Climate Activists Fast to Protest Natural Gas Projects that Exacerbate Climate Change

Posted Sept. 23, 2015

MP3 Interviews with climate activists Jimmy Betts and Ellen Barfield, recorded and produced by Melinda Tuhus


On Sept. 8, a dozen members of Beyond Extreme Energy, or BXE, began an 18-day, water-only fast in front of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission headquarters in Washington, D.C. Their demand is that the agency, known as FERC, stop issuing new permits to build fracked gas infrastructure, including pipelines, compressor stations, storage facilities and liquefied natural gas export terminals. Plans are to end the fast on Sept. 25, the day after Pope Francis addresses the U.S. Congress.

While the natural gas industry and the political establishment tout gas as the transition fuel to move the nation toward renewable energy sources, recent studies have shown that the extraction process releases large amounts of methane – the main component of natural gas – producing much more greenhouse gas emissions that previously thought.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus, who is in Washington, D.C. in a support role for the fast, interviewed two of the people who plan to fast for the full 18 days. We first hear from Jimmy Betts who participated in the Great March for Climate Action, walking from California to the nation’s capital last year. He's been involved in both of BXE's previous week long actions at FERC, and is one of the group's two staffers handling outreach on social media.

We next hear from Ellen Barfield, a longtime peace activist who talks about the fast's coinciding with Pope Francis' visit and the need to take up work for climate justice. She's engaged in a juice-only fast.

JIMMY BETTS: My name is Jimmy Betts. I was raised in Omaha, Nebraska.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And now you’re a citizen of the world.

JIMMY BETTS: At least a citizen of the U.S.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And now you’re here, doing an 18-day, water-only fast. Why are you doing that?

JIMMY BETTS: Well, again, the reasons for the fast are to demand no new permits for fossil fuel infrastructure, and in the case of FERC, it’s related to fracked gas infrastructure – pipelines and what not. But personally, part of my reasons for fasting, especially with water only as the main idea there in terms of the tactic, is that water is one of our most precious resources and our existence is basically dependent on access to clean drinking water. It’s indicative of what it’s capable of doing for people. You know we can live off water alone for quite a long time, but the second the water is gone we’re down to a few days of survival, so there’s a lot that can be stated about it in addition to the issues with fracking, in addition to any fossil fuel infrastructure or extraction process that may foul water.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I don’t know how many millions of people in the world already don’t have access to clean water – hundreds of millions probably – and it’s only going to get worse. And even people in California now don’t have drinking water or water to flush their toilets because of the drought. So using water in that way, or highlighting it, seems really appropriate. So how has it gone for you? You’re finishing your seventh day.

JIMMY BETTS: So far the fast has been going well for me personally. I’m definitely feeling my faculties diminished; I can’t walk as far as I normally do. And I’m working full-time so it makes it even more of a challenge. I can’t sit back and relax; I have to be on it when it comes down to scheduling work for making sure what we’re developing here and the stories we’re able to share are getting out into the world, so it’s something that I have to balance out and take a little time off now and then to be able to do.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What do you think has been the response? Some of the people going by are FERC employees, and you can’t always tell. Sometimes It’s just passersby, because we’re sort of in the heart of Washington, D.C. here. Anything stand out in terms of your interactions with people?

JIMMY BETTS: My interactions have been fairly limited on the street; however, when I go into public spaces, like a café to do work on the Internet, a lot of discussions come back to the postcard handouts we have related to FERC or Black Lives Matter, depending on what type of thing we are supporting. And people talk about “18 days of water-only! For what?” so they’re intrigued more by the action itself and then they understand, this must be a serious issue. So hearing those conversations was helpful, because you don’t really know. It’s like you’re throwing cards into the ether, but people are actually reading them, and they are actually talking about it amongst their peers, so that’s important to know.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Jimmy Betts, is there anything else you want to say about this pretty amazing and unusual and serious action that’s going on?

JIMMY BETTS: Well, sure. One of the things that’s been an ongoing theme of our actions has been artistic takeaway pieces, and in this case we have a project called the No New Permits quilt. It involves collecting stories and submissions from different frontline groups and also just concerned citizens because there are many different levels of engagement and this is one way for people who may not be able to fast, that they can contribute stories and we’ll build it into a large quilt that hopefully will be an ongoing project that we’ll keep building onto. So we’re looking forward to getting submissions from around the country and from every coast, and quite a few states in between that normally we don’t hear from as often so it’s just a good way to connect people and try to actively build a movement through art.

BETWEEN THE LINES: That’s great, thanks very much.

JIMMY BETTS: Thank you, Melinda.

ELLEN BARFIELD: I really like taking advantage of the visit of the pope. I’m not religious and mostly don’t have much use for the Catholic hierarchy, but this pope is kind of amazing, and if we didn’t take advantage of the wonderful things he’s saying about a lot of things, including the environment, the earth, climate change, I think that would have been very foolish, so it’s good to be here amid a whole lot of other stuff happening.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So what draws you to this particular issue of climate change?

ELLEN BARFIELD: Well, I’m primarily a peace activist and have been for 30 years, but I gotta say that challenging the Pentagon is definitely being concerned about the environment because they are a huge damager of the environment. But it’s very clear that we have to get off fossil fuels, and, to get back to challenging the Pentagon, they’re the single biggest single burner of fossil fuels in the whole wide world, so, again, the two go together really well.

My husband and I have chosen for 25 years not to own a car. We bicycle. We refuse to have air conditioning because it’s such a huge suck of energy. You know, we’re doing what we can, but until the whole culture – the whole world – gets it together and shifts to renewables and green energy from fossil fuels, we’re just getting worse and worse. Individuals can do what they can, but we have to do it as a whole society.

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