Let’s come together and culture hack our oil dependence to stop all the pipelines, starting with Standing Rock.
One of the most frustrating things about halting pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure projects through protest and civil disobedience – beyond the enormous amount of effort needed and the state-sanctioned violence that sometimes must be endured – is that these hard-fought victories can be fleeting. Once the political tide changes, these climate-exacerbating infrastructure deals pop back up like whack-a-moles.
The campaign to stop the Keystone XL oil pipeline spawned many protests over seven years including hundreds of rallies, sit-ins, blockades, strategy meetings, and perhaps as many as a thousand arrests. Legal challenges also delayed it. Yet, this historic victory could be overturned by the simple stroke of a pen. In fact, one for the campaign planks of the U.S. President-Elect was to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to be built in return for “a big piece of the profits” for the American people. Unfortunately, once in office, he could easily put the currently shelved project on a fast track to completion.
As disappointing as this may be, there is currently a much more pressing pipeline issue.
The Native Americans and allies, who are attempting to prevent the construction of a pipeline that would threaten the water supply of 17 million people, are being brutalized by private security firms and officers of state. Many from afar are engaged in varied forms of protest and prayer to support these Water Protectors and stop the pipeline. May peace, fairness, and reverence of life prevail.
How Do We Stop These Projects From Coming Back?
Frankly, if we want to stop these fossil fuel infrastructure projects permanently, we need to strike them in their economic heart by stopping the economic resources that flow into them and diminish their economic viability. For example, seventeen banks including Wells Fargo and Citibank have loaned $2.5 billion to Dakota Access LLC to construct the Dakota Access pipeline. Banks have also committed substantial resources to build more oil and gas infrastructure. The oil that travels in such pipelines ultimately is refined into gasoline and other oil products most likely for purchase in the U.S.
We control how we spend our money, and therefore have the possibility to affect the economic resources that flow into pipeline projects, through negative publicity for the banks involved and/or the closing of bank accounts. Julian Darley (with whom I built Post Carbon Institute) spoke about this as “Corporate Disobedience”:
I agree strongly with the idea of non-violent, coordinated civic action to try to halt and even significantly change the direction our so-called leaders are taking us in, particularly in the matter of the use of mechanized violence. However, stopping military carnage at its source will take more than the usual civil disobedience: it will take corporate disobedience, because it is corporations who control so much of how life is lived, and death is done. And we are surely all feeding the corporations just as fast as we can.
Similarly, we will need coordinated action to stop giving the oil corporations our money. Reducing oil is going to be incredibly difficult, and will involve far more than protests and gas station boycotts. To drastically reduce oil consumption, we will need to greatly reduce the amount of gasoline powered vehicle-miles driven each year. Ultimately, we will need to transform our cities so that we require much less private transportation, increase public transportation and electric vehicles, reduce private single-passenger transportation, and increase ride sharing. This will reduce the demand for oil-powered transport of people.
To reduce the demand for oil-power transport of goods (perhaps more accurately, ‘bads’), we will need to start making things again in our cities and towns for local and regional consumption. Such local production can occur through a mixture of traditional and modern operating forms – publicly owned, privately owned, family owned, co-operative, for profit, non-profit – as well as new institutional forms that have yet to be created.
Without some significant measures to start changing the filthy, brutal, selfish, destructive, militaristic, greedy system which produces the national and global pyramid schemes that are destroying people and planet before our eyes, then civil disobedience on its own will be doomed to failure. Linked with corporate disobedience (which is by definition never illegal, and thus less intimidating in some ways), a wide range of civil protests may have a significant and lasting effect. Otherwise I fear that such actions will be empty gestures waiting to turn up as manicured images in the next cynical Nike or Coca Cola commercial or in some new toxic, violent video game.
Given the current context, the most certain path to stopping future Standing Rocks, which happens also to be non-violent, is going to be an economic one. Even if we can’t control investment into the oil industry, we can make it less financially attractive.
How You Can Make A Difference
Here’s something to think about: Am I willing to change my behavior so that I use much less energy and particularly oil than the average person in my country? Am I willing to be inconvenienced? Am I able and willing to invest a bit upfront for lower transportation costs and oil use in the long term? Am I willing to do this for a day, week, month, year, or the remainder of my life? Might I advocate for cleaner, less oil dependent transportation and for cities that require less transport?
The point here is not that any one person can do this on their own or that it will be easy. More so, we need to start thinking about this on a personal basis, get in alignment with a clean transportation future, and begin conversations with others. As it turns out, reducing the demand for oil powered transport will have many benefits including reducing climate chaos, spills, other environmental problems, accidents and casualties, the cost of living and doing business, as well as diseases and deaths from air pollution. If one feels into our hearts, who wouldn’t want to invest their time and effort into a clean transportation future.
It’s Time to Take Action
In addition to sending supplies to Standing Rock, making calls to governmental representatives, and joining the prayer of the water protectors, here are some concrete actions that you can take in your locale.
- Close Accounts in Banks that Invest in Oil Infrastructure. Stop giving banks that fund oil infrastructure your money. Close personal and business accounts, tell them why, and encourage others to the same. As reported by Food and Water Watch, 17 banks loaned $2.5B to Dakota Access LLC and 38 banks have extended $10.25 billion in loans and credit facilities to companies building the pipeline. This includes U.S. Consumer Banks include Wells Fargo, Citibank, Bank of America, US Bank, Citizens Bank, and Comerica Bank, the large investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Stanley, as well as banks in Japan, the U.K., Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Italy, and France.
- Lobby your local city council or equivalent to make a resolution for removing subsidies for oil and gas projects. Amazingly, fossil fuel subsidies represented 6.5% of global GDP in 2015. In 2013, the Congressional Budget Office testified federal energy tax subsidies for fossil fuels would cost $3.2 billion or 20 percent of all energy subsidies. Eliminating these subsidies would be one of the most effective ways of reducing global carbon emissions, as well as lessening the financial viability of projects like the DAPL. For example, estimates vary on the break–even oil price for the Bakken formation (i.e. the source of the oil for the DAPL) from the North Dakota Department of Natural Resources estimate of about US$40 per barrel and the Wood Mc Kenzie estimate of US$62 per barrel. Removing fossil fuel subsidies would increase the break-even price of projects . Although local resolutions are not binding, they do convey sentiment and intention, and if many place did this, there could be a strong ripple effect.
- Rethink your transportation. Light trucks, cars, and motorcycles account for about 57% of the total energy consumed for transportation in the United States. Contemplate how you can use less oil-powered transportation through a mixture of alternatives including ride sharing, car pooling, elimination of unnecessary trips, telecommuting and teleconferences, public transport, bike riding, among others. Then make changes in your daily life and encourage others to do the same. And if you are feeling inspired, you could begin lobbying your council and urban planning departments to make changes that encourage changes in zoning, city infrastructure, and policy that will reduce oil powered transportation as well as create a lot of meaningful jobs. One way to do this is to push for a task force. The Oil Independent Oakland task force (of which I was a member) is an interesting model and produced a report of recommendations that are still highly relevant to Oakland and other similar cities in the Unites States. Also, take a look at the Ecocities and Regenerative cities movements for inspiration.
- Buy local. Moving freight by truck uses about 23% of the total amount of energy consumed for transportation in the United States. If more goods were produced and consumed locally, it could significantly reduce the need for trucking goods across countries as well as create meaningful jobs and strong local economies. Start by reducing unnecessary purchases (e.g. repair rather than replace), buying local goods whenever feasible (e.g. at farmers markets, artisan shops, and locally-owned stores), and encourage others to do so, and growing some of your food either on your property, in your home, or in a community garden.
- Support the movements to acknowledge treaty rights of Native Americans and other indigenous peoples like Idle No More. This may be a wild card but it could make a difference as infrastructure projects like, but not limited to, DAPL routinely destroy sacred sites including native burial grounds. And as reported in the Nation, they often ignore treaty rights. An emerging movement calls for the return of guardianship of sacred sites across the world to the First Nations who received the original instructions for the land starting with the Black Hills in South Dakota. Central to their cause is the revocation of the Papal Bull Edicts of 1493 which established Christian dominion and subjugation of non-Christian ‘pagan’ peoples and their lands. Support native people, First Nations, and their rights.
If many are willing to ‘put their energy use where their heart is’ we could really give the system a scare by drastically reducing oil consumption even if just for several weeks, though it would best to continue reducing our oil footprint as a practice. In any case, even a brief reduction in oil consumption could give the politicians the cover they need to turn their backs on a pipeline deal because of doubts about its financial viability.