My foundational stories: Keystone Pledge of Resistance

This is a continuation of a series of posts about the evolution of my foundational stories, which are related to the intersection between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography.

Much of my justice work for the past twenty years has been and continues to be related to pipelines because they are the critical infrastructure needed to transport oil and natural gas from where they are mined, to the refineries. And against proposed “carbon” pipelines to transport carbon dioxide to storage facilities. Pipelines are usually hundreds of miles long, often traveling through fragile ecosystems and/or rivers and lakes.

It is at the construction sites that activists can resist the pipelines. Or, in the case of the Keystone XL pipeline, prevent the approval of the pipeline permit required to cross the US/Canadian border.

The stories related to each pipeline are so long that they require separate articles for each. I learned a great deal about designing and training for different ways to resist pipelines. And developed deep friendships with many amazing people. These are some of the stories related to the Keystone XL pipeline. We were able to stop its construction.

The (Keystone XL pipeline) project was delayed for the past 12 years due to opposition from U.S. landowners, Native American tribes and environmentalists.

Keystone pipeline officially canceled after Biden revokes key permit. CNBC, JUN 9, 2021

Protecting Mother Earth

Looking back over the past fifty years, it is obvious the industrial world made a fundamental error by the unrestrained use of fossil fuels. We would not be experiencing evolving environmental chaos and social collapse today if not for those tragic decisions. We disregarded the indigenous wisdom of considering the effects our actions would and are having on future generations.

But as my friend Ronnie James, an Indigenous organizer says, “it was not always this way, which proves it does not have to stay this way.”

It is sad to realize young people today have little idea of what life was like just a few decades ago, in the times before rampant fossil fuel consumption.


I’ve written many times about living my life without a car. And my futile efforts to get even one other person to give up theirs. To say I was discouraged is an understatement. (See the story about Cars as Weapons of Mass Destruction at the end of this article).

But then I found some hope. One of the benefits of the emerging use of the Internet was a way to learn about what others were doing and organizing like-minded people to work together. I discovered the Keystone Pledge of Resistance on the Internet.

Keystone Pledge of Resistance

The Keystone Pledge of Resistance was an Internet campaign designed to put pressure on President Obama to deny the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry the thick tar sands oil from Canada to the refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.

Environmentalists were having a difficult time persuading the public and industry to transition away from fossil fuels. The environmental organizations Rainforest Action Network (RAN), CREDO, and The Other 98% recognized the Keystone decision as an opportunity to both raise awareness about the dangers of tar sands and possibly even stop the construction of the pipeline. President Obama alone would decide whether to approve the pipeline’s permit, required because it would cross the US-Canada border.

The Pledge was posted on the Internet for people to sign.

“I pledge, if necessary, to join others in my community, and engage in acts of dignified, peaceful civil disobedience that could result in my arrest in order to send the message to President Obama and his administration that they must reject the Keystone XL pipeline.”

97,236 activists signed the Pledge.

Keyston resist

The brilliant part was also collecting the contact information of those who signed, creating a grass roots network.

The website also asked if you were willing to lead in organizing an action in your community, which I did. The Rainforest Action Network identified the twenty-five cities that had the most people who had signed the Pledge and spent the summer of 2013 going to those cities to train Action Leaders. Indianapolis was not one of those twenty-five, but Des Moines, Iowa, was. Todd and Gabe held our training session at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. The syllabus took 8 hours to complete, with discussion about the pipeline, dangers of fossil fuels, theory of nonviolent resistance, legal aspects, all the necessary roles (media, police liaison, jail support and how to organize an action and train others to participate. Role playing was another part. Below we experience being handcuffed. The second day of the training involved the participants doing the training we received the day before.

You can see the syllabus for this training here: KXL_Pledge_Participant_Guide

Practicing being handcuffed for civil disobedience.

I returned to Indianapolis where three others, Jim Poyser, Ted Wolner, Wayne Moss, and I designed a nonviolent direct action at the Federal Building in Indianapolis. (We didn’t have to execute the action because President Obama denied the permit).


Jim Poyser, Ted Wolner and Jeff Kisling, Keystone Pledge of Resistance organizers, Indianapolis

Over the next several months we held training sessions for local people who had signed the Pledge, eventually training about 50 people. Nationwide about four hundred action leaders trained nearly 4,000 people. President Obama was made aware of this nonviolent “army” and its plans. All this was done in the open.

We used other opportunities to raise awareness about the Keystone Pipeline, fossil fuels and the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. The Indianapolis Star published this letter to the editor I wrote. Senator Donnelly had been talking about the jobs the pipeline would create. In reality less the fifty full-time jobs would be created. After this editorial, he didn’t talk about jobs again.

We also held multiple demonstrations related to the pipeline. Quakers from the North Meadow Circle of Friends often participated.

Stop the Keystone pipeline, downtown Indianapolis

The Kheprw Institute (KI), a Black youth mentoring community I was involved with, allowed us to hold a public meeting about the Keystone Resistance. Each of the Action Leaders spoke about why we were willing to risk arrest to stop the pipeline.

Kheprw Institute, Indianapolis

In addition, my friend Derek Glass created this video about KXL from some of my photos and a script I wrote.



November 6, 2015, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline permit. Then on one of the first days of the Trump administration (January 2020) the pipeline permit was approved. Finally, the Biden administration revoked the permit, and TC Energy gave up on building the pipeline.

  • Keystone XL was halted (2021) by owner TC Energy after U.S. President Joe Biden this year revoked a key permit needed for a U.S. stretch of the 1,200-mile project.
  • The Keystone XL pipeline was expected to carry 830,000 barrels per day of Alberta oil sands crude to Nebraska.
  • The project was delayed for the past 12 years due to opposition from U.S. landowners, Native American tribes and environmentalists.

Keystone pipeline officially canceled after Biden revokes key permit. CNBC, JUN 9, 2021



A Bear Creek Friend gave me this sign which meant a lot to me.

A more detailed account of my years of work in resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline can be found here: Lessons Learned from the Keystone Pledge of Resistance.


Summary

In summary, the Keystone Pledge of Resistance and actions against other pipelines and fossil fuel projects played a significant role in my foundational stories.

Protecting Mother Earth

Besides the greenhouse gas emissions from burning the oil transported in the Keystone and other pipelines, construction of pipelines disturbs the topsoil where the pipeline is constructed, often excellent soil in Iowa. Drainage systems are destroyed. And the clay that gets mixed in with the topsoil when the pipeline trench is refilled means the fields no long drain water well.

Photography

I learned a lot about taking photos as I documented our many actions related to the pipelines. And later used those photos when I wrote stories about the actions. You can see of some of those photos related to the Keystone pipeline resistance here: https://tinyurl.com/KeystoneResistance

I should note these days I don’t take photos at events that don’t have a public permit because law enforcement uses such photos to identify who was present.

Quaker

It was my Quaker faith that led me to be trained as an Action Lead in the Keystone Pledge of Resistance. Members of the Quaker meeting I attended in Indianapolis participated in demonstrations against the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines.

Additionally, following are several reports and Minutes that were approved by my Quaker Yearly Meeting, Iowa (Conservative) over the years.


The following Minute was approved by Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) in 2017.

 Radically reducing fossil fuel use has long been a concern of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). A previously approved Minute urged us to reduce our use of personal automobiles. We have continued to be challenged by the design of our communities that makes this difficult. This is even more challenging in rural areas. But our environmental crisis means we must find ways to address this issue quickly.

Friends are encouraged to challenge themselves and to simplify their lives in ways that can enhance their spiritual environmental integrity. One of our meetings uses the term “ethical transportation,” which is a helpful way to be mindful of this.

Long term, we need to encourage ways to make our communities “walkable”, and to expand public transportation systems. These will require major changes in infrastructure and urban planning.

Carpooling and community shared vehicles would help. We can develop ways to coordinate neighbors needing to travel to shop for food, attend meetings, visit doctors, etc. We could explore using existing school buses or shared vehicles to provide intercity transportation.

One immediately available step would be to promote the use of bicycles as a visible witness for non-fossil fuel transportation. Friends may forget how easy and fun it can be to travel miles on bicycles. Neighbors seeing families riding their bicycles to Quaker meetings would have an impact on community awareness. This is a way for our children to be involved in this shared witness. We should encourage the expansion of bicycle lanes and paths. We can repair and recycle unused bicycles, and make them available to those who have the need.


Although we have tried to find ways to promote environmental concerns, such as supporting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, engaging with the Occupy Movement, and protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline, it has become increasingly clear that traditional approaches to creating political change are not working well. Civil liberties are being eroded, making it more difficult to petition for change.
We have been trying to understand a system of irresponsible actions on the part of policy makers across the developed world related to the environment and our changing climate. It is painful to conclude that concern for each other and the environment has largely been replaced with protecting and promoting economic growth and profit without regard to the environmental consequences.

Report of the Earthcare Subcommittee, Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) 2012

ENVIRONMENTAL STATEMENT OF CONCERN
Addendum to Peace and Social Concerns Committee Report 2013

[It was agreed in business session that this statement was too long to be
read and discussed and that instead it could be used as a resource and as
background material to the minute proposed by the Peace and Social
Concerns Committee and approved by the yearly meeting on Seventh
Day.]


Every good that we can do, every good that we can imagine
doing, will be for naught if we do not address climate change.

Van Jones, Rebuild the Dream, February 2013


We, members of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), are dismayed at the damage that has been done, and continues to be done, to our environment.

The widespread availability of refined fossil fuels began to revolutionize societies worldwide early in the last century. Progress came to be defined as the development and use of a vast array of products and devices to make work and living tasks easier or to do things that weren’t
possible before. Initially the industrial revolution resulted in widespread employment, but eventually human labor was largely replaced with work done by machines, which were either directly powered by gasoline or indirectly by electricity which was usually produced by fossil fuel.

One huge effect of this was the migration from the farm to the city. Very inexpensive gasoline and the availability of personal automobiles led to urban development that assumed people would travel some distance from their homes to get to work, school, grocery stores and other businesses. That requires the use of significantly greater volumes of fossil fuel for daily life and a sprawling infrastructure of highway, water, waste, and electrical systems, and emergency and other services.

A culture evolved that changed priorities to material consumption and convenience. Business profits from that became the key drivers of economic and political policies. This move to cities tended to disconnect people’s close relationship with nature, and environmental consequences
of these changes were purposely minimized. Businesses did not want protecting the environment to impact profits, so subsidies (tax incentives, price controls, favorable trade regulations, etc.) were employed to hide the true costs of energy and water production. Environmental concerns were not the priority when they conflicted with profits. We didn’t have
ways to understand, quantitate, and price environmental damage.

There are three major problems we are now facing as a result of this:

  1. We are passing the point of peak oil production. Supplies of this nonrenewable resource are dwindling, and it will be much harder to extract the fossil fuel supplies that are left (such as tar sands). Energy return on energy investment (EROEI, or EROI) is an important concept, being the ratio of the amount of usable acquired energy divided by the energy expended to
    produce that energy. Hydroelectric power has an EROEI of 100. In the early days of easy oil extraction, oil’s EROEI was about 100, but has been falling steadily, and was 19 by 2006. Tar
    sands’ is making it hard to justify extracting it.
  2. Our economic system is dependent on continual growth. We are reaching limits to available resources to sustain that growth. Much of industry has replaced human and animal
    labor with fossil fuels and is not prepared for rapidly increasing costs and decreasing supplies of energy and water. Widespread unemployment is the root of many social problems and injustices today. Through tax laws and business regulations, this economic
    system is facilitating greater inequities in the distribution of wealth.
  3. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are increasing. Carbon dioxide (CO2), primarily from burning fossil fuel, and methane (from animal digestive gases and released from thawing
    frozen deposits) trap heat in the atmosphere. That is what has kept earth air temperatures moderate. But rapidly increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations are increasing the atmospheric temperature. The consequences include melting ice caps, which results in less sunlight reflected off the ice and more heat absorbed by the earth’s surface, rising ocean water levels from the melting ice, and release of methane deposits that had
    been frozen, further increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These changes also affect ocean currents and are thought to be contributing to changing weather patterns. Warmer air holds more water. Less water returned to the earth as rain and changing precipitation patterns are contributing to desertification of some areas of the earth.

The two major ways CO2 is removed from the atmosphere (known as carbon sinks) are by:

  1. Photosynthesis of plants: Chlorophyll combines CO2 from the air with water to produce sugar and oxygen. Destruction of forests decreases this carbon sink, reducing CO2 removal (as well as decreasing oxygen production).
  2. Absorption into the ocean: CO2 combines with water to form carbonic acid. Increasing atmospheric CO2 leads to increased CO2 absorbed into the ocean, resulting in abnormal
    acidification of the ocean, which damages coral reefs and other marine life.

Unfortunately, the rate at which carbon sinks remove CO2 is significantly slower than the rate at which CO2 is being added. It is estimated that it takes about 100 years to remove CO2 after it has been added to the atmosphere. The over 14 TONS of CO2 dumped into the atmosphere by the U.S. alone in a 24 hour period will remain there for nearly 100 years, unless ways are found to increase CO2 extraction. For example, some progress is being made in developing artificial
photosynthesis, but the impact this could have on CO2 removal is not yet known.

Public education is required so that informed personal decisions and economic policies can be made. Protecting and restoring our environment must become the primary goal of political and economic policies. Addressing greenhouse gas emissions and preserving our water and food supplies must become our overriding principles. As a case in point, it is crucial that the Keystone pipeline to transport tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast not be built. CO2 from burning tar sands oil must not be added to the atmosphere, and the very high risk of contamination of the Ogallala aquifer, the primary water supply for many f the Great Plains states, cannot be justified. The construction of the Keystone pipeline has become the defining issue for our future direction. Ecocide refers to the destructive impact of humans upon the
environment, leading to human extinction. Many believe we must immediately stop greenhouse gas emissions if we are to have any chance of avoiding ecocide. Construction of the Keystone pipeline will both signal that environmental concerns will continue to be systematically
denied and likely assure that ecocide will occur. Some Friends are engaging with others in acts of civil disobedience to try to stop construction of the Keystone pipeline and raise awareness of the
consequences of building it. This is seen as an opportunity to make others aware of the climate catastrophe that continued fossil fuel extraction and use represents.

Similarly, hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for buried natural gas inserts toxic chemicals into the earth that are polluting drinking water supplies.

Approved Minute:
Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) opposes the practices of both tar sands extraction and hydraulic fracturing.

Conservation (reducing use and recycling) is one of the most efficient and readily available ways to conserve energy and other resources.

Simple supply and demand will inevitably result in rapid and dramatic increases in the cost of fossil fuel products and water. Because so many sectors of the present economy rely on cheap energy and water, severe stress, and possibly even collapse of this system, will occur. Widespread travel will significantly decrease as result of both the scarcity and cost of fossil fuels. Transoceanic transport of food and other goods will cease. Changing weather patterns, droughts, desertification, pollution, and increased energy costs will increase the cost of water, since a great deal of energy is needed for water distribution. Distribution of goods, especially food, will be severely impacted. Social unrest will result.

In broad terms, a cultural shift is required to reverse what led to this point. The recent cultural shift toward secular materialism does not reflect Friends’ values. In addition, we are faced with the moral travesty of consuming nonrenewable resources and the additional environmental
damage done in the process, knowing at least some of the catastrophic effects this will have on future generations. Since this cultural and economic model is not sustainable, as it fails, we have an opportunity to help move toward a more nearly equal and socially just society. We should examine our own lives, and how our lifestyle could be changed.

Two minutes have been approved by the yearly meeting (2008, 2012) that address these issues. As they state, one of our goals is to reduce the use of or get rid of personal automobiles. It is obviously significantly more efficient to share public transportation vehicles, more and more of which use alternatives to fossil fuels. Each time we think of travel, we should consider alternatives to using a car, such as walking, bicycling, or using public transportation. Bicycles in particular can easily cover significant distances without great effort and are at the same time good exercise, as well as being enjoyable to ride. Adult tricycles are available for those who need the extra stability. Various devices can be used to help carry things like groceries. Pedal-powered trolleys can be found in more and more cities. We can encourage shared bicycle systems in our communities and the development of bicycle paths through city streets. Friends meetings should encourage bicycling, including providing bicycle racks and perhaps offering help with bicycle maintenance. This can be a visible witness.

Jeff Kisling and Sherry Hutchison, co-clerks
Peace and Social Concerns Committee


Sustainable Indiana staff include John Gibson, Jim Poyser, Shannon Anderson, Judy Voss and Richard Clough.  They have appeared in many of my blog posts, because they are involved in so many environmental efforts.  John and Jim were very active in the Keystone Pledge of Resistance, and they have all been involved in Indiana Moral Mondays and many other projects.

“Sustainable Indiana 2016 is a Indiana  Bicentennial Legacy Project of Earth Charter Indiana.  Our mission has been to collect and celebrate stories of people who are taking the lead on a sustainable future in Indiana.  This book contains some of those stories, for Hoosiers and by Hoosiers, to serve as a guide to a future that gives us a deeper and healthier connection to our environment and each others.”

They were kind enough to include one of my stories, Cars as Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Transportation chapter.

3 thoughts on “My foundational stories: Keystone Pledge of Resistance

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