Sunday, September 25, 2011

To Become an Activist

The following is a speech that  I gave at the UNCA "Flip the Switch" benefit concert on September 24, 2011 as part of world-wide day of action called Moving Planet, organized by

Thank you everyone for coming out today and supporting this event that brings greater awareness to the energy crisis that our world faces today.  And more importantly, let today be a call to action for all willing and able people to get involved in tackling this problem of monumental proportions. 

For the truth is, we are addicted to oil and wouldn’t you know it, it turns out that burning massive amounts of fossil fuels isn’t such a good thing for us, our planet, and our future.  Science tells us that such activity accelerates the temperature of our planet which in turn causes more extreme weather which in turn causes catastrophic environmental disasters such as what we’ve seen in Pakistan, China, Brazil and at home in North Dakota, Texas, and Vermont.  But the worst, the worst beyond imagination, is yet to come.

You would think that upon hearing such news from 98% of climate science experts around the world, Americans would wake up and do the sensible thing by taking immediate steps to circumvent this crisis: weaning ourselves off of oil, establishing strict emission standards, making radical changes to our lifestyle, and investing in the education, infrastructure, and policies for renewable, clean energy to fuel our future.  Tragically though, this isn’t happening.

Big Oil is deeply entrenched in our politics, our economy, and our lives.  Big Oil seems dead-set on doing nothing substantial about this crisis as they rake in tens of billions of dollars on a quarterly basis.  With an army of 800 lobbyists, Big Oil spent over 146 millions dollars last year buying off our politicians and shaping energy policies on a local, state, and national level.  Big Oil is the modern day Goliath and we, the people, are David who have our work cut out if we ever hope to reduce the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere to an acceptable level of 350 parts per million. 

Addressing the energy crisis will require millions of Americans to join in solidarity with those around the globe.  It will require that we get active; protest in the streets; overwhelm our representatives and the media with letters, emails, and phone calls; and yes, even risking arrest in acts of civil disobedience if we ever hope to avoid the worst of climate change. 

Thankfully, we live in a country where this is possible.  The birth of our nation, the end of slavery, the women’s right to vote, and the Civil Rights Movement are but a few examples of how the people fought power and money with TRUTH.  We can do this and it is our moral responsibility to do so. 

I’d like to ask that we take a few moments of silence to acknowledge and send our thoughts and prayers to the courageous youth protesting and committing civil disobedience for the past week on Wall Street to take back America from Corporate Fascism.  (Silence)

Thank you.  I have great hope when I see the youth rising up and taking on the injustices that exist in our country, and there are many.  It will be impossible to resolve our energy crisis without also reigning in the unprecedented powers of corporations.  I’m sorry Mitt Romney, my friend, but corporations are not people and it is imperative that we overturn Citizen United, the ability for corporations to spend freely in our political system and consequently, free to destroy our planet.

My life forever changed on April of 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon exploded and released an estimated 5 billion barrels of crude oil into the pristine Gulf waters.  We all watched in horror as the oil gushed freely from the faulty well.  Not long after, we saw the photos of the dead, oil soaked pelicans, turtles, crabs, and fish.  We heard from the angry and shocked Gulf coast communities whose livelihood disappeared and the land and sea that they love destroyed in an instant.  We witnessed the pitiful response of Big Oil- the cheap boons; the workers wiping up oil on blackened beaches with paper towels; and the release of millions of gallons of deadly dispersants that covered up the crime scene.  We heard the callous indifference of Big Oil who failed to take responsibility and minimized the consequences of their negligent actions.

Then equally disappointing, President Obama, after saying he was going to “kick some ass”, surprised us all when he suddenly unfurled his “mission accomplished” banner and told us that the crisis was over. We all knew it was a lie.  And since the single worst oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, not one single law has been passed to prevent this tragedy from ever happening again.  This is unacceptable.

Gulf Oil Crisis was my tipping point.  I was fed up that the environment and those who care deeply about it continue to get the short end of the stick.  I was fed up with those who think they have a right to do as they please without considering how their actions affect others and the future of generations to come.  I was fed up with Big Oil valuing corporate profits over the health and well-being of all living beings and our planet.  I was fed up that the most powerful nation in the world, the United States of America, was doing little to nothing to address the realities of our energy crisis.  It was in this moment that I vowed to use my body, my mind, and my soul to create real changes in the moral conscience of Americans.  It was in this moment that I became an activist. 

Last month, my call to action arrived when I went to Washington DC and was arrested, in an act of civil disobedience in front of the White House, to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline.  Bill McKibben, founder of, was leading two weeks of protests that would ultimately lead to the arrest of 1252 people from all over the country.  The protests succeeded in their effort to greatly increase the public’s awareness of the Canadian tar sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline as well as mobilizing people into action. 

We stood in front of White House because we wanted to speak directly to President Obama who has found himself in a most precarious of positions.  For he alone has the sole power to issue or not issue the required permit to build the 1700 miles of pipeline that will carry the dirtiest oil on earth from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.  He doesn’t need to compromise or make backroom deals with our dysfunctional Congress.  He doesn’t need to deal with the climate-deniers.  It’s all on him.  I committed civil disobedience because it is imperative that President Obama do the right thing and say NO to the Keystone XL Pipeline.

What Big Oil won't tell you is that the Boreal Forest accounts for 25% of the Earth’s remaining intact forest, an area larger than the Amazon basin.  The Boreal Forest is home to the world’s largest populations of wolves, grizzly bears, lynx, and moose as well as to such endangered species like the woodland caribou and the Whooping Crane.  The trees and wetlands provide vital breeding grounds for billions of songbirds and waterfowl.  These animals have no voice to protect their home and if the project is allowed to come to fruition, an area the size of Florida will be destroyed for thousands of years.  And for what, to fuel our insatiable appetite for consumption.

The tar sands oil requires intensive amounts of energy to extract.  To make one barrel of tar sands oil, four tons of the Earth’s soil must be destroyed; four barrels of water must be taken from the Athabasca River; and up to 1500 cubic feet of natural gas must be used.  The energy needed to make tar sand oil is enough to provide water for a city of 2 million people and to heat 3 million homes.  

Then there’s the climate.  The production of tar sand oil creates three times the green house gas emissions than conventional oil.  By 2015, the tar sands are expected to emit between 108 and 126 million tons of greenhouse gasses annually into our shared atmosphere.  That is more than half of the annual carbon dioxide emissions of the state of New York.

And you can’t make tar sands oil without also making highly toxic waste.  The tar sands have already produced 65 square miles of toxic sludge that are held in tailing ponds so huge that they can be seen from outer space.  This toxic waste, comprised of arsenic, carcinogens, and other harmful poisons, regularly leaks into the Athabasca River.  The indigenous First Nation people of Canada, who live downstream, depend upon this river for their livelihood; yet, they can no longer drink the water or eat the fish and now face unprecedented rates of cancer in their community.

The Keystone XL Pipeline is planned to go through the heartland of our nation and pass through Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest underwater reservoirs, that supplies clean water to much of the Midwest.  Now Big Oil says that we have nothing to fear and that the best technology will be used to prevent a spill.  Do you believe them?  I sure as hell don’t.  In the past year, the current Keystone Pipeline, a much smaller version of the proposed XL, has already spilled a dozen times.   

We are the largest consumers of this dirty oil.  60% of the 1.34 million barrels of tar sands oil produced daily is exported to the US.  This fulfills a mere 4% our domestic oil needs.  That is worth repeating, we are causing irreversible damage to our planet for 4%.  The construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline will increase production of the tar sands oil threefold, to a whopping 3.5 million barrels per day and 10% of our domestic use.  If approved, the pipeline will literally lock the United States into reliance on this high-carbon fossil fuel for decades.  Dr. James Hansen, the leading NASA climate expert says that if this were to happen, it is surely game over for the climate.  That’s right, “GAME OVER!”

So the time has come, now more than any time in our history, to create an economy based on clean, renewable energy sources.  The green revolution, which I promise will not be televised, will be a movement of the people who understand that what we do to the Earth, we also do to ourselves.  For at a fundamental level, there is no difference between Nature and humanity.  This can not be repeated enough, there is only ONENESS.  One planet.  One interdependent web of life.  When you disrespect, desecrate, or kill any part of that oneness, you also disrespect, desecrate, and kill a part of you, our children, and all the generations to come.  It is not a coincidence that as the health of our environment rapidly deteriorates, so too our culture is sick with addictions, violence, and diseases of the body and mind. 

If we are to survive as a culture, as a species, we must collectively awaken to this truth of ONENESS.  I am inspired by Bolivia who has taken bold steps to add to their constitution the inherent rights of Mother Earth.  This includes the right to life and to exist; the right to pure water and clean air; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.  And likely the most controversially, the right to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities.  

This is my vision for America, for all nations, for my children and all children, for all life on the planet, and for all unborn generations to come.  Such a dream will only come to be when the people collectively say it's time, then rise up and make it happen.  I say the time is NOW.  Let our collective voice become so loud that we can no longer be ignored.  Let us hold President Obama accountable to his promise to slow the rise of the oceans and to begin to heal the planet.  We will never give up this fight and we will prevail for we have truth and love on our side.  Thank you.   

Monday, September 12, 2011

My Arrest

I committed  civil disobedience and was arrested in front of the White House.  I joined 142 others, on this sunny Monday morning, in protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline.  The air was fresh after Hurricane Irene had just passed through on it's way to devastate Vermont with massive flooding.  I came to this place to join a growing movement that is asking President Obama to not issue TransCanada a permit to build 1700 miles of pipeline through the heart of our country.  This massive pipeline will carry some of the world's dirtiest oil from the tar sands mine to a tax-free port in the Gulf of Mexico where it's sold on the international market.  Bill McKibben, renowned writer and environmental activist, led two weeks of protests that ended with 1252 arrests and greater media attention to this environmental nightmare that had previously been ignored.  President Obama has said that a decision will be made toward the end of the year but most experts agree that the project will likely move forward.

With the White House behind me, I held my protest sign above my head that read "President Obama- keep your promise to heal the earth".  A reference to his fiery campaign speeches that promised to end the "tyranny of oil" and lead us on a path of sustainable, renewable energy sources.  The Keystone Pipeline is an environmental.  The heavy, crude tar sand oil is taken by  

We joined in solidarity for the health of our planet and the protection of our environment.  The