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Obama’s Keystone Rope-A-Dope Strategy and the Left’s Self-Inflicted Powerlessness

The war against the fossil fuel industry is precisely that: a war. Biosphere versus combustion. One side wins, and the other side loses. If biosphere wins, we might just be able to keep living on this green-blue orb for a few more generations yet. If combustion wins, death and extinction are the inevitable result.

At this stage of the war, combustion continues to win. Sure, from time to time, wrinkles crop up in the plan to burn it all – a spill here, a train-wreck there, a small college divesting its endowment. But industrial, fossil-fuel based civilization has a lot of momentum, and it’s not going to slow down voluntarily. This is the bleak situation that defenders of Gaia find themselves in, and there’s no time to spare.

When going into any fight, it is generally a bad idea to be passive. As long as you keep your wits about you, better to be the aggressor and make the other side react to you. Get the first punch in and you’re already winning. Poker players who don’t push the action rarely come home up for the night. When going into a meeting, those who bring the agenda are most often able to set the agenda.

For the past few months, Credo Action and have been training local groups to stage nonviolent resistance if and when the State Department announces their approval of Keystone XL. Over 40,000 people pledged to conduct civil disobedience should this occur. At the training I attended last month, people were fired up (though very few in number). Yes, people were fired up, but we were then told to wait. Wait for the State Department to conclude its National Interest Determination; wait for the State Department to respond to our comments on the EIS and produce a new document; wait for the State Department to determine whether ERM violated conflict-of-interest rules.

Meanwhile, public opinion, based on disinformation, continues to support Keystone XL, despite the public’s growing concern about climate change. But Credo and 350 seem not to be interested in changing public opinion. Where is the campaign to inform the general public? Nowhere to be seen.

For all the bluster coming from the biosphere side, this “strategy” is strangely passive. If this truly is a do-or-die situation, and every ton of CO2 and methane counts, why in the world would we let our opponents set the time frame for our action? We know that continuing business as usual is lethal to the biosphere, but we say we won’t act until the other side – in their own good time – announces a decision on the one issue of our focus, while the world keeps burning? It’s madness.

Traditionally, in environmental circles, project-by-project delay has almost always been seen as a good thing. Delay that nuclear plant and it gets more expensive and less likely to be built. Delay that coal gasification plant and it gets more expensive and less likely to be built. And so on and so on. We used to sing, to the tune of “The Lone Ranger”, “Delay delay delay delay. Delay delay delay delay. Delay delay delay delay. Delay…delay delay.”

But we face a different situation today. Delaying one combustion project might be helpful, but we now know that we really need to stop them all. We need a systemic change to undercut all the combustion dreams of the fossil-fuel crowd and their enablers. As long as the fossil fuel status-quo continues, instead of being our friend, delay is now our enemy.

We can see the wrong-headedness of our traditional strategy by watching the actions of our opponents. True, the Administration’s slow-playing of this issue won’t get the northern leg of the Keystone pipeline built, but it distracts us from the bigger picture, thereby letting the rape of the biosphere continue unabated. How long does it take for State to look at the documents and determine that ERM lied about its conflicts? That judgement could have been reached within days. Better to string it out, if you’re pro-Keystone. You may not win the battle just now, but you still haven’t lost it, and you keep winning the war. Especially since your opponents have graciously told you that they won’t go crazy until you announce a decision. Talk about giving up strategic and tactical advantage.

So, Obama hangs out on the ropes, absorbing what punches he must from the biosphere crowd. In the face of Keystone hecklers, he says jocularly, to the Democratic crowd’s delight – “This is the wrong rally. We had the climate change rally back in the summer.” Exactly. Wait for the EIS; wait for 2015 in Warsaw. Wait. Delay now works in the combustors’ favor and they know it – they keep making outsize profits while the biospherians cool their heels and wait for the day that our masters decide to let us show what we’re capable of.

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