Two days ago I demonstrated outside the Portland Business Alliance in downtown Portland. There are lots of good reasons to demonstrate against the PBA, but on this occasion my friends had learned that Earl Blumenauer, an alleged “climate hawk” and ally in Congress, was attending a luncheon sponsored by TransCanada. TransCanada, of course, is the corporation behind the now infamous tar sands pipeline, which NASA’s James Hansen says will mean “game over for the climate” if allowed to move forward. The violent and illegal methods that TransCanada is using to extract tar sands from sovereign indigenous lands in Canada has led to Idle No More — an international movement of environmental resistance that has participated in rail and road blockades, round-dance flashmobs, hunger strikes, and mass demonstrations.
My comrades called Earl several times on a bike tour of Portland’s worst corporate polluters, and even made a special trip to the corporate headquarters of ESCO, whose website lists 7 “mission critical” products required for tar sands extraction (its Vice President Eric Cornilles sits on the board of the PBA – just one of many corporate polluters, tar sands profiteers, and all-around ass-hats).
Earl’s staff assured us this was just standard operating procedure – a meeting he does every year with local constituents. When I called his office myself to ask if TransCanada was one of his local constituents, his staffer performed a stunning dual movement – offering me a meeting while simultaneously hanging up on me (he was off the phone within about 10 seconds of me saying the word “TransCanada”).
Obviously I wasn’t being taken seriously. So the next morning I headed to Earl’s office with 8 other people and was quickly intercepted by his district director Willie Smith. Willie made it clear that ditching a meeting sponsored by modern-day conquistadors would violate the spirit of free speech. Our system gives everyone equal access and equal speech, he explained, “And that’s what makes our system so great.” When asked what responsibility he has to meet with those who systematically silence and oppress others – like the First Nations of Alberta, Canada, he seemed confused, and said he would have to look into it.
Obviously we were still not being taken seriously. So our group headed across the river to the PBA building, unfurled banners, and began slamming the Keystone pipeline. Earl showed up with Willie after about 20 minutes, and something very interesting came out during that brief conversation.
“I’ve not been excited about the pipeline – I’ve been one of the members of Congress who’s urged the administration to do it right [emphasis added]…”
In other words, it seems that our progressive, bike-loving, bow-tie wearing environmental Congressman from Portland is not against the Keystone pipeline – he simply wants it done right. This is problematic, because if the contents of the pipe are going to melt the planet, there is no way to “do it right”. If Earl does not understand this, we need to get him re-focused, or else quickly put to rest the idea that he is some sort of “climate hawk”.
To his credit, Earl has been one of the few members of Congress to really go after the pipeline: he’s gone after some of its more obscene federal subsidies, written a letter to the Secretary of State addressing the inadequacy of its environmental analysis, as well as the now obvious conflict of interest in who performed that analysis (TransCanada), and has even requested that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deny the current route by deeming it “not in the national interest.” But it should be clear to everyone by now that ANY route IS NOT in the national interest, nor in the climate’s interest, nor in the local interests of anyone who breathes, drinks water, or eats food. And Blumenauer’s latest approach to Keystone is a bit more tangential – the carbon tax.
It doesn’t take a genius to understand why a carbon tax has no chance of passing in this Congress. To put it simply, Congressional power dynamics have not changed – fossil fuel companies are still dominating the mainstream media, purchasing support in Congress, buying Supreme Court decisions that define money as speech, and even our most “progressive” Congressmen are still meeting with climate criminals, ignoring the strongest arguments against trashing the planet, and refusing to stand on principle against new fossil fuel extraction. Worse still, the new “market-based” approaches are very easily watered down, and completely fail to address the human rights violations that have always coincided with fossil fuel extraction and deforestation – the leading drivers of climate change. But we are now at a time when ground-level power dynamics are changing — direct action is growing, indigenous power is growing, and directly affected communities are rising up and saying no. Recognizing and moving with this groundswell is what real leaders are doing, and must continue with even greater resolve.
Earl could be doing this. He could make hay about the violations of international law and the rights of indigenous peoples in Canada – instead he shakes hands with corporate polluters and describes tar sands extraction as “potentially dangerous”. Mr. Blumenauer – the danger has already arrived. The Pacific coast is acidifying, our marine ecosystem is facing oblivion, and the first nations of Canada are literally being colonized and poisoned. In Fort Chipewyan, 100 of the town’s 1,200 residents have already died of cancer.
The promise of kinder, gentler tar sands, with pipedreams of a carbon tax down the road are precisely the kind of proposals that the conquistadors at ESCO and the financiers at Chase Bank can applaud. They are the natural result of discussing climate policy with the most ruthless and callous polluters in the country. Attending luncheons sponsored by their most notorious backer sends a signal that you are not serious about fighting climate change. That needs to change immediately. Making a socially just transition out of a fossil fuel economy leaves no space for corporate-friendly messages about “right-sizing” fossil fuel projects, finding the “sweet spot” on LNG exports, or “doing it right” on the pipeline. To fossil companies, these phrases — and the market-friendly policies that go along with them — are easy to understand precisely because they are so easy to sabotage. Taking this route means failing before the battle has even begun.
If you are genuinely interested in discussing alternative approaches, or in learning about perspectives from the global south, our lunch offer still stands. I can assure you that our food is better than the PBA’s – not to mention our choice in ties.
Portland Rising Tide