YARMOUTH – Sometimes moments arise when citizens are compelled to stand up for what they believe in.

On Sunday, 45 of us stood together in front of the White House in sweltering 90-degree heat. We were participating in the second day of the Tar Sands Action, a 14-day protest that is slated to be the largest act of civil disobedience in the history of the climate movement.

“I can bear this heat for three hours if it means in 30 years my grandchildren don’t have to live in it,” Andy Burt, 66, of Edgecomb said to me that morning.

We were arrested for peacefully protesting the construction of Keystone XL, an oil pipeline that, if built, would stretch 1,700 miles from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.

We were appealing to President Obama because, for once, he has the opportunity to make a decision independent of a divided Congress. He alone can reject the pipeline.

And this is no ordinary pipeline. The tar sands are the second-largest pool of carbon on the planet — right behind Saudi Arabia. As NASA climatologist James Hansen wrote in a recent publication, if we were to considerably tap into that carbon, it’s “game over” for our climate.

“The tar sands constitute one of our planet’s greatest threats,” he writes. “First, producing oil from tar sands emits two to three times the global warming pollution of conventional oil. But the process also diminishes one of the best carbon-reduction tools on the planet: Canada’s boreal forest.”

The tar sands lie under 140,000 square miles of forest — the size of the state of Florida.

You might ask: Why were three Maine women among the protesters on Sunday, and how is this issue related to Maine?

It’s true that Maine is the farthest state in the continental United States from the proposed pipeline. But climate change is not bound by geography.

After all, we are the “tailpipe of the United States.” Pollution from cars and factories out west drifts to Maine, thinning our ozone and exacerbating respiratory health issues. Remember that Maine has the highest incidence of asthma among adolescents in New England. Pollution not only affects people with allergies and heart disease, but it also causes cancer.

As carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere, about 25 percent of it will be absorbed by the world’s oceans. When carbon dioxide dissolves in water, it becomes carbonic acid, which makes the ocean more acidic. Ocean acidification threatens phytoplankton, the building block of marine ecosystems, and causes osteoporosis in mollusks, one of Maine’s chief exports.

I grew up in a state lauded for its clean air and sparkling coastline. I was proud that for many out-of-staters, Maine has always been “the way life should be.”

But imagine what life in Maine could be like if we decided to dip into a source as corrosive as Alberta’s tar sands:

The Clam Festival in my hometown of Yarmouth ends as ocean acidification grows so severe it dissolves clamshells. Our maple syrup industry collapses as maples stop running with sap in warmer springtime weather. Those same maples that create fall foliage are replaced by oak and hickory as Maine’s climate comes to resemble that of Southern states. In winter, snowfall becomes irregular. Skiing is isolated to only western Maine.

Imagine a Maine ravaged by extreme weather — fiercer hurricanes, more frequent ice storms and floods, record snowfalls and sweltering heat waves (2010 was the hottest year on record).

Lyme disease skyrockets as the habitats of disease-carrying insects expand. Harmful algal blooms like red tide manifest in a warmer climate, threatening our fisheries.

Suddenly, Maine isn’t Maine anymore.

Now imagine the way life could be.

Historically, Maine was the first state to cast the vote each fall. We’re the first to see the sun rise. Hence our motto, “Dirigo. I lead.”

And we’ve continued to lead. The first naval battle of the Revolutionary War was fought off the coast of Machias. Harriet Beecher Stowe began “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in Maine. More recently, Vinalhaven was the first Maine community to establish a cooperative wind farm.

Imagine a Maine with four seasons, with clean air and water and a growing economy based on renewable energy sources (we’ve got plenty). A Maine where our way of life is not impeded by the way we are forced to live.

Sometimes life presents crossroads — moments that force citizens to take a stand.

As Mainers, we can start by rallying President Obama to stand against the Keystone XL Pipeline. Let us continue to lead — for our children, for our environment, for the way life should be.

– Special to the Press Herald