By Manus Lenihan
North Dakota today is the centre of a US-wide and international movement of Native Americans and their allies in the environmental movement. The planned route for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) winds from Illinois to the Bakken oil reserves. On the way it passes through the water source of tens of millions of people, and the burial grounds and lands of the Standing Rock Sioux. This $3 billion project to move half a million barrels of crude oil daily through four states threatens pollution and spills, and guarantees massive carbon emissions.
There’s big money to be made and the corporate and banking interests behind it are willing to use brute force to makes sure it happens. Private security, cops from several states and even the national guard have gone in using tear gas, rubber bullets, bean-bag rounds and sound-cannon. In one incident protestors were zip-tied, driven for miles and locked in cages in a car park overnight with numbers written on their arms. Due to the heavy hardware and tactics of law enforcement, we have seen many images and videos that look like they come from the frontlines of a war.
Under pressure from the protests, on November 2nd President Obama spoke of possibly changing the route of the pipeline. This wouldn’t negate the risk of an oil spill – there have been over 2,000 pipeline incidents resulting in 347 fatalities since 1995 alone (data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration). In any case, carbon emissions would be facilitated on a massive scale by DAPL regardless of the route.
End reliance on fossil fuels
Standing Rock shows up how hollow the ruling class’s lip service to the environment really is. Anyone who’s serious about tackling climate change would demand that the oil be left where it is, and the massive wealth being poured into DAPL be invested instead in renewable energy sources.
This is illustrated further by the depressing Clinton-Trump election race. Of all the candidates, only the Green Party and left candidate Jill Stein has been at and shown support to the protests. Trump, unsurprisingly, has said nothing about DAPL and may stand to profit from it. Clinton, who receives funding from the energy sector, made a statement that amounted to the most banal garbage imaginable, saying nothing except a coded appeal for construction to continue: “all voices should be heard and all views considered… [we must] find a path forward that serves the broadest public interest…[upholding] demonstrators’ rights to protest peacefully, and workers’ rights to do their jobs safely.”
A long list of trade unions has come out against the pipeline. Shamefully however, the leadership of the AFL-CIO, the national trade union federation, supports it because it means construction jobs. But short-term jobs are no good to anyone if we continue with massive carbon emissions and risk dreadful pollution. The environment really isn’t some head-scratching issue that should baffle the workers movement. All trade unions must stand for a safe environment for workers, and for the creation of millions of well-paid public jobs through a transition to renewable energy.
Attacks on indigenous rights
The fact that the pipeline route goes through Native American lands was not some accident. All over the US, reservations and treaty-protected areas have been the dumping-ground for nuclear testing and fossil-fuel extraction. The Standing Rock protests have resonated across the US and become part of the consciousness of indigenous people because in many cases their own communities have been struck by the illnesses, hazards and ruined natural resources that come with being a “sacrifice zone” for corporate profit extraction.
The battle in defence of the environment being waged by Native Americans is a very important one. As one placard at a solidarity protest in Albuquerque, New Mexico read: “Water is Life. Can’t Drink Oil. Can’t Eat Money.” It is life-and-death, not just for the Sioux but for everyone affected by climate change and pollution. We should all hope that Standing Rock becomes a key moment in the struggle against capitalism’s destruction of the environment and the US ruling class’s historic brutal treatment of indigenous people.