2013 Walk for Our Grandchildren on Climate Change Sends Urgent Message: "Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground"

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Posted July 31, 2013

Interview with Steve Norris, initiator of Walk for Our Grandchildren, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

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In late July, during what is statistically the hottest two weeks of the year in the U.S., the group 350.org's “Summer Heat” series of protest actions drew attention to climate change and the growing demand for government and industry to implement regulations to combat it. One of the affiliated actions was the “2013 Walk for Our Grandchildren,” in which dozens of elders as well as teens and some middle-aged activists walked up to 100 miles from Camp David, Md. – the presidential retreat named for President Eisenhower's grandson – to Washington D.C. Other marchers joined 35 miles down the road at Harper's Ferry, W. Va., to highlight their fight for liberation from fossil fuels, just as abolitionist John Brown's attack on the federal arsenal there highlighted the fight against slavery.

Once in Washington, 54 marchers were arrested on July 26 in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience inside the building that houses the offices of Environmental Resources Management or ERM, a consulting company that wrote the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. ERM concluded in their report that construction of the Keystone pipeline would not exacerbate climate change – a conclusion with which the protesters passionately disagreed.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus, who participated in the protest and was one of those arrested, interviewed Steve Norris, the initiator of the 2013 Walk for Our Grandchildren, who was also among those arrested at ERM. Here he explains the origin of name of the protest walk, why the group targeted ERM and what the future may hold for climate change action.

STEVE NORRIS: I actually think it was a very good idea, even though there was some controversy at the beginning. I think we named it that because those of us who actually came together to create an organization to make this happen, we were all elders or grandparents, and so we had that energy. Some other people questioned whether that was appropriate because we always wanted to include younger people, and it was kind of hard just in that messaging to know whether people would feel welcome or not. So there was quite a bit of discussion with different organizations whether that was appropriate language. It turned out, I think, that it was, and young people have felt very included. And one young woman, who's 19, walked because she's got a 10-year-old brother she's concerned about, so all these ages kind of play into this. And my sense – and this is pure intuition, nobody said it quite this way, but my sense is that they feel an extra dose of love that we – the elders, at our age and so – are as committed to trying to deal with this crisis as we are and willing to put ourselves out as we did on this walk, where we were walking at times in 100-degree heat. I think that communicates something to them that presents or typical grandparenty kinds of actions don't communicate.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, just describe a little bit the target of the civil disobedience protest at the end of the walk, and how you picked that target.

STEVE NORRIS: Well, yesterday, as you know, about 60 of us went into the office building which a group called ERM – Environmental Resources Management, which is at the corner of 18th and I Street in Washington. We went there because ERM is the company that the Department of State hired to do an environmental impact report about the environmental impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline. ERM wrote this report and made the argument that the tar sands extraction in Alberta and the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport that oil to Texas, that it would not make any difference in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, which is patently absurd. You know, you can't take lots and lots of tar sands oil out of the ground and not contribute to global warming. They made the argument on the basis of the analysis that carrying the tar sands oil by rail would be no more expensive than doing it by pipeline, and therefore the oil is going to get to Houston one way or the other, so the pipeline makes no difference. It turns out that that's wrong, that the numbers they used to do that were completely fudged, that it's actually four times more expensive than what the environmental impact report said, and it's also documented in the Washington Post and Bloomberg News – both have reported that the ERM certified in its environmental impact report that it had no conflicts of interest, in other words, had done no business with TransCanada, the organization that's building the pipeline, or with some of the fossil fuel companies that are operating in Alberta – they said, "We don't do business with these people." And it turns out if you go to their website, they advertise that they have done it. And why they got away with this – why the State Department didn't do very basic research to find out that, we don't know, except that there's equal corruption in the State Department around some of this stuff.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Obama might nix the pipeline, but even if he does, that's not the end of the struggle. The front of your t-shirt says, Walk for Our Grandchildren, and the back says, Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground, so what's the next step for you, or for – I don't know if it's really an organization – this group of people who are very committed to attacking climate change?

STEVE NORRIS: You know, I don't know, and as this walk is coming towards its end, I've been asking myself that question, and I don't know the answer to that yet. My best guess – and I've been an activist for many years – is that you figure things out in a creative fashion as you go along. Every stage is different. You know, we've done this walk; this walk has been very important to us personally, and it may have some impact on public policy – we will see that in the future. But the next action will be different. What that is at this stage, I don't know. I need to go home and rest a little bit, and have conversations with people. Clearly, the idea of involving elders and grandparents and children in the way we have is clearly inspiring, and clearly has caught people's attention, and even President Obama now is talking about – he made a speech in Berlin in early June in which he said, "My job is to protect future generations from climate change." So even he's getting the message. That message is really important. So we need to figure out other ways of communicating that message to the public. We will win this, we don't know when, but I really like the idea of a tipping point, where this whole fossil fuel regime that's running the world to some extent – we're going to turn it over.

Protesters arrested were charged with illegal entry, a misdemeanor, and must appear in court in Washington, D.C. in August. Learn more about the climate change protest network by visiting 2013walkforourgrandchildren.org.

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