This is what a victory looks like!

17 Nov

I have been an environmentalist for my whole life, but I’ve only become an activist this year. Bill McKibben and Gus Speth inspired me to dive headfirst into the Tar Sands Action movement to stop the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas, from getting arrested during my first week living in D.C. to attending State Department hearings to helping encircle the White House six bodies deep. It seemed like a really long shot at first, and then like it would be a slow progress, and all the while pipeline approval seemed more inevitable than anything else…until one week ago, when all of a sudden it wasn’t so inevitable anymore. The State Department announced it will be re-reviewingTransCanada’s environmental impact statement for the convenient period of at least a year, bringing the final approval to a time just after the next presidential election.

As Bill McKibben said, “um…we won.”

This is what democracy looks like: Helping encircle the White House one year before the 2012 elections

It took a while for this victory to sink in for me, given its lack of finality, but I’ve been turning it over deliciously in my mind for a week and here’s what I’ve realized: I don’t know what a final victory feels like. I was born in the 1980s, after all the great environmental legislation had been written, when acute pollution was well on its way to being cleaned up in the United States and the much more complicated problems of climate change and resource scarcity were beginning to come to the forefront. We haven’t solved any of those problems, and honestly, we might never. Yes, Clinton gave us the roadless rule, but Bush II accelerated oil and gas drilling all over the continent. Yes, Obama has raised auto mileage standards, but cap and trade crashed and burned on his watch. The movement I have pledged myself to has been fumbling around for a few years, and while maybe the old campaigners know well enough to recognize a victory when they see one, I did not.

But: this is what a victory looks like. It looks like telling fossil fuel infrastructure Not On Our Planet, and telling clean energy infrastructure that it is welcome to take its place. It looks like a political compromise that puts off tar sands development one more year, gives us one more year to develop renewable energy and devote ourselves to efficiency standards so that if the pipeline does get approved, nobody will want it anymore. It looks like massive media attention paid to the Ogallala aquifer and the reality of climate change. It looks like ten thousand people encircling the White House in bright orange, learning about these issues, and then going home and telling everyone else.

It’s true: denial of the pipeline outright would have been much better. It’s also true that TransCanada will of course try to develop alternate routes to get their dirty oil onto the export market. And it’s true that we’re not ready to switch to a clean energy economy yet.

This was a victory, and there’s also a lot more work to do. I’m ready to think about stumping for Obama (not yet ready to stump for Huntsman), but there’s no way I’m ready to let him know he’s done enough. Climate change is a desperately real issue, and we’re on our way to big trouble. We won the first round in a long fight—now the bell’s ringing, let’s get back at it!

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