My Presidents Day weekend was spent in DC, in the shadow of history and amongst folks who share my concerns of its looming implications. 35,000 of them actually, at the Forward on Climate rally just below the Washington Monument on Sunday, the largest gathering in history calling for aggressive action on climate change.
And a chunk of the massive crowd seemed to be coming from the Midwest, like me. I traveled in from Chicago with a crew of extremely bright and engaged local students representing the Alliance for Climate Education. At the rally, I saw folks from Mizzou (go Tigers!). Signs from proud Iowans, Minnesotans, Hoosiers, Nebraskans and Buckeyes (enough of the Big 10 and original Big 8 to put together a heck of a basketball tourney).
While marching, I was struck by one sign in particular. It was in the shape of Michigan. Pretty cool in its construction, as it got the whole state into the mix (the mitten and the UP). But the text was haunting: oil in the river two years later. A reference to the Kalamazoo River and the tar sands oil still being cleaned from the waterway bottom after the worst inland oil spill in this nation's history.
As we’ve noted on this blog before, the Upper Midwest is the current epicenter of tar sands refining (though the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is intended to shift that some). That means in this part of the country, we’ve already seen the ugliness that comes from that sludgy Alberta oil: polluting refineries in places like Whiting, IN and southeast Detroit, pipeline spills and the historic gas price spikes that have followed them. Deepening our commitment to the most carbon heavy petroleum on the planet would spread that mess all the more widely (and the intent of Keystone XL would be to push it around the globe, since its an export pipeline)...
From the looks of it at the rally, a lot of Midwesterners are not keen on that idea and traveled to DC to remind the president that there is a lot he can be doing, right now, to curb the damage from high carbon fuels like coal and tar sands. Stuck in the midst of a stubborn drought that has brought historic low levels to our nation’s most importantfreshwater ecosystems and decimated crops, the need for climate action seems obvious from here in the middle of the country. And in Michigan, where the Kalamazoo cleanup continues, residents in parts of the state feel trampled by another pipeline project and coastal communities fret over the seemingly wrong-headed proposal to return to oil tankers on the Great Lakes awareness seems particularly acute. Sadly, all of those could threaten more signs like the one I saw in DC.