When President Donald Trump approved the building of the Keystone XL Pipeline back in March of this year, it was reported by CNN that the project had been pushed forward despite the legitimate fears and concerns of environmentalists over the dangers such a project could present. These fears were further emphasized by the notoriety around the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), known by its hashtag #StandwithStandingRock. Named after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose land would be infringed upon with the creation of this pipeline, Standing Rock got a lot of publicity last year, as it became popularized by celebrities and had 10,000 protesters present at it’s peak, as reported by CNN. In this spirit of Thanksgiving and remembering where our ancestors got their start, it’s ironic to therefore look at the current injustices suffered by the native people still living in the United States and the environment we all inhabit due to the prevalence of these pipelines.
The resurgence of attention on this issue has come from the recent news of 210,000 gallons of oil being spilled in South Dakota, and the threat this poses to the “Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest underground deposits of freshwater,” considered a top concern by the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe as reported in the same CNN article documenting the spill. I personally cannot help but share these same concerns. Though so far the spill has been contained and has not shown evidence of mass damage, this should not have happened in the first place. The risks we continue to take with pipelines like these that always seem to leak at one point or another are the result of fruitless efforts on our part. Even if the damage ends up being minor, there is still damage inflicted, and with the state of our environment the way it is, the focus should not be on further damage, but on restorative alternatives.
I’ve been a personal advocate for renewable and “green” for as long as I can remember, and the implementations of major pipelines like the Keystone XL are, to me, a step backwards for American energy. Measures like these increase the amount of greenhouse emissions being produced and being added to the atmosphere, and are only contributing to the growing climate change problem. Rather than living in the past by continuing these actions that have been shown to be harmful, shouldn’t the self-proclaimed “best nation on earth” be leading the charge in green energy? The world is turning that way, and instead of leading the charge, America has opted out, making us look like the fool who still denies climate change while other nations leave us in the dust.
Granted, this is not all the fault of Trump, and is not even something we could have easily prevented unless we had had the foresight for such energy-saving methods years ago. There are cleaner alternatives for the oil used to fuel our modes of transportation and the energy in our homes, alternatives that could be commonplace by now had they been implemented years ago. Electric hybrid cars that use electricity rather than petroleum gas are still expensive to purchase and maintain, but could have been embraced if they were developed and given the resources to do so earlier. There could be a more comprehensive effort to switch to clean energy, to embrace the use of solar panels, and to make a priority of recycling and finding alternatives like ethanol or propane as materials for fuel. Because of our hesitance and disbelief in our environment’s destitution, however, in the future, we will be forced to look to other countries for examples of renewable energy rather than them looking to us.
Not only is the building and failure of the Keystone Pipeline disrespectful to the environment, but it stands as a similar symbol of contempt against the native people and the reservations they live on. I expect more from my country in terms of recognizing mistakes that they have already made and learning from them, and when it comes to respecting Native Americans, it seems as though we have never really learned that lesson. The Standing Rock Tribe that opposed the initial Dakota Access Pipeline shared the same concerns over the Keystone Pipeline, worried that it’s path would not only cross a portion of their sacred territory that the government had taken from them through decades worth of enforced treaties, but would pose a threat to the previously mentioned Ogallala Aquifer. It is just as Drucilla Burns, an elder from the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe in California, was reported by the Washington Post as saying: “Water is what we’re made of … We’re supposed to be the protectors of the land and water. My God, they took everything away from us. And now they want to take our water, too?”
As I’ve said before, there needs to be a call for Americans to stand up and be forces for positive change in our environment and in our continued relationship with native populations. Economic greed is a powerfully blinding force that impacts lawmakers and corporations alike, causing decisions to be made that are not necessarily sensitive to individuals, but act in the best concerns of what will make the most profit. It is high time we as a nation realize the life or death implications of our continued environmental abuse, and take serious measures to put a stop to it.