Climate Rally Holds Obama Accountable

Official White House photo by Chuck Kennedy

A rally called Forward on Climate on February 17 brought more than 40,000 activists to converge on the nation’s capital calling on President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. The global grassroots movement 350.org said the turnout, which brought in 130 busloads of supporters from around the country, sent a clear message to the president: “time to live up to your rhetoric, take us forward on climate, and say no the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Many in the environmental community were encouraged by the president’s recent State of the Union address, with statements that dealt directly with the climate crisis and the need for a new energy future. Obama said in his address: “I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association responded: “President Obama understands that the stakes are high and we must not fall behind other nations as the world shifts to emissions-free clean energy technologies like solar.” And Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America, responded that “Between his second inaugural address and [the] State of the Union address, President Obama has spoken more forcefully about the need to tackle global warming than all presidents before him combined. If this strong language is any indication of his commitment to addressing global warming, which we believe it is, the next four years hold great promise for our ability to cut carbon pollution and fulfill our obligation to our children and future generations.”

But the February 17 Forward on Climate rally was about holding the president accountable—to make sure that action follows words. Speakers included clean energy investor Tom Steyer, 350.org founder and environmental activist and writer Bill McKibben and green jobs champion Van Jones.

The most visible environmental fight activists are focused on is TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canadian tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas, crossing through the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides water for millions of Heartland families. Construction of the 485-mile pipeline began last year and Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman recently approved a revised route for Keystone XL through his state.

Jones said at the rally: “This pipeline, if it goes through—the first thing that the pipeline runs over is the credibility of the president of the United States. That’s the first thing it runs over. He said that he’s not going to let us be a generation that cooks the earth.”