tar sands

More than 1,000 Arrested Protesting Keystone XL Pipeline

As of yesterday, more than 1,009 Americans have been arrested to bring national attention to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. This is what church looks like. Liturgy means "the work of the people" in service of the common good.

If President Obama permits the Keystone pipeline, thousands more will sit on his doorstep and in front of bulldozers. This movement doesn't have money to match the influence of oil companies, lobbyists, or politicians with conflicts of interest, but we do have our bodies and we are putting them on the line.

Here are what people of faith -- Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Quakers, Unitarians, and more -- are saying about why they have been or will be arrested to stop the Keystone XL pipeline:

Hurricanes, Hype, and Hope

Did anyone else get the feeling, as we watched weather reporters wave their arms frantically in swirling motions across oversized maps of the eastern seaboard -- with their eyes bulging as they pushed out whole paragraphs without a single breath for a period -- that this was all hype?

Last weekend, as Irene passed over town after town in the mid-Atlantic, memories of Katrina did not materialize. By the time Irene huffed over New York City on Sunday morning, and the flood of the century was actually just a really big puddle in Battery Park and a floating lifeguard stand in Long Beach, my fear had transformed into complacency. From there I became cynical. By Sunday afternoon I found myself watching the weatherman's bulging eyes as he repeated the mantra of the day: "It's not as bad as we thought it would be, but it's not over." And I thought: "Boy, they'll do anything for ratings."

But it wasn't all hype.

Drawing a Line in the (Tar) Sand

The usual standard for writing magazine articles is to aim for the (relatively) timeless. In this case, you won't get another copy of Sojourners for two months, and, really, an article should stay fresh that whole time. Think plastic flowers, not fresh-picked daisies.

I'm violating that rule in spades with this column -- if you didn't read it when the magazine arrived, then skip on to something else, because it will be wilted. But if you're a timely reader: We need you.

From August 20 to Labor Day weekend, some of us are mounting what may turn into the largest-scale use of civil disobedience yet around global warming. We’ll be doing daily demonstrations that risk arrest at the White House in an effort to block the ugliest project you’ve probably never heard of, the so-called Keystone XL pipeline, which will run -- if President Obama grants the necessary permits -- from the tar sands of Alberta down to the Texas coast.

The original call for the action went out in late June, from a group of individuals that included Wendell Berry, Naomi Klein, Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, scientist Jim Hansen, and others. They stressed that the action will be entirely peaceful; in fact, if you want to come you’ve got to be "dignified in dress and demeanor." That's because we want very much to show who the radicals are in this story.

And make no mistake -- that pipeline is a radical act. It helps unlock the planet's second-largest pool of carbon, outmatched only by the oil wells of Saudi Arabia. There’s enough carbon up there that if you could burn it all off you’d raise the atmosphere’s carbon concentration from its current 390 parts per million to nearly 600. Even burning a much smaller amount of these tar sands would mean that it’s "essentially game over" for the climate, according to Hansen.

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Carrying the Living King Back to the White House

Rose Berger from Sojourners magazine spoke to the hundreds of us gathered in Lafayette Park just before we processed to the fence surrounding the White House. She mentioned the irony of building a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by the powerful political forces who disregarded or dismissed his message during his lifetime -- we only honor him after he is safely dead. How ironic also that the dedication of the monument was postponed by the most recent example of significant climate change. Will evidence of climate change begin to also signal political change?

Rose called on us to take up the banner of the Living Spirit of Dr. King within ourselves and allow it to inspire us as we risked arrest by calling on President Obama to take a clear stand to help protect our environment and begin to make a U-turn from the climate change path we are traveling as a nation and culture. We are part of a two-week vigil and civil disobedience action calling the president to deny permission for building the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline from the environmentally devastating tar sands/oil shale development in Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas.

595 Arrested at the White House

We had a very hot ride in the police van, but the Park Police processed us very quickly. We were released from custody and greeted outside with water, granola bars, and hugs. What could be better?

But the point was not to get arrested. The point was to make of our lives a living witness. To make it clear that climate change has gone too far and we are no longer going to stand idly by while our sisters, brothers, and home planet are torn apart by oil companies. Here are a handful of photos from the event yesterday:

Hubble, Hubble, Climate Trouble

For the past 30 years, through my work with Maryknoll and Pax Christi International, I've come to know grassroots communities around the world in situations of war and poverty. My mission focus base been largely international, but people, were in the "center of my screen." The environment, I thought, would have to wait.

A few weeks ago, I went with two of my grandchildren, Lauren (10) and Bobby (9), to see the documentary Hubble, which is about NASA's final shuttle expedition to repair a a broken part of the Hubble telescope. We watched in awe at the spectacular photos of the expanding universe. What an amazing sense these photos give of our own location as humans who are part of a larger earth community, who are part of a cosmos with which our own future is inextricably linked.

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.

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