“We have reached a fork in the road,” Hansen said, “and the politicians have to understand we either go down this road of exploiting every fossil fuel we have — tar sands, tar shale, off-shore drilling in the Arctic — but the science tells us we can’t do that without creating a situation where our children and grandchildren will have no control over, which is the climate system.”
Several activists said they have pressed the administration for information on how it would approach Keystone but have not gotten answers. Michael Kieschnick, president of CREDO Mobile and an Obama donor, said officials have told him that “things are going to be different and climate change is going to be a part of his legacy, but no specifics.”
The Sierra Club’s Brune, who has been arrested once for protesting the logging of old-growth forests in Northern California and once for protesting factory trawling in the Pacific, had refrained from protesting in his current post because his group has traditionally barred civil disobedience. But the organization’s board of directors voted to approve it for the first time in its 120-year history on the grounds that the issue was so important.
“It’s awful hard to reconcile wanting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with [approving] the dirtiest oil project in the country,” Brune said. “The president gets this, he understands this challenge, and we’re here to ensure his ambitions rise to the level of the challenge.”
Julian Bond, who was first arrested at a sit-in at the Atlanta City Hall cafeteria in March 1960 and who was most recently arrested in the 1980s outside the South African Embassy in Washington, said civil disobedience was again needed.
“When you find that ordinary methods of persuasion are not working, you turn to other methods, and this is peaceful, nonthreatening and has been successful in the past, and there is no reason to believe it won’t be successful here.”
Bond, echoing Keystone XL foes who say that it would mostly provide a route for oil sands to reach world markets, said, “This is not a pipeline to America. It’s a pipeline through America, and it threatens to be a disaster for us if it leaks poisons on the way.”
The protesters were released Wednesday afternoon after each paid a $100 fine.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, said that although he prefers to challenge projects in court, he chose to be arrested because legal avenues had been closed off by friends of the oil industry.
“They have so rigged the system that we cannot go to court,” he said. He said that the oil industry had turned Congress into “indentured servants” and that “even Obama in his State of the Union has to doff his cap to big oil and genuflect to them.”