Last night I stood with my fellow Baltimoreans in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Outside the Army Corps of Engineers downtown field office we chanted and waved our signs at passing drivers, pedestrians, and light rail riders. Turnout was modest compared to that in other cities, but for such a neglected issue in the media, I consider the 150-200+ strong crowd to have been a good showing in this city, whose own internal problems typically rise to the activist forefront (and with good reason, given their dire nature).
However, the DAPL is not just another pipeline. While it is being constructed hundreds of miles away from here, it is emblematic of issues that all Americans should be concerned about:
- our greed for cheap, convenient oil
- our over-dependence on automobiles
- our egregious neglect of the environment
- our continuing disrespect and oppression of indigenous people
All of these issues are interconnected. At the start of this country’s history our founders made a decision that the concerns and well-being of the invaders were more important than those of the people who were here before us. Instead of meeting them on equal terms, we corralled them onto land we considered worthless and forgot about them. This decision has now held fast for well over 200 years. Of course this behavior was not uniquely American—our example of native oppression just happens to be one of the more recent in human history. Indigenous people around the world are among the most disenfranchised, dispossessed people ever throughout history. But, as this particular pipeline is being built in the United States, and part of it adjacent to an Indian reservation, it is a distinctly American problem.
As we did with our treatment of native people, so we did with our reliance on the internal combustion engine. Following its development, we made a far-reaching decision that we have never reconsidered in any meaningful way. We decided to develop an entire country’s infrastructure around the automobile and we’ve been doggedly sticking to this plan ever since. This has chained us to a never-ending thirst for cheap oil. It has led us into wars, fractured our communities, poisoned our air and water, and decimated our landscape. We are now trapped in a dark corner, and our desperation drives us to take whatever means necessary to extract the last remaining oil from beneath our feet.
So this is not just another pipeline. It is a brutal reminder of our failure as a nation and as a people to care for each other and to care for our environment in a sustainable way. It accentuates our stubborn shortsightedness and our continuing habit of taking huge steps backward for every tiny step we take forward. Following this trend, we have now elected a climate change denier to the Presidency of our nation. As with the majority of Mr. Trump’s future plans in office, his intended actions toward the environment are largely unknown. But the outlook is grim. We know he has promised to retract U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement on climate change. This is not a good sign. Moving toward cleaner energy will no longer be a priority on a national level. But we all retain our own power as individuals. Now, more than ever, is the time to voice our opinions, whatever they may be. And we must continue doing what we already have been doing, as individuals, to treat the planet and all of its inhabitants as extensions of our own selves. For we are all connected and if one of us fails we all fail.