Last year's recipient of the Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship, environmentalist and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben, was arrested last Monday for protesting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
McKibben was one of 52 environmental activists who were arrested in front of the White House. The pipeline they are protesting against is 1,700 miles long, and if the permit allowing it is signed by President Obama, would significantly increase the flow of tar sands from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The police crackdown turned what was a localized protest, mainly by activists and those who live along the route of the pipeline, into a national issue.
Now, however, people are coming to understand — as we hoped our demonstrations would highlight — that it poses a danger to the whole planet as well. After all, it's the Earth's second largest pool of carbon, and hence the second-largest potential source of global warming gases after the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. We've already plumbed those Saudi deserts. Now the question is: Will we do the same to the boreal forests of Canada. As NASA climatologist James Hansen has made all too clear, if we do so it's "essentially game over for the climate." That message is getting through. Witness the incredibly strong New York Times editorial opposing the building of the pipeline that I was handed on our release from jail.
McKibben was interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! He discussed the financial interests behind the pipeline and Texas governor Rick Perry's statement on global warming:
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of Texas politicians, Bill McKibben, I wanted to play a comment of Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, who recently claimed global warming is a hoax. This is what Perry said at a news conference in New Hampshire.
GOV. RICK PERRY: The issue of global warming has been politicized. I think that there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. And I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. And I don’t think, from my perspective, that I want America to be engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven and, from my perspective, is more and more being put into question.
AMY GOODMAN: That was presidential candidate Perry, the governor of Texas. Bill McKibben?
BILL McKIBBEN: Rick Perry’s response to the drought so far has been to have a statewide day of prayer. Now, I’m a Methodist Sunday school teacher, so I’m completely down with prayer. That’s good. But in most theologies, prayer works a little better if you aren’t at the same time trying to think of every policy you can do to make matters worse. It’s astonishing that someone is able to make George Bush look relatively smart about scientific things. The Governor is completely wrong, of course, about the science. It’s not only strong, it grows stronger with every passing heat wave and every year of record temperature. There’s no scientific doubt.
The only reason that anybody is even considering building this pipeline is because it’s going to make a few big corporations an immense amount of money. And that’s why those corporations and the Koch brothers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are lobbying like crazy for it. We don’t have the money to compete with those guys. All we have, the only alternative currency we have, is our bodies. And that’s what we’re using.
It was interesting to be in jail this weekend and reflect—listen to some of the people on the cell block reflecting on the fact that the last time they were, you know, lying on the ground like this was in some church basement while they were out campaigning for Barack Obama in that fevered fall of 2008. We’re incredibly hopeful that if the President does the right thing here, it will remind a lot of us why we were so enthusiastic about him and send a real jolt of electricity through people that are a little, frankly, discouraged at the moment.
In his statement on winning the Puffin/Nation Prize in 2010, McKibben said, "I'm a beginner as an organizer; it's a great honor to be included on this list of people who have changed America for the better. I am deeply grateful to The Puffin Foundation and The Nation Institute for this recognition of my work. I am even more appreciative that this award is representative of a shared conviction that now is a singular moment in our history for all people of good conscience to come together in defense of the planet. Our work has never been more urgent."
For more information on the Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship — which is accepting nominations through September 12 — please click here.