Resisting the Keystone XL Pipeline—
and Fighting for Humanity and the Planet

February 17, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

Forward on Climate, billed as the “largest climate change rally in history,” is planned for February 17 in Washington, DC and is expected to draw tens of thousands—environmental activists, scientists, and others. Rallying around the slogan “Stop KXL” (referring to the Keystone XL Pipeline), Forward on Climate was called by, Sierra Club and The Hip Hop Caucus and has been endorsed by more than 100 organizations. Solidarity rallies are planned across the U.S.

Canada’s tar sands, the second largest oil reserve in the world (behind Saudi Arabia), already produce 155,000 barrels of oil per day. The tar sands are sticky deposits of bitumen (solid or semi-solid petroleum), trapped beneath 54,000 sq. miles of Canada’s boreal forests and wetlands. Extracting oil from the tar sands produces three times more greenhouse gases (which cause global warming) than extraction of conventional oil.

The removal of tar sands oil demands huge ponds of up to 9,000 acres each to store toxic chemicals used in the process. But the toxins don’t stay there—the chemicals leak from the ponds, get into the watershed, and make their way to rivers and streams that indigenous people have relied on for food and water for centuries. As a result, cancer rates among the indigenous population are 10 times that of other people in Canada. What is happening to Alberta’s native peoples is fully documented and is nothing short of genocide.

Wetlands, stop-overs for more than half of all of the migratory birds in North America, are being polluted. Boreal forests, which trap twice as much carbon dioxide (a key greenhouse gas) per hectare as rainforests, are being bulldozed and destroyed.

The 2,000-mile Keystone XL pipeline is designed to carry oil from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico coast in the U.S. to be processed. The pipeline would run through the U.S. Midwest, endangering agricultural lands, aquifers and rivers. Approval for the Keystone XL must be made by the U.S. president and State Department because it crosses international borders.

The native people of Canada have been protesting the tar sands mining from the beginning. The first large protest was held in Washington, DC in August 2011. Hundreds were arrested, and the righteous demand to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline became a rallying cry for the environmental movement.

Demonstrators march against Keystone

Demonstrators march with a replica of a pipeline in protest against Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline outside the White House on November 6, 2011. Photo: AP

In December 2011, as Republicans demanded that he make a decision on the Keystone XL within 60 days, Obama temporarily rejected its authorization, citing a lack of time to review the environmental studies as the reason. In February 2012 TransCanada (the company behind the Keystone XL) reapplied for a permit and demanded immediate permission to go ahead with the Gulf Coast part of the pipeline (which did not require the same level of authorization from the State Department). Last summer Obama announced the approval for the southern portion and went to Oklahoma for the groundbreaking, saying that he was making the new pipeline “a priority” and promising to break through the bureaucratic hurdles that were holding up the pipeline as a whole.

Construction on the southern portion of the Keystone XL has been met with resistance. A landowner in Texas built a network of tree-houses, and dozens of protesters took turns living there for 80 days, temporarily delaying the project. Protesters have disrupted oil company meetings and stood in front of bulldozers.

Illusions About Obama—and the Reality

Environmental organizations think Obama’s decision on Keystone XL is imminent, and chose February 17 (President’s Day weekend) to rally people in Washington, DC to demand that Obama reject the permit and address the climate crisis.

Many in the environmental movement were among millions who voted with unprecedented enthusiasm for “hope and change” in 2008. Environmentalists hoping for less reliance on fossil fuels watched in dismay as the Obama administration sabotaged international climate change conferences—for example, when Obama himself traveled to a UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen in 2009 to threaten other countries into signing on to a meaningless agreement. They despaired as Obama authorized expanded offshore oil drilling, including opening up the Arctic coastline in Alaska to the predatory oil companies. They were surprised when Obama authorized the southern portion of the Keystone XL. They were upset when he opened up millions of acres of public lands for gas and oil exploration. They waited patiently for Obama to address the global warming crisis during the 2012 presidential debates and were disappointed when instead he boasted about expanding the exploitation of fossil fuels—boasting that his administration had authorized enough natural gas pipelines to circle the planet. But despite all this bitter experience, dangerous illusions about Obama and the system he represents continue.

In his second inaugural address last month, Obama promised to elevate climate change to the “top tier” of his second-term priorities. Suddenly the focus of the Keystone XL protest shifted to a rally to “help the president start his second term with strong climate action” ( website). Say what? One promise made in an inaugural speech, and we’re supposed to rally to “help” this president who has done so much to politically demobilize people while this system grinds on carrying out intolerable crimes—not just in relation to the environment, but with the expanded war by drones, continuing mass incarceration of Black and Latino youth, record number of deportations of immigrants, etc., etc.? Do people so soon forget the lying promise Obama made in his first inaugural speech to shut down Guantánamo within 30 days? When Obama promises to “grow the economy,” shouldn’t people ask how he’s going to do this without increasing production of fossil fuels and exacerbating dangerous global climate change?

There may be different factors at play in Obama’s forthcoming decision on Keystone XL; the overwhelming evidence is that his administration is set to approve the pipeline. He’s already approved that southern portion of Keystone XL—and just what is that for if not to connect to the rest of the pipeline? Why has Obama’s new Secretary of State, John Kerry, who had previously questioned the Keystone XL, suddenly become “non-committal”?

The Real Problem…and the Real Solution


The Plunder of Our Planet,
the Environmental Catastrophe & the Real Revolutionary Solution

A special issue of Revolution focusing on the environmental emergency that now faces humanity and earth’s ecosystems.

Available online at

Get the print issue at local Revolution bookstores or from RCP Publications at PO Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654,, 773-227-4066.

In the face of the global environmental emergency, thinking that things like fuel-efficient cars, recycling, alternate energy sources and so forth under the current system will lead to meaningful change is dangerously out of touch with reality. Mass demonstrations, civil disobedience, and other outpourings of resistance and outrage are urgently needed in the face of the threat of unstoppable climate change, and the demand to “Stop KXL” must be fought for. But much, much more is needed. It will be a bad thing if the Forward on Climate protest itself reinforces the reliance of tens of thousands on Obama and the system he stands for, rather than instilling them with determination to fight for a real solution.

The signs of intensifying global climate change are everywhere: entire Pacific nations threatened by rising sea levels, desertification in Africa endangering life for millions, more devastating floods in Bangladesh, more severe hurricanes and other extreme weather events. Many understand that what is required is the elimination of reliance on fossil fuels and other major societal changes on an international level. There is a solution—but it’s not in Obama or in various ideas about reforming the current system that far too many people are into.

We have to start with grasping the actual source of the problem. The reality is that the capitalist-imperialist system is at the root of the environmental emergency humanity faces. As the top political representative of the class that rules this country, Obama’s mandate is to maintain and strengthen the U.S. position as the most powerful imperialist power, including its overwhelming military dominance, in the face of challenges from other imperialists and various forces globally. That demands the intense use of fossil fuels, the cheapest forms of energy, and the continuing rape and plunder of the world’s resources, no matter what the cost to the world’s ecosystems. This is the imperative that drives this system, whether it’s Obama or anyone else who sits in the White House. This is why relying on Obama or trying to somehow make capitalism more “green” in order to reverse global warming is an illusion—because what people are actually doing is relying on the capitalist-imperialist system to do what it is impossible for that system to do.

But there IS a solution. Socialist society, on the road to a communist world, can act on principles of socialist sustainable development that can begin to tackle the environmental emergency for real, with an internationalist perspective (see “Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development” at That is going to take revolution—communist revolution as re-envisioned by Bob Avakian—to defeat and dismantle the current system. There is, right now, a movement for that revolution that is being built, with the orientation of “fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution.” This movement for revolution needs to become an increasing pole in society, including in the environmental struggle.

Think about how it would dramatically change the terrain on February 17 if thousands of people were discussing and wrangling over BAsics 1:29: “This system and those who rule over it are not capable of carrying out economic development to meet the needs of the people now, while balancing that with the needs of future generations and requirements of safeguarding the environment. They care nothing for the rich diversity of the earth and its species, for the treasures this contains, except when and where they can turn this into profit for themselves… These people are not fit to be the caretakers of the earth.”

Or if hundreds got their hands on the Revolution special issue on the environment ( and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal).

In part 2 of the interview with Bob Avakian by Michael Slate (, BA speaks about the potential of a growing movement of people concerned about the environment. That potential can only be realized if revolutionaries go out boldly among the people, including at actions like February 17, and introduce them to the real solution to the environmental crisis facing the people and the planet.  


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