It took a worldwide campaign to halt the environmentally destructive Keystone XL Pipeline this week, and all of the activists and organizations involved deserve credit. But I’m sure I speak for many in giving special acknowledgment to Bill McKibben and 350.org
for their leadership on this issue. Prior to McKibben making this a front-burner issue in 2011, Keystone was headed for easy approval. But that soon changed. After the best example of “people power” the U.S. environmental movement has seen in recent years, President Obama had no choice but to deny the permit and hand activists – and the public’s health – a huge victory.
Bill McKibben would be the first to argue that movements, and not leaders, make history. But his decision to make the Keystone permit approval a litmus test for President Obama’s commitment to addressing climate change was a transformative strategy that has renewed the power of the environmental movement.
Beyond Chron discussed the Keystone campaign in an August 31, 2011 story
from a longtime union member, “Why I’m Protesting the Keystone Pipeline With Bill McKibben.” After that time there were mass White House protests, and another was scheduled for January 24, only days before Obama was required to act on the permit.
At every stage, McKibben kept the campaign’s eye on the prize, recognizing that Obama had to see a major political downside to approving Keystone. Large donors to Obama’s 2008 campaign were recruited, with many stating that environmental support for the president in 2012 was at stake.
It was as strategically sound a progressive campaign as we’ve seen in some time. And while the Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council and other groups played important roles in the outcome, it was McKibben who sounded the alarm that got people on to the streets.
The battle to prevent Keystone from ever being built under a revised plan continues, but an environmental movement disappointed with climate change efforts since 2009 has clearly been reenergized.
And if anyone ever again says that some adversaries are too big to defeat, just send them to the 350.org website
and have them read how the Keystone XL pipeline was once considered a “done deal.”
Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and author of The Activist’s Handbook