Acting on Our Convictions: Why Being a Citizen Means Being an Activist Today

Syncrude upgrader. Alberta Tar Sands. 2005.

Photographer Garth Lenz documents the oil empire

I hate to be a downer, but I just have to say it: the pace of corporate vandalism of the planet seems to be accelerating, and the scale of the damage is unprecedented.

The Keystone Pipeline may not be the issue that motivates you to act, and you may already be doing a great deal in your role as an earth steward. But I want to share a letter I just wrote as the public comment period on the Keystone permit winds down tonight. I  hope that it will encourage you to use your own voice in whatever climate-related issue resonates for you. Thanks for all you do.

To the U.S. Department of State:

Please deny a permit to the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline. Such a permit will unduly burden U.S. citizens, and especially landowners, with a potentially hazardous substance. It will also burden planetary systems: this project simply constitutes a further buildout of infrastructure to support our unsustainable dependence on biosphere-destroying fossil fuel.

The IPCC’s research has indicated that we are quickly approaching a tipping point, beyond which it will be very difficult to avoid catastrophic feedback loops and other drastic global warming related changes, for which we are not prepared.


Idle No More Movement: First Nations Resistance to Tar Sands

We cannot afford to continue business as usual, and the Keystone Pipeline is nothing if not an intensification of business as usual. The whole process of extracting tar sands oil is incredibly destructive and energy intensive.

Even in the day-to-day process, tar sands extraction is exacting an unacceptable toll on First Nations people and destroying a vast ecosystem. There are serious human rights issues at stake that have, lamentably, gone largely  unreported and ignored.


Native American Resistance to Keystone XL


On that basis alone, Americans should feel more than justified in refusing to condone a product that has such a terrible, unjust story of origin. Twenty-first century citizens of the United States need to rightfully declare, “Not on my watch.”

On a larger timeline, the extraction, transportation, refining, and burning of tar sands oil is another nail in humanity’s coffin. The rate at which it is currently being produced and rushed to market clearly indicates the motivating factors: the corporate profit imperative is the driving force.

If we stand by and open our land to this imperative, we are essentially consenting to a value system that does not consider human well-being as a premium. The corporation will not restrain itself. It knows no limits. Self-regulation is not in the corporate DNA.tar-sands

Given the long-standing addiction to oil on the part of agriculture, commerce, and the general population, the industry now stands in the position of pusher and drug lord. Informed citizens and their governments must be the moderating factor.

Now is the time act to limit the damage, as well as to establish a new norm for how we will direct our energy development. We owe it not only to our species, but to the more- than-human community.

animal-migration-ternNow is the time to turn away from these extreme forms of energy, and dedicate our efforts and funds to clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar. According to Mark Shwartz, writing in the Feb. 26, 2014 issue of the Stanford Report, “Stanford University scientist Mark Jacobson has developed a 50-state roadmap for transforming the United States from dependence on fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. He unveiled the plan at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago.” The work of Jacobson and his colleagues is impressive, and should merit immediate attention from governmental bodies. (See:

We have the technology and the knowledge to retool our energy infrastructure; we simply need the political will. The fact that more and more ordinary citizens are coming out in numbers to protest Keystone illustrates what a crux point it represents. Ample evidence shows that we’ve already overshot many of our natural systems’ ability to materially renew themselves, and that our contribution of greenhouse gases has already changed the planet. (For more on overshoot, see:

planet-earth-from-space-1764-hd-wallpapersThe refusal to permit Keystone is one of many pro-active steps that we are called upon to take if we make an honest assessment of our long term prognosis. I urge you to act in the interests of the people of the United States of America, the well-being of long-persecuted indigenous people, and the greater health of the planet. Please deny this permit, while doing everything in your power to actively support efforts toward our “renewable transformation.” Thank you for your time.

About Ruth Ann Smalley

Ruth Ann Smalley, Ph.D. is a holistic educator, who believes stories help us create, participate in, and heal our world. A homeschooler, literature professor, energy worker, and member of the Transition Towns movement, her stories feature children learning how to be “earth-wise.” Her award winning picture book, Sheila Says We’re Weird, celebrates “green living” practices for families. The spunky sister and brother team in her middle grades novel, Defender of Dirt, teach about the power of urban gardening and of finding your own voice. Ruth Ann is available for school programs and presentations on healthy, sustainable practices for children and adults. Certified in Eden Energy Medicine, Ruth Ann also has a private wellness practice (see

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