Chants of “love water not oil,” “another world is possible,” and “Hey! Obama! We don’t want your pipeline drama” filled the streets of St. Paul on Saturday, as 5,000+ marched to the Capitol to demand a stop to the massive Enbridge pipeline expansion threatening the Great Lakes region. The strength of the Midwest youth climate movement was on full display throughout the Tar Sands Resistance March. Our YEA! MN high school students joined over 400 young people organizing across the region, and youth voices were heard loud and clear in the youth block as well as the post-march speeches. Macalester student activist Akilah Sanders-Reed delivered a powerful call for climate action: “We are the global frontline,” she said of her generation, and with young people like her at the helm of these events, the future of the climate movement seems promising.
The Tar Sands Resistance March was organized to fight the extensive network of pipeline expansion projects underway across the Midwest in the shadow of Keystone XL, which has come to symbolize these dirty tar sands conduits. As Keystone XL is stalled, however, other projects are moving forward: the Enbridge Alberta Clipper line, with a proposed capacity to carry 800,000 barrels per day, could become one of the largest tar sands oil pipelines in the world. The Enbridge Sandpiper pipeline, proposed to carry fracked oil from North Dakota, would cut through the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, cross near the headwaters of the Mississippi, and traverse Lake Superior to its terminus in Superior, Wisconsin, carrying up to 375,000 barrels per day. When linked up with existing and planned pipelines, these Midwest pipelines would carry significantly more oil than the 1,179-miles of Keystone XL. Fortunately, these projects are no longer flying under the radar, thanks to the powerful resistance movement organized by groups like MN350, Honor the Earth, Energy Action Coalition and more.
Along the routes of this pipeline expansion project, vital land, water, and cultural resources are at risk, and the track record of the Enbridge Corporation does little to allay the concerns – in fact, the company has yet to fully clean up its most notorious spill, the 2010 pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River system, which became the largest inland oil spill in Midwest history.
Given the groundswell of opposition that has emerged against Keystone, which has engaged an entire generation and united landowners with Indigenous communities along the pipeline route, the future does not bode well for Enbridge. As the Anishinaabe activist Winona LaDuke stated before embarking on a tour of the proposed Sandpiper route on horseback, “Enbridge chose a bad path. The people of Minnesota love water more than oil.” For lake-loving Minnesotans, water is life, and communities in the path of the proposed pipeline routes are beginning to take action. Gone are the days when dirty fossil fuel pipelines can be approved without a fight.
Of course resistance to dirty fossil fuel projects is only half the equation. Support for clean energy is equally important, and offers a powerful ray of hope in the climate movement. Youth are at the helm here as well, organizing in cities like Minneapolis, Chicago and Detroit for re-investment in community-owned clean energy. Their initiatives include affordable solar for homeowners and renters, solar gardens that can power an entire community, solar street lights in bankrupt cities like Highland Park, MI, and local policies that allow more community choice in the energy mix.
Climate Generation is partnering with eight youth climate organizations to host the Midwest Youth Climate Convergence in Minneapolis this fall, building capacity for fossil fuel resistance campaigns and the just transition to a future youth want to see.
This isn’t just about creating a demand for clean energy, it’s also about changing the system so that we are investing in our local communities for cleaner energy, better health, and economic prosperity for all, not just for the Koch Brothers and the Enbridge Corporation. This is how we build a sustainable future for the next generation, and in our nation’s heartland, young people are already leading the way.