99 percent for the planet’s future

November 15, 2011

Peter Rugh describes how the Occupy Wall Street protest movement is taking up the fight against the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline project.

WHAT DO the Transport Workers Union (TWU), a NASA climate scientist and a harbinger of the White Buffalo Calf Spirit Woman have in common? They all oppose TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, which will carry heavy crude from Alberta's tar sands across six U.S. states to refineries in Texas and onward to global markets.

NASA climate scientist James Hansen has warned that the amount of natural gas required to extract tar sands oil, along with the oil itself, would emit so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas that it would be "game over" for our planet.

On November 6, 12,000 people linked arms around the White House to oppose the construction of the massive pipeline. Obama was reportedly golfing at the time.

Buses left from the Occupy Wall Street (OSW) encampment at Zuccotti Park, delivering hundreds to White House action. Meanwhile, the OWS Environmentalist Solidarity working group in New York staged a teach-in on the Keystone XL at Zuccotti.

Calvin Pompana, a community leader with the Dakota Nation was present, bearing a peace pipe. Via the people's mic, Pompana told the Wall Street occupiers, "I'm here today...in objection to the Keystone pipeline that will originate in Northern Alberta, go across first nations communities and south...eventually to Texas...It will destroy the ecosystem."

Pompana then sang a song in his native dialect in honor of the White Buffalo Calf Spirit Woman to promote the "peaceful occupation of lands given to us since time immemorial."

A woman in a hard hat, in contrast to Pompana's feathered bonnet, stood up and announced before the people's mic that the Transport Workers Union also stands against the Keystone XL.

Demonstrators in Washington, D.C., were focusing their ire in the right direction since the final decision on the XL rests on Obama. However, the trail of money behind the pipeline leads to Wall Street. JPMorgan Chase has invested $2.8 billon in shares and bonds of companies involved in the pipeline, and Citigroup has $2.58 billion. Scotia Bank--whose U.S. headquarters is just across the street from Zuccotti Park--has poured $999 million toward the project.

AT ISSUE is more than just the pipeline. What kind of economy and what kind of planet are we and future generations going to live with?

The Energy Department announced November 4 that the global output of carbon dioxide jumped by a record 6 percent, or 564 million tons, between 2009 and 2010, a figure that Gregg Marland, professor of geology at Appalachian State University, called a "monster" increase.

To put this in perspective, refineries in Alberta--the kind that will be constructed in Texas if the pipeline is approved--emit 100 million tons of carbon every day.

The rate of global warming is tied to pollution and, based on the Energy Department's data, the planet will be warming at a rate far greater than what most scientists have described as the worst-case scenario.

Yet Energy Department official Tom Boden found reason for optimism in the statistics. He told the Associated Press, the figures pointed to an increase in manufacturing, and therefore "from an emissions standpoint, the global financial crisis seems to be over." In other words, Boden is tying economic recovery to how much apocalyptic poison is pumped into the atmosphere.

Maybe from the standpoint of multinational corporations such as TransCanada, which profits from ecocide, the economic crisis is over, but if Boden were to take a short jaunt around an Occupy encampment nearest him, he would hear a different story.

Workers, on the other hand, don't profit off planetary destruction. The goals of labor and the goals of the environmentalists in the Solidarity Working Group are the same--interdependent in struggle. As Roger Toussaint, head of TWU Local 100, put it, "We want jobs, but not jobs as gravediggers of the planet."

That is very different from the attitude expressed by a website called Jobs for the 99 percent. The site was set up by the America's Building Trades Union in conjunction with the Oil and Natural Gas Industry Labor-Management Committee calling for the approval of the XL, claiming it will provide jobs.

The CEOs of Exxon, Marathon Oil and Devon Energy all sit on the Labor-Management Committee, and its Secretary-Treasurer is Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. The website is nothing other then a shill for oil and gas interests, and its jobs claims are phony. TransCanada has listed as possible auxiliary jobs created by the pipeline speech therapists, choreographers and dancers.

A resolution drafted by the Solidarity Working Group in consultation with researchers from Cornell's Global Labor Institute was passed by the OWS General Assembly (GA) on November 6 that condemns big oil's appropriation of the term 99 percent and commends the many unions and rank-and-file workers standing against the pipeline. In it, the GA disassociated itself:

from "Jobs for the 99 percent," which is a front for groups supporting the Keystone XL pipeline. This pipeline would transport tar sands oil. It would mean "game over" for the climate, pollution of pristine aquifers, the killing of long-term, existing jobs and devastation of First Nations communities.

The leadership of the unions behind this campaign have made a public alliance with the oil industry and Tea Party funders. Big Oil and Tea Party billionaires are part of the 1 percent. The reference to the 99 percent is opportunistic and misleading.

We express solidarity with the unions that oppose Keystone XL and support a transition to a sustainable, green economy, namely the Transport Workers Union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Domestic Workers United.

We applaud those hundreds of rank-and-file members of all unions who have publicly expressed their opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.

We...dissociate from this attempt at co-optation by the 1 percent to preserve our movement as the 99 percent, and as definitive precedent to dissuade future attempts of co-optation.

Peace, Love and Justice!

TYPICALLY, THE discourse around climate change, whether it's at a UN climate summit or a World Trade Organization meeting, focuses on solutions offered by the wealthy and powerful 1 percent. But they are the ones who are the vehicles of global warming and environmental devastation.

Oil companies whose profits rely on fossil fuels will not provide solutions for moving to renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And a president whose re-election campaign "surrogate" is a former TransCanada lobbyist won't be impartial when it comes to deciding whether the XL should rip through America.

The same force that is evicting grandmothers from their homes in Brooklyn is encroaching on indigenous lands in the Amazon and is melting the polar ice caps. The voice of science and reason is too often drowned out in the interest of profits. We should not be so naive to expect anything less of a system whose lifeblood is capital.

As OWS's founding declaration puts it:

The future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members...but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.

We are at a critical juncture as a globe where we will either be "gravediggers of the planet" or the gravediggers of capitalism. The Occupy Movement's challenge to capitalism is also a challenge for the future of our planet. In warbonnet and hardhat, the 99 percent are on the rise.

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