This Sunday 12,000 people, including Wesleyan students, held hands and encircled the White House in Washington, D.C. to protest TransCanada’s request for President Obama to allow construction of the Keystone XL Tar Sands pipeline. The pipeline would be used to transport crude oil from Canada to U.S. refineries.
President Obama has since announced that construction on the pipeline will be postponed to allow for exploration of alternative routes, pushing any definitive decision on the issue till well past the 2012 election date.
Marjorie Dodson ’13, who helped organize the trip, said that she hoped the presence of large quantities of young people would sway Obama’s opinion.
“The idea was to get all of these people, especially smart, young people who Obama doesn’t want behind bars,” said Dodson. “Obama doesn’t want to have them against him. Nobody wants them against him because they are the future, and we are really what this country is depending on in the future.”
The environmental organization 350.org, a group aimed at limiting the concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts-per-million, helped organize the event. James Hansen, whose research formed the basis of the 350.org, spoke at the protest.
Zachary Burns ’14 said Hansen’s speech was sobering.
“He is terrified of the implications of this project going through and seemed extremely upset when he spoke,” Burns said. “Just seeing someone who understands the scientific facts the way he does made the situation seem very real.”
According to environmental activists, the construction of the pipeline would involve ripping up oil forests in Canada, and transporting 700,000 barrels per day from Alberta, Canada to Texas. Activists say this would increase global warming gas emissions, cause more air and water pollution, and result in the destruction of wildlife habitats.
The environmental consequences of TransCanada’s earlier Keystone project are another point of contention. Dodson says that when it was first built, TransCanada predicted one leak every seven years. However, there were 12 leaks in one year.
TransCanada said that this pipeline will allow them to link the oil supply in Canada with the high concentration of refineries in the southern United. TransCanada emphasize that construction of this pipeline will create jobs.
The Environmental Organizers Network (EON) of Wesleyan and the Yale Student Environmental Coalition (YSEC) worked together to bring students from Connecticut to the protest. Hansen and Burns, two of the people who helped organize the transportation between the schools, said they rented a charter bus together so they could split the cost and the numbers. The Green Fund paid for the bus tickets.
“After meeting a bunch of bright-eyed, ambitious, young, Yale students at 350ct’s Moving Planet Day back in September, in which a bunch of Wesleyan students went down to New Haven to participate in the day of action there concerning climate justice issues, we decided that we wanted to combine forces,” Hansen said.
Rebecca Rubenstein ’15 had been following the story of the pipeline since the summer. When she found out about the protest through EON’s listserve, she said she wanted to demonstrate her support.
“Hopefully it was enough of a showing to convince President Obama to prevent the construction of the pipeline,” Rubenstein said.
Isabel Stern ’14 said she believes this sort of rally should be heavily covered by the media. She said the speakers were influential and the experience was moving, but that most of the people there were already convinced the pipeline should not be built.
“I think it’s hard because the people who are going to these rallies aren’t the people who need to be swayed,” Stern said. “Global climate change is such an urgent problem that people don’t believe is as urgent as it really is.”
Rebecca Wilton ’15 said this was the first protest she has attended.
“Most of the people that I’ve talked to who worked at the protest didn’t have any knowledge about the Keystone pipeline,” Wilton said. “If the person doesn’t have a personal stake in the oil companies, there’s no reason for them to support this pipeline.”
Dodson does not think that Obama will ultimately allow the pipeline to be built.