Protesters: We can stop the Keystone pipeline

Last modified: Thursday, February 06, 2014

AMHERST — As a native of Alberta, Kim Finch says she knows first-hand the devastating effects on the environment and the indigenous population caused by drilling for oil deposits in the oil sands region of the Canadian province.

For Finch, an Easthampton resident and volunteer with the regional Climate Action Now! chapter, preventing the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would bring that oil through the United States, is imperative.

“We can stop the XL Pipeline, and we absolutely are going to,” Finch said.

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Finch was one of more than 100 people gathered on the freshly snow-covered Amherst Town Common Monday evening to make an appeal, directed at President Obama, to reject the permits for the 1,100-mile pipeline that would traverse the middle of the United States.

Many of those at the vigil carried signs reading “Stop Keystone XL,” “Climate Change is a Moral Issue” and “Tar Sands = Game Over,” while everyone held a candle.

Around 230 similar events were expected nationwide in reaction to the State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, released last week, which indicated that the pipeline would have no impact on the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. This report will be raeviewed by Secretary of State John Kerry, who will provide an opinion to Obama on how to proceed.

Susan Theberge, a representative of Climate Action Now!, said Obama needs to hear these voices. “We know we have a window of a few years where we can avert climate catastrophe,” Theberge said.

Finch worries that the continued extraction of the oil from the tar sands will lead to a 5 to 6 degree rise in global temperatures. She hopes these rallies will guide the decision by Obama. “He needs to know we’re behind him,” Finch said.

Pastors at three Amherst churches spoke about the importance of the effort.

Rev. Tom Synan at Grace Episcopal Church, whose Greening Grace helped sponsor the vigil, said the planet is not to be abused in such a manner.

“Part of my belief system is Earth is the greatest gift from God,” Synan said.

Rev. Vicki Kemper, pastor at First Congregational Church, said national United Church of Christ voted last summer to divest from fossil fuel companies and her own congregation is discussing the issue.* “We must not let it go forward,” Kemper said of the pipeline.

She described the Earth as feeling the pain of monster storms and receding ice caps.

“All creation is groaning, saying,’no more,’” Kemper said.

Rev. Steven Wilco at Immanuel Lutheran Church read a prayer in support of the vigil.

Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, a representative of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, asked those in attendance to “fight for a habitable planet” and noted the scary events that have included drought in California, a decline in the Monarch butterfly population and the displacement of snowy owls.

“Working to stop global warming can call out the best in all of us,” Bullitt-Jonas said.

During the event others read poetry and the crowd sang a song titled “We are saving Noah’s cargo.”

The rally brought out several students from area colleges, including four from Mount Holyoke’s Climate Justice Coalition who are backing a student petition to get the college to divest from its fossil fuel holdings.

Isobel Arthen, a senior from Worthington, said stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline is not only about the future for college students, but for the people who are in low-income and socially disadvantaged communities who will be disproportionately affected by this.

“We are here because there are people affected by fossil fuel industry and climate change who don’t have a voice,” Arthen said. “We feel it’s our responsibility to share their struggles and act in solidarity with their communities.”

* CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story inclued incorrect information about the First Congregational Church in Amherst's divestment status.


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