Last month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called a news conference to announce his intention to have his city’s US$189-billion public pension funds divest their holdings in fossil fuels by 2022.
As the first major U.S. city to do so, this made headlines everywhere. Imagine Warren Buffett saying he planned to dump his multi-billions in Coca-Cola stock because of the harmful effects of the soft drink on the health of Americans, and you get an idea of the jarring nature of Mr. de Blasio’s news.
At the same time, the mayor announced a lawsuit against five of the world’s biggest oil companies, seeking billions in damages for their role in climate change, which, he suggested, helped cause 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the eastern seaboard.
Both moves were seen as boundary-shifting and audacious. It was duly noted that flanking the New York mayor on the stage the day he made the announcement was climate activist Bill McKibben, founder of the environmental organization 350.org. Well-financed and highly motivated, 350.org has, among other things, led a worldwide campaign to have governments at all levels, as well as big corporations, divest themselves of old-school energy stocks.
In other words, 350.org has become a powerful player in the war against Big Oil.
I mention this in light of a document leaked to the BC Liberals last week, which outlined a battle plan in the fight against Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The acknowledged author is listed on 350.org’s website as a staff “Canada Tar Sands” organizer.
As environmental manifestos go, it’s not exactly radical stuff. It talks about an “Action Hive” which, as envisaged, is a coalition of smaller groups that would meet once a week to organize “mass actions” intended to disrupt the pipeline-construction process. The demonstrations would be of rotating nature, creating an impression of “mass popular resistance” that is ceaseless and unrelenting. The stratagem mentions making resources and training available to protest leaders. There is a section about available assistance for those who are arrested. “… A legal infrastructure exists to support them,” the document says.
I bet it does.
Vivian Krause, who has done extensive research into U.S.-backed environmental groups operating in Canada, has found through U.S. tax returns that 350.org has received millions in donations from an array of rich American backers, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
Mr. McKibben is also buddies with billionaire Tom Steyer, who pledged US$100-million to Democratic candidates in the 2014 mid-term elections in the hopes of getting the Keystone XL pipeline killed and giving climate change a greater profile. (Mr. Steyer is also a major contributor to Tides U.S.A., which, Ms. Krause has revealed, funds several environmental organizations in Canada).
In other words, money, foreign or otherwise, is not going to be a problem for 350.org and those vowing to stop the Trans Mountain expansion from being built.
While many people have been fixated on the battle between provincial governments in B.C. and Alberta over the pipeline issue, environmental outfits in Canada are gearing up for the fight of their lives. The “KM Action Hive Proposal” – as it’s called – is more proof that far from being an organic, grassroots opposition, protests against Trans Mountain will be orchestrated with some degree of sophistication. However, the outcome of the planned “peaceful demonstrations” is likely to be anything but.
At least those who do end up in jail can now take solace in the fact there is money available to help get them out.
None of this is likely a huge surprise to Kinder Morgan, which surely has contingency plans of its own to deal with the protests. A company that has received the proper permissions to go ahead with the construction of a major project would normally count on the police and government to ensure its rights are upheld. In this instance, though, it’s not altogether clear that will be the case.
B.C.’s Environment Minister, George Heyman, comes from the world in which these activist groups exist. He counts many of their leaders as personal friends. On the eve of announcing his controversial measures against Alberta oil in January, ones that sparked a trade war and fractured relations between the two provinces, Mr. Heyman attended a retreat on Bowen Island with about 40 environmentalists.
The gathering was inspired to launch opportunities for “mass action,” such as those imagined in the Action Hive proposal.
While it may be anything but straight, you can draw a line between the January actions of a mayor in New York and an environment minister in B.C. Somewhere in between is Bill McKibben and 350.org.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this column incorrectly said billionaire Tom Steyer pledged US$100-million to stop the Keystone XL pipeline. In fact, he pledged that amount to Democratic candidates in the 2014 mid-term elections in the hopes of getting the Keystone XL pipeline killed and giving climate change a greater profile.