Treat our Water Better

As a child I was only allowed to bathe every two weeks. I could only occasionally flush the toilet (I’ll leave out the specific details) and our yard the predominant color was yellow than green. We’d go weeks without electricity and had to use lanterns, candles and flashlights. All of this because of water scarcity. It wasn’t until I got back to the United States did I realize people lived where water and moisture was taken for granted.
            In Kenya, when we were out and about, we didn’t trust water for “normal” reasons such as dead things an animal feces in the water. When out camping and getting water from rivers, generally boiling was sufficient. We didn’t have to worry about chemicals in this water. It continues to amaze me that Americans, in this day and age, can’t trust the water that comes out of their own tap. Furthermore, even though sections of this country are in the worst drought in 500 years, water resources are being used to exacerbate the situation rather than help it.
            A month ago coal mining operations caused a chemical leak in West Virginia. While authorities say that the water is safe to use and drink, residents continue not to trust it. Water is continued to be imported for drinking, bathing and cooking. People in California are also in an equal state of distress. There’s seventeen communities in the state that are about to completely run out of water in 60-120 days.  People are losing their businesses, their livelihoods. Consumers will soon feel the impact of the drought when we don’t have the food that California usually produces.
            Meanwhile, as people in our nation are suffering, water is being used or planning to be used, for practices that intensify the situations. If the Keystone Pipeline were to go through, we would be processing some of the most intensive, dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet. There is also some tar sands in Utah that they are considering to mine. DeSmogBlog outlines the process:

U.S. Oil Sands’ water-and-energy-intensive extraction process involves first digging up congealed tar sands, then crushing them to reduce their size. The company then mixes the crushed sand with large amounts of hot water (at a temperature of 122-176°F) to loosen up and liquefy the tarry, oil-containing residue and separating it from the sand.

Next, coarse solids sink, are subsequently removed and considered waste tailings. Air is then bubbled through the remaining water-oil mixture, which makes the oil float to the top in what’s referred to as “bitumen froth,” in industry lingo. The froth is then deaerated, meaning all the air molecules are removed.

But that is not the end. It continues and it involves even more water. Overall oil sands production takes 170million cubic meters of water – which is the equivalent of 1.7million households use in a year. None of this is water is returnable into the natural system.
              Then we have the 2nd offense – fracking. It takes up to 8million gallons of water to mix with chemicals to inject into the earth and blow it up and extract natural gas. These chemicals then percolate into the natural water systems and into our water systems. It poisons the environment. It poisons us. People can set their tap water on fire. They have to import their water because they cannot trust the water coming out of their own faucets. Animals and humans both become sick, suffering from cancer, hair loss, sensory, respiratory, neurological damage and ultimately death.
              While there’s people in this country that are suffering due to lack of water, it makes me wonder why we are using water resources to poison people. Not only that, this water is just making situations like the drought in California the new norm. We need to step back and redistribute the water in this country. We need to be aware of how our water is used and where it is going. We need to be aware of how our actions, decisions influence our water system.

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$1 Billion on Climate Resilience? What about Prevention?

              Last week President Obama came out with a plant to spend $1 Billion on climate resilience. I am still a little unclear what this plan entails, but the whole fact that this plan is based on RESILIENCE instead of PREVENTION is a clear sign that we have gone over the cliff of trying to solve the climate issue and now we are going to continue to mess up our climate and learn to live with it. While some folks may see this move by Obama as a bold move towards the climate issue, I see it as an act of defeat. Obama is going to continue to promote fracking. Obama is going to continue to drill for oil domestically. Obama is going to approve the Keystone Pipeline. In an attempt to placate the environmentalists, he has put forth this huge amount towards climate change – but it is going to the WRONG place.

              With any addiction, you do not want to feed the addiction or give anyone who is addicted that the substance they’re addicted to is okay. We are addicted to fossil fuels. This addiction has cost us our climate, our environment, our water, and our health. I don’t have to list all the ways we are being affected – but it is costing us. Wouldn’t it make more sense to try to PREVENT these things from happening rather than these proven detrimental things to continue to happen? Couldn’t this $1billion go towards renewable energy or carbon reduction? How about MAKING money by taxing these dirty industries that are costing us rather than giving them subsidies?

              Let’s put this in another perspective. Climate change could very likely cause the next apocalypse. What’s amazing is that we are doing this to ourselves. Willingly. But that’s beside the point. Let’s replace “climate change apocalypse” with “zombie apocalypse.” Then this “$1 Billion Climate Resilience Fund” becomes the “$1 Billion Zombie Resilience Fund.” Obama is budgeting to help communities to prepare for zombies and to fund research and technology to protect against them. Sounds ridiculous right? Well so does the fact that we are knowingly causing our own demise and doing squat about it.

              We have the technology and resources out there to bring climate change to a grinding halt. It is not going to happen overnight, but it we can slow it down and do something about it. New technology is being born every day. There are children out there that are winning science fairs that have created tech that can clean oceans of plastic. We have light bulbs that last longer and use less energy. New renewable tech is out every day. Better, more fuel efficient cars are being made every day. We, as the people, need to create a demand for these products and for our world to be a better place. We cannot let these dirty industries and fuels win. If we do, we move beyond the brink.
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Benefits of Snow

People in the northeast are sick of snow. I think people in the northeast need to be reminded that they need to not take the white stuff for granted. In today’s day and age we seem to forget to look beyond our backyards and look at the whole picture. We also tend to forget to look into the future.

Of all the natural ‘disasters,’ snow is probably the most benign. It doesn’t really hurt anyone. It’s kind of like a venomous snake. If you don’t provoke it (drive like an idiot in it, ski/snowboard in an avalanche area, etc.), it won’t hurt you. In fact, unlike the other natural disasters, snow has numerous benefits. We should be praising snow, dancing as each and every snowflake falls from the sky. Snow is a blessing.

* Pest Control: Thanks to snow there should be less of those annoying bugs around this summer. This is everything from ticks, mosquitos, and other insects that have been out of control like the emerald ash borer. Thanks to snow, there will be fewer ticks. As long as the snow sticks around and it stays cold, the ticks can’t survive. The later we have snow, the better. Mosquito season will be later and shorter. Aren’t those reasons to celebrate? Thanks to snow. The emerald ash borer has been devastating trees in states all across America – not just ash. Their numbers used to be kept in check because it used to snow a normal amount (you know, like we’re getting now). Because of the fact that we have not had a real winter in a long time, their numbers have been out of control and spreading, killing off entire forests and increasing wildfires. Thanks to the snow, their numbers will take a huge dent and we may be able to save iconic forests such as the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

* Snow Insulation: Now, this might sound counter-productive, but snow insulates our gardens and lawns. Any gardener or farmer will tell you a good “blanket of snow” is desirable for a garden. It keeps your plants warm (yes, warm) and happy throughout the winter season. It is WAY much better than having them exposed during the winter, especially when there’s extreme temperature fluctuations. If soil is frozen, without snow, plants can die of thirst. Snow keeps that from happening. Even when plants are dormant, they still need moisture and snow provides that.

* Poor Man’s Fertilizer: Snow has been shown to give a nitrogen boost to gardens and soil. Any gardener/farmer will tell you that nitrogen is a vital nutrient for the soil and people with spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars in liquids, powders and techniques to get nitrogen into their soil. But here comes snow, a free way to get nitrogen into your soil. It delivers an estimated 5 pounds nitrogen from the atmosphere to the soil. This helps plants grow lusher, produce more fruit (as evident by my fig tree, which always produces more figs whenever we get more snow), and generally just be happier whenever we get snow. You know what they call snow? Poor man’s fertilizer. You know what the Old Farmer’s Almanac says? “Year of Snow, Crops Will Grow” – be thankful for snow. There’s a good foot and a half of snow on my yard and gardens right now – I can’t wait to get out there and garden. I bet I am going to get some great crop this year! So bring on the snow!

* Snow is Water: There’s really not enough news or pictures of the drought in California right now. Even if rained (or snowed) for every day for the rest of the winter, they still would not replenish their water supply. There’s towns that have completely run out of water. Maybe it will hit us here in the east when cost for our food goes up since California grows a lot of our food. Anyway – we’re LUCKY here in the east to have so much SNOW because snow is WATER. Our reservoirs will be full, our wells will be filled. Our pastures will be green. Our seeds will be sown and will grow. Stop being selfish and whining about snow.

Which would you rather have?
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So, next time you moan about the snow, think twice. If you have a farm, be thankful. If you’re a gardener, be thankful. If you in any way depend on water, be thankful. There’s people having to recycle their bath and shower water for drinking water – in the UNITED STATES. There’s people in Africa and India drinking water that is polluted with feces, dead animals and trash. We have clean, pristine, beautiful snow. Be thankful.

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Apparently we can’t go a day without a fossil fuel disaster

Apparently we can’t go a day without a fossil fuel disaster

Not only can we not go a week without a fossil fuel disaster, we can’t even go days! Not only was there a train derailment in Pennsylvania, spilling thousands of gallons of oil, there was also another natural gas explosion in Kentucky that leveled homes. War veterans said that the explosion was unlike anything they heard in the war.

Yet the news is not reporting on any of these disasters. They did report on the West Virgina “chemical spill” (due to coal, but they left that out) and there were some whispers about the coal spill in North Carolina. There have been 6 fossil fuel disasters that have been REPORTED in the last two weeks. Only 1 of which have been covered by national media. All of which are detrimental to the environment.

We need to go cleaner. Now.

Can we go a week without a fossil fuel disaster?

As we come further along with renewable energy technology it becomes increasingly shocking to me that we still not only use fossil fuels but mine and develop new tech to exploit them. Last I checked, we don’t hear about wind spills or solar farms exploding. It seems like this last month we are on a roll for fossil fuel disasters. Which still makes me wonder – how can we still be debating the Keystone Pipeline? How can we still be building new infrastructure for coal/oil/natural gas? Here are the latest (at least reported) fossil fuel disasters in the last two weeks, all of which that have decimated the environment in that area.

  •   February 2, 2014: Dan River Coal Ash Spill. North Carolina. It is not certain yet how much coal ash has spilled into the Dan River and Duke Energy is being entirely uncooperative and petulant about the matter, but it is estimated that it is between 50,000 to 82,000 tons and up to 87 million gallons of waste water were released due to a broken pipe. Coal ash may sound harmless, but it is a waste material from the coal industry that contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and several other heavy metals, many of which are toxic. Now this has entered a fragile water system that not only waters thousands of people, but also (nor formerly) beautiful environment. Coal ash is one of the largest industrial wastes in the country. Funny how renewables don’t have industrial waste
  • February 5, 2014: Train Oil Spill. Minnesota. There is NO SAFE way to transport oil because oil is NOT SAFE. That’s what it comes down to. There’s been several train derailments in the last year. In this case, the train didn’t even derail. It was just traveling along with a leak resulting in 12,000 gallons of crude to dribble all over the tracks for 68 miles. But since it’s over dry land or who knows why really, I’m just making that part up – for some reason, no one is concerned about it and no one is bothering to clean it up. Who cares, right? But you bet someone is getting fired over it.
  • February 11, 2014: Natural Gas Explosion. Pennsylvania. This is still relatively fresh and not much is known, but a Chevron Natural Gas well blew up and burned for several hours. One person was injured and another person is missing. The fire burned into the afternoon and as far as we know, it is still burning. The cause of the blast is still unknown, but you know, natural gas is flammable. Wind and solar is not.
  •  February 11, 2014: Coal Chemical Spill. West Virginia. 100,000+ gallons of coal slurry (coal waste) from a coal plant somehow managed to seep into the Kanawha River and sickened six miles of Fields Creek. “This has had significant, adverse environmental impact to Fields Creek and an unknown amount of impact to the Kanawha River,” said Secretary Randy Huffman of the state Department of Environmental Protection. This is just a month after the “chemical spill” on January 9th that got a lot of press. But the press called it a “chemical spill” – and failed to mention that the “chemical” is a byproduct of the COAL industry. It is used to CLEAN the coal that is supposedly already clean that we are still mining for. This is probably the dirtiest of the fossil fuels and one of the ones that we are supposed to be phasing out.

That’s FOUR disasters in TWO WEEKS. And two of those are in the same day. Also, those are the ones that are reported. As we learned, there were nearly 300 pipeline spills in North Dakota alone that were unreported to the public in two years. What about the rest of the states? What about the rest of fossil fuels? Who knows how many more there were. We may never know. Again – it just baffles me there are still people toting how wonderful dirty fuel is. Or that people think that we still don’t have a choice. We do have a choice. It is just a matter of what we chose to invest in. The technology is out there.

Finally I would like to close with a recent report on the price of fossil fuel devastating our communities. About a year ago a pipeline broke near Mayflower, Alabama – a quiet little community. It has been deemed clean, safe, and a happy place to live again – by the oil companies. But of course, so has the Gulf, and that is far from the truth.  Many have moved away. Those that stay are plagued by headaches, nausea and dizziness from oil fumes that still seep from the ground. However running away is not so easy and ExxonMobil is not taking responsibility for its actions. The houses that are being put up for sale aren’t selling. This area of Mayflower is becoming a ghost town.

So tell me. Is this the price that we are going to have to pay for our fossil fuel addiction? Is Mayflower our future? Will we continue to suck the Earth dry rather than work with it until we kick ourselves off our own land? The more I read the news lately the more pessimistic I get about our future. We don’t seem to learn from our mistakes at all. We keep thinking we can just patch things over. There will come a time that the bandages will give way. We need to seriously rethink our actions and decisions.
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Just Like the First Time

Just Like the First Time

Do you remember the first time you discovered something new? Experienced a new sensation? Felt something? Do you remember what innocence is like? If we all could connect to nature like this little girl experiencing rain for the first time, the world would be a better place. The astrophysicist, Neil Neil deGrasse Tyson, once said “For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.” Even before I knew the existence of this quote, I always lived life this way. Always went outside or delved deep into a book to find something about the world I didn’t know. Always tried to lesson the suffering of others – whether it be of people, of animals, or of the Earth. So today, go out. Discover something you didn’t know. Find that sensation, that joy. Embrace the sky.

Olympics – An Open Call to Boycott

On the news and social media lately you’ve heard countless things going wrong with this year’s Winter Olympics at Sochi. Most of these things have to do with human rights – which in itself is a great reason to boycott the Olympics. So is Russia’s attempt to slaughter free-roaming dogs. They’ve known the Olympics were coming for a while, why this last-minute massacre? However this is an environmental blog, hence I want to focus on the overwhelming ecological damage these Olympics are costing the environment, despite Russia’s promise that they’d be green.

  • Steamrolled Wetlands: Sochi used to be home to beautiful wetlands that were home to vulnerable birds and plants. It was a paradise for over 60 birds that used to overwinter here. Now, thanks to the Olympics, this sanctuary lies under 7ft of crushed gravel and has been paved over for the Olympic Park. Where are these birds going to go now? And what about all these plants? Wetlands provide a valuable service of long-term carbon sequestration. Now these are gone. Thanks, Olympics.
  • Razed Forests: Not just the wetlands have suffered from the construction from the Sochi Olympics, but the entire mountain region has – 5,000 acres of pristine forest have been annihilated. The new railroad built to the remote region has disrupted migration and hibernation patterns of all animals. They have built a good portion of the Olympic Park in the National Park – displacing hundreds of trees and animals. What’s going to happen after the Olympics are gone? No one was rushing to go to Sochi before the Olympics. It was a quiet little village on the Black Sea, not a bustling city like previous locations. Odds are this will become a ghost town – at the cost of the loss of biodiversity.
  • Toxic Dumps: The hasty building of this new Olympic City has another price – waste. Where is it going to go? In Russia there is surprisingly stringent dumping laws, but all of these are being ignored for the Olympics. Residents have been complaining about an illegal landfill that has polluted the air and contaminated their water – this was evident by a photo tweeted by a reporter in Sochi a couple days ago. The river that runs by Sochi used to be a picturesque, clean, white-water river. Now it runs brown, infected with chemicals, pollutants, and debris thanks to runoff by a wounded environment.
  •  Make it Snow: Let’s talk about the carbon footprint of trying to create snow in a coastal environment. You walk out of the airport in Sochi and you see palm trees, not snow or ski slopes. Temperature there is in the low 50s in the winter and in the 70s in the summer. Hmm…not quite the obvious place for WINTER Olympics, huh? There has long since been a concern that Sochi wouldn’t have enough snow for the winter sports. In fact they DON’T have enough snow. They have to CREATE snow for the winter sports. A good chunk of the budget for these Olympics have gone to create the snow. And if they don’t have enough snow to create with their snow 400 cannons, they’re falling back on snow they’ve been “stockpiling” in the valleys and canyons in the mountains.
  • Blackfish, Revisited: However one of the most offensive and frivolous acts of these winter Olympics is the capture of wild orcas for the sole purpose of entertainment. It has been well documented that orcas are capable of higher emotions and thinking. To rip these animals away from their tight-knit family groups is devastating. To put them in a tank that is equivalent to putting a human in a closet and ask them to perform tricks is equally demoralizing. These animals were caught for the sole purpose to bring in money and people to the games. They will live a lifetime of depression and abuse. All in the name of entertainment.

This all really is only scraping the surface of the environmental impact of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games at Sochi. Russian officials refuse to allow reporters or environmental activists near dumping sites or construction zones – nor have they released any information on full environmental impact. Undoubtedly they have something to hide.

Tomorrow night the opening ceremonies at the Olympic Games start. Dancers will be stomping and twirling flags over the bones and mud of a marshland that had to sacrifice itself for the cause. People will chug in by railroad, built specifically for the occasion. As they come in, they will not see a pristine white river. They will not see brown bears happily roaming the mountains. For dinner people will not eat local salmon – they’ve all but disappeared now from the construction and pollutants. This is the price of the Olympics.

Will you watch?  
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Antarctica’s Purpose

Ever since I started this blog I have been itching to do a post on Antarctica, a place that is unlike any other place in the world that I’ve visited before. I never thought that this White Continent could have any impact on me, but oh boy it did. I enjoyed my time there, but it wasn’t until I returned did I realize the hold it had one me.
              I met a friend after returning for coffee and when I told them where I’d been, they said, “Oh you must be glad to be back to reality.” I smiled and said yes. When I left them though I thought more about what they said. Reality. What is reality? I wandered around my house. I knocked on the walls, turned my water on and off. I looked outside and watched the cars go by. Reality? This is not reality. This is what we’ve created. This is not real – it is all artificial.
              I often try to imagine what the Earth once looked like without any human impact. I thought I had a grasp of this when I was out west in the high desert in California. I thought I definitely knew what this looked and felt like when I lived in Kenya and wandered for miles in the Great Rift Valley. It felt like there wasn’t a soul, but the truth is, no matter where you are in Kenya, people always emerge from the haze. It wasn’t until I went to Antarctica did I understand what true reality meant. What the Earth means without human impact.
              It is one of the few places that humans have a minimal footprint. When I came down there in 2012 I kept looking at mountains and glaciers and one thing that kept me in awe was thinking “no one has put a footprint here. No one has touched that rock before.” No humans are going to come out of the mist here. This is what the Earth looked like before humans put their stamp on it. I want to keep it that way.
              As Antarctica becomes more accessible, we need to draw the line. This is the last frontier. Without a doubt science in Antarctica is very important. This should never end. Exploration of Antarctica is also important. This is Antarctica’s legacy. I also think that tourism is very important to the region. Without this people will never come to this breathtaking region, fall in love, and feel the need to protect it.
              One thing I do object to though is using Antarctica as a playground, which I am starting to see more and more. Recently there was a documentary that came out whose sole purpose, as far as I could see, was to show off these fellows snowboarding in Antarctica. Their crew did not conduct any scientific research (as far as I could see). There were some token scenes of wildlife, but for the most part it was these two guys that got bored with their mountains at home and came to Antarctica to seek out new and exciting mountains to snowboard and to be the first.
              I appreciated the magnificent scenic views, but did not appreciate what this could insinuate. It also could potentially open the door for others to come and use Antarctica as a playground. You do not mountain bike in the Serengeti. Why is there snowboarding in Antarctica? This should not be allowed. The Antarctic Treaty was founded and designated Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.” This does not include using it as a recreation area. I would think snowboarding and likewise activities would hinder scientific pursuits and impair the environment.
              Antarctica is a continent that is not meant to be tamed. She may come across as a lonely, beautiful landmass enticing us to come keep her company, but she will turn on you in the flick of a fin. The winds coming off the glaciers change, the glaciers calve, and she reminds you that while she likes you being there, she is still in charge. People using her for recreation is an attempt to tame her. Scientists coming down to study her and her secrets is respecting her. Tourists coming down to appreciate her natural beauty is to pay her homage. We need to continue to treat Antarctica with awe and respect that she deserves.
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Keystone Pipeline – We Shall Overcome

              Yesterday I joined hundreds of people all over the United States at 270 sites across the nation to come together to let President Obama know that building the Keystone Pipeline is not acceptable. I honestly thought I wasn’t going to make it given that my area was getting a torrent of snow, but I stubbornly trudged through two miles of deep snow to the local train station to get into New York City. This is a cause I believe in and I’ll be damned if a little bit of snow keeps me from it.
              I am glad I donned my Antarctic parka (which in hindsight might have been a bit of an overkill, but I was toasty the entire time) and made my trek into the City. I have been feeling overall pessimistic about the Keystone Pipeline, as evident in my last two posts. There’s something about being in a group of like-minded people that share your passion that electrifies the spirit and gives you hope.
              At the end of the vigil we sang the classic, “We Shall Overcome,” which given Pete Seeger’s recent passing made me really take in the song more than I ever have in the past. I felt Pete’s presence there with us as I know if he were alive he would have been there or at a KXL protest nearest him. The song is a quiet, enduring, steadfast song of peace meant to be sung in unity. It is the epitome of everything Pete stood for.
              It is also the epitome of everything we are fighting for when we fight for the rejection of the Keystone Pipeline. We shall overcome the Keystone Pipeline someday. Someday we will look back and say we did not put that pipeline in the ground and bring that dirty oil down from Canada. We can look back on that accomplishment in pride. And if they reject the pipeline and they want to bring it by rail, we will still be there to block their way and we will overcome that as well. Deep in our hearts we know this. We will walk hand in hand in peace until we drive those forces of dirty energy set to destroy our environment away from our borders. We are not afraid. Deep in our heart, we do believe, we shall overcome some day.

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Keystone XL – What are We Fighting For?

Image              Since the State Department’s verdict on Friday my waking and even sleeping hours have been consumed with thoughts of the Keystone Pipeline. On February 17th, 2013 I was front and center with 350.org marching to the White House to show my displeasure the last time a similar report came out. Despite frigid temperatures there was an impressive turnout of people from all over the country. I felt surely someone must have heard us.
Then this report came out, the same as before. Has it fallen on deaf ears? No. Are people ignoring the environmental and climactic impacts? Yes. I do believe those in power are aware of the implications. And I do think they are choosing to overlook them because they believe we have no other choices. The fact that we’re developing the tar sands is admitting defeat. It’s licking the residue in the pot when there’s nothing left.
The more I read about the pipeline, the more pessimistic about it I get. I ask – why are they building this pipeline? Because there is an addiction to oil and dirty energy. Stopping the pipeline is not going to cure this addiction. The truth is – the pipeline is the safest way to get this filth to its destination. It is too dangerous to transport by truck – not to mention the carbon emissions from the trucks. It is too dangerous to transport by rail – the several derailments this past year have proven that. So that leaves a pipeline – which has also proven to be equally as dangerous – there was the spill in a farmer’s wheat field in North Dakota. We are fighting to not transport this filth over our boarder altogether.
The tar sand oil is going to flow (well, it doesn’t flow to begin with, so that’s not really an apt word) no matter what. So what are we fighting for? Today (weather permitting, since we are in the middle of a major snow storm right now, hoping it will end in time) I will head to one of the locations nearest me to once again protest the Keystone Pipeline. Please find a location near you to do the same. I will be there with hopefully hundreds of others fighting the fight to keep the keystone pipeline out of this country.
But I am not so jaded to think that it will not soon be built. The southern portion is already in place. I am still going to resist the northern portion. I want to believe that there is still some people in this nation that we can come together and fight against something. We will fight to show that our nation is above the oil addiction. We are fighting to keep carbon out of our atmosphere – which the State Department’s report DID say is a likely scenario – it could be upwards of 27.4 MMTCO2e annually which is equivalent to the tailpipe emissions from 5.7 million passenger vehicles. We will fight for hope that our president will realize that this is not about politics, but about our future.

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