Greenpeace stands with Climate Direct Action, whose members say they are willing to sacrifice themselves to protect the Earth from the Alberta oil sands, pipelines
What were they thinking? American climate change activists closed five pipelines carrying Canadian oil sands crude to US markets Tuesday by shutting valves at pumping stations, endangering lives and property. Such irresponsible behaviour should be condemned by the environmental movement in both countries, but it is not. And that is both shameful and insightful.
Oil pipelines typically operate at pressures of 600 to 1,000 pounds per square inch. Imagine the catastrophic explosion or release that could result from suddenly closing a valve on all that pressure in a 30 or 36 inch pipeline.
“Activists need to recognize that an unauthorized and unscheduled valve closure on any pipeline could result in unpredicted pressure changes, which can pose some extremely serious risks,” says Chris Bloomer, president and CEO of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association.
Bloomer’s statement goes on to say that this type of dangerous activism “should not be condoned by anyone.”
Unfortunately, it is. Both explicitly and tacitly.
As of Wednesday morning, most major environmental groups had not issued a media release or statement condemning Climate Direct Action activists; some eco-activist campaigners were privately endorsing them on social media and posting links to the legal fundraising web page.
But Greenpeace USA did respond to my request for comment, attributed to Kelly Mitchell, climate and energy campaign director:
Greenpeace supports the brave activists who peacefully shut down all 5 tar sands pipelines into the US yesterday, in solidarity with the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. If our leaders won’t take action to protect people and the planet, the climate movement is willing and able.
At every stage of development – from extraction to processing to transportation, fossil fuels pose grave threats to communities’ health, livelihoods, and ancestral lands and waters.
The math is clear: we cannot afford to drill, mine, or frack any new fossil fuel reserves. Yet, increasingly desperate oil companies are pushing deeper into untouched and risky frontier areas as existing oil fields decline. From drilling in the Arctic or the Gulf of Mexico, to developing Canada’s carbon-intensive tar sands, to natural gas fracking, these projects are unsafe, unnecessary and inconsistent with a healthy climate.
Up to now, the environmental movement has very successfully employed non-violent campaigns to achieve its objectives: protests, petitions, lobbying and political pressure, social media, traditional media, etc.
But Greenpeace’s support for the “brave activists” of Climate Direct Action marks a new stage in eco-activist strategy. Now, apparently, “direction action” with potentially dangerous and fatal consequences is just fine.
Make no mistake, this type of activism will happen again. If you don’t think so, here are comments from some of the activists involved in Tuesday’s pipeline attack, taken from the Climate Direct Action press release.
“Our only hope is to step outside polite conversation and put our bodies in the way. We must shut it down, starting with the most immediate threats – oil sands fuels and coal,” said Ken Ward, 59, of Corbette Oregon.
“Because of the climate change emergency…I am committed to the moral necessity of participating in non-violent direct action to protect life.” said Leonard Higgins, 64, of Eugene, Oregon.
Standing with Climate Direct Action activism is a serious moral and political challenge for Greenpeace and other environmental groups.
I have supported the right of eco-activists to oppose the Alberta oil sands and pipelines to tidewater and US markets, including the significant funding of Canadian groups by American environmental charities.
Environmentalists are entitled to protest and oppose fossil fuel development by every legal and peaceful means available to them.
Just as the oil and gas industry is entitled to put its case to the Canadian and American publics. Voters deserve both sides of a debate. Our public square is the richer for spirited – even acrimonious – discussion of the significant issues of our time.
But I draw the line at vandalism that borders on terrorism. I say borders on terrorism because no pipelines exploded and no one died. This time.
When Climate Direct Action members closed those pipeline valves, they risked terrible consequences. If they continue, as they have promised, eventually something will go wrong. People will be killed.
And then we have to ask ourselves how this type of “activism” is any different than suicide bombs or mass murders in gay nightclubs.
By not disavowing that action, by winking at it and providing political approval, remaining silent when they should be speaking out loudly against extremism in their ranks, the major environmental groups have given Canadian and American citizens a peek into the moral and political worldview of fossil fuel opponents.
What are they thinking? That the ends justify the means? Does Greenpeace not recognize the line that’s been crossed?
Society must condemn Climate Direct Action activism. And mainstream environmental groups like Greenpeace must explain their decision to back Climate Direct Action.
American and Canadian citizens deserve no less.