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By Candice Bernd
February 14, 2013
Caption : Sierra Club leaders participate in civil disobedience for the first time just ahead of Sunday’s Forward on Climate rally.      


Climate action from young grassroots environmental organizers and national leaders is already lighting up with arrests in front of the White House—and it’s not even Sunday yet.

Forty-eight climate activists were arrested during a sit-in at the White House this morning, hoping to pressure President Obama to stay true to the promises he made on slowing climate change last night during his State of the Union address. It’s not the first time for many of Wednesday’s arrestees to be jailed during demonstrations to stop Keystone XL.

President Obama denied the original construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline in January of 2012 when TransCanada proposed the 1,700-mile pipeline as a single project. Since then, the corporation has split the pipeline into two halves and reapplied for a permit for the northern section. The president’s ultimate decision on the project’s cross-border segment is expected soon.

The president made no mention of the pipeline last night, but did mention the expansion of natural gas production—a strategy not likely to curb greenhouse gas emissions because the process of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas releases large amounts of methane, a stronger greenhouse gas than carbon. But environmentalists are using this recent rhetoric around climate change in the national arena as an opening to push the president toward serious solutions to the global climate crisis. 

The action comes just ahead of this weekend’s Forward on Climate rally, a gathering expected to become one of the largest protests for action on climate change to take place in the United States. Maura Cowley, executive director of the youth climate group Energy Action Coalition, was arrested for a second time while protesting the pipeline Wednesday. Campus Progress caught up with her just as she was released from custody.

“The president coming out and connecting the dots between extreme weather and climate change is really important,” Cowley said. “But I think we have a bit of a ways to go until he’s actually leading on this issue. His continued support of fossil fuels like natural gas and oil are really disheartening, so we’re hoping to see that change in the year to come.”

Cowley was confident about Wednesday’s action as a way to build momentum for Sunday’s climate rally in Washington D.C. She said she expects thousands of young people from campuses across the country to take a stand for concrete action on climate change.

Among those arrested at the White House action included Founder Bill McKibben; leading climate scientist James Hansen, who has called the pipeline “a fuse to the largest carbon bomb on the planet”; Texas landowner Jerry Hightower, who is currently battling TransCanada to keep the Keystone XL from being built on his land; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.; actress Daryl Hannah and the Sierra Club Board of Directors President Allison Chin; and Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune.

Chin and Brune’s participation in today’s action sets a historic precedent as the first time the Sierra Club has ever endorsed civil disobedience in its 120-year history.

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