Why I’m risking arrest to stop the tar sands pipeline

Below is a moving email from Peter Burkholder, a Mennonite from Maryland, who was one of hundreds arrested recently in a series of protests against the Keystone XL pipeline:

From: Peter Burkholder

Subject: Why I’m risking arrest to stop the tar sands pipeline

Date: Wed, 10 Aug 2011

Dear House Church:

I recently committed to taking part in the Tar Sands Action protests at the White House later this month (http://tarsandsaction.com). Our aim is to convince President Obama NOT to certify the Keystone XL pipeline from the Canadian tar sands to U.S. refineries. If all goes as planned, I’ll be arrested for misdemeanor trespassing as part of this direct action against tar sands development in particular, and in support of carbon emissions mitigation in general.

Why would I, a 46-year-old father of two living in suburban Maryland, risk arrest for the first time in my life? Well, what else can I do to that assure that my sons, ages six and nine, have some hope of raising their children on a planet still rich in biodiversity, and hospitable to our peculiarly fragile species?

To date, I’ve not done enough for them in that respect. I have been aware of the climate science on this for nigh on 25 years. First as an interested undergraduate in physics, later as a graduate student in geophysics, and subsequently as the colleague of climate scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. I always expected that sufficient weight of evidence would bring Americans around to sensible policy on the matter of our climate future.

Instead, I have been watching in mute horror for over twenty years as the models and data continue to bear out, with ever-increasing confidence and detail, the suffering that awaits my children’s generation unless we vigorously mitigate and adapt. Meanwhile, the vested interests of the carbon economy dissemble on the evidence, dissuade on the economics and then disparage those who takes a rational stand on the matter. Our politicians raise the specter of generational theft when talking about the budget deficit, but are silent on the theft perpetuated by the carbon deficit.

Several months ago I decided that I needed to follow in the example of James Hansen and risk arrest to make clear to the powers that be that we will not let them ignore the climate science any longer. When Bill McKibben wrote in Sojourners early in 2011 that he was encouraging like-minded people of conviction to join him at http://climatedirectaction.org/, I hardly hesitated to sign up.

I am no environmental saint. My carbon footprint is far larger than I care to admit. Anyone who faults my lack of “personal virtue” with respect to my carbon footprint is missing the point, however. As important as personal efforts to conserve are, they are ineffectual without the United States committing, via law and policy, to actively mitigate anthropogenic climate change, and to adapt to the global warming which we cannot avoid.

My children are going to live on a planet inexorably changed by the global warming we have already committed our planet to. I owe it them, and to their children, to act now, and act decisively, to change the playing field. My older son sleeps every night with a stuffed polar bear, named Pablo. When he is my age, will Pablo’s species still roam the polar realms? Don’t I owe it to him, to all the younger generation, and those to come, to act on their behalf?

I believe I do, and membership in environmental organizations and letter writing will no longer suffice. Peaceful, respectful protest and direct action seem the logical next step(*). If you agree, please visit http://tarsandsaction.org/ and sign up for your part in the action.

Peter Burkholder

* I will not participate in any action involving violence, destruction of property, or denying others their constitutional rights.

Peter was #152 arrested for the day on September 2.  He was #995 for the action.

1 Comment

  1. Jake


    I would like to offer some suggestions in response to your question, “what else can I do to that assure that my sons, ages six and nine, have some hope of raising their children on a planet still rich in biodiversity, and hospitable to our peculiarly fragile species?”

    First, consider taking the money you spent on travel and fines, and next time give it to your favorite academic institution, which is researching alternative energy sources. I think U of Texas Austin has so interesting things going on.

    Second, support the usage and development of efficient energy uses. I like electric cars and electric trains myself, but there are a lot out there.

    Third, volunteer to aid in energy conservation. It is great that you are minding your own carbon footprint, but maybe you could help others with theirs. A lot of people waste energy because they can’t afford to insulate their homes better. You would be saving energy and helping the poor at the same time.

    The fact is, the “powers that be” are more than willing to ignore environmental impacts of fossil fuels, they are actually willing to wage wars in order to obtain those fuels. For that reason, I support a pipeline that will enable us to obtain energy from a peaceful neighbor.

    I work with some guys that don’t believe in climate change. As long as we are having to shovel snow, they aren’t going to believe it. If you came to talk with them about it, and you used the word “anthropogenic”, they would probably kick your ass. But I think a strong enough argument can be made for energy issues, just on cost savings and supporting domestic sources. If you re-tool your rhetoric on the matter, it will have broader appeal.

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