February 2, 2013

Alarm over climate 'tipping point' fueled Portland rally

Hoping to restrict pipelines and quash the pursuit of tar sands oil, activists make their global fight local.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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On Jan. 26, 1,400 protesters made Portland a regional focal point against the extraction and transportation of Canada’s tar sands oil. For environmentalists, the rally was about more than just a pipeline.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Klotz also learned that Bill McKibben, the author and environmentalist who founded 350.org, was bringing his "Do the Math" tour to Boston. He started another online petition asking McKibben to visit Portland. Five hundred people responded, and McKibben made his climate-change math presentation to a sold-out house at the State Theatre in November. That built interest in the upcoming march.

Organizers were expecting 1,000 people, tops. They were surprised when police estimates put the crowd at more than 1,400. Organizers have since figured that half the marchers came from out of state, some arriving in four buses from Massachusetts and one from Vermont.

Also on hand were speakers and participants from north of the border, including the Greenpeace Canada and Equiterre, a Quebec-based social activists' group.

"We were really pleased to see such an unbelievable turnout in Portland," said Adam Scott, climate and energy program manager at Environmental Defence in Toronto. "Many Canadians were very surprised to see such a reaction in Portland. I think it gives a lot of energy to what's happening here."

Scott's group helped organize Day of Action protests at eight locations along the Enbridge pipeline route in Ontario and Quebec. It hosted a question-and-answer session on Twitter that day to build support.

"They can't expand tar sands without these pipelines," Scott said. "It's critical for them to have this infrastructure. Stopping these pipelines will have a measurable effort on greenhouse gas levels."


Canadian activists also keep in contact with mainstream environmental groups in Maine that were instrumental in building support through the pipeline issue. They include Environment Maine, the Maine chapter of the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

NRCM last year organized rallies and meetings in Casco, Bethel, Raymond and South Portland, one to mark an anniversary of a major leak of tar-sands oil from an Enbridge pipeline into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in July 2010. Climate change is the overarching issue, but worries that include the potential for a pipeline leak to pollute drinking water from Sebago Lake or clam flats in Casco Bay brought out hundreds of people.

"I wouldn't want anyone to dismiss these as local concerns," said Dylan Voorhees, the NRCM's clean energy director. "There are a variety of motivations."

Maine groups are keeping the issue in the public eye by helping to introduce local resolutions aimed at rejecting the use of tar sands oil. They have made presentations in Portland, Windham and Bethel, with other communities pending. In Vermont, 23 towns have put tar sands transport resolutions on their town meeting agendas.


Now mainstream groups are turning their attention to the Washington rally on Feb. 17. It is being organized by 350.org, the Sierra Club and the Hip Hop Caucus, a national human rights group aimed at young people.

Much of the organizing is taking place online. People posting on the NRCM's Facebook page are asking about buses from Maine. The Maine chapter of the Sierra Club has an RSVP sign-up on its website for people who want a bus ride. The official logo for the Forward on Climate event integrates a Web address but also a Twitter symbol to link with information and tweets from participants, including McKibben. The hashtag is #noKXL.

The KXL is a reference to the Keystone XL pipeline. This proposed pipeline through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska would greatly expand the ability of tar sands oil to be produced and exported.

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Additional Photos

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Environmental activist Bill McKibben speaks to the Vermont Legislature last week in Montpelier. The author’s speaking engagement at the State Theatre in November helped build interest in the Jan. 26 tar-sands protest in Portland.

The Associated Press


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