Thousands Brave the Cold to Say NO to Tar Sands in New England

On Saturday morning my alarm went off at 3:50 AM. It was two degrees below zero out, almost twenty degrees warmer than it had been the previous morning and it felt just fine. Throwing on several layers and my running shoes, I ventured out for a run around a nearby pond. Sunrise still a few hours away, I was guided by the moonlight which filtered through surrounding pine trees and reflected off the deep winter snow. A few ice fishermen were arriving with their poles and buckets, making their way onto the thick ice of Berlin Pond.  It was winter at its finest.

Winter activities like ice fishing are becoming a thing of the past, due to climate change driven by tar sands and other fossil fuels. (Photo: Tom Gill)
These winter mornings, commonplace twenty years ago, are a rare treat today. And that is one of the reasons that I was headed to Portland, Maine by a little after six. Few areas have more to lose from climate change than northern New England, which is known for its snowy winter, maple sugar, and brilliant foliage. These are all threatened by climate change resulting from fossil fuel consumption. The area is already changing. There is less good snow for skiing, the fall colors are often less brilliant, and sugar season comes earlier and ends faster.

But my arrival in Portland, Maine gave me hope. Organizers from across the region had called on citizens to stand up and demand that a likely proposal by oil giants Enbridge and Exxon to use an existing 62 year-old pipeline to bring carbon intensive, dirty tar sands through a pipeline that runs through Canada, and into Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine for export be stopped. Tar sands are a thick, tarry substance mined in Alberta, the most extreme of “extreme oil.”  Mining them requires the vast destruction of pristine boreal forest habitat — the mines and their toxic waste ponds can be seen from space. However, this destruction is not the worst news about tar sands.  It is the climate impacts of tar sands that is so alarming. Tar sands are far more carbon intensive than conventional oil, and the tar sands region contains two times the amount of carbon that has already been emitted by human fossil fuel use, which is why leading climatologists  have warned that tar sands development would hurtle us past any hope for climate stability.

US Congresswoman Chellie Pingree addresses the crowd in Portland
The message from Portland was loud and clear: New England wants nothing to do with planet-wrecking tar sands. Far exceeding turnout expectations, 1,500 people braved brutally cold wind to demand tar sands be rejected and a clean energy future be pursued. Speaker after speaker, including Congresswoman Chelli Pingreeand Portland’s Mayor Mike Brennan, called on policy makers to tackle climate change, say NO to dirty fuels, and move aggressively towards an energy future we can proudly pass along to the next generation.

Three days later, concerned citizens and groups in Vermont demanded that the same pipeline proposal be subjected to Vermont law that would give Vermonters the ability to reject this pipeline project.

Tar sands are part of a bigger picture, one that demands action to stem the tide of dirty fuels that are destroying our climate. No one under the age of 28 has lived to see a month where temperatures have been below the 20th century average.  If we fail to act, crisp winter mornings may soon be a thing of the past in northern New England.  We can do better than that.  And the people of New England are demanding that now is the time to say no to dirty energy and yes to a clean energy future.

Take ActionHelp protect Northeast wildlife and communities from tar sands oil by urging the U.S. State Department to stop the Exxon/Enbridge pipeline!