‘Forward on Climate’ rally held in D.C.

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Region - posted Mon., Feb. 18, 2013
An estimated 40,000 people gathered at the Washington Monument on Feb. 17 before marching to the White House. Photos by Michael Wuesthoff. - Contributed Photo

The Sierra Club, one of the organizers of the Feb. 17 “Forward on Climate” rally in Washington, D.C., sent out regular e-mail updates in the weeks leading up to the event. The club touted the event as the largest environmental rally in the history of the United States, and said that an estimated 10,000 supporters were expected. By the time that protestors were preparing to leave on a march that would take them from the National Mall to the White House, the Sierra Club was estimating attendance at 35,000. By sundown, that estimate had risen above 40,000.

The rally participants came on buses and planes, in private vehicles and by Amtrak. They came from all over the country. They came despite temperatures in the 30s, with a wind chill factor that made it feel significantly colder. They represented all ages, races and socio-economic groups. But they had one thing in common: they shared a concern for the environment, and a desire to compel President Barack Obama to help preserve a livable planet for future generations.

A primary focus of the event, co-sponsored by 350.org and The Hip-Hop Caucus, was the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. “The first step to putting our country on the path to addressing the climate crisis is for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline,” reads a 350.org press release for the rally. If Obama and the State Department approve TransCanada’s permit, the pipeline will stretch from Hardisty in Alberta, Canada, through the heartland of the United States to refineries in Texas. Obama has delayed the approval of the pipeline, but a final determination has yet to be made. Proponents of the project tout the potential for jobs for U.S. workers, and say that the line will help to reduce U.S. dependence upon foreign oil.

Opponents, however, claim that these benefits are highly overrated, and are far outweighed by potential damages to the environment and to human and animal health and safety. “A rupture in the Keystone XL pipeline could cause a BP-style oil spill in America's heartland, over the source of fresh drinking water for 2 million people,” according to the Sierra Club. “NASA's top climate scientist says that fully developing the tar sands in Canada would mean ‘essentially game over’ for the climate.”

Along with denying the pipeline's permit, rally organizers hope to see Obama work to limit U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and to lead the country to a swift transition to renewable energy. This breadth of focus was also evident in rally attendees. There were scores of people dressed as polar bears marching to bring attention to the impending peril faced by Arctic habitats. As they marched, a group of eight bears and one walrus kept cadence with a chant: “What do we like? Polar bears. What do they need?  Ice.” There were protestors dressed as Sandill cranes, drawing attention to the yearly migration of these birds through the lakes and ponds along the Platte River in Nebraska. Conservationists claim that the XL pipeline could place the Ogallala Aquifer, and the birds, in peril.

There were signs provided by organizers denouncing the pipeline, but many marchers chose to carry their own homemade messages. “The Earth is the Lord’s, not TransCanada’s,” read a sign carried by Austin Heights Baptist Church. “Nuclear Power? No thanks!” read a bright yellow banner with a smiling orange sun. “Only you can prevent faucet fires” and “Fossil fuels are so 2000” were two of the more humorous contributions. There were simple depictions of the earth on a royal blue background. “No dirty tar sands oil,” took a more straightforward approach. “We will dismantle the pipeline,” read a large, white banner stretching more than 10 feet across.

As they marched, in a column stretching more than three city blocks, protestors took up a number of different chants, including, “What does democracy look like? We are what democracy looks like.” After marching a little more than half a mile through the streets of the nation’s capital city, protestors arrived at a White House heavily-guarded by Secret Service. Obama was not available to acknowledge them, as he was reportedly in Florida on Sunday, playing golf with Tiger Woods.

For more information about the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, go to http://action.sierraclub.org/site/PageServer?pagename=forwardonclimate_t....

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