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November 04, 2011

Let's Build the Future We Want to See

One bus is coming from Maine. Another from Asheville, North Carolina -- one of several from that state. From points up and down the eastern seaboard, busloads of Sierra Club members and volunteers will travel to the White House this weekend. We won't be mingling in the Rose Garden. Instead, we'll stand, shoulder to shoulder, with thousands of Americans from across the environmental movement in a circle that stretches clear around the president's house to send this message:

Stop the Keystone XL pipeline and the dirty tar-sands oil it would carry from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

A year ago, few people had heard of the Keystone XL or even knew what tar-sands oil was. Today, thanks to lots of hard work and grassroots actions, the decision of whether to permit this pipeline -- a decision that Obama has acknowledged is his alone to make -- is a flashpoint issue not just for environmentalists but for anyone who believes our leaders should still be capable of making critical decisions based, not on some political calculus, but on right versus wrong.

There's no question the Keystone XL pipeline would be wrong.

Wrong because all the risks of the pipeline would be borne by the American people, while the profits further enrich the wealthiest corporations on the planet -- Big Oil.

Wrong because the inevitable toxic oil spills could contaminate the Ogallala aquifer-- which provides irrigation for 27 percent of U.S. croplands as well as drinking water for millions of people.

Wrong because extracting tar sands oil is the petroleum equivalent of mountaintop-removal mining -- a scorched-earth, wholesale destruction of North America's boreal forest.

Wrong because digging up and then burning Canada's tar-sands oil would create enough carbon pollution to make stopping runaway climate disruption nearly impossible.

Wrong because the refining of dirty tar sands oil dumps even more cancer-causing chemicals, particulate matter and other toxics into the air, further poisoning communities where the air is unsafe to breathe.

And wrong because to bury our heads in the tar sands would be to pretend we don't have what it takes to move our country Beyond Oil and build a clean-energy economy based on renewable energy and efficiency.

These moral stakes compel us to bring our message directly to the president's doorstep.

One of my favorite insights about public policy comes from my friend Bill Barclay, an energy analyst with Rainforest Action Network. Bill once told me, "You want to know the best way to tell the future? Look at our investments in energy infrastructure. What we're building now will be around for the next half-century. "

Our energy future is determined by the decisions we make today. If we want a future where our country's economy is based on clean, safe, and secure energy, then we need to work for it. Because we can indeed break our dependence on oil -- one car, plane, and pipeline at a time. The alternative is more pipelines (and thus more spills), fouled water, dirty air, and an increasingly unstable climate.

The Keystone XL decision is not just about a pipeline. If it were, nine Nobel Peace Prize laureates would not have publically urged President Obama to reject it. This is about whether right and wrong still matter. Thousands of us will be at the White House Sunday because we believe they do. (And if you can't, here's how you can still help.)

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