Bill McKibben’s tar sands update – hurricane edition

  • Published on August 27th, 2011

By Bill McKibben

I’m sitting in St. Stephen’s Church in Washington DC, drinking good beer and watching a series of great musicians up on the stage–the winds are starting to blow outside, but in here it’s a party to Defuse the Carbon Bomb, and it comes at the end of a mindblowing week of action, the biggest stretch of civil disobedience in the environmental movement in a generation.

We had a hundred people ready to be arrested this morning–but they all decided, after good discussion, that the police needed to be helping batten down for the hurricane. So we posed for spirited pictures in front of the White House, and started laying down plans for next week. It’s a little ironic (irenic?) that the hurricane got in the way–but of course it helps make the case for what we’re doing that much stronger. Irene is riding a pool of record warm water up the east coast–it’s 3 degrees warmer off the Jersey shore than it should be, and that’s what gives hurricanes their juice.

Anyway–we’ve broken through to the mainstream. The New York Times ran two giant pictures of the protests today. Maybe better still, the Wall Street Journal ran a big editorial making fun of us–as good a sign as any that we’ve moved from fringe curiosity to threat to the status quo. Since the Times has editorialized strongly against the pipeline, and the Journal strongly in favor, it will be interesting to see how Obama comes down.

We’re continuing to stress that doing the right thing will trigger a surge of enthusiasm for the president. But other political scientists are noting that there’s another side there. Here’s how a Princeton political analyst put it today in the Times: “I think a year ago President Obama felt he could do things that might alienate his base and organizations important to the Democratic Party and get away with it because in the end most Democrats wouldn’t go for a Republican,” Mr. Zelizer said. “Now he might pay a price for it.”

I think there’s no need for threat. I think we’re just dealing in reality. The reality of chemistry and physics is that we can’t keep putting carbon in the atmosphere. The reality of political science is: when you’ve got a clear shot, as Obama does here, you have to do what you promised you would or else people will be discouraged. It’s pretty much a law of human nature.

Anyway, no one is discouraged here, not by the odds of fighting oil companies, and not by the hurricane. We’re charged up. And we’d love it if you’d let people know there’s a week left to go. Come to DC and join us at I guarantee you’ll remember it the rest of your life (and getting arrested for a good cause should be on everyone’s bucket list!)

What you can do: 

More on the Keystone XL action and the Tar Sands:

 (Photo of Bill McKibben arrested at the White House by Shadia Fayne Wood for 350.0rg)

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