The Pipeline, the Speaker, and the Anarchist Grandmothers

Pretty much everyone loves my Barbara. Her doors are always open to countless house guests every year. She does the laundry for at least two families. Her chickens provide eggs for much of the neighborhood. When their world darkens, our little granddaughters come running to “Nana.” And our grown kids are still glad to find “Mama” whenever there’s a need.

But the Speaker of the House of Representatives has another name for my partner of thirty-six years. To him, she’s a “left-fringe extremist and anarchist.”  Really. Kids, one of the country’s most powerful politicians thinks that Nana is an anarchist.

I really wish Speaker John Boehner would get to know her. I think he’d find that she’s a really nice person. She does have some suspect habits, it’s true. Most every day, she dares to pray that God will move our leaders not to approve the construction of the Keystone XL, a new pipeline designed to carry enormous quantities of some of the world’s most polluting oil across our entire country, from the Canadian tar sands to export terminals on the Gulf of Mexico.

Nana working with one of her employers

Nana working at her favorite job.

And most every night, she sits down to write President Obama, begging him to protect her granddaughters, and others who will be harmed by pollution from the tar sands pipeline. She writes for native Canadians whose families are being poisoned by tar sands mining; for Kenyan farmers facing chronic drought and crop failures; and for Bangladeshi delta dwellers beset by encroaching sea water. And she writes for our little girls, whose world will be choked with levels of greenhouse gases unknown for millions of years.

She takes pretty seriously the words of the prophet Micah:  “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

But that’s not what Speaker Boehner sees. With a presidential veto now all but certainly awaiting the  just-passed Keystone pipeline bill, he’s lashing out the chorus of voices asking our country to rethink our mindless oil binge.

“Instead of listening to the people,” Boehner said yesterday  , “the president is standing with a bunch of left-fringe extremists and anarchists. The president needs to listen to the American people and say ‘yes, let’s build the Keystone pipeline.’”

In fact, one of the more persistent of those “anarchist” voices is Nana, who has hardly given the president’s mail-readers a day’s rest during the last year. And then there’s me. And my brother Chris, a Presbyterian minister. And his daughters. And my kids. And my doctor. And the farmer in the yellow house across the road. And many, many other normal Americans.

But to the Speaker, Obama is listening to “left-fringe anarchists” (like Nana?). It won’t do for him to admit that normal people who care about justice are asking our country not to double down on the dirtiest fossil fuels. He has to dehumanize them with labels suggesting danger or lunacy.

But in his frenzy to push ahead with this pipeline, the Speaker may have missed where our country’s people are heading. Sure, under the barrage of oil-funded advertising campaigns promising jobs, jobs, jobs, you can find plenty of people who think the pipeline is okay. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that 41% of respondents said they supported the pipeline, but 57% said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion, or that they opposed it. Significantly, public support for the pipeline has eroded seriously over the last year. In November 2014, a Pew Research poll found that support for the pipeline from Democrats had fallen by 11 points (54 percent to 43 percent) since March 2014. Among independents, support declined 12 points (70 percent to 58 percent).

But even more important than the narrow question of whether to build a single pipeline, Americans now agree in overwhelming numbers that climate change is serious, manmade, and in need of national action. The New York Times and Stanford University recently conducted a poll that found 77% of Americans supporting “substantial” federal action to limit climate change. And while a partisan divide stubbornly persists, even 48% of Republicans agreed.

And when asked: “Should the federal government limit the amount of greenhouse gases that U.S. businesses put out?” fully 60% of Republicans joined the 78% majority who said yes.

The story is considerably different, however, for Republican politicians in Congress. Just last week, 49 of 54 Republican senators voted against a non-binding resolution declaring that “climate change is real, and human activity significantly contributes to climate change.”

So Mr. Speaker, we’ve heard you’re not a scientist, but facts are stubborn things. The evidence of manmade climate disruption is now overwhelming, and widely available even to laymen like us. Among climate scientists, military planners, coastal engineers and marine scientists, you don’t even argue if it’s true, but how best to respond to it. And normal people are waking up to this reality in growing numbers.

They are not fringe radicals. They are not anarchists. And some of them are just grandmothers who are fighting for the world their little girls will inherit. They don’t control billions of dollars to pour into your political campaigns. But when the future of their granddaughters is at stake, they’re not giving up.

Sooner or later, Mr. Speaker, you’re going to have to deal with Nana.

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