Tar Sands Blockade: Radical Environmentalism is Radical Libertarianism

As Charles Johnson notes in The Clean Water Act Vs. Clean Water, asking the government for help is generally counterproductive, especially when it comes to addressing ecological concerns. Unfortunately, Johnson is also right in saying that market anarchists don’t talk about environmental concerns as much as they should. Many libertarians are right to see through the greenwashing propaganda used to support government legislation and corporate marketing, but end up also ignoring the real issues at hand. Free Market Environmentalism is certainly accurate in its analysis that protecting property rights is a core issue, as the violation of property rights contributes to most environmental degradation around the world. My fear is that this analysis is, more often than not, only used as a way to promote free market claims instead of highlighting the major issue here: environmentalism and property rights go hand and hand. Therefore every libertarian who cares about property rights should also care about environmental destruction, our increasing dependency on oil/fossil fuels, etc.

Land theft continues to be an issue, and environmentally careless corporations are seemingly above the law when it comes to property rights. The government is useless, completely catering to corporate interests—which is why libertarians should, once again, turn to radicalism as a means of getting things done. Addressing environmental concerns doesn’t mean advocacy for governmental policy—it means advocacy for action! Civil disobedience, grass roots organizing, and nonviolent direct action.

That’s exactly what’s happening in response to the southern extension of the Keystone XL pipeline stretching from Oklahoma to the Texas gulf coast.  People around the country are quitting their jobs and moving to east Texas, joining what many consider the most important environmental campaign happening right now. Tar Sands Blockade, “a coalition of Texas and Oklahoma landowners and organizers using nonviolent direct action to physically stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline,” has effectively delayed construction for over a month now, using a variety of tactics.

Stopping a multinational corporation from building a pipeline obviously isn’t easy, but that’s not to say the campaign isn’t winnable. TransCanada has reacted to the blockade with a “whatever it takes” sentiment in continuing the construction, with typical carelessness towards personal safety and legality. This has included employing torture tactics on blockaders:

Two blockaders who locked themselves to construction equipment in East Texas – Shannon Bebe and Benjamin Franklin – were subjected to pepper spray, arm-twisting, chokeholds and multiple uses of tasers to get them to unlock themselves.

The tree village where the main action is taking place currently is the equivalent of a police state; the tree sitters are subjected to 24 hour police surveillance by at least 5 to 7 officers at all times, with bright flood lights facing them. This has made direct support extremely difficult, and they’ve been denied food and water on several occasions. Oh, and if you were wondering who’s paying the cops to be around day and night, it isn’t the local sheriff’s department— it’s TransCanada! The foreign company has actually hired off duty officers for $30 an hour to police the tree village. Despite the emotional trauma the tree sitters endure, they remain confident. Two have stated they will stay blockading under these conditions “as long as it takes” and another jokingly, “until I die”.

TransCanada acquired the land through threat of eminent domain, bullying landowners into signing contractual agreements. They have also claimed “common carrier” status, an interesting legal loophole:

Common carrier status is granted by the Texas Railroad Commission, and allows corporations the power to seize private property by eminent domain. But in Texas, all TransCanada had to do to apply as a common carrier was simply fill out a government form for a permit, known as the T-4 form, and check a box labeled “common carrier.”

This claim was disputed in court, which actually ruled against TransCanada, concluding that the permit was not sufficient grounds for eminent domain. They haven’t had to deal with this yet, however, since most of the residents signed contracts.  Now blockaders are trespassing on “TransCanada’s property”, which they have used as grounds to file several lawsuits. A recent legal suit used the term “eco-terrorists” to describe the blockaders:

Under the auspices of nonviolent direct action, the Defendants, all of whom are members of, affiliated with, or acting under the banner of the Tar Sands Blockade group, have engaged in acts of eco-terrorism through their coordinated, orchestrated and ongoing unlawful conduct and have trespassed on Keystone’s property, have interfered with construction of Keystone’s pipeline and/or threatened additional interference with construction of Keystone’s pipeline in an attempt to deny Keystone use of Keystone’s valid right of way.

Just to be clear, there is nothing good about this pipeline. This is a foreign company building a for-profit export pipeline, exposing the environment to the risk of water contamination, likely to destroy more jobs than it creates, and is openly violating the rights of indigenous peoples and American land owners. Not to mention the likelihood of a spill is seemingly inevitable, “According to TransCanada the Keystone 1 pipeline was predicted to spill once every seven years. It spilled 12 times in its first year and it has spilled more than 30 times over its lifetime.” Tar Sands has also been doing most of their own media coverage because of the police state that surrounds the blockade, most journalists are denied entry or arrested:

Allow us to paint the full picture of what’s happening here: we’ve got a multi-national corporation that has come into Texas, expropriated private land by eminent domain, and hired local law enforcement as a private security force to set up an occupied police state at the tree blockade. They’ve been employing torture tactics, charging peaceful protestors with trumped up felonies, and have orders to handcuff anyone, including New York Times journalists, who attempt to get close enough to even cover the story.

The interesting thing about Tar Sands is it’s diverse group of activists— from tea party conservatives defending property rights, to ex-Obama supporters betrayed by the approval of the pipeline, and radical environmentalists who more or less do these sorts of actions for a living. As they approach nearly 40 days of resistance, the campaign continues to grow in awareness and membership. In writing this article I hope to at least make one thing clear to libertarians: we can and should engage ourselves in the environmental movement. Environmentalism is radicalizing in a libertarian way—more mainstream activists are realizing the ineffectiveness of government and turning to direct action. Both libertarians and environmentalists can agree on the alternative solutions, like Johnson suggests, “stop caring so much about what’s legal and what’s illegal, consider some countereconomic, direct action alternatives to governmental politics, and perform some Guerrilla Public Service.”

My support for this campaign brings to mind an inspiring Camus quote, “If we are to fail, it is better, in any case, to have stood on the side of those who choose life than on the side of those who are destroying.” Win or lose, the Tar Sands campaign is part of something bigger. A tree sitter’s report from day 37 captures this sentiment perfectly:

While I am confident that our new friends in the trees are well aware of the situation they have put themselves into, I can’t in good conscious let their sacrifice be taken for granted by those who haven’t experienced state repression firsthand. In the coming weeks as we see our friends in the trees facing extreme thirst, starvation, isolation, and lawsuits at the hands of these police, it is my hope that we can indeed unmask the state’s monopoly on violence against us and begin to finally understand the scope of the power structures we are resisting so that we may move forward towards a livable world. And perhaps then may we learn what it means to fight for our lives.

 Environmental action has never seemed as urgent or important to me until the Tar Sands campaign, happening roughly two hours east of the DFW metroplex where I live. Visiting once on a weekend between school and helping with the blockade has been a truly humbling experience that I wish everyone could be a part of. There are many ways to participate in the blockade. Blockaders need the love and support of anarchists and libertarians alike, they face horrible amounts of injustice at the hands of the state for simply doing what’s right.

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