We need to fight fossil fuels on all possible fronts

I just returned from a week at the Standing Rock protectors camp in North Dakota. It was a truly eye-opening week; I witnessed firsthand the passion and anguish of these brave individuals and I had the privilege of working alongside skilled carpenters to build shelters to help the protectors survive the bitter midwest winter.

My friends and I arrived at Oceti Sakowin Camp at a time of some happiness, two days after the announcement was made about the Army Corp of Engineers’ easement. The mood in the camp was hopeful, and less stressful than I had anticipated. Almost all of the activity in camp was focused on organizing the leadership and winterizing the existing structures so people can stay warm.

I learned a lot from talking to people there, activists, legal advocates and sustainability specialists. Returning to the Bay Area, I had a renewed vigor in my heart to fight for sustainability and green energy.

Unfortunately though, a day after I got home I opened my newsfeed and saw the breaking news from North Dakota.

A pipeline managed by the Belle Fourche company burst in North Dakota, spilling over 176,000 gallons of oil into and around Ash Coulee creek, according to the Associated Press. The oil spill was discovered by a farmer on Dec. 5, and was the result of monitoring equipment that failed to detect a ruptured pipeline. This spill took place about 150 miles away from Standing Rock.

The pipeline’s parent company, Belle Fourche, Bridger and Butte Co., is no stranger to spills like this. In 2015 a Bridger pipeline spilled into the Yellowstone river and contaminated drinking water in the nearby town of Glendive, Montana.

As sure as the sun will rise, pipelines will always spill. Oil bosses know this, and they continue anyway. Spills and environmental disasters barely make a dent in their earnings.

This is exactly what the water protectors are fighting against, and it’s exactly what oil tycoons continue to assure us will never happen.

The fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline is not over. Energy Transfer Partners, the company overseeing the pipeline’s construction, said this in a press release responding to the Army Corp’s refusal to grant the easement:

As stated all along, ETP and SXL are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.

In plainer english, “Screw you, we’re building it anyway.”

This announcement came almost two weeks before the Belle Fourche rupture was discovered, but the message is still clear. They will go ahead with construction even though they know the potential dangers, simply because their risk-benefit analysis says it’s better for the bottom line.

Big oil has a stranglehold on our energy economy and our lives. In his book “Hot, Flat and Crowded”, journalist Thomas L. Friedman lays out the history of how Reagan gutted the green energy economy and made us entirely reliant on fossil fuels by artificially manipulating the market so that oil was the easiest source of energy for the average consumer.

America’s original response to a major oil embargo in the seventies was to shore up our alternative energies, but then once the fear had subsided a but, the Gipper rolled in and literally tore solar panels off the roof of the White House.

We need to fight this everywhere. Reliance on petroleum is deeply ingrained in America socially, politically and economically.

Our politics is drowning in oil money, even here in California.

For example, Jeff Denham, a republican congressman from California’s 10th district, accepted $2,500 in campaign contributions from Energy Transfer Partners in 2016. Oil and gas companies contributed over $180,000 dollars to his incumbent congressional campaign, and are one of his biggest PAC donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Denham is on the house committees for Natural Resources and Transportation and Infrastructure, according to the Clerk of the House of Representatives. These positions make him an influential figure in the processing and transportation of petroleum products.

If you or anyone you know lives in his district, which includes Modesto, Turlock and Tracy, among others, let them know that their senator’s pockets are filled with dirty oil money. Tell them to call the office and send angry letters so he knows his constituents don’t support his ties to the petroleum industry.

Politically, that’s what this fight will take. We need to observe where the money is flowing. Dig around on sites like OpenSecrets to discover who is funding your elected officials. What you find might surprise you.

The fight against fossil fuels needs to take place in the markets as well. This is America and the market is always right, so we need to do everything we can to stack the markets against destructive energy companies.

Invest in alternative energy companies. Get a car that runs on biodiesel. If you or anyone you know has investment portfolios, make sure there are no petroleum companies in there. Companies often have fancy names like Alon USA, so do some research and find out exactly where your money is going. Close your bank accounts if you find out your bank is invested in DAPL.

Educate yourselves on green living, and do everything you can to reduce your fossil fuel consumption, even if it’s something as small as putting on a sweater instead of cranking on your heater and burning natural gas. Every little bit makes a difference.

Socially, we just need to completely restructure the way we think about energy production and consumption. For most people, a good start would be to just begin thinking about it at all. We have so much comfort and privilege here.

You drive down the street and fill it with magic energy juice that flows endlessly from these pumps that seem as natural a part of our landscape as the trees and flowers that were cut down to build that gas station. You wake up and turn a dial to find your ideal temperature. You go to the market and fill your cart with meat and veggies year round, never realizing the amount of gasoline that went into getting it on those shelves.

We need a complete social revolution to transform our energy economy into a sustainable one. That is a scary prospect for many, but we are undeniably living in an age of revolution.

An extremist authoritarian political minority just weaseled its way into the White House, and will now spend the next four years stripping people of liberty and shoring up the fossil fuel industry. We have no choice but to fight.

Rick Perry and Rex Tillerson, two of Trump’s recent cabinet appointees, are explicitly pro-petroleum and anti-clean energy.

Perry, as energy secretary will have the power to distort the economy and pulverize any clean energy regulations that now exist. Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil CEO and future secretary of state, will be able to restructure our foreign policy machine to keep us beholden to the oil rich countries abroad. Tillerson also has close ties to Vladimir Putin, and could easily lead us to ruin if he gets us too close to his thuggish tendencies.

This is an important time for us to fight, for Standing Rock, for clean energy and for a viable future for generations to come.