Friday, April 12, 2013

Using Our Voices: We will not be Silent on Tar Sands Expansion

               Last Tuesday I attended a talk at the Brookings Institute - a DC based non-profit think tank - titled US Alberta Energy Relations: A Conversation with Allison Redford. I attended with the full intention of having a conversation about Tar Sands extraction and the climate consequences with Premier Allison Redford - the lead government official from Alberta, Canada. When I arrived I quickly realized that I was not going to be having a conversation with anyone. In this form of "conversation" the Brookings Institute asks audience participants to write down their questions on a card that get passed up, then a woman chooses which questions get asked and the Chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Association, Daniel Yergin get's to talk to Premier Redford about the question. 
My viewpoint looking at Premier Redford and Alex Yergin
                According to the dictionary the definition of conversation is "The informal exchange of ideas by spoken words." Instead of having a conversation -which by everyone's connotation implies an exchange of ideas with voices - the Brooking Institute chose to assault and kick-out anyone who sought to use their voices to have a real conversation with Premier Allison Redford. By the end of my time at the hearing, I would be assaulted by security guards and removed from the room for attempting a conversation about the climate impacts of tar sands extraction and proliferation. Here's the video and below is my story.  Here's a link to a major news outlet that covered "the interruption." Here's a link to the entire conversation via webcast made available by the Brookings Institute.

                At the beginning of the event there were about eight climate activists in the room.  Some of these activists held up #noKXL signs every time they heard what sounded like a lie coming from Premier Redford in her opening statements. They were issued one warning and when they held up the signs again, they were grabbed by security guards and forcibly removed from the room within ten minutes into the talk.
                Meanwhile, Premiere Redford was smiling and saying that she was excited to have a conversation with us. That she would like to know our thoughts about Keystone XL, so that she could share the truth about the pipeline because "the dialogue that is going on right now about [the keystone xl pipeline] suffers some serious, glaring deficiencies."

               I sat there listening to all that was being said about Alberta's hugely profitable energy supply and learning that if Keystone was built it could expand profits by 6 billion dollars for Alberta, CA. I watched as these oil profiteers made casual the idea of extracting and exporting Tar Sands via pipeline or rail to foreign ports over American soil. I watched as pipeline and rail car spills were dismissed as unfortunate consequences and necessary side effects to oil proliferation. I watched as the cimate consequences of tar sands extraction were being completely ignored. 

A pic of the spill from the Mayflower Pipeline in Arkansas last week.
                As I watched, my passion for preserving nature and restoring humanity's rightful place on planet earth began to overtake my attachment to the process of conversation the Brookings Institute had provided to us. I asked a worker at the Brookings Institute if I could use my voice as I felt that speaking is an essential part of a conversation. I was quickly told no and to write down my question. Then two security guards stood closer to me to remind me that I was not allowed to use my voice.

                So, I wrote down my question: "It has been noted that extracting all of the oil from the tar sands would bring our climate to over 500 ppm Co2 concentration. NASA's top climate scientist James Hansen has noted that 350 ppm is the healthy level for life on planet earth. How do you believe we can sustain life on planet earth with a 500 ppm concentration of CO2? Will your profits be there to help rebuild my community after extreme weather events leave our infrastructure compromised?" I wrote another comment below "If we were wise of climate concerns and human rights, we would encourage localized permaculture (permanent agriculture) sharing systems, energy efficiency, and small scale energy production that is owned and produced within our communities." 

                Then a friend stood up and spoke. She said "This is a sham. We ought to be more creative. Create Green Jobs. All we need is a little subsidies." She showed courage and I was proud of her.  She was escorted out.

                I watched as Premier Redford and Daniel Yergin said that building the keystone pipeline was okay because it would only account for less than 1% of the pipelines already existing in the United States. My passion for a healthy connection with nature overtook me and without premeditating a statement I stood up and spoke.  I said "Let's get something straight. You are responsible for these pipelines in the United States. You are responsible for oil proliferation on our continent." And then I got tackled. If I had been given three more seconds, I probably would've said "you are responsible for permanently cooking our planet." In the video, you can see me dash towards the front of the room, simply because I was being chased from the back.You can also hear - as my Mom pointed out - me giggle as I am being tackled. I am always laughing and giggling, it is the only way to stay happy in such situations.
                Now, I am not usually a combative person, but I seemed to be so because I was under threat already from security guard. I also felt despair as I live that "with eyes wide open to the issue" and felt the obsession with profits and preserving the oil drenched status quo were an attack on my potential to have a healthy family in the future. So, I stood up and took a combative tone. If I had been given a chance to speak my mind clearly without despair or threat, I probably would not have been so "you" oriented in my tone.  

                As I was being carried out of the room I said a couple things that probably saved me from more persecution. I said "I am not hurting anybody. I am not hurting anybody." As I was being carried by five security guards. I said "I have legs and I know how to use them to walk myself to the door." Then a security guard said to me "I am a real man and I will break your neck." In an instant without hesitation, I responded "real men don't break necks."  Outside of the building I let all employees of the Brookings Institute know that they are complicit in cooking our planet and impeding human rights by providing a forum that wasn't a real conversation, but rather a platform to espouse mistruths about oil sands expansion. I also let the security guard know that he should seek anger management counseling and that "real men take compassionate stances for the world."  

                While I was being carried off, it gave some friends who were still in the room a chance to speak. One stood up and said "Climate Change means mass casualty famines, mass casualty droughts." Another followed with "Can you tell us about these facts about climate change outside of the area of Alberta?" Thus an important point was made directly to one of the people who holds the most power to avert climate disaster on the North American continent.  Momentarily, a real conversation happened. And momentarily the truth about climate change entered the room, but that truth was escorted out of the room just as soon as it had entered. They can hire security guards and advertisements, but no matter how much money the have, they can never buy the truth.

                If I were to give advice about the courage it took to speak it's really quite simple. If you live with compassion in your heart for all of living things - people, plants, animals, fungus, and even soil microbes - you are embodying the immune response for Gaia and humanity to climate change. If you hold compassion instead of fear in your heart, you become a powerful and righteous voice on the planet and your very being becomes grounded in the ethics that will restore humanity's right relationship with mother earth. 

                Regardless of the present status quo or climate change, this right relationship is inevitable because having a healthy, direct relationship with nature is one of the fundamental aspects of being a human being on planet earth. I believe that the vast majority of problems in America - from systemic economic oppression to obesity - stem from our culture understating the importance of a personal relationship with nature and substituting that relationship with fossil fuels. Speaking truth to this relationship is grounded in the very physics, spirituality, and essential to living on this planet peacefully. Because this relationship is inherent within us all, it holds more precedence when heard by an open minded person than any idea grounded in momentary profits or egoist motives.  

                 To learn to live without fear is to learn how really live for the first time.


  1. Well written, Davey. I tried to follow up on your friend's question by writing on my card: "Beyond the US and Canada, what is at stake for the rest of the world regarding Keystone XL and the oil sands more generally?" That phrasing was tame enough to get through the gatekeepers, but it wasn't pointed enough to really put her on the spot about climate change. You can see her answer at 2h01 in the full video. Her final response was that this pipeline is good for the world because it would make the US and Canada more wealthy. With such persuasive reasoning, I'm sure the rest of the world will understand.

  2. Yeah, they approached this from a very singular perspective. The gentleman said, towards the end of the "conversation" (a conversation between the Premier and her Friend) that "all views should have an opportunity to be heard" and that if one were to submit a "legitimate question" then they would be answered and represented. I did submit a legitimate question that she "answered" around 51:13... but the direction with which she approached it did not even begin to address an answer as I'd hoped to have understanding. I asked about the shared solutions for environmental damages and what their priorities are regarding conservation. She merely stated that the US and Canada have similar views on infrastructure regulation and strict protocol for clean-ups when the system fails. (Although, I suppose that does answer the question-- their only "environmental" concern is regarding maintenance of the pipeline and collection of the oil. WHAT ABOUT ALL OF THE PET BIRDS!??!?)

    This is why eastern radicals strap bombs to their chest in order to get heard. I do not condone these types of actions, but as Kevin Spacey said:
    "Wanting people to listen, you can't just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you'll notice you've got their strict attention."