The Climate Movement Needs to Stop ‘Winning’

Cross posted from Huffington Post — Guest post by Maya Lemon from Nacogdoches, Texas

As a child my favorite chore was hand-pumping water from the thirty-foot well on our family homestead. The pump was shiny black and the water ice-cold. Then my father was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer linked to chemicals used in oil and gas production. It’s been nine years since I drank that water.

I am from an impacted community in East Texas, home to oil and gas industry, on the southern route of the Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline. My involvement in the climate movement is motivated by the reality my community faces.

Nacogdoches, Texas lies along the southern path of KXL and cannot escape tar sands. From Cushing, Oklahoma down to Beaumont, Texas pipe is buried in the ground and scheduled to go online by the end of the year. We are waiting for the shoe to drop, for tar sands oil to flow through the pipe, for the bend of welded metal to respond to the heat and corrosion of bitumen. We are waiting for an event over which we have little control, despite its potentially disastrous impact on our lives.

Within this experience lies the insight I have to offer the climate movement. My experience is limited by the fact I am a young, white woman from an unconditionally supportive family. Incomplete as it is, however, my perspective is the best thing I can offer. And so, I ask that the climate movement stops talking about “winning.”

maya meme

My community will not “win” on climate and this idea delegitimizes the extraction industry impacts we already face. I have lived alongside the reality of petroleum extraction my whole life. A pipeline runs down our driveway. I have been woken in the middle of the night by fracking fumes that burned my eyes and nose and made me feel sick. The construction of KXL south near my home has ignited new concerns about the health and safety of my family and community. In communities like mine impacts run deep and come from all sides.

I will never “win” on climate. Tanks containing benzene on my family’s property display plastic signs warning against cancer and requiring the use of a respirator. There are three active gas well sites within a two-minute walk from my front door. Scanning the land I am from it is impossible to imagine a scenario where I have not been exposed to the same chemicals that may have caused or contributed to my father’s cancer.

Last fall the direct action campaign Tar Sands Blockade (TSB) brought national attention to my community. Folks in TSB put their lives and livelihoods on the line to stop construction and raise awareness. I am glad they came to stand with my community but this also marked a loss. National climate groups celebrated Obama’s decision to delay the northern segment of KXL, intentionally overlooking that this supposed “win” was paired with an endorsement to fast track the southern arm of KXL, connecting a preexisting tar sands pipeline that ended in Oklahoma to refining communities and shipping ports in Texas. There was no delay for us–pipe was being put in the ground. In search of a “win,” the people of KXL south were written off as a loss.

Like cancer taking over the body, the oil and gas industry is too entangled in the organs of my community for a simple “win-lose” dichotomy. The industry employs us, pays for community festivals, and improves our roads. They also contaminate our water, deny us access to our land, and take away our sense of agency. Extraction industries have impacted our land, bodies, and minds in ways that can’t be erased or won.

Checking a thesaurus suggests further complications of a “winning” framework. Synonyms to “win” include “come in first” and “conquer.” In communities with an intersecting history of oppression “winning” doesn’t seem to be the most appropriate message. Utilizing ideas of “coming in first” and “conquering” among individuals living a legacy of racism, classism, and colonialism seems intrinsically problematic. Environmental Justice leaders ask instead that we “lift up” impacted communities. Will our movement be one that “conquers” or “lifts up?” Continue reading ‘The Climate Movement Needs to Stop ‘Winning’’

Life at the End of the Line — Drawing the Line on Tar Sands in Houston’s East End

“My son died from cancer. He was only 26,” he said as his eyes quivered and filled with tears.

I struggled to complete the community health survey that brought me to this man’s humble front porch next door to a menacing, industrial car-crushing facility. This summer, as I knocked on dozens of his neighbor’s doors I heard similar heart-breaking stories of illness, asthma, and poverty.

One long-time resident I spoke with summed up the popular sentiment for relocation: “I’m just trying to save up enough money to move my family the hell out of here.”

These are just a few of the voices from the “End of the Line” – those living in the community of Manchester, on Houston’s toxic East End – one of the communities at the terminus of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Today as thousands gather in over 200 actions across the country for a national day of action to “Draw the Line” on Keystone XL and tar sands it seems like an appropriate moment to reflect on these stories and ask: Can our movements better support these communities already bearing the disproportionate burden of tar sands refining and environmental injustice?

The People at Both Ends of the Pipeline

The story of tar sands resistance goes far back beyond Obama, long before 1,253 folks like myself were arrested at the White House for protesting the pipeline, or really even before Keystone XL was anything but an industry pipe dream. Decades ago the struggle began by First Nations leaders in modern-day Canada and their commitment to maintain their ancestral homelands from what they term the “slow industrial genocide” of tar sands extraction that is poisoning their loved ones and turning their boreal paradise into a tortured wasteland.

What do the communities living with the worst impacts at both ends of this pipeline have in common? They are both communities of color.

Valero refinery in the Manchester community on Houston's East End.

Continue reading ‘Life at the End of the Line — Drawing the Line on Tar Sands in Houston’s East End’

Join the Mass Action to Stop Keystone XL in Texas -– Monday, Nov. 19th

The aftershock of Hurricane Sandy is still being felt on the East Coast, its the hottest year on record, and families most affected by climate change are increasingly bearing the brunt of dirty energy extraction.

The acceleration of tar sands exploitation from Keystone XL is dangerously hurdling us toward an unstable future. We need immediate action to address the climate crisis now.

TransCanada’s construction crews are quickly clear-cutting through our homes and forests in East Texas and we must continue to rapidly escalate if we are going to stop this toxic pipeline. We invite you to join us in Nacogdoches, Texas on Monday, November 19th for our next mass action to stop Keystone XL.

Sign up now to join the Mass Action to Stop Keystone XL — Monday, November, 19th

Our last mass action several weeks ago was an important escalation of our power when over 50 people defied TransCanada’s police repression and re-claimed the Keystone XL easement around the tree blockade. Now 48 days later the tree blockade still stands but they are building the pipeline around it.

We must continue to demonstrate our resistance at various points along the pipeline route if we are going to stop it for good. The family friendly event on November 19th will have roles for everyone and participation ranges from a safe, public rally to those who wish to risk arrest. We’ll hold a training on Sunday to empower everyone with the skills to take action.

Join us for the Mass Action on Monday, November, 19th

Let’s come together again to demonstrate our collective commitment to defending our homes from toxic tar sands and the devastation of climate change.

Can’t make it to our Mass Action on Nov. 19th? Hold a solidarity action in your own community from Nov. 14-20th. Sign up now.

Video: Tar Sands Blockade is Taking A Stand in Texas

Remember a year ago when 1,253 people got arrested in front of the White House? We came in waves day after day, for weeks, vowing that we would lay our bodies on the line to halt the permitting of the dreaded Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Well, in case you haven’t heard since then Big Oil has been up to its old tricks and recently secured all the necessary permits to build the southern section of Keystone XL to the Gulf. The Canadian oil corporation, TransCanada, is planning to break ground “within weeks.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan on letting them build anything that could spell “game over” for the global climate.

Fortunately, I’m not alone. I’m proud to be part of Tar Sands Blockade, a growing movement of Texas landowners and activists ready to use nonviolent direct action to stand up to Big Oil and say; “Don’t Mess with Texas.”

We need your help! Together we can halt this dirty pipeline in its tracks and build the healthy, clean energy future we know is possible. We’re an open grassroots organization so sign up on our website to learn more about how to get involved.

LIKE and SHARE this video to support this critical campaign.

Launching Summer Projects: We’re Getting Dirty to Go Clean

Guest post from Matt Kazinka, leader with the Twin Cities Summer of Solutions. Cross posted from

Sometimes the quickest way to a clean energy economy is to get a little dirty. That’s right, it’s time to get our hands in the dirt and physically build the clean and just energy economy we want. And that’s exactly what young people across the country are doing this summer. We’re stepping up to get our hands dirty creating local clean energy solutions like community gardens, home weatherizations, and clean energy cooperatives.

This summer, youth leaders across the country are launching a host of community-based projects that will revitalize our economy in an environmentally sustainable and socially just manner. These projects range widely from building community gardens in Oakland to stopping the construction of a dirty coal plant in Georgia. But they all have one thing in common: DIY. Young people aren’t waiting for the government to act. We are stepping up to show our elected officials that we have the power in our own communities to create what we want and demand that they put dirty politics aside and follow our lead.

Changing the way our policies system works means changing our relationship with our communities. Through these projects, young people are working in partnership with diverse local organizations and coalitions to build the green economy from the ground up. With creativity, collaboration, and hard work, they are demonstrating that there is endless potential for prosperity at our fingertips. This summer, we will pilot ground-breaking strategies for energy efficiency, urban agriculture, renewable energy, sustainable transportation, waste reduction, and green industry.

We want a clean energy economy that supports everyone in a way the dirty energy economy never could. The era of segregated neighborhoods, polluted politics and economic apartheid has been played out. We have inherited deep-seated problems – climate change, political turmoil, social inequities, and economic disparities of mass proportions. Nothing about these challenges is simple, but nothing about them is inevitable, either. We have the power and are creating change. Continue reading ‘Launching Summer Projects: We’re Getting Dirty to Go Clean’

Taking Back Tuscaloosa

AL TornadoCross-posted from Guest blogger, Mallory Flowers, University of Alabama.

The only thing I know for sure right now is that I’m very lucky. I live in campus housing—on the side of Tuscaloosa that didn’t get touched by the recent tornados. In the moments after the storm, my friends and I knew it must have been bad, but it took hours, even days, for the full impact to be realized. Many are dead, and many more have had their lives forever changed.

I cannot accurately describe the way it felt to see my city destroyed—seemingly attacked, with no enemy to blame. Neither can I express the way it felt when I realized that my campus was now more of a refugee camp than a school. Waiting in lines for sandwiches and cups of water, the only available food, we hoped our phone batteries would last long enough to keep bringing us updates until power was restored.

Driving across parts of town that were once bustling hubs of business and student life, and seeing them now dark, deserted, and destroyed was completely surreal. Traffic was worse than it is on Game Day—and if you’ve ever been in Tuscaloosa for a football game, you know that’s saying something.

As we watched the death toll climb, and as we heard news, good and bad, of our friends, armed guards watched us from every street corner, preventing looting in our normally peaceful college town. But over the roar of helicopters piloted by news teams and the National Guard, of generators providing emergency power to campus, and of sirens continually sounding in the distance, there was laughter.

Somehow, despite the feeling of helplessness as we sat in the dark not knowing what to do or how to help, the Tuscaloosa spirit was preserved. Within hours of the double-vortex EF-4 tornado gorging a 1.5-mile wide scar through our town and others, it was evident that it had not destroyed our sense of community. We in the South are known to be resilient, and this time is no exception. Much has been lost, but with it, much opportunity to serve, grow, and move forward.

AL Tornado Old ManTuscaloosa is not the only town affected—much of north Alabama is devastated, with some towns wiped clear off the map.  And as we rebuild, we will do so with a purpose. We will replace the damaged police and fire stations, the water towers, the homes, we will clear the roads of the trees that were thrown, fully uprooted, into the road.

To outsiders, the South is often known more for its poverty and “backwoods” culture than for the beauty and hospitality those that live here enjoy every day. But we now have the chance to rebuild our aging, and in places failing, infrastructure. We will take this chance to rebuild our town, and reclaim our state. We will rebuild Alabama efficiently, with better technology, and do so using less energy.

As droves of volunteers take to the streets, the one thing everyone can see is that it is students taking the reigns on this effort. The youth will not wait patiently for others to fix this problem. We are here to take back Tuscaloosa, bring back Birmingham, and aide all the small towns in between, and make them truly better than ever before.

I lied when I said I only know one thing. I know I’m lucky, but I also know that we’ll move forward from here. I know that Alabama will work together to become better. I know that we will move towards solar energy—so that next time a storm like this happens, millions don’t sit without power. I know we’ll seek real climate solutions, to ease the risk of more of these storms happening. I know that Alabama will be a better state, that our communities will become stronger, and that our youth will step up to the challenge that has been placed before them.

Roll Tide Roll.

Ohio’s Callin; It Wants It’s Rail Funds Back!

Post by Janina Klimas, Coordinator for Ohio Student Environmental Coalition. Cross posted from Energy Action Coalition’s blog.

In Tuesday’s State of the Union President Obama promised to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail in the next 25 years. This is huge! And a far cry from the struggle we are facing with the Governor of Ohio to get rail in the Rustbelt.

Ohio students have wasted no time in registering their disenchantment and disapproval of our recently-inaugurated Governor, matching the speed with which John Kasich began undermining Ohio’s recovery, environmental progress and industrial sector-development with a slew of austerity measures, anti-environmental policies, and conservative attacks on public services, upper education, and organized labor. Even before being formally inaugurated as one of the least popular starting governors in our state’s history, Gov. Kasich was overseeing the wreckage of our infrastructural aspirations through the unabashedly-nonsensical and lopsidedly-partisan initiative to kill the ’3C rail corridor;’ a project designed to not only provide alternative transit to one of the most densely traveled corridors in the U.S. currently not served by high-speed rail, but also to provide jobs for Ohio’s families and beleaguered construction sector, and mobility and access both to Ohio’s young talent and elder residents.

The wash out from his success in killing 3C before even taking office? 16,000 jobs lost, $400 million federal stimulus dollars shipped to other states, and Ohio students joining the rest of the state in their lack of interest in any kind of honeymoon. Continue reading ‘Ohio’s Callin; It Wants It’s Rail Funds Back!’

6 Lessons the Climate Movement Can Learn from Dr. King’s Legacy

“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind [sic] to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind [sic] must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We live in violent times. Our generation has come of age under the specter of terrorism and war, and Millennial youth continue to be the majority of the force currently fighting two wars aboard. Our charged political atmosphere and vigorous finger pointing came to a head last weekend in Tucson. There’s the ongoing destruction by the dirty energy industry, the violence that it’s wrecking on our communities…the list goes on.

Amidst all of this it seems appropriate on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to reflect on his legacy, message for peace and nonviolence and how Dr. King’s wisdom can inform the climate movement and our collective struggle for liberation today.

The challenge of the climate movement is not solely to address the environmental impacts of the climate crisis but to build a social movement strong enough to deal with its consequences. Many climate activists, myself included, hesitate to acknowledge that the question is now not whether we’ll “stop climate change” but whether we can stave off the worst of it.

One of my greatest fears is how our government will respond to the systemic collapse of our climate and economy. If our nation’s past behavior is any indication, we’ll respond with militarism, racism, and war. As sea level rise displaces millions and clean drinking water becomes an ever more scarce resource, what will our government do in the name of “national security?” Lock down the borders, occupy other nations, and seize land to squeeze the last drops of oil from the withered Earth? (I’m not one of those doom and gloom activists, I promise. Keep reading.)

It doesn’t have to be this way. I remain optimistic because I have felt the power of our movement. Now more than ever we need to draw from the bravery, wisdom and leadership of past movements and embody Dr. King’s vision.

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Civil Rights Movement’s achievement was not merely passing the Civil Rights Act but reinventing the moral fabric of our country and giving hope to those living in the shadows of centuries of oppression.

Here are six lessons from Dr. King that can help guide the success of our modern movements:

1. Nonviolence and Love: In the face of unspeakable hatred Dr. King remained dedicated to the principles of nonviolence. We act because we love our fellow beings too much to see them mired in the violence of climate change. We must answer the forces of destruction with the liberation of love and compassion.

2. Spiritual and Moral Courage: Our crisis is not only ecological but deeply spiritual. The destruction of native lands, holy mountains, and sacred rivers like the Ganges is spiritual death. We are disconnected from the natural world and live in alienation from that which sustains us. Seeking to reestablish that connection we fill the void with consumption and destruction. Dr. King recognized the importance of this connection and was deeply devoted to prayer and meditation to guide his actions. We must continue to talk about climate change as a moral crisis and invite the wisdom of the world’s faith traditions.
Continue reading ‘6 Lessons the Climate Movement Can Learn from Dr. King’s Legacy’

Breakin’ it Down in Ohio

Cross posted from Energy Action Coalition’s Blog

In the final days before the election, young people across Ohio are breakin’ it down, literally. They’ve got three objectives in mind: (1) turning out the youth vote, (2) making the case to revitalize the Rust Belt with clean energy solutions like high-speed rail, (3) and having fun.

On Sunday we headed to a rally to pull it all together. President Obama, Gubernatorial Candidate Ted Strickland, and Senatorial Candidate Lee Fisher we’re all going to be there, so we knew we had to make it big! Since it was Halloween we stormed the crowd with “mass transit train” costumes and talked to hundreds of people about why we’re voting for clean mass transit in Ohio, and got them signed up on the Power Vote pledge. (We even got Governor Strickland to sign the pledge!)

Things really started to heat up when the rally got started. Rolling deep with lots of Power Voters we caught the attention of the speakers and they mentioned clean mass transit several times. But the leadership we were looking for came from one of our own ranks! When the musical guest, Common, took the stage, Gabe Morgan from Bowling Green University decided it was time to literally “break–it–down.” He cleared a spot in the crowd, and busted out some ridiculous break-dancing moves. The crowd went wild, and he captivated the entire audience around our message for clean and just energy! Reporters came up to him afterward wanting to get a quote and learn more about the Power Vote campaign. It was epic! Everyone left amped up and ready to turn out the youth vote from across Ohio.

Young people across the state have been raising their voice and turning out the youth vote for clean and just energy. Last night we took our “mass transit costumes” to Bowling Green State University where they had a Trick Out the Vote event and led a major dorm storm.

Politically Ohio is known as the “Bellwether State” and sets the tone for the entire country. With all the leadership the Ohio Student Environmental Coalition (OSEC) is showing, I’m hopeful about the direction of our country!

Hundreds Stage BP “Citizen’s Arrest” – Demonstrate the Power of the People

Cross-posted from

“We want safe jobs and clean energy
No more oil spills – Arrest BP!”

Was the thunderous chant echoing off the monolithic walls of BP’s DC headquarters today when hundreds of protestors turned out in force to deliver them a “Crude Awakening.” From the mouth of our megaphones BP got a strong dose of people power as we rallied and called for a “Citizens Arrest” of CEO Tony Hayward on the charges of criminal negligence.

More than a dozen network news cameras captured our outrage at BP’s criminal negligence to prevent and stop the unfolding disaster in the Gulf. (Check out the initial report from ABC News). Under the hot sun the energy of the crowd was palatable as we chanted and carried images of BP CEO Tony Hayward in a striped prison jumpsuit.

I MC’ed as speakers from Public Citizen, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and Hip Hop Caucus (video) read aloud the charges against BP that included: polluting the political process, disregard for worker safety, price-gouging consumers and taxpayers, and violations of environmental laws.

The timing of the action couldn’t have been better; this week Attorney General Eric Holder announced he was opening a criminal probe of the oil giant. Holding BP criminally accountable is a bold step toward ensuring that the families on the Gulf get compensation for the vast damages to their lively-hoods.

Continue reading ‘Hundreds Stage BP “Citizen’s Arrest” – Demonstrate the Power of the People’

Ethan Nuss

Ethan organizes in Houston, Texas with t.e.j.a.s. and Tar Sands Blockade. He is the former Field Director for the Energy Action Coalition and organized in Maryland with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). His strong dedication to nonviolence drives him to oppose the violent impacts of catastrophic climate change on our human communities.

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