Civil disobedience at the White House: standing up for the climate future Americans deserve

Last night, in the State of the Union, the President showed that America is prepared to lead to bobby kennedy 1 credit M Blanding Feb 2013 KXL Action.jpglimit climate change and carbon pollution. Today, 48 environmental, civil rights, science and community leaders put themselves on the line, engaging in civil disobedience in front of the White House to show how deeply they care about the dangers of climate change and how important it is to follow strong words of commitment with action.

This is a snapshot of the growing public concern around America. According to a national poll conducted immediately after last night’s State of the Union speech for NRDC, fully 65 percent of Americans think that climate change is a serious problem and a substantial majority support President Obama using his authority to reduce its main cause, dangerous carbon pollution.

Climate change is something we need to fight together and risking arrest shows how deep the concerns are about energy decisions facing America. Two looming decisions include whether to permit the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and whether to set limits on carbon pollution from power plants. On Sunday, thousands more will march peacefully around the White House to echo the concerns of those being arrested today and to tell the President that we have his back in standing up to climate change and carbon polluters.

At today’s action by and the Sierra Club those being arrested included folks who have been directly harmed by the storms, floods and droughts of climate change as well as those in the path of dirty fuels projects such as the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The group took a stand together at the White House fence and would not move when police asked them to. For this they were arrested one by one.

Rancher Randy Thompson from Nebraska who has long fought to protect Nebraska lands from the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline said: “Keystone XL presents a real threat to some of our nation’s most valuable natural resources, especially our rivers, streams and underground aquifers. These are priceless American assets that no amount of oil money, foreign or otherwise, could ever replace.”

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, who is a senior attorney at NRDC, was also one of those arrested. Speaking prior to the action, Kennedy said: “The science is clear. Climate change is not just an economic issue, it is a moral issue.  I do not believe that Keystone XL will happen. I believe that President Obama and Secretary Kerry will do the right thing. And we need to show our support.”

President Obama’s commitment to fight climate change during the State of the Union makes commitment from the public even more important – and what better way to show that commitment then by taking action to urge action. The President said:

“But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.  Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend.  But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15.  Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense.  We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence.  Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.”  

This is a critical time to show the world and especially the fossil fuel industry, that the American public has the President’s back and that we stand for decisive action to fight climate change. It is important for the Administration to build on the steps it’s already taken, including reducing our dependence on oil with fuel efficiency standards and proposing limits on carbon pollution from new power plants.

As noted by my colleague Danielle Droitsch in her blog about what the State of the Union address means for Canada, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project would pipe some of the dirtiest oil on the planet through the breadbasket of America to be shipped overseas through the Gulf of Mexico. It would be a disaster for our climate: producing tar sands crude kicks out two or three times as much carbon pollution as producing conventional crude oil and the Keystone XL project will drive expansion of tar sands causing climate change pollution we can’t afford. We don’t need another pipeline for Canadian tar sands. It’s not in our national interest but is a profit scheme for big oil that needs to be rejected.

And when it comes to power plants, the president has both the authority and the responsibility to limit the amount of industrial carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. We need not only to finalize the standards for new power plants, but also to put in place standards for existing power plants. Taking this action will set the right course for reducing carbon pollution domestically and send the right signals that the U.S. is ready to lead globally. NRDC has laid out a common-sense plan that will cut carbon pollution from these polluting power plants.

So join us at the next opportunity to show the President that we have his back in standing up to carbon pollution and climate change.  Join us at the February 17 Forward on Climate Rally in Washington, D.C. And as Robert Redford says in this video on the need to take action to fight climate change: Stand up for the future you know we deserve.

About the Authors

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Chief Program Officer

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