By Mark NeuCollins
As I am walking, the chant goes up around me, “Barack Obama, yes you can, stop the dirty pipeline plan.”
I am in Washington, D.C., among a group estimated at more than 40,000 climate activists from across the country — people from every age group, every ethnicity, every economic class, every political stripe — united by the belief that climate change is a serious problem, and that we need our government to address it.
I have driven through the night with a group of seven Iowans in a rented van to get here, and I will be driving through the night after this rally to get home. I am standing here wearing multiple layers of clothing, but the cold winter wind whips through these without much resistance. My 54-year-old body creaks and moans at such treatment, but it seems a small to price pay for the privilege of being here to witness history being made. This, the Forward on Climate Rally held Sunday on the National Mall, is the single largest environmental rally of all time anywhere on earth, and I am part of it.
If you were to ask whether this rally will make a difference, I cannot honestly answer you. It is impossible to know whether the actions of this day by a dedicated group of citizens will be washed away by the next news cycle or will be given a fair hearing in the court of public opinion.
What I do know is that we live in a democracy founded on the principle of “government of and by the people,” and this rally gives definition to that phrase. It is all too easy for political leaders to forget to whom they are accountable and to ally themselves with the interests of big-money donors instead. The oil and gas industry donated almost $70 million to politicians in 2012. We the people have only our bodies and our voices to counter the corruptive influence of this money.
And nowhere is this influence more evident than in the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline. Preventing this pipeline is where we are taking our stand today.
I could meticulously counter every argument in favor of the pipeline, but instead, I would like to shift focus. Here in Iowa, if you look around, you will notice an abundance of wind turbines standing in our farm fields, quietly and cleanly churning out more than 20 percent of our energy. According to Stanford University researcher Mark Jacobson, there is enough potential energy in the wind alone to exceed the world’s total energy demand several times over. And this is before we start calculating in other renewable energy sources such as solar, hydro and geothermal.
There are no technological reasons preventing our transition to an energy system completely based upon clean renewable sources, thus preserving our environment, and bringing true long-term sustainable economic growth. The only barrier is the lack of political will.
So on this cold February day, I am standing in front of the White House, and asking myself why. At my core is a belief that I have the responsibility to leave this world a better place because of my being here — for my children and for yours as well. At the end of my days, I will be fulfilled only if I can look back and say, “I did everything I could.” With this, I realize there is no other place I can be than right here.
Mark NeuCollins of Solon, an artist, digital humanist and environmental advocate, is editor of the Iowa City Climate Advocates blog, and a volunteer for Citizens Climate Lobby, an organization dedicated to creating the political will for a stable climate. Comments: email@example.com