In the shadow of Trump, a DAPL Victory and Global Protests against Fossil Fuels

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The surprise announcement Sunday by the Army Corps of Engineers that they will not permit the Dakota Access Pipeline to go under the Missouri River, thus ending the threat to Standing Rock Sioux land and lives, marked a signal success for the environmental protest movement and for the tribe. The protests began last April and have largely gone uncovered by corporate television. Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! was the major provider of journalism and images from the rallies, which were dealt with brutally by local police (who used tear gas, tear gas canisters, and water cannon in the midst of the frigid winter).

In the age of Trump, such peaceful protests will likely increasingly be branded a form of terrorism. (The British viewed Gandhi’s nonviolent noncooperation in the same light, and Southern white police saw Martin Luther King as a terrorist, too). Such desperate branding will not stop the activists. People care about the air they breathe and the water they and their children drink. Oil pipelines are notorious for dangerous leaks that destroy water quality.

Most analysts of coal, oil and natural gas believe that these fuels will still be being used for decades to come, though the likelihood of the phase-out of coal on a short timescale is beginning to be admitted even by energy companies. This end of coal is coming because it is extremely dirty and obviously damaging to health (causing lung disease, heart attacks and nerve poisoning via mercury). It is also owing to wind and solar now being competitive with it, as well as natural gas. (Natural gas is a less desirable substitute because it is also a toxic gas that causes climate change, and drilling for it releases large amounts of methane.)

But these energy analysts who only look at cost and public health are leaving out an extremely important element, which is protest. The reputational and security costs of continuing to burn fossil fuels are going to rise faster than anyone in government or industry imagines.

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There are some Antarctic glaciers so massive that if one of them plops into the ocean, it alone could raise sea levels several feet. If such a catastrophic event happens any time soon, before the transition to renewables is largely complete, it will almost certainly produce massive rioting against Big Carbon corporations and their planet-wrecking ways. The public is already very worried about this issue, and an incident that was conclusive would drive them over the edge.

There are already major protests going on against fossil fuels, about which you will not see reports on CNN or Fox or even NBC or ABC.

Thousands of people marched last week in Bangladesh to protest an idiotic plan to site a coal plant near the Sundarbans mangrove forest. They shouldn’t be building coal plants in Bangladesh! They even have to import the coal, increasing shipping in the delicate marshes. Why not get away from the Sundarbans and build a solar facility instead? Since the fuel is free, it would be cheaper over time.

Rampal protest rally in Dhaka

Then there are the Navajo protests against the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Arizona, which courts say they will allow to go on polluting for decades. (I’d bet against that one).

And there are the German villagers forming a human chain in an effort to protect Hambach Forest from being cut down so coal diggers can get at the coal deposits under it.

These sorts of protests against Big Carbon might not be effectual in themselves, and especially in the absence of an alternative. But what I am arguing is that renewable energy is now so inexpensive that it is actually crazy to burn coal. Where a plant already exists, there might be a temptation to keep running it. But on the whole, considerations other than the purely economic are now driving the coal industry. And if you combine the extra cost with the public anger, then utilities and governments are increasingly going to back down.

Given that President Obama’s plan to use the EPA to close down the remaining coal plants will now be ditched by Trump, environmentalists will have to pick up the mantle. Do you have a coal plant anywhere near you? Pressure the utility to close it. Pressure your congressperson to close it.
After we get rid of coal, it will be time to start in on gas plants, and on the petroleum industry. Otherwise your grandchildren will live in a very hot and very dangerous world.

11 Responses

  1. I hold no brief for Trump professor, but making the assumption he will brand ever more people in the USA who demonstrate against something as terrorists, seems unlikely because he won’t need to. The job has already been done for him. Have you forgotten the patriot act dreamed up by the Bush administration? This piece of legislation along with statements like “if you’re not with us then you are against us” made it abundantly clear that anyone challenging the state would be regarded as some kind of trouble maker or worse. As you know, certain news papers in the USA have declared that many independent news outlets on the internet as ‘fake news’ with calls for them to be banned or curtailed. Bearing in mind that these same newspapers are little more than mouth pieces for the state, it would appear that what Trump might do will be just a thin layer of icing on the top of an already rotten cake. There are terrorists and freedom fighters. There are demonstrators and writers but the state decides who’s good and who’s bad. You yourself may well be on the so called ‘fake news’ list and as I have recently made a donation to your site perhaps I will be thought of as some kind of agitator or worse.

    • What makes Trump different is that his most ardent followers want a race war to put themselves back on top of every community. It won’t take too many abuses by bigoted police to get that familiar cycle of retaliation going in America. At that point, Trump’s ignorance of federalism puts him in play wherever white people need to be “protected.”

  2. “Otherwise your grandchildren will live in a very hot and very dangerous world.”

    Sorry Juan, that’s already locked in. Look up “CO2 Latency”
    your last line could read:
    Otherwise our grandchildren face a dystopian future at best and most likely extinction.

  3. Because of global warming from C02, our planet is moving into a period where there is a high probability of a methane hydrate feedback loop in the Arctic. Then we Homo sapiens will experience the same conditions that existed during the Permian-Triassic extinction when 96% of all marine species and 70% of all terrestrial vertebrates became extinct. And once the feedback loop starts there will be no way to stop it.

    • There is contrary evidence because most of the hydrates are at relatively deep sea levels, less affected by climate change. A more pressing problem that is likely to occur much sooner, IMHO, is methane release from the thawing of permafrost. In addition to Alaska and Canada, there are truly vast stretches of permafrost in Russia. I agree that it is likely we are already in a feedback loop and the future is grave.

  4. There are a number of errors in this article. If you read the local press, which did cover this extensively, you’ll see the demonstrators were hardly ‘peaceful’ and were widely resented and feared by locals. Also, the pipeline is still going to cross this river, just in a different place. It won’t cross sacred land, but it was never going to.

    • You have used several propaganda techniques in your comment. First, you begin by alleging errors but then it becomes quickly apparent that what you mean is that you disagree with it. NYT wrote, “On Sunday, they cheered the Department of the Army’s announcement that it would seek other routes for the pipeline and would not allow a crucial section to be drilled under the Missouri River just upstream from the tribe’s reservation, where there were worries it could pollute their drinking water and cross near sacred burial sites.”

      So the issue for the tribe was two-fold– drinking water and *near* sacred burial sites. What I wrote was correct, as the NYT makes clear, and your way of putting the matter manages to make white people’s definitions outweigh American Indian ones. The tribe gets to decide if they are offended by a pipeline near their sacred sites; you don’t get to tell them how they feel about that.

      Moreover, the protests were certainly peaceful and the only violence deployed was directed against the protesters:

      link to

      Finally, that some locals, especially corporate oil employees, might have been disturbed by the idea of people protesting is plausible but also irrelevant. Your implication that they were endangered by the protest is the same implication given out by generations of white sheriffs in Alabama in the face of civil rights protests there.

    • . . . – so Cliven Bundy and his group show up with guns and the Feds are afraid to confront them because they threaten violence – both in Nevada and Oregon, but water canons on Native Americans and First Peoples in freezing temps? Sign them up! . . . stop lecturing anyone about errors. Again, whites are freedom fighters, people of color or Natives terrorists?

  5. The Army Corps of Engineer’s decision on the Dakota Access Pipelines will last until, well, today. The word, today, from Trump land is that Trump – he who must be obeyed – would consider the Corps decision and then make a determination once he is in office. And this is but one of multiple disasters we will soon face, both domestically and in foreign affairs. Watch this space.

    • So let’s start anticipating, instead of merely reacting.

      The Trump regime will have its hands full, and the process will probably push out at least until spring. This story is now highly visible, and now we know that Trump only belatedly sold off his stake in Energy Transfer Partners after it was learned he got campaign contributions from its chairman.

      So when he reverses the decision, protesters will be out there in huge numbers, including the veterans who were already arriving a few days ago. It will be a national confrontation against, not just fossil fuels or the disregard for Native Americans, but the entire Trump package: jobs only for White “real” men plus endless conflicts of interest for the rulers, via the poisoning of everyone else physically and mentally.

      The more we annoy Trump, the more he will lose control and try to seize the reins from the governor of North Dakota. National Guardsmen are already there. Trump has contempt for federalism. He sees those troops as his property. Potentially, the Reign of Trump will begin with a little Tienanmen Square in the middle of nowhere. All the cards will be on the table for our next four years.

      Yes, it’s cynical for me to point out such a tragedy as an opportunity. The Right has overcome us with its cynicism and cold-blooded cultivation of trivial outrage into an entire universe of myths to make its privileged followers believe themselves to be martyrs. At some horrible moment, either we must resolve to fight back just as hard, or surrender our nation to a minority cult until our children or grandchildren can’t take it anymore. Resolve is built by advance preparation.

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