Putting the heat on Obama

Mike Anderson and Heather Kangas report on a rally by environmental groups calling on Barack Obama to take real action to protect the environment.

Climate change activists demand Obama block the Keystone XL pipeline at a Summer Heat rally outside the White House (Steven Melkisethian)Climate change activists demand Obama block the Keystone XL pipeline at a Summer Heat rally outside the White House (Steven Melkisethian)

ON JULY 27, some 1,000 people rallied near the White House to keep the pressure on Barack Obama to deliver on his promises to protect the environment. The main demand of the march and rally was to reject approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. This pipeline will transport toxic tar sands from Canada down to oil refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

The action started with about 150 environmental activists--some of whom had been walking for a week from Camp David, Maryland, with a group called Walk for our Grandchildren--gathering in Malcolm X Park in Washington, D.C., at a rally before continuing their march down 16th Street to meet a much larger rally of about 1,000 activists. The crowd chanted slogans such as "Can we stop the Keystone XL? Yes, we can!"

Once the crowd reached the entrance to Lafayette Park, after being delayed for about 30 minutes by park police due to a supposed "security risk," the crowd chanted, "Time to say no way, no how, stop that Keystone XL now!"

Three members from three generations of a family from Asheville, S.C., completed the weeklong walk from Camp David. The youngest, 11-year-old Leigh Syler, told the crowd, "It is my responsibility as a young person to stand up for what is right...It's hard to open my eyes, but I have to."

The rally had many different committed organizations and movements participating, among them fiftyoverfifty.org, 350.org, the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, iMatterMarch, Summer Heat 2013 and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

The biggest climate change protest in history occurred in February of this year with some estimates at 50,000 people attending a demonstration in Washington, D.C.

On June 25, Obama made a speech laying out his "vision" for combating climate change. It was ambiguous about what his or the State Department's decisions around the Keystone XL pipeline might be.

But Obama did say: "Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation's interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline's impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It's relevant."

Obama's environmental policies embrace everything but the kitchen sink. His endorsement of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is especially disturbing considering studies have shown that fracking impacts can include flammable tap water and man-made earthquakes.

SummerHeat2013 is a project of 350.org and will continue to organize rallies around the country around the slogan "As the temperature rises, so do we." If we are going to get the climate protection we all deserve, we will have to continue convincing activists and our allies that Obama's speeches are just words--and that building the movement to fight climate change is the only way to bring about real change we can believe in.