aggregation of varied messages rather than the words of official spokespeople.
Stretching for blocks along Central Park West, marchers assembled in good spirits waiting for the procession’s late start. Our section of the march didn’t start to move until about 2 pm. Eventually the march started down the avenue and chugged along in high-spirited fits and starts for a couple of hours, down Central Park West, east on 59th Street, South on Sixth Avenue, and west on 42nd Street to its conclusion on 11th Ave. Volunteer ‘peacekeepers” wearing orange t-shirts were dispersed through the crowd to provide information and intervene in the case of unpleasantness. Unless you count a guy with a battery-powered P/A system haranguing marchers that they should be attending to homelessness and the perils of tobacco instead of the climate, I didn’t see any unpleasantness.
For most of the route marchers occupied the width of the major streets and avenues, with metal barricades separating marchers from pedestrians and onlookers. New York police were very much in evidence, but didn’t have much to do other than keep their barricades intact.
The New Hampshire contingent was organized largely by 350 NH, the local arm of the international action group. Riding back on the bus, fellow travelers with internet access reported march organizers were saying there had been more than 300,000 marchers. From her seat on the bus, Sarah Hubner commented, “I just hope somebody was listening.”
Three days after the US State Department issued a 1000-page report that appeared to green light the Keystone XL pipeline project, hundreds of demonstrations against the pipeline and the extraction of Alberta’s tar sands popped up across the USA. One of them was in Concord, New Hampshire, where forty people stood vigil in front of the State House for an hour Monday evening.
The demonstration was called by 350NH.
The State Department, whose opinion matters because the pipeline crosses the Canadian border, reported that the controversial pipeline wouldn’t harm the climate because the tar sands would find their way to refineries, and massive amounts of carbon to the atmosphere, with or without it.
The Keystone XL project would carry 830,000 barrels of crude a day from Alberta, Canada across the middle of the USA to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Climate activists point to the danger of toxic spills along the route, but more significantly to the climatic effects of releasing that much carbon to the atmosphere.
Climate activists are focusing their pressure on the White House, where a decision will ultimately get made.
While Trans Canada’s Keystone XL pipeline might be the most controversial route for tar sands oil, one alternate route would carry the material across northern New Hampshire in an existing pipeline that runs from Montreal to South Portland, Maine. The pipeline currently carries conventional oil from Maine to Quebec. But its corporate owner has proposed changing its purpose to transport tar sands-derived bitumen in the opposite direction, a route that traverses New Hampshire’s Coos County.
Carol Foss, Conservation Director for the NH Audubon Society, discussed the pipeline earlier this evening on “State House Watch,” a weekly radio show I co-host on WNHN-FM in Concord. There are 4 bills under consideration in the NH legislature right now, she said, which would increase state oversight of the pipeline in the event its owners choose to use it for tar sands transport.
Pipeline ruptures in Michigan and Arkansas have shown that fears of toxic spills are realistic. The fact that one possible pipeline route crosses Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine gives a “local handle” on anti-tar sands organizing. But organizers should not neglect attention to Alberta, where the tar sands are located, and where extraction is already going on at a rapid pace.
Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation highlighted that message during presentations in Concord and Durham last week. Their communities, already contaminated by the effluent from surface and sub-surface mines, face the most immediate threats. Lameman said her tribe has filed a legal claim alleging more than 17,000 infringements of treaty rights. “If these pipelines go through,” she said, “your governments will assist in the raping of the land of my ancestors.”
Forty people is not a lot. But the fact that so many turned out on short notice to stand in Concord’s cold is an indication that understanding of the tar sands threat has reached a lot of local homes. And other demonstrations took place today in Portsmouth, Manchester, and Jefferson, a North Country town along the route of the Montreal-Portland pipeline.
This battle is far from over.
350 Maine Holds Demonstration at Sebago Lake
A pipeline running northwest from South Portland, Maine across New Hampshire’s North Country and Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom on its way to Montreal has been carrying crude oil since it was built in 1941. When the Portland Pipe Line
Corporation, which owns and operates the line, announced in 2010 that it would study reversing the flow and carrying oil from Montreal to Maine, it touched off resistance among activists paying attention to the controversies over extraction and shipment of oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada.
Yesterday more than 150 of those activists rallied at Maine’s Sebago Lake State Park, which borders the pipeline and would be directly threatened by a pipeline leak like the one that spilled 800,000 gallons of toxics into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in July 2010.
“You would never know there was a pipeline under our feet,” said Chloe Maxmin, a 21-year old Maine resident and Harvard student who started a project to force the Cambridge institution to divest its holdings in fossil fuel corporations. The pipeline corridor is marked by non-descript yellow signs within sight of the lake, which not only provides recreational opportunities but also supplies drinking water to Portland.
Maxmin said she initiated the divestment project when she realized Portland Pipe Line is 65% owned by Exxon Mobil.
The dangers to the environment posed by tar sands extraction are increasingly well known, thanks mostly to those who have been resisting the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from the Alberta tar sands project to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. Because the tar sands oil, also called “bitumen,” is so thick, extraction requires injection of steam and solvents, which means that huge amounts of energy are needed to make its energy available for human use. Moreover, transportation of the highly viscous substance via pipelines over long distances requires it to be diluted with toxic chemicals including benzene, toluene, and xylene.
The oil spill danger was dramatized by a skit staged by Lee Chisholm, with a few dozen volunteers hoisting a pipeline model, unrolling a black tarp representing an oil spill into the lake, and “poisoning” a flotilla of activists in inner tubes.
Activists chanted “Our water, our land, our future, no tar sands,” and sang new words to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” (Despite the valiant efforts of organizers to instill a spirit of creativity into the demonstration, some participants couldn’t resist chanting “hey hey ho ho, tar sands have got to go.”)
The rally, which sadly was isolated from the sight of most people enjoying yesterday’s sun at Sebago Lake, was organized by 350 Maine, the local affiliate of 350.org, the now-global movement to raise awareness about climate change and the need to reduce the use of carbon-based fuels. The event was kicked off with spirit by Melodeego, a Boston-based band whose performance was powered by four volunteers pedaling a bicycle generator. Following the skit, a short rally featured talks by Chloe Maxmin; Connie Cross, who led a campaign for passage of a town resolution opposing the use of the pipeline for tar sands oil; Carol Masterson, a South Portland artist organizing local opposition at the site where the pipeline starts (or ends); Sylvia Stormwalker, a Maine activist who has been working with XL opponents in Texas; Reed Brugger, a 350 Maine activist who was recently arrested with a group trying to block a train carrying fracked oil from North Dakota; and 350.org founder Bill McKibben.
McKibben said the threat of climate change was rather obscure a few years ago, but “there’s nothing abstract about it now.” Although it may be too late to reverse the damage, he said, “we can stop an awful lot of this insanity.”
Instead of a model based on charismatic leaders and big organizations, McKibben called for “an inter-connected resistance that really works.” Yesterday’s action was “exactly the kind of action that makes a change,” he said, a good example of the “action, spirit, and creativity” the movement needs.
“No one’s going to put tar sands oil through New England,” McKibben insisted, due to active resistance from people in Maine and Vermont. I don’t know whether his omission of New Hampshire is a reflection on the health of the state’s environmental movement, but it will at least prod me to learn a bit more about the pipeline corridor from its Shelburne pump station near the Maine line to the Lancaster pump station on the Vermont side.
Pipeline safety is overseen by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration of the US Department of Transportation, and also by the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission. According to its web page,
“The federal government establishes minimum pipeline safety standards under the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 49 "Transportation", Parts 190 – 199. The Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), within the U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), has overall regulatory responsibility for hazardous liquid and gas pipelines under its jurisdiction in the United States.
“OPS is headquartered in Washington, DC, and supported through five regional offices located in Trenton, NJ; Atlanta, GA; Kansas City, MO; Houston, TX; and Denver, CO. OPS regional directors, pipeline inspectors/investigators, and community assistance and technical services (CATS) managers operate from each of the five OPS regional offices.
“CATS managers are available to assist the public and state or local officials with inquiries concerning pipeline safety-related issues.
“OPS inspects and enforces the pipeline safety regulations for interstate gas and hazardous liquid pipeline operators in New Hampshire. OPS also inspects and enforces the pipeline safety regulations for intrastate hazardous liquid pipeline operators in New Hampshire.”
New Hampshire’s Public Utilities Commission shares responsibility for safety enforcement. Whether the PUC would have to approve a proposal to reverse the pipeline flow and use it to carry tar sands oil instead of crude is not known to me.
Dangers of pipeline spills may be a secondary concern to the planetary impact of extracting and burning tar sands oil, but the dangers are real and serve to localize an issue that might otherwise seem far away.
350 New Hampshire activists will rally at Portsmouth’s Market Square on Saturday, August 10, from 10 am to 1 pm. Members of 350 Maine are planning to join a demonstration next week at Brayton Point, in Somerset MA, site of New England’s largest coal-fired power plant.