On the evening of June 6, more than a hundred climate activists met at the First Unitarian Church in downtown Portland to discuss their response to the oil train derailment in the Columbia River Gorge three days earlier, said 350PDX director Adriana Voss-Andreae.
“The call for a temporary moratorium on oil trains is a call for a shred of decency for the Mosier community, but it does nothing to meet the magnitude of the problem,” she said. “If the government won’t stop the bomb trains, then we must do so ourselves. There will be a mass direct action in the coming two weeks. We encourage all to join.”
UPDATE (June 16): The Fossil Fuel Resistance Network has planned a protest beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 18, at Esther Short Park in Vancouver. Visit 350.pdx.org or portlandrisingtide.org for more information.
The derailment and ensuing outrage in Oregon comes on the heels of what was a mammoth month for the climate change movement.
In early May, tens of thousands of climate activists across six continents took part in the most expansive global civil disobedience action in history against the burning and extraction of fossil fuels. These actions followed April, the 12th consecutive month of record heat according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
For 12 hours, they shut down the United Kingdom’s largest coal mine in Wales. In Australia, more than a thousand protesters blocked one of the world’s largest coal ports with kayaks obstructing the harbor while others lay across rail crossings. In the U.S., thousands marched through downtown Los Angeles; hundreds protested at two oil refineries in Washington; activists disrupted an auction in Colorado where public lands were being sold for oil and natural gas drilling; in Washington, D.C., they called on the White House to stop offshore drilling; and in Chicago they gathered at an oil refinery and at the site of a 2014 oil spill at Lake Michigan. They marched in Africa, New Zealand, South America, Canada and the Philippines, where 10,000 people showed up for a march in Batangas City to demand the closure of a coal plant.
These coordinated events were all part of a 12-day-long call to action under the banner “Break Free” and targeted what organizers say are the world’s most dangerous fossil fuel projects.
Break Free was largely orchestrated by 350.org, a global organization at the forefront of the climate movement, with roughly 40 other climate action organizations from around the world joining in.
FURTHER READING: Street Roots' ongoing coverage of climate issues
Sitting on the board of 350.org is founder and senior adviser Bill McKibben. McKibben has repeatedly been named as one of the most influential people in the world and is credited with writing the first book about climate change for a general audience (“The End of Nature,” 1989). He will be in Portland Thursday, June 16, to speak on climate change at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
And his influence is about to expand into directly shaping American politics. In late May, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders appointed McKibben to the 15-member committee that authors the Democratic Party’s platform. It’s an opportunity for McKibben to combat Republican efforts that he says are impeding global efforts to stop global warming.
“The reason that when the world’s nations came together in Paris last year they had to make voluntary pledges, not make a binding treaty, is because everyone knows that the U.S. Senate would never ratify a treaty,” he told Street Roots in an email. “Our sick politics are dragging down the world.”
His recent appointment to the Democratic platform committee conflicted with a previously scheduled appearance at First Unitarian Church in downtown Portland on June 17, which has been canceled.
FURTHER READING: McKibben has pursued the truth about global warming for decades
Portland is a regular stop for McKibben, and he has publicly praised Mayor Charlie Hales and the city’s adoption of progressive climate strategies.
“Portland is doing remarkable things,” McKibben told Street Roots. “Its decision to stop any new fossil fuel infrastructure is a groundbreaking step which is resonating around the world.”
He said the climate movement has grown to become truly global, with Break Free protests equating to “the biggest, broadest movement that humans have yet seen.”
The local chapter of his organization, 350PDX, joined forces with other Pacific Northwest activists in Washington to protest oil refineries on tribal land.
Its director, Voss-Andreae, said hundreds of Portlanders joined what amounted to more than 2,500 participants in refinery protests, the Indigenous Day of Action, a blockade, workshops and other Break Free events.
“Those two refineries in Washington equal 47 percent of the fossil fuels we use in the Pacific Northwest,” Voss-Andreae said. She said the message behind Break Free was that not only do we not need any fossil fuel infrastructure expansions, but we must also dismantle existing infrastructure “as rapidly as possible.”
She said 350PDX plans to launch a campaign this summer aimed at the state, demanding that public pensions be divested from fossil fuels.
In addition to the derailment response, Voss-Andreae said from July 6 to 12 there will be opportunities for the public to engage with climate change activism, as the Pacific Northwest commemorates the three-year anniversary of the Lac-Mégnatic oil train disaster that took the lives of 42 people in the town of Lac-Mégnatic in Quebec, Canada. The 74-car freight train was carrying Bakken crude oil, the same type of oil carried on the train that derailed in the Columbia River Gorge by Mosier on June 3.
Solving climate change can sometimes seem daunting and insurmountable. Most American activities, day-to-day, contribute either directly or indirectly to greenhouse gas emissions, from the food we eat and the clothes we wear to getting from point A to point B.
We asked McKibben if he thought the impending nature of climate change was affecting our collective psyche.
“I think a lot of us tell ourselves that it’s too big for us to affect,” he said. “That’s true in a sense – which is why we build movements, to combine our power. As individuals we can’t do much; together we can.”
We also asked him what a world that doesn’t warm the planet would look like.
“It looks like one where the political power of the fossil fuel industry has been broken, and hence we’ve made the rapid transition to renewable energy,” he said. “At which point most of what we do will be done cleanly. The question is not if we’ll make this transition – it’s if we’ll make it in time to get ahead of the physics of climate change.”