Guest post by Terry Wiggins
First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee

What would lead an ordinary person like me to the White House fence?

My immediate inspirations were three: Tim DeChristopher, my daughter Erica, and Bill McKibben.

Terry Wiggins (blue shirt) sits in front of the White House at the Tar Sands Action between the UUMFE and UUA banners.

I found Tim’s actions to be truly inspirational. His civil disobedience in 2008, for which he was sentenced to two years in prison this year, and his words upon being sentenced – “I do not want mercy; I want you to join me” were powerful.

Erica’s plea, “Mom, why didn’t you do this earlier,” referring to my environmental activism, came back to me.

Bill McKibben clinched the deal that I would go when he publicized the action he had organized, and said that “those of us without kids or careers to worry about” should be the ones on the front lines.

Other inspirations were probably in the back of my mind, including my husband Bruce, my granddaughters, and fellow religionists. When I met Bruce, he had participated in anti-war work and demonstrations; I had never done any such thing. His actions were a model.

We now have two adorable granddaughters (thanks, Erica!) to whom we want to leave a livable world.

A couple of decades ago, we became Unitarian Universalists, and met people who truly had the courage of their convictions, and moved (not just stood up) for what they believed in.  Also, I learned to be a conservationist (the original conservatives?) from my parents.

What is the Tar Sands issue, and why is it important?

There are sands under boreal forests, especially in Alberta, Canada. Those who want to exploit them call them “oil sands” and those of us who want to protect them call them “tar sands.”  There’s no oil, only gunk called bitumen, mixed with sand.

Oil companies would pipe the gunk in the Keystone XL Pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands, south to Texas refineries, and then sell the result to the highest bidder. First Nations communities in Canada and Native American tribes along the pipeline route in the U.S. have already experienced some desecration of their lands, and have demanded the destruction ceases.

Keystone would cross the Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska, a major water source, including for much of American agriculture, and it’s predicted to have relatively frequent leaks. Another concern about the Tar Sands Pipeline is the long-term climate change consequences: climatologist James Hansen has said that “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over” to stabilize climate and “disastrous global climate impacts.”

For all these reasons, and more, building the pipeline wouldn’t help get the US off foreign oil (much less get off oil altogether), it would be an environmental injustice to First Nations/Native Americans and to future generations. In general, it would be a disaster for our society. “Silence is deadly,” as Hansen recently titled a paper.

What Now?

The decision to issue a permit for the Keystone XL is in President Obama’s court, and will probably be decided by the end of November.  He alone must make the decision, although he will be advised by the State Department. Fortunately, congress doesn’t have anything to say about it.

States will be holding hearings around the country later this month, in Port  Arthur, TX; Topeka, KS;  Glendive, MT; Lincoln, NE; Austin Texas; Pierre, SD; Atkinson, NE; and Midwest City, OK.  I hope to attend at least one of the hearings. Will you join me?

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Robin Nelson

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