We fight because there is no alternative

The fall of Camp Oceti Sakowin last Wednesday broke my heart.

I knew this was coming, given the state of our government, but watching the ceremonial burning of the teepees followed by arrests and a forced eviction pained me. I fear for the safety of friends I made out there. I fear for the protectors who got arrested. Now that the camp is closed, the opposition will feel emboldened to carry out even more cruelty and abuse against the water protectors.

Unfortunately, I found myself reading comment sections on conservative news sites under articles talking about the camp’s closing. Everyone is laughing at the perceived hypocrisy of the protesters who left trash behind and drove there in gas-fueled cars. How dare those filthy liberals have the nerve to drink from disposable water bottles out there? Don’t they know that water bottles are made from the same petroleum that will flow through the DAPL?

Yes. We do. It’s exactly why we were out there protesting this dirty, destructive industry.

If there was any possible alternative to using plastic products out there, believe me we would have used it. If we could have gotten there without burning gasoline we would have. If there was a way to bring this much attention to the most important environmental issue in modern times without physically going to North Dakota we would have.

The problem is though, that there are literally no practical alternatives to consuming plastics and burning fossil fuels, especially in an environment like Standing Rock. Powerful social, political and economic forces over the past few decades have made modern society entirely dependent on cheap plastics and fossil fuels. It is way too easy to just consume and waste resources and never realize what we are doing to the planet and our future generations. We are drowning in petroleum, because the government stacked our laws in favor of the oil barons.

There is no free market for energy. The oil industry gets between 10 and 52 billion dollars in government subsidies each year, depending on who you ask. Oil sites get huge tax breaks to encourage their construction, but there is no equivalent advantage for alternative energies.

Oil is a fundamentally unsustainable source of energy and we need to move away from our dependence on it. There is a finite amount of oil in the world and there will come a time when it runs out. It’s not soon, but if we haven’t built up an alternative energy infrastructure in time, the whole planet will be screwed.

Instead of building an alternative, though, our government sponsors violence against peaceful protestors and breaks treaties with indigenous people. This is shameful behavior by the government and it needs to stop. It’s time we begin making amends for two centuries of colonial slaughter of this land’s native people.

It’s nearly impossible to talk about changing this, though, because any discussion about the environment inevitably devolves into a shouting match between left and right.

We need to untie environmental issues from political parties. The environment should not be an exclusively liberal issue. I think the whole two-party system needs to be dismantled, but that rant can wait for another time.

We can work to create an energy economy that is clean, safe and flexible enough to serve all of the diverse communities worldwide. We can replace those lost coal jobs in Pennsylvania with new jobs in solar or wind power. We can alleviate issues plaguing poor — and often black or brown — communities that result from this over reliance on dirty energy.

I was sad when the president signed his order that DAPL would be completed. But I was unsurprised. I gave up hope that a solution to these problems would come from the government long before Obama left office. He made some progress for defending the environment, but nothing that came close to the societal overhaul that is necessary to salvage our energy economy. Those changes need to come from us, the American people.

We can change our habits, buy eco-friendly alternatives, and elect new leaders who are charging into the future rather than clinging to the past. The situation seems bleak right now, but the political world moves in cycles. Two years from now we can get some progressives in congress. Four years from now, after everyone is tired of the GOP’s outdated, oppressive policy-making, we can elect a president who cares more about the reality of our issues than the value of their image.

If you still want to fight the petroleum industry’s expansion, google the Sabal Trail and Trans-Pecos pipelines. There are always more battles to be fought.


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