Watch Phase One of Tar Sands Action at the White House:

To Petition Barack Obama visit:

Photo Credit: Shadia Fayne Wood
Photo Credit: Ben Powless

Nobel Peace Laureates Condemn Tar Sands Pipeline in Letter to Obama

Before & After image of Alberta Tar Sands

September 7, 2011

Dear President Obama,
We—a group of Nobel Peace Laureates—are writing today to ask you to do the right thing for
our environment and reject the proposal to build the Keystone XL, a 1700-mile pipeline that
would stretch from Canada’s Alberta tar sands to the Texas Gulf Coast.

It is your decision to make.

The night you were nominated for president, you told the world that under your leadership—and working together—the rise of the oceans will begin to slow and the planet will begin to heal. You spoke of creating a clean energy economy. This is a critical moment to make good on that pledge, and make a lasting contribution to the health and well being of everyone of this planet.

In asking you to make this decision, we recognize the more than 1200 Americans who risked arrest to protest in front of the White House between August 20th and September 3rd. These brave individuals have spoken movingly about experiencing the power of nonviolence in facing authority. They represent millions of people whose lives and livelihoods will be affected by
construction and operation of the pipeline in Alberta, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

All along its prospective route, the pipeline endangers farms, wildlife and precious water aquifers—including the Ogallala Aquifer, the US’ main source of freshwater for America’s heartland. We are aware that Nebraska’s Governor Dave Heineman—as well as two Nebraska Senators—has urged you to reconsider the pathway of the pipeline. In his letter to you he clearly stated his concern about the threat to this crucial water source for Nebraska’s farmers and
ranchers. The aquifer supplies drinking water to two million people in Nebraska and seven other

We know that another pipeline that covers some of the same route as the proposed pipeline, and built by the same company proposing to build Keystone XL, already leaked 14 times over its first year of operation.

Like you, we understand that strip-mining and drilling tar sands from under Alberta’s Boreal forests and then transporting thousands of barrels of oil a day from Canada through to Texas will not only hurt people in the US—but will also endanger the entire planet. After the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, the full development of the Alberta tar sands will create the world’s second largest
potential source of global warming gases. As NASA climatologist James Hansen has said, this is “essentially game over for the climate.”

There is a better way.

Your rejection of the pipeline provides a tremendous opportunity to begin transition away from our dependence on oil, coal and gas and instead increase investments in renewable energies and energy efficiency.

We urge you to say ‘no’ to the plan proposed by the Canadian-based company TransCanada to build the Keystone XL, and to turn your attention back to supporting renewable sources of energy and clean transportation solutions. This will be your legacy to Americans and the global community: energy that sustains the lives and livelihoods of future generations.


Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate (1976) – Ireland
Betty Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate (1976) – Ireland
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Laureate (1980) – Argentina
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Laureate (1984) – South Africa
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Nobel Peace Laureate (1989) – Tibet
Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Nobel Peace Laureate (1992) – Guatemala
José Ramos-Horta, Nobel Peace Laureate (1996) – East Timor
Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate (1997) – USAShirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Laureate (2003) – Iran

What's wrong with Keystone XL?

Aug.29 outside the White House. Photo Credit: Shadia Fayne Wood

by Luke Massman-Johnson

September 1, 2011

Society is a tragically short-sighted beast, and it will be our undoing.

Scientific predictions of global warming date back to the 19th century, but in the most recent 25 years – despite a quarter-century of alarming measurements, a growing and irrefutable avalanche of data, and 47,000 independent peer-reviewed scientific papers – the top climate scientists from around the world have been ineffective against the fossil fuel lobby. This small but incredibly powerful and profitable cartel of industrial climate deniers have manufactured a debate against facts and enrolled complicit political opinion media like Fox News to spoon feed it to willfully ignorant politicians and the public.

The vast majority of the world isn't taking the bait, making serious advances in green technology and legislation over the past decade, including signing and ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. But somehow in America – the only industrialized nation on the planet which hasn't adopted climate legislation – we are so enamored by our cult of American Exceptionalism and "non-negotiable way of life" (thanks Bush Jr) that we refuse to believe in the knife against our throat.

As a result of political obstructionism and public short-sightedness, the top environmental activists and climate scientists like NASA's Dr. James Hansen have calculated that the best way to raise the alarm on the XL pipeline is to talk about the short-term dangers — that the pipeline will inevitably crack and spill at some point.

But the pipeline trench is only a dozen feet wide and slices through a few thousand private farms down the Midwest and Central South. So the truth is that although spills are guaranteed to happen (a dozen spills were monitored on a parallel pipeline in its first year > most people don't care because they think they won't be affected.

Remember, BP's Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf was one of the worst oil disasters in history. But other than sad stories on the news about shrimp fishermen, most people remain completely unaffected by that disaster. WIth that kind of national indifference as a template, I worry that Dr. Hansen and the 200+ other protesters who were arrested in front of the White House have raised the war flag against the wrong enemy (spills), and it makes them an easier target for ridicule by the ignorant public.

"So if spills aren't the real danger with the XL pipeline, what is?"

One disaster is the mining and processing itself which is starkly different than retrieving oil from Saudi Arabia.

To get at the the liquid crude of the Middle East you just punch a small hole in the desert and up squirts the black gold. It's conveniently pressurized to come to the surface on its own, it's already liquid which makes for easy transport via pipelines and barrels, trains and ships, and it's already relatively pure and easy to refine. The net effect: you expend a reasonably small amount of energy for every barrel of energy you capture.

It is no exaggeration to say that the massive ROI of coal and oil is the foundation upon which modern civilization has been built.

By contrast, tar sands are closer to the inverse. They require EXTRAORDINARY amounts of energy and water to strip mine and process into a liquid. The waste water becomes toxic, contaminating the underground water aquifer system. In the end, so much energy and water and refining are wasted in squeezing oil from the sand that it approaches a zero-sum-game ... you waste a barrel of energy and pollute hundreds of gallons of water to generate a single barrel of oil.

"OK, so it's messy and pollutes, but we are desperate for jobs and we hate being dependent on an unstable Middle East for oil. If we've got plenty of oil in Canada, it doesn't make sense NOT to use it".

Let's peel back another layer of the onion: the TRUE problem on which Dr. Hansen and his scientific peers can't get any public or political traction is the absolutely disastrous long-term effects of allowing all those tar sands to be mined and USED. Used means burned, which means CO2 emissions, which means even further acceleration of climate change. Climate change is exploding down on us like a slow motion atomic bomb, and the Keystone XL pipeline is the fuse to a second global carbon bomb.

It's analogous to a crashing crack addict in an alley finding a 2nd bag of rocks behind a dumpster and thinking, "I'm saved!". But an addict is NOT the best judge of whether or not everything is OK, or whether he should have more crack. If Clinton and Obama approve the pipeline, it continues to forestall the development desperately needed in green technology by approving another generation of fossil fuel addicts. Our kids will gleefully burn through more dirty oil even faster than we did, and there will be no stopping climate change.

This is time for intervention.

But the dangers are even worse than I've explained so far. The carbon dioxide we've already pumped into the atmosphere has a full century of climate-forcing momentum. What does that mean? CO2 molecules in the atmosphere take about 100 years to break down and STOP having the greenhouse effect on Earth's temperature. So EVEN IF WE NEVER BURN ANOTHER TON OF OIL OR GALLON OF GAS, the volume of CO2 we've already piped into the atmosphere will continue to INCREASE the temperature of the Earth for another 100 years!

In other words even if the crack addict quits cold turkey today, it'll take 100 years for him to fully withdraw and recover. And yes, it will be painful all along the way.

But America is not only NOT attempting to recover, we're fighting wars to fuel our addiction, we're punching holes in the Arctic Sea, in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, in ultra deep waters like the Gulf and the North Sea, and now we're trying to squeeze oil from sand. These are clearly the decisions of an increasingly desperate addict. The drugs are harder to get to and more expensive every year, so finding more is nothing to celebrate if you're genuinely concerned about the health of civilization.

"So how can we kick the habit?"

The top climate scientists around the world – not the big-boobed tele-prompt weather girls on FOX – have measured that the Industrial Revolution and the energy-intensive Western standard of living has already raised the temperature of the Earth by 1˚. I know one degree doesn't sound like much, but add to that the fact that existing CO2 in the atmosphere will continue to have 100 years of greenhouse effect and we're guaranteed to have AT LEAST another full degree of heating on top of the degree we've already created. And of course, stopping at just two degrees is ONLY POSSIBLE if we stop ALL CO2 emissions today – which our society has neither the knowledge, interest or willpower to do.

These scientists have also concluded that the two degrees of climate change we've already purchased will leave us with just a 50-50 CHANCE OF PREVENTING FULL-SCALE RUNAWAY CLIMATE CHANGE. That's right, even if we could magically stop ourselves from generating ANY MORE EMISSIONS, our civilization has only a 50-50 chance of keeping the planet from triggering numerous unstoppable bio-feedback loops.

"What are bio-feedback loops?"

Bio-feedback loops are planet-scale systems that have been in delicate balance for tens or hundreds of thousands of years. Once a bio-feedback system tips past its balance threshold – like a tall stack of plates – there is no chance of keeping it from collapsing catastrophically. And each bio-feedback loop that collapses accelerates the further heating of the planet and triggers the collapse of the next.

For example, the entire Arctic circle is a ring of land through northern Canada, Alaska and Russia which is frozen in deep permafrost. Frozen under the surface in that land are countless trillions of tons of biological matter and Methane. That is a good thing – we want that Methane to remain trapped under the ice. But climate change has started to thaw the tundra, and as it thaws it is beginning to release unimaginable volumes of Methane. Methane, it turns out, is 25 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2. When released into the atmosphere in massive quantities, it will have 25 times the heating effect, which will melt more permafrost and release more Methane. That's a bio-feedback loop. It can't be stopped and it makes itself worse.

Escaping Arctic Methane is not some tree-hugger scare tactic: scientists have chopped through ice covered lakes in the tundra and there's so much Methane bubbling up from deep underground that they can light the air on fire. Check it out > and

Other key bio-feedback loops are sea ice and glaciers. Since white ice and snow are highly reflective, most of the heat that hits their reflective surfaces bounces right off and doesn't warm the water or land. But when ice melts it exposes the black sea water or dark rocks underneath which are highly heat-absorbant. So when a single degree of global warming melts a chunk of ice or snow, the sun then heats the newly exposed ocean and land faster which melts the next chunk of ice in even less time than before.

Over the last 25 years, Dr. Hansen and many others have painstakingly calculated climate models showing the effect of global warming on sea ice. Some of those models said we might lose half our Arctic sea ice by 2100. Now we know how wrong they were: ice melting has happened FAR FASTER than the even the worst case scenario from just a decade ago. Today we think summer Arctic sea ice might be entirely gone by 2020 – and every year the models UNDERESTIMATE how fast it is happening. (Check out the solid dark line in this chart ... that's how much faster we're losing ice than we predicted just a couple years ago  >

There are other major global biological disasters which will fall directly out of a degree or two of global warming. Ocean acidification is the result of the entire Ocean absorbing huge amounts of the extra CO2 we've pumped into the atmosphere. That's called a carbon sink (forests are another key carbon sink), and sounds like a very lucky thing at first. Hey, thanks Ocean ... for scrubbing our air for us! But as the CO2 content in the ocean spikes, the water becomes more acidic. Acid dissolved Calcium which is the core building block of coral and all shellfish. So today the coral reefs all around the world are bleaching and dying due to acidification, and shellfish can't generate hard enough shells to survive. The result: the entire ocean food chain is being quickly killed from the bottom up.

Meanwhile, of course, we're overfishing from the top down. 70% of the world's fisheries are 'over exploited' or 'depleted' ( Land meat is completely unsustainable, most of the world feeds on fish protein, and population is exploding worldwide. So humans are killing as much of the ocean's biodiversity as we can, as quickly as we can. These unfolding disasters will soon be beyond calculation.

Everything I've mentioned above is the result of the 1 degree of climate change we've already caused. And we know that we're in for at least another degree which will surely tip several bio-feedback loops. The scientists like Dr. James Hansen of NASA have been screaming like the Lorax about all this stuff for a quarter century, and all their math suggests that if we let the Earth heat by 3.6 degrees or more, all the worldwide bio-feedback loops will have already kicked in, climate change will accelerate unchecked, and life as we know it on this planet will cease to exist. Period.

In conclusion, humans are going to stumble through the next decade or two of accelerating climate disasters while the fossil fuel lobby, conservatives, and Fox news continue to play shell games with people's lives for short-term profit. Heat, drought, changing snowpack and runoff will screw up the world crops, livestock and water supply so that all the money in the world won't be able to prevent hundreds of millions or even a billion people from simply dropping dead.

It's unconscionable. It's criminal. It's a form of genocide.

So, Yes, there may be more carbon contained in the Alberta tar sands than in Saudi Arabia. And Yes, Canada is a friendly neighbor. And Yes, we need jobs ASAP. But a basic cost-benefit analysis of the Keystone XL fiasco will reveal how unthinkable it is to proceed.

And except for an incredibly small handful of activists who are spending weeks protesting in front of the White House and getting arrested to the derision of Fox News, virtually no one is raising the alarm.

I salute Bill McKibben ( and Dr. James Hansen for taking it on the chin for all of us. History will remember their bravery, citizenship, and patriotism in the face of incredible ignorance.


Confessions of An Eco-Mom

Karen Enger, Sept 7, 2011

January 1, 2011. A day for resolutions. Mine? Pretty basic I suppose in this day and age. No more plastic bags. Period. That’s it. No more leaving the reusable ones in the trunk. Nope. I’m committed. If I forget my bags, I’ll just have to carry my purchases or run back to the car. I can do this. I’m strong. I have great will-power. That was my new year resolve.

It’s September now. I’ve been totally plastic bag free for 8 months. I did it! And, I got on a roll…cleared out the kitchen of all plastics, bought all reusable water bottles (PBA free) for the family, replaced all the light bulbs with compact fluorescents, built vegetable beds and bought organic soil (planted organic vegetables and herbs), built a compost bin (no more food waste down the garbage disposal!), memorized all the local Farmer’s Market days, signed up with Farm Fresh (a door to door organic veggie company), tossed out all our hygiene and soap products with non-biodegradable ingredients (and happily found everything – yes, everything! – could be replaced with a “green” alternative), bought recycled toilet paper (Costco!), registered online with multiple environmental organizations and signed online petitions, watched numerous documentaries from Netflix about environment and climate issues (there is a vast amount of brilliant content there if you look past Hollywood), changed our family’s diet to primarily vegetarian (eating only organic free-range meats on occasion), bought reusable ceramic coffee cups at Whole Foods for my girlfriends and I to use when we chat at Peet’s (they give you .10 off to bring your own cup!), started riding my bike a lot more for errands, convinced my son to walk or scooter to school every day (even in the rain!), purchased only products not made in China (it’s tough, I cheated a few times), changed my voter registration to the Green Party, got my Green America membership card and went to the festival (with my To-Go Ware reusable utensils and stainless steel dishes), and reused, reduced, recycled.

It’s been a crazy 8 months! I can say with conviction I have become “green!”  I think I could write a book on “How to Go Green as a Suburban Mom.” I have all the data, I know all the products, I can tell you where the best places to shop are and where to avoid and why, I can intelligently converse about environmental issues….I am greenlightened!Recently I discovered Howard Zinn. I say discovered because it was truly life altering. How I could be 43 and not have known Zinn’s work at all is completely embarrassing – I mean, I’m a California credentialed teacher! Surely he should’ve crossed my path at some point…? I feel like I really paid attention in school.  (Don’t worry if you’re feeling like I did right now, many do I’m sad to say. Although if you’re a Matt Damon fan, his dialog in Good Will Hunting may have tipped you off. To Robin William’s character he says, “You wanna read a real history book? Read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. That book will fuckin’ knock you on your ass.”Howard Zinn was a warrior for the Civil Rights Movement and for anit-war movements. He was a huge union supporter. And perhaps most importantly, he understood about class in America. He worked his whole life to make sure that people remember that history belongs to everyone, not just the white male elite. We all have a story. And the story definitely has more than one version. One of my favorite Zinn quotes? “Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy, it is absolutely essential to it.” Howard taught that change happens when you push for it. It doesn’t happen when you ask nicely.

About a month ago I learned about the Alberta Tar Sands in Canada – ran across it in one of the documentaries. I was horrified. I couldn’t believe the devastation. Pristine Boreal Forests in Canada are being destroyed as tar sands bitumen (this heavy tar substance) is being separated from the sand using fresh water. The resulting toxic water is held in leaking lakes where migrating flocks land, instantly killed – a thousand at a time. A network of pipelines carrying this dirty toxic tar runs all over parts of our country. Yellowstone River had 42,000 barrels of oil spilled into it this summer when an Exxon Mobile pipeline broke.  As if all this wasn’t enough to make me feel sick, I was shocked to learn that the United States now gets the largest amount of imported oil from the Canadians – and that this has been going on for a while. And that I am using it most likely every time I go to the pump. WHAT?!

How could I not know? How could a green super mom not know?? I mean, I’ve been doing all these changes, working so hard – I know others are too. I live in California! This is a liberal state. We have medical marijuana. We support fair trade chocolate. We drive hybrids. We have solar panels. We have immediate access to the news media on our cell phones. How did I miss the Alberta Tar Sands? Something the size of Florida that is visible from space? Or did someone not want me to know??

And then it hit me. Hard. Like knock you on your ass hard.

I am a Green Momster. I say Mom-ster and not Mon-ster because I am a good mother. I love my children. I am kind to others (usually). I follow the rules (well, mostly). I volunteer at my children’s school. I am aware of my so called “carbon footprint.” But I am also complacent in all that is wrong with our society, even being “green.” I am being manipulated and distracted into believing that I am actually making change.  I am a willing participant, continuing to feed corporate greed. That I must admit. It isn’t pretty. It really sucks actually.

But I am not a monster. I didn’t choose this society. No one asked me if it was ok if they dam the streams. No one required my permission when they started blowing the tops off mountains for coal. No one checked in with me to see if I would mind if they ripped down the forests. No one got my opinion about spraying pesticides on our food. No one considered whether or not I wanted huge box stores to bring me things made of plastic I don’t need from China. No one requested my vote for using tar sands oil in the U.S. No one discussed with me blasting huge fissures underground to frack for natural gas. No one consulted with me on bottom trolling the ocean floor. I never agreed to any of this. I’m not responsible for these monstrous acts.

Yet, I am responsible if I don’t stop it. I honestly don’t believe I have any other choice. I don’t want the responsibility of destroying our planet on my head. And I don’t want to hand that responsibility off to my children. Standardized testing and video games are not training them for this.

TransCanada wants to build an extra large pipeline, 3 feet in diameter, to bring toxic dirty tar sands oil from Alberta through six of our heartland states, across our country’s largest underground aquifer, and end up at the Gulf of Mexico. They want to move 900,000 barrels a day. Let me say that again. 900,000 barrels a day of this toxic dirty tar. And they promise the pipe won’t break. Scout’s Honor. President Obama gets to approve it or not since it crosses our border, making it a national security issue. It’s up to him to decide. How can there even be a choice? I mean, he’s a father!

Bill McKibben is one of my new heroes. He is a leading author and co-founded an organization called (a reference to the carbon parts per million we should be at in our atmosphere – it’s currently 392ppm.). He and James Hansen, NASA scientist, publically agree that burning all that tar sands oil will push the carbon in our atmosphere to 600ppm and that’s a game over situation for the planet. Bill and decided to get started pushing back and planned the Tar Sands Action at the White House, a two week long sit in to tell Obama he has our support to stand up to Big Oil and say no to the Keystone XL Pipeline. He was arrested (his first) with the first day’s action group and held for two days in an attempt to discourage the action from continuing. The 1200 activists who showed up for the next 13 days clearly proved this tactic ineffective.I just couldn’t have the information that this Action was going to happen, to know what I had learned about the tar sands, to be a self-identified Green Momster, and do nothing. So, I was number 418 arrested. It was my first time too. And I’m sure it won’t be my last. It’s time for us all to stand up and fight back. And it’s going to take more than reusable shopping bags and bamboo kitchen utensils. Our planet can’t wait.