Oil pipeline protest coming to San Francisco

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Forward on Climate, an event billed as the largest climate rally in history, will have a presence in San Francisco on Feb. 17. With most activity centered in Washington, D.C., organizers of the nationwide mobilization hope to convince President Barack Obama to reject the development of the Keystone XL pipeline, an extension of a tar-sand oil pipeline that connects Alberta, Canada and multiple Midwest cities.

In San Francisco, protesters plan to surround the U.S. State Department building at One Market Plaza to demonstrate opposition the pipeline project. "Since the pipeline crosses the international boundary with Canada, the State Department has to approve the permit, so symbolically that's why we chose it," explained Taylor Hawke of 350 Bay Area.

More than 70 organizations are partnering to promote the event, including 350.org, the Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council, CREDO Action and others. Sup. John Avalos will join student groups, indigenous organization Idle No More, and others in speaking at the rally. Organizers expect a turnout of more than 2,000 with participants traveling to San Francisco from Chico, Sacramento, Santa Cruz and University of California campuses at Davis and Merced.

Jessica Dervin-Ackerman of 350 Bay Area says activists “intend to send a strong message to President Obama that immediate action is needed to stop climate disruption and to protect current and future generations,” and that “the U.S. needs to be an international leader in the diplomacy of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.” A recent HSBC report underscored the role of national governments in fighting climate change, noting that 90 percent of the world’s oil and gas is held by governments or state-owned oil companies.

Some climate activists aren’t waiting until Feb. 17 to get their message across. Protestors from 350.org and the Sierra Club, along with many other organizations, sat outside the gates of the White House Feb. 13 in an act of civil disobedience meant to raise awareness about the Keystone XL pipeline extension. Many were arrested, including actress Daryl Hannah, and released the following day.

Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, touched on Obama’s apparent contradiction on climate change in a recent Rolling Stones article. While the President has made promises to work on wind and solar energy, McKibben said, he’s also emphasized a goal of “producing more oil and gas here at home." The pipeline would financially benefit the Canadian government, which is anxious to export its most lucrative commodity. The tar sands in Alberta contain as much as 240 gigatons of carbon, representing half the amount carbon scientists say can be “safely” burned by 2050.

Big oil companies stand to lose the most if the Forward on Climate movement succeeds. Oil reserves represent corporate assets that lay buried underground, and that’s where organizations like 350.org want them to stay. "The key to everything is this," Hawke said: "From the latest science, we now know that the climate crisis is the greatest moral issue of our time."

TransCanada, the pipeline developer, claims the project would provide tens of thousands of jobs, but the U.S. State Department estimates that it would be closer to five or six thousand temporary construction jobs. A more sustainable approach, says Frances Aubrey of 350.org, would be to create new jobs by investing in renewable energy. The only ones who will benefit from fossil fuels, she added, are the oil companies and the politicians whose campaigns they fund. “Oil companies are willing to change the planet beyond what people can survive,” says Aubrey, “to make a profit.”