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Civil Disobedience Needed Against Keystone XL Pipeline

From Walden to the White House - We are watching a global crisis unfold before our eyes, and to stand aside and let it happen -- even though we know how to stop it -- would be unconscionable. We can't afford to lose a single major battle. That's why the Sierra Club's Board of Directors has for the first time endorsed an act of peaceful civil disobedience (two items).

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 Sierra Club Turns To Civil Disobedience - Direct Action
 Pressure on Washington on Climate Change
  By Michael Brune
 January 22, 2013
 If you could do it nonstop, it would take you six days to
 walk from Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond to President
 Barack Obama's White House. For the Sierra Club, that
 journey has taken much longer. For 120 years, we have
 remained committed to using every "lawful means" to achieve
 our objectives. Now, for the first time in our history, we
 are prepared to go further.
 Next month, the Sierra Club will officially participate in
 an act of peaceful civil resistance. We'll be following in
 the hallowed footsteps of Thoreau, who first articulated the
 principles of civil disobedience 44 years before John Muir
 founded the Sierra Club.
 Some of you might wonder what took us so long. Others might
 wonder whether John Muir is sitting up in his grave. In
 fact, John Muir had both a deep appreciation for Thoreau and
 a powerful sense of right and wrong. And it's the issue of
 right versus wrong that has brought the Sierra Club to this
 unprecedented decision.
 For civil disobedience to be justified, something must be so
 wrong that it compels the strongest defensible protest. Such
 a protest, if rendered thoughtfully and peacefully, is in
 fact a profound act of patriotism. For Thoreau, the wrongs
 were slavery and the invasion of Mexico. For Martin Luther
 King, Jr., it was the brutal, institutionalized racism of
 the Jim Crow South. For us, it is the possibility that the
 United States might surrender any hope of stabilizing our
 planet's climate.
 As President Obama eloquently said during his inaugural
 address, "You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to
 shape the debates of our time, not only with the votes we
 cast, but the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient
 values and enduring ideas."
 As citizens, for us to give up on stopping runaway global
 temperatures would be all the more tragic if it happened at
 the very moment when we are seeing both tremendous growth in
 clean energy and firsthand evidence of what extreme weather
 can do. Last year, record heat and drought across the nation
 wiped out half of our corn crop and 60 percent of our
 pasturelands. Wildfires in Colorado, Texas, and elsewhere
 burned nearly nine million acres. And superstorm Sandy
 brought devastation beyond anyone's imagining to the Eastern
 We are watching a global crisis unfold before our eyes, and
 to stand aside and let it happen -- even though we know how
 to stop it -- would be unconscionable. As the president said
 on Monday, "to do so would betray our children and future
 generations."  It couldn't be simpler: Either we leave at
 least two-thirds of the known fossil fuel reserves in the
 ground, or we destroy our planet as we know it. That's our
 choice, if you can call it that.
 The Sierra Club has refused to stand by. We've worked hard
 and brought all of our traditional tactics of lobbying,
 electoral work, litigation, grassroots organizing, and
 public education to bear on this crisis. And we have had
 great success -- stopping more than 170 coal plants from
 being built, securing the retirement of another 129 existing
 plants, and helping grow a clean energy economy. But time is
 running out, and there is so much more to do. The stakes are
 enormous. At this point, we can't afford to lose a single
 major battle. That's why the Sierra Club's Board of
 Directors has for the first time endorsed an act of peaceful
 civil disobedience.
 In doing so, we're issuing a challenge to President Obama,
 who spoke stirringly in his inaugural address about how
 America must lead the world on the transition to clean
 energy. Welcome as those words were, we need the president
 to match them with strong action and use the first 100 days
 of his second term to begin building a bold and lasting
 legacy of clean energy and climate stability.
 That means rejecting the dangerous tar sands pipeline that
 would transport some of the dirtiest oil on the planet, and
 other reckless fossil fuel projects from Northwest coal
 exports to Arctic drilling. It means following through on
 his pledge to double down again on clean energy, and cut
 carbon pollution from smokestacks across the country. And,
 perhaps most of all, it means standing up to the fossil fuel
 corporations that would drive us over the climate cliff
 without so much as a backward glance.
 One of my favorite quotes is from Martin Luther King, Jr.,
 although it has its roots in the writings of Theodore Parker
 (an acquaintance of Henry David Thoreau): "The arc of the
 moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." I
 believe that, given sufficient time, our government would
 certainly follow the moral arc that leads to decisive action
 on this crisis. We have a democracy, and the tide of public
 opinion has shifted decisively. What's more, I doubt that
 even the most ardent climate denier actually wants to
 destroy our world.
 We have a clear understanding of the crisis. We have
 solutions. What we don't have is time. We cannot afford to
 wait, and neither can President Obama.
 [From Coming Clean - the blog of Sierra Club Executive
 Director Michael Brune.]
 = = =
 A chat with the Sierra Club's Michael Brune about civil
 By David Roberts
 January 28, 2013
Grist - A Beacon in the Smog
 Civil Disobedience Needed Against Keystone XL pipeline
 Earlier this month, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael
 Brune announced that the Club would, for the first time in
 its long and storied history, officially participate in an
 act of civil disobedience - i.e., break the law. The target?
 The Keystone XL pipeline. "For civil disobedience to be
 justified, something must be so wrong that it compels the
 strongest defensible protest," he wrote. "Such a protest, if
 rendered thoughtfully and peacefully, is in fact a profound
 I called Brune to get some insight on the Club's thinking
 and its future plans.
 Q. How was this decision made?
 A. One of the strengths of the Club is that we are a
 democratically driven organization. If you're a member and
 you write a check for $30, you get to vote on who's on our
 board, and the board sets policies. The board voted to
 authorize the Sierra Club to engage in civil disobedience,
 to pressure the president to use his full authority to
 reject the Keystone pipeline. There will likely be a
 conversation about the Club's position on civil disobedience
 more broadly, but all that has happened so far is approval
 to take this single action.
 Q. Obviously nothing is stopping members of Sierra Club from
 engaging in civil disobedience on their own. What is the
 significance of this sort of authorization?
 A. Sierra Club members and even board members have
 participated as individuals. What is different now is, one,
 that the club itself is endorsing this civil disobedience
 and organizing to make it effective and strategic. And two,
 we are putting it in the context of a larger plan to support
 the president in realizing his vision and make sure his
 ambition meets the scale of the challenge.
 Q. What exactly is the action?
 A. I can't tell you that. I'd love to give Grist the inside
 scoop on it, but if I say, "Hello world, we're going to be
 on the corner of 22nd and Z Ave." ... we probably won't be
 able to pull it off.
 Q. Do you worry that this will cost the Sierra Club access
 to policymakers, or credibility inside the halls of power?
 A. No. The Sierra Club has the most recognized brand in the
 country on environmental issues; we've been around for 120
 years; we have millions of members and active supporters who
 are involved in every state, in every congressional
 district, in every city, in just about every county in the
 country. We have a strong track record of being very
 determined, very relentless, but also strategic and
 pragmatic in advocating for smarter environmental policies.
 None of that changes simply because we are also employing
 civil disobedience. Civil disobedience has a long and proud
 tradition in our country.
 Q. Why did this come up now? Who got it on the agenda?
 A. It came from a couple of directions. The Sierra Club has
 delegates from across the country who gather every year in
 September. At one of their recent gatherings, they voted to
 ask the board of directors to allow the club to engage in
 civil disobedience. This had been done before - there had
 been many attempts to have the board approve this and none
 of them went forward. The board tabled for some time, to
 consider it, and then I helped bring it to the board back in
 December and a decision was made in January.
 Q. What's changed? Is it the composition of the board of
 directors, or is it circumstances?
 A. It's all external, really. Look at the year we had - the
 wildfires, the record drought, the derecho, Superstorm
 Sandy, a full degree Fahrenheit warmer than we've ever seen
 in the lower 48. That's an extraordinary year. We have a
 president who gets the issue, cares about climate change and
 its impacts on our country, and has elevated climate to the
 short list of priorities in his second term. Yet the
 president has considerable executive authority that isn't
 being exercised. So what motivated the board is the fact
 that we need to create political moments that break through
 the lethargy and the paralysis that is gripping Washington
 right now in order to help prompt more inspirational
 Q. Why Keystone XL? Obama has EPA power plant regulations
 coming up. He's leasing Powder River Basin coal for pennies
 on the dollar. Those arguably involve more direct CO2
 emissions. What it is about Keystone that prompted this?
 A. Two reasons: One, by itself, Keystone is a climate
 disaster. We simply can't transport 700,000-800,000 barrels
 of oil [a day] from one of the dirtiest, most carbon-
 intensive oil sources on the planet and say that we're
 sincere in our commitment to fight climate change. You can't
 cut carbon pollution and expand production of a carbon-
 intensive fuel source.
 The other reason is that we learned last year from [the
 International Energy Agency] and Bill McKibben the "New
 Math." We know that we have to keep at least two-thirds of
 all coal, all oil, all gas reserves in the ground if we're
 to have a shot at keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius -
 which is, in itself, a reckless goal to embrace as a
 society. If we're to have a shot at transforming how we look
 at fossil fuel energy resources, and convincing
 policymakers, we need symbols. We need to find high-profile,
 extreme sources of energy and turn away from them, as a way
 to begin and lead a transition away from dirty fuels.
 So when you look at North America, those extreme energy
 sources are the tar sands, first and foremost. But also
 mountaintop-removal coal mining, drilling for oil in the
 Arctic - sadly, there are plenty of targets to choose from.
 We picked the tar sands because it's among the most high-
 profile and highly destructive and it's going to be one of
 first big decisions coming from the president in the first
 half of the year.
 Q. What is the role of civil disobedience today? How can it
 make an impact?
 A. Civil disobedience can highlight the urgency of a
 particular injustice and can increase the profile of a
 particular problem. It doesn't always work that way, but it
 can. Look at the Dreamers if you want a good example of how
 civil disobedience works. Or look at how gay rights
 advocates have organized so effectively to bring at least
 some equality to gay and lesbian Americans in the military
 or states across the country.
 So civil disobedience can be effective. But I would also
 say: Rarely is it effective if we're not also employing
 every other means of social change, whether it's creative
 communications, engaging with artists and entertainers, or
 classic organizing, phone banking, doing stuff online. If we
 think the only thing missing is civil disobedience, then
 we're probably kidding ourselves, because there's a lot of
 straight-up hard work to be done to make sure that we're
 Q. Is the Sierra Club going to help with legal defense if
 there are arrests?
 A. I don't want to get involved in the actual scenario, but
 we'll do everything we can to make sure that it's a
 peaceful, thoughtful, respectful, and effective
 demonstration. We will provide the support necessary to pull
 off the event, but the individuals taking part in it will
 assume responsibility for their own actions. I will be
 involved in this event and risking arrest as well.
 Q. Has the Sierra Club done anything to coordinate with
 other groups who are trying to organize similar actions?
 A. That's an excellent question. I'll be happy to answer it
 sometime later in February.