Bill McKibben: People power trumped corporate power

  • Published on November 11th, 2011

By Bill McKibben

Yesterday was one of the more amazing days of my life. When I started working on this Keystone XL campaign in early summer (years after indigenous leaders and Nebraska ranchers) I thought the odds were almost impossibly against us. Almost being the key word–I wouldn’t have engaged if I didn’t think there was some hope. And the hope was, Barack Obama would have to make the call himself, without Congress in the way. Could we engage him directly?

As it turns out, we could. Due to the courage of the 1253 people who got arrested in August, and to the incredible energy of millions of people across the country who got involved this fall (no small number of them here at DK) we got  something pretty remarkable yesterday: a done deal came spectacularly undone. Transcanada had literally mowed the strip of land where they were going to put the pipeline this winter. They’ve already moved half a billion dollars worth of pipe into staging areas across the prairie, where it now will rust for a good long while. Every energy insider said they were going to win. Instead, they lost.

Maybe not forever. There are no permanent victories in environmental work. It would have been ever better if Barack Obama had outright rejected the pipeline yesterday instead of sending it back for a new review; there are people saying he’ll just use the review as a cover and approve the pipeline once the election is over. But if he’d rejected Keystone he could have approved another one anyway (there are always plenty of proposals). And President Romney would happily approve a dozen–given his demonstrated strength of character, if the Koch Bros. told him to frack Old Faithful so it spewed gas instead of water, I’m pretty sure he’d ask how high.

The point is, people power managed to trump corporate power at least in the short run; that’s to be celebrated. And one of the advantages is, that frees us for a while to work on other parts of this problem. The pipeline was dangerous because it linked to the tarsands. There are other pipes they’re trying to build out (I’m headed to Vancouver next week to try and help there). And there are other giant pools of carbon that need to be fought, at least until we manage to get a serious price on carbon that makes things like the tarsands impossible to mine.

I’m extraordinarily grateful to everyone. They managed to walk a very fine line between holding the president accountable and not going into attack mode (every banner at Sunday’s huge rally was a quote from Obama ’08). No one will gaze at him starry-eyed at this point; but I think he demonstrated he’s not an implacable enemy. He’ll listen if we yell.

Now that Keystone is in abeyance for a while, we need to bring the same fight to corporate power directly. We’re losing the war; a record amount of carbon poured into the atmosphere last year. Changing that means breaking the power of the oil and coal barons–the 1% of the 1%  (Exxon made more money last year than any company in the history of money). The campaigns will only get longer and harder, which is all the more reason to celebrate a bit when we can. And to say thanks again. You guys are great; join us at; on we go.

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More on tar sands and the fight to prevent the Keystone XL pipeline:

(Photo Credits: Josh Lopez and Christine Irvine)

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