Cornell students joined about 35,000 activists from across the country in Washington, D.C., Sunday to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline and persuade President Barack Obama to publicly reject its construction. Nearly 100 Cornell students attended the “Forward on Climate” rally, according to estimates from rally attendees.
The Keystone XL is a proposed pipeline system that would run from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast, transporting a form of crude oil known as oil sands or tar sands.
The nature of tar sands makes the pipeline a “global threat,” according to Kelsey Erickson ’13, a member of environmental group Kyoto NOW! who attended the rally.
“The tar sands of Alberta are situated right underneath vast arboreal forests and wetlands,” Erickson said. “If the tar sands were to be built, all of that would be destroyed. Tar sands are one of the most inefficient and unprofitable forms of oil extraction. It’s horribly dirty and would emit up to three times as much carbon dioxide as normal oil extraction.”
Proponents of the Keystone XL Pipeline say its construction will create 20,000 jobs and benefit the economy, according to CBS News.
Though workers have begun constructing the southern segments of the pipeline, for more than a year protesters have maintained efforts to shut down the project. In August 2011, more than 1,200 protesters, including Erickson, were arrested at a sit-in rally against tar sands.
Erickson said it was exciting to return to Washington, D.C., with so many people beside her. “How inspiring it was to see how much this movement has grown in such a short span of time,” Erikson said.
Sunday’s rally was the biggest climate rally in United States history, according to NBC News. One of the speakers at the rally was Bill McKibben, the president and co-founder of 350.org, an organization that aims to use grassroots partipation to address the climate crisis. The number 350 signifies the maximum parts per million of carbon dioxide that should be present in the air, Erickson said.
“Right now, we’re at 396,” Erickson said. “At the rate we’re going, business as usual, we’re headed for catastrophe. This is a movement that everyone has a stake in, and everyone should be involved.”
Students took buses from Ithaca to Washington, D.C., Saturday and participated in a small “March on Exxon” that evening, according to Erickson. On Sunday morning, before the main rally, 264 schools formed a “student convergence” in the W. Hotel near the National Mall to make signs and discuss divestment, according to Erickson and Allison Currier, a junior at Ithaca College.
“We talked a lot about the importance of divestment, the importance of our generation and what our role is in this large, national, global movement,” Currier said.
College students are well-equipped to make a difference in the environmental movement, Currier added.
“We’re not only [in college] to learn, but we’re here to take the things we’re learning and put it into action and make a difference to best support our global community and our local community,” she said.
The rally brought students both old and new to the environmental cause. Alyce Daubenspeck, a junior at Ithaca College, said she had never attended a rally before this weekend. She said the experience was vastly different from what she had imagined.
“Despite the large number of people and all the strong convictions that were present ... there wasn’t any sort of real unrest or upset. While some people might have felt disappointed with that, I felt like it lent credibility [to] the cause,” Daubenspeck said.
Cat Lauck ’15, who had also never previously attended a rally, said it was something she would “remember for a long time.” One especially memorable moment occurred near the end of the rally, she said.
“[One of my friends and I] were up near the front of the rally, and I could hear a chant starting behind us –– the ‘Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like’ chant,” she said. “For the next 10 minutes, [my friend and I] were screaming out the call, and everyone else was responding. It was amazing. It was my first time being in the presence of so many people who were passionate about the same issues as me.”
The rally was beneficial in several intangible ways, said Ethan Kellar ’15, who also attended the rally.
“Although the major victory would be having Obama reject the construction of the pipeline, even if that does go through, I’d say the effects of the rally are a lot harder to quantify,” he said. “There were so many people talking to each other throughout the rally –– talking about projects they’d done at school and different sustainability groups talking to each other. I’d say that’s one of the most powerful things a rally can do.”
Currier emphasized the inspiration participants gained from the rally.
“The rally was extremely empowering and moving,” Currier said. “I was standing with [35,000] other people from all different backgrounds and cultures saying to Obama that we don’t want this pipeline built.”