alberta tar sands

The Roots of the Tar Sands Movement

Some of us helped organize a massive display of civil disobedience outside the White House earlier this fall, protesting a proposed pipeline from the tar sands of northern Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. It was a good two weeks of action—1,252 Americans ended up in jail, the largest and most sustained protest of its kind in decades. But the truth? We were Johnny-come-latelies to this movement. The real work had begun years before, and has been carried out by indigenous communities on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border.

I knew just enough about the Alberta tar sands to know that the first person I should call when we started thinking about joining the protest was Tom Goldtooth, head of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and one of the most venerable and venerated environmental leaders in the country. I knew, vaguely, that he’d told me about this work before—even shown me pictures of the vast tribal lands and boreal forest wrecked by the early stages of mining for oil north of the border. But I’d never really followed up—there are lots of horrors in this world, who can pay attention to them all, excuse excuse blah blah excuse.

It was only when NASA scientist James Hansen explained what damage burning this vast pool of oil would do to the climate that it rose to the top of my priority list. (A lot of damage—“essentially game over for the climate” was how he put it.) And I’m glad it did, in part because it brought me more closely in touch with some of the greatest organizers on this continent.

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What's Next for the Occupiers?

Sign Seen at Occupy Wall Street in October (Image by Mike Fleshman via flickr)
Sign Seen at Occupy Wall Street in October (Image by Mike Fleshman via flickr)

I was also struck by their refusal to simply announce a set of demands. Occupiers aren’t dumb—they’ve read and heard the many calls from the media and politicians that they simply say what they want. It would be easy enough—but in some sense it would detract from the greatest usefulness of the campaign, which has been to articulate a sense of despair bordering on rage. Because they didn’t quickly say “we want this bill passed,” commentators have had to grapple with the actual message of many Occupiers: Our economy is unfair. It gives too much power to corporations who abuse that power for their own ends. They’ve not just cheated us financially; they’ve cheated us of our democracy.

God's Wrath Caused East Coast Earthquake

I want to beat televangelist Pat Robertson to the jump on yesterday's East Coast earthquake.

Robertson is genius at knowing the mind of God when it comes to natural disasters. He blamed the Haiti earthquake on a God-offending "pact with the devil." Hurricane Katrina was God's pay-back for abortion in America.

Having spent some time with the Lord recently, I feel there is a message for President Obama: It is God's wrath that shook the White House yesterday. This was a 5.8 wake-up call.

Why is God all wrought up this time? What is it that God wants President Obama to do? Well, my friends, the issue is climate change. Global warming. Specifically, the Keystone XL "Dirty Oil" pipeline.

Isn't the Keystone XL Pipeline in Our National Interest?

Won't it reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil? Won't somebody else develop the Alberta tar sands if the U.S. doesn't do it -- someone like China, perhaps?

I've been wrestling with many of these issues as I contemplate risking arrest as part of two weeks of sustained protest by leading environmentalists, climate scientists, and faith-based groups at the White House forth to pressure the Obama Administration to block the Keystone XL Pipeline. This pipeline project will connect Canadian tar sands -- containing the second largest and dirtiest oil reserves on the planet -- with the oil refineries in Texas.

Oil Addicts Anonymous

If the United States is a fossil fuel addict, then the Alberta tar sands are our next big fix.

The tar sands contain the largest oil reserves in North America and their extraction has been called "the most destructive project on earth". The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline would carry oil from the tar sands down to Texas refineries, making it available for our consumption and pushing a turn to green energy sources even further down the road.

Borrowing wisdom from the twelve step program pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous, theologian Ched Myers contends that addiction -- "the inability to say no because of captivity to pathological desires" -- names our spiritual and cultural condition. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than in the case of fossil fuels.