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People Power Will Stop This Pipeline

There is a spirit of pipeline resistance spreading across our continent. Ranchers in Nebraska have united to protect their land from the Keystone XL pipeline, while college kids a thousand miles away pulled together XL Dissent, the largest act of youth civil disobedience since the Civil Rights movement to defend their future. Texas Tar Sands Blockade fiercely resisted pipeline construction to the South and, currently, in British Columbia, First Nations communities have formed an unbroken wall of resistance to bitumen bound for the Pacific. Last month, when police arrested five protesters and dismantled a blockade of Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline in Innerkip, Ontario, another blockade went up in North York that same day. Climate Justice is our movement, and pipeline resistance is the battle that unites movement frontlines across our continent.


Now, the company that has been leading the effort to extend pipeline networks, TransCanada, has shifted its focus to the Atlantic. With Keystone XL stuck in regulatory limbo and other pipelines under major civic pressure, the company has proposed the Energy East pipeline to create an outlet for tar sands oil. If constructed, Energy East would be the largest oil pipeline on the continent, spanning the 4600 km stretch from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the east coast of Canada.


TransCanada is expected to file a federal application for the pipeline project in late September, which will begin a 15-month review process by Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) to assess if the project is in the public interest. Moves made by Canada’s Conservative Government in 2012, hidden in an omnibus budget bill, gutted environmental regulations and stripped the power of entities that previously managed the federal environmental review process. The impending review of Energy East, a project that would allow for a 40% increase in tar sands production, will only include what the NEB deems "direct effects" of the pipeline. Within the established framework of analysis, the project will be judged outside the context of climate change, with no place for First Nations and Metis who will be affected by tar sands expansion, and will neglect concerns of communities downstream of potential spills.


Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline was the most recent major project to go through the federal review process. Over one thousand people testified against the pipeline while only two people testified in support. As expected, the NEB gave its stamp of approval earlier this summer.


Even with this federal seal of approval, the chance that Northern Gateway will be constructed is looking slim. The leaders of Canada’s Liberal and New Democratic Parties, Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair, have publicly expressed their opposition to Northern Gateway. If construction is delayed until the 2015 election and either party is elected into power, both party leaders have vowed to stop the project entirely. With First Nations’ legal battles already in progress, the project will not only be delayed past the election, but could be in the courts for another decade.  


In response to the NEB’s approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline, Trudeau stated, “Even though governments grant permits, only communities grant permission.” Both Trudeau and Mulcair, however, have also publicly stated their support for the construction of a pipeline to transport Alberta crude to the Atlantic, bringing the attention back to the Energy East pipeline. The political response to the growing public opposition to tar sands pipelines in British Columbia shows the power of public pressure to shape the platform of representative public officials.


This summer, I cycled 3500 km along the proposed route of the Energy East pipeline and through adjoining affected areas. Our team of cyclists created the Energy East Resistance Ride to meet face to face with citizens and grassroots organizers to strengthen the resistance that is beginning to build throughout eastern Canada. Communities have learned from the current opposition to Northern Gateway, from the strength of the movement against KXL that has delayed a federal permit decision for three years now, as well as from the bold actions currently underway that are delaying forward movement on Line 9. Energy East is the largest of all the proposed tar sands pipelines and it demands a movement that is even mightier to stop it.


When TransCanada files an application to the NEB for review in September, we will kickstart our ‘People’s Intervention.’ We will stand with mayors who reject the pipeline to protect their municipality’s water supply. We will stand with communities fighting to prevent the pipeline from endangering the habitats of the Belugas in the Saint Lawrence and the Right Whales in the Bay of Fundy. We will stand with First Nations pursuing legal battles to deny construction of large legs of the pipeline route.


Earlier this year, I was arrested with 398 other young people in an act of peaceful civil disobedience in front of the White House in Washington, DC. We stood behind a banner that read, “Obama: Stop this pipeline or the people will,” referring to the Keystone XL pipeline. The youth generation today marks the end of an era of climate denial and the beginning of a strive for climate justice. We are not depending on corrupt review process that tell us that pipelines for tar sands expansion will have “no significant environmental impacts,” or one that neglects to include “climate” within an environmental analysis. We are staging a people’s intervention because unified power of people and communities has been the only thing delaying these pipelines and may be the only reliable force to ultimately prevent their construction.


SustainUS COP20 Delegation Releases Vision and Mission Statements

Our Vision

We strive to demand climate justice for our generation and for those to come. We dream of a future where environmental, social, and economic sustainability go hand in hand, made true by emboldened citizens and leaders who grasp the urgency of the climate crisis, and who rise to meet the occasion. We believe in the creativity, fortitude, and power of people – especially youths – to recast the status quo and rewrite our future."

Our Mission

Through proactive research, outreach, and advocacy – balancing activism and policy engagement – we strive as a COP 20 youth delegation to:

MOTIVATE: Galvanize a sense of generational mission in youths by empowering young people worldwide to become actively engaged in addressing the climate crisis, so that we may serve as a catalyst for positive change.

Read more: SustainUS COP20 Delegation Releases Vision and Mission Statements

Why the People's Climate March will matter at the United Nations

As youth delegates from SustainUS, we work to represent the youth of the US climate justice movement within the United Nations' debates on climate change. In this capacity, we travel to the UN climate change negotiations every year. There, we aim to make change both in the outcome text of the negotiations and in the media narrative surrounding international climate policy. This December, we will attend COP20 in Lima, Peru, and we’re already full of ideas for what we’d like to see. Ask any one of us and we can tell you what we’re hoping for on a personal level. Our list of demands in these negotiations is as diverse as our personal backgrounds, the immediate needs of our communities, and our hopes for a more just, sustainable shared future.

But every year, progress is slow, and watching the ideas you care about called into question again and again is discouraging. And when the negotiations completely fall apart, like they did at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, it can be utterly heartbreaking. Whether you’re in the talks or watching media coverage back home, watching your home country’s negotiators often produces the same reaction: How could they do something like this?

The answer to that question is one of the reasons the People’s Climate March matters. There’s nothing wrong with the individual people representing the United States in the room at COP. They aren’t evil people, or climate deniers seeking to actively undermine the talks. They’re decent human beings just trying to do their jobs. They’re trapped in a world of severe political constraints, because everything they agree to in the context of the UN must be something that can survive back in the United States. That’s the sticking point. For the vast majority of US politicians, climate change is, at best, an issue to be avoided, and at worst, something to deny to win quick political points.  

But there’s a misunderstanding on their part. The people who represent you, at the UN and in Congress, think you don’t care about climate change. And until US politicians truly believe their constituents care about climate change, the US will remain unambitious in UN talks. Continuing the current state of affairs means more precious time is passing without international action on one of the most critical issues of our time. Every day that goes by with politicians believing that their constituents don’t care how they act on climate means another day negotiators are bound by a lack of political will when they travel to COP. Without a change, political gridlock will continue to prevent US leadership on climate change.    

This is why the People’s Climate March is so important. Action at the UN will not happen without outside pressure. Americans, and especially youth, who will feel the impacts of climate change more acutely than any other generation before us, must apply that pressure. We must demonstrate our commitment to this issue, and build a broader stronger movement than ever before to call for climate justice and a better world.

Come to New York and show the people who represent you how much you care about acting on climate change. Members of Congress, State Department officials, and President Obama: By the time we’re done marching, they will not doubt what we value, or question how strong our convictions are. Come if you are able, follow the March on social media, and tell your friends and family. The impacts could be global.  


Emily Nosse-Leirer is leading the SustainUS delegation to COP20. You can follow the delegation at @SustainUSAgents and, and find her at @EmilyRNL.