This President’s Day weekend, four busloads of Rhode Island residents will travel to Washington, D.C. to join thousands of Americans taking part in the Forward on Climate Rally. Following a string of intense storms, including Hurricane Sandy and Blizzard Nemo, participants are hoping to convince President Obama to take action that would prevent construction on the highly debated Keystone XL pipeline and help prevent increased climate change.
The Sierra Club is one of the organizers behind the rally, and the Rhode Island chapter’s program manager, Abel Collins, has taken on the role of bus coordinator for the trip. Collins, a former congressional candidate for the 2nd district and an environmentalist, has been able to recruit two buses for Rhode Island residents who are planning to travel to the capital on Sunday morning. In addition, Brown University has coordinated two more buses for students who wish to make the trip.
“We’ve been really happy with the response,” said Collins. “To fill two buses as quickly as we did is pleasantly surprising.”
The rally has been organized by the Sierra Club, 350.org and the Hip Hop Caucus, with additional support from 120 partner organizations across the country. To assist with transportation, the ridesharing service Ridebuzz, an official Climate Rally Partner, has provided an online site where interested participants can find information about buses to the event or opportunities in their area for carpooling. It is the hope of the organizers that by providing charter buses to the event and keeping costs low, more participants will make the trip and help the movement reach their goal of having 20,000 environmentalists in attendance.
The ultimate goal of the Forward on Climate Rally, which will start at noon on Sunday at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is to convince President Obama to halt construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The pipeline is designed to bring tar-sands oil from Alberta, Canada down to Texas. Tar-sands oil is one of the dirtiest oils and can cause harm to the environment due to its high carbon content, said Collins.
Collins cited multiple dangers to the environment caused by the process of extracting and refining this particular type of oil. Due to its corrosive form, extracting the oil from Canada and transporting it down to Texas would require the pipeline to remain at increasingly high temperatures, raising the risk for pipes to break. Also, according to Collins, when tar-sands oil goes through the refining process and when its resulting petroleum is used, its high carbon content could cause global carbon dioxide levels to rise 120 parts per million, putting the level above 500 parts per million. Collins said the accepted level should be at 350 parts per million.
On the other side of the issue, supporters of the pipeline hope the president will support the construction of the pipeline as its construction and the resulting need for refineries in the Gulf Coast will result in more jobs and economic growth.
A decision regarding the pipeline was scheduled to be made over a year ago, but following a rally similar to Forward on Climate, President Obama postponed the decision in favor of conducting more research on the issue. After a meeting with the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister last week, Secretary of State John Kerry said that he hopes for a decision on the issue in the near future. Collins believes it will come within the month, making Sunday’s event even more important.
Collins could not express how vital it is to his cause for President Obama to put a stop to the Keystone XL Pipeline.
“It is important for the continued viability of the environmental movement,” said Collins. “It would be a major blow to the movement if Obama would approve [the pipeline].”