I have worked alongside farmers and ranchers, Native Americans, musical legends, political leaders, artists and activists, students and educators. Despite our many differences—geographic, political, religious, philosophical, socio-economic—we all agree on one thing.
The American people must win the fight against the KeystoneXL (KXL) pipeline.
For so many reasons, there is widespread and deep resistance to the KXL pipeline. Many of the farmers, ranchers, and food advocates who I have worked with express concerns about the risks to family farms. Rightly so. If built, the pipeline route would extend across one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the world, the Ogallala Aquifer, which sits beneath eight states.
A spill could potentially devastate food production in the heartland since farmers and ranchers throughout the entire Midwest and High Plains use the Ogallala for irrigation. On top of that, some farmers and ranchers have been threatened with eminent domain lawsuits. Farmland that has been passed down from family to family for decades could be taken away from property owners.
Others are concerned about the health and safety of their drinking water and, again, there’s cause for alarm. A recent spill in the Yellowstone River poisoned the tap water of many Montana residents, leaving dangerous levels of benzene, a chemical that the EPA has classified as a Group A carcinogen, in their drinking water. That spill forced state officials to truck in drinking water for residents near the spill. Contaminated water could have serious detrimental effects on human health, not to mention the surrounding ecosystems.
Environmentalists are concerned about the impact this project would have on climate change, and for good reason. At its peak the KXL pipeline would pump 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil every day from Canada to Mexico, and mining this filthy form of energy contributes roughly 17 percent more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than traditional oil drilling.
Finally, most people agree that the number of permanent jobs, a mere 35, just isn’t worth the potential environmental and financial risks associated with the implementation of this pipeline.
While winning the fight against the KXL pipeline speaks to my heart for all of these reasons and more, this battle goes beyond protecting the health of our planet and its inhabitants now and in the future.
My generation has not seen a victory of this magnitude.
I don’t mean to discount the achievements we have made, gay marriage for example, but this battle continues and is still illegal in many states. Our success has been extremely limited. As a result, many Americans have become disillusioned, completely skeptical about the integrity of our elected officials, the regulatory process, and our democracy. Even worse, many have become hopeless, feeling as though it is impossible to influence large-scale social change.
I see that hopelessness every single day in the classroom when I engage my university students on issues about environmental and social justice.
Contrary to my own, my parent’s generation contributed to and witnessed enormous victories that were born from acts of civil disobedience, protests, and effective grassroots organizing. The civil rights movement, for example, led to monumental legislative achievements such as the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, all of which banned horrendous discriminatory practices.
The movement against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War is another example of a major victory of their time. Resistance to the War began with small groups of protestors, mostly university students and intellectuals, who worked strategically between 1965 and 1968, eventually attracting a wide base of support. Many Americans supported the War at first, but opposition grew and protests got larger and more visible. Nixon was eventually forced to announce the end of a war that the American people clearly did not support.
I could point to countless other examples of how Americans have united together for a common cause, demanded that their voices be heard, and won. We are powerful, at least we used to be. Our power has been watered down by the rise of corporate power, and this is increasingly true. Citizens United, which gave special interests and their lobbyists far more power than the average American, hasn’t helped the situation, contributing to that hopelessness my students and many others feel.
In 1964, 77 percent of Americans trusted the U.S. government. In 2014, that number was down to a meager 24 percent. What will it take to gain back the trust of our elected officials? I think it starts with winning this fight against TransCanada.
United we stand, and when it comes to the KeystoneXL pipeline, united against it we are. Will our voices be heard? I certainly hope so, because we need a win. The American people have made it clear that we don’t want this dirty pipeline cutting into the land of our great nation. President Obama, I hope you will listen to us.