Bill McKibben faces jail to block Keystone tar sands pipeline

  • Published on August 19th, 2011

By Bill McKibben

Well, if all goes according to plan, I’ll be in jail by midday tomorrow. It’s not something I take lightly, or do every day. But it is something that feels right to me.

1) This is really really important. Jim Hansen, the world’s most important climatologist, has said that if we burn these tar sands in a big way it will be “essentially game over for the climate.” That’s worth reading again. The oil companies and the Koch Bros are willing to take a few years of big profits in return for cratering the planet’s climate system.

2) If the pipeline doesn’t get built, that oil will stay in the ground, at least for a while. Alberta’s energy minister says that without Keystone XL the province will be ‘landlocked in bitumen.’ Maybe someday they’ll figure out a new pipeline route to China—but maybe someday the world will come to its sense about global warming. In the meantime, the second-biggest pool of carbon on the planet will still be mostly underground.

3) President Obama, thank God, can stop this one all by himself. The endless debate about how much he’s been hamstrung by Congress doesn’t apply here; the law requires that he, and he alone, sign the necessary certificate that this is in the public interest. If he vetoes it, the pipeline can’t be built. As. Simple. As. That.

4) So, we’ll be arrested outside the White House. But less in protest of the President, than in support of the Obama who ran for the White House in 2008, and who said the night he clinched the nomination that with his Presidency ‘the rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet begin to heal.’ I’ll be wearing my Obama ’08 button when I go to jail tomorrow; we want to show him he has the support he needs to do the right thing, in the face of unrelenting pressure from the fossil fuel industry.

I wasn’t sure, when we wrote the letter asking people to come to DC for this protest, if people would respond. But they have. We have more than 1500 people signed up to be arrested over the next two weeks—as it plays out over the next two weeks it will be the most significant civil disobedience protest in the history of the environmental movement.

And it’s not just the environmental movement. Just as progressives of all stripes rallied around the union cause in Wisconsin, so all kinds of people are coming to DC. People from all 50 states have volunteered to be arrested—there are caravans coming from Texas and Nebraska, where landowners are getting angrier all the time. Labor unions are backing the effort, and so are a huge range of faith groups. At the core of the pipeline fight, right from the beginning, have been indigenous groups on both sides of the border—the Indigenous Environmental Network deserves great credit for getting this movement up and going. And for green groups—well, there’s a unanimous understanding that this is the biggest call the president will make on climate change going forward. We didn’t get a climate bill, and we won’t anytime soon thanks to Congress. But we can get this.

I’m so grateful to PDNC for organizing this blogathon, and of course to Meteor Blades, long the green conscience of the orange satan. It’s not too late to decide you want in on the action—sign up at And spread the word.

Like all good tame middle-class law-abiding souls, the prospect of jail makes me a little nervous. But the prospect of going there with thousands of great Americans makes it seem just fine.

(Originally ran at Daily Kos as part of a week-long blog push to block the Keystone XL pipeline)

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.