The Dakota Access Pipeline: a Tale of Two Characters

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press, October 27th, 2016

By Chris Barroso

As a member of San Diego’s 350.org, I’d followed the story of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) for some time, telepathically urging the protesters on. And then one day, my friend Paul Sasso called me. “Hey, let’s go up and join the protesters. We’ll take my Tesla.” Yeah, I replied. I could do that; the next week wasn’t too busy, or the week after that. When are you thinking? I asked. “I’ll pick you up in a couple hours,” he said.  Whoa, I thought for a moment; but I hurriedly packed, and soon we were off to the North Country.

On the way we talked about this 30 inch diameter pipeline, the rivers (Big Sioux, Missouri, and Mississippi) and the tribal lands it would cross. Eminent Domain, one of us said, shaking our head. Did it translate in Native American languages to “broken treaty”?

Another topic of discussion: major spills are common for oil and gas pipelines—a question of when, not if. As Bill McKibben explained in a New Yorker editorial, the pipeline was originally supposed to cross the Missouri River near Bismarck but those plans changed over concerns that an oil spill at that location would have wrecked the state capital’s drinking water. So the pipeline was shifted to a crossing half a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s treaty lands. Nice. Just how angry were these protesters going to be? It seemed only reasonable that some of that anger might flare in my light-complexioned direction. I took a deep breath as I watched the prairie fly by.

Dakota-Access-Pipeline-Camp

Oceti Sakowin (main camp) (photo by Paul Sasso)

We arrived on September 9th, the Friday after Labor Day, and rolled into the main camp, called Oceti Sakowin, (Och-et-ee shak-oh-win), meaning Seven Council Fires. As we strolled around the camp and met all kinds of people from all over the country, and all happy to chat, the little knots of anxiety in my stomach uncoiled. A fellow there from Florida with his family not only lent us a tarp but helped Paul and I set it up with the tent we borrowed. Everyone was warm, friendly, and thanked us for our visit. They want as many people as possible to come and help carry the message of protecting the water; not just for those of us alive now but for our children and grandchildren too. That’s why they called themselves protectors, not protesters. Fitting, I thought. Accurate.

[Read more…]

San Diegans in LA Action to Break Free from Fossil Fuels

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press, May 26th 2016

Over a two week period earlier this month, a wave of
Break Free from Fossil Fuels mass mobilizations was held around the globe. The first action saw hundreds of people peacefully shut down the UK’s largest open cast coal mine in Wales. In the Philippines, 10,000 marched demanding the cancellation of a proposed 600-Megawatt coal power plant. In Australia, 2,000 people shut down the world’s largest coal port for a day, with kayakers blocking the harbor entrance while others blocked a critical rail crossing. In Anacortes, Washington, over the course of three days, thousands converged by land and water at the site of two oil refineries. They marched, led by indigenous leaders, and held an overnight sit-in on the train tracks that led to over 50 arrests.  

These were but a few of the many Break Free actions in the campaign which was organized by 350.org with support and participation from a wide range of international, national and local organizations including the Center for Biological Diversity, National Nurses United and the United Church of Christ.

Figure 9 -BillMcKibbenWithSanDiegans AtBreakFreeLA

San Diegans with Bill McKibben – sporting his SD350 tee-shirt – at the end of the march

Closer to home, Los Angeles was the venue for a Break Free from Fossil Fuels action for people from all over California. Los Angeles is the biggest urban center for oil production in the nation and the Porter Ranch neighborhood was recently the site of the largest methane leak in U.S. history from SoCalGas’  Aliso Canyon gas storage facility.

The LA event started with a rally at City Hall which included high-profile speakers Bill McKibben (co-founder of 350.org) and businessman, philanthropist and environmentalist Tom Steyer, plus speakers from many local groups, including Save Porter Ranch and STAND LA – a group dedicated to ending neighborhood oil drilling in LA. McKibben reminded us of our “brothers and sisters around the world who right now are standing with you.”  He talked about the worsening climate crisis – recent loss of coral reefs in the Pacific and the heatwave in Southeast Asia. He said it’s important we turn up the heat and demand real leadership from Mayor Garcetti and Governor Brown, saying we don’t need them to do a “pretty good job”, we “need them really out in front treating it [climate change] like the crisis that it is.” [Read more…]

SD350 Awarded Patagonia Grant for Anti-Fracking Efforts — Again!

For the second year in a row, SD350 has been awarded a grant from the outdoor clothing company Patagonia. This year’s grant, which again recognizes SD350’s activism in the fight against fracking in California, is for $5000.

Patagonia logo tee-shirts and jackets are often seen on back-country trails.

Patagonia logo tee-shirts and jackets are favorite outdoor garb.

Patagonia’s grant program donates 1% of annual sales – not profit! – to local action-oriented organizations that build public involvement in defense of the environment. In a video on the company’s website, Lisa Pike Sheehy explains why: “No matter how much we strive for sustainability, we are still using non-renewable resources. For that, we tax ourselves.”

A privately held company, Patagonia has the freedom to fund grassroots groups that use creative methods to engage communities to take action on environmental issues, actions that include but also go beyond education and awareness-building. “We often fund groups that other companies don’t feel comfortable funding,” says spokesperson Hans Cole, adding, “Maybe it’s because the issues are too political or too hot. That’s where we feel we can make the most difference.” [Read more…]

Review: “What If We Never Run Out of Oil?”

In the feature article of the May issue of The Atlantic, What If We Never Run Out of Oil?, contributing editor Charles C. Mann lays out his vision of what the future holds for a petroleum-powered planet. The descriptor on the magazine’s cover reads, “Why the fossil-fuel boom is good for America, bad for Saudi Arabia – and scary for the planet.” Mann concludes that economic incentives will lead to ever-expanded ways of extracting carbon-based fuel from the earth despite the inevitable risk to the planet’s future.

High prices for petroleum should make alternative energy sources more competitive, but there is another side to this rosy outlook: these high prices also make elaborate and expensive carbon-fuel extraction processes more economically feasible. Two such processes featured in this article are the extraction of natural gas by fracking and the mining of coastal ocean beds for methane hydrate. The US expects to frack its way to energy independence in the not-too-distant future; and Japan, almost totally dependent on imported fuel, will innovate methane hydrate extraction along the methane beds of the western Pacific Ocean in its quest for the same. This latter source of fuel, largely untapped, has been estimated to be practically limitless, as new beds are continually being laid down due to both natural and man-induced processes, like industrial farm run-off.

Mann provides a broad perspective – historical, political, economic, and scientific – for his discussion of this future. In a less-than-hopeful tone, he warns that global warming will be collateral damage in the coming international carbon-based fuel extraction mega-enterprise. He also describes the anticipated global political upheaval that energy independence for industrialized nations will bring because the governments of the petro-states, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, have not created institutions that are viable beyond their profitable petroleum-export economic model.

What this should tell us is that the conversation about global warming has changed. Whether or not climate change is happening is no longer a question; that argument has been settled by legitimate climate research. The new battle lines are less clear because they do not involve answerable scientific questions; instead, they involve economic and political questions that lend themselves to the discussion of various policy options that are vulnerable to a money-driven, dysfunctional political process.

Nevertheless, the consequences of global warming still loom. In his otherwise thorough presentation of how human beings will try to satisfy their appetite for carbon-based energy, Charles Mann skims over these consequences. In doing so, he is giving us a clear indication of how the friends of petroleum will try to direct the discussion of our energy future: It will be all about prosperity based on new carbon-based fuel sources, not about the human and environmental costs associated with the pursuit of that carbon-based prosperity.

Carbon industry profiteers may be motivated, but the science is inexorable: global warming continues and can only increase with greater exploitation of carbon-based energy resources. We must keep the vision of what is happening to the planet in front of the public in order to show the real cost – to Earth and its inhabitants – of that supposedly rosy economic vision. The scenario of a super-charged, carbon-based energy future presented by Charles Mann is our call to action.


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This work is licensed by Bonnie Mosse Funk under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.