September 3, 2011

From Cufflinks to Handcuffs: My experiences at the White House

Photo: That’s me with Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis at the White House on Earth Day 2010.

Photo: Here’s me getting arrested at the White House on September 2nd 2011 in protest against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Photo Credit: Josh Lopez.

During my college experience at American University I was pretty active in climate change issues on my campus and in my community. I went to Congress to push for ACES. I interned with environmental groups pushing for renewable portfolio standards and new passenger rail. I helped write the university’s carbon neutrality plan. Perhaps most important to this story, I voted for Obama in the Iowa caucuses and in the general election because of his pledges to take truly significant action to stop climate change. After spending years of my young life working inside the normal political system to push for these things this administration claims to believe in, I was fortunate to be invited to the White House’s Earth Day reception (along with about 100 other environmentalists).

It was there that I got to meet folks I admired like Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey, Hilda Solis, and President Barack Obama.  Everyone in attendance was still holding out hope that a climate-energy bill written by John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham could be passed. Looking back now, we know it never passed, wasn’t even voted on, and probably was the most watered-down bill there possibly could have been that claimed to be mitigating climate change.

I was very lucky to get to speak to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. I really admired Steven Chu for being a great scientist who straightforwardly said what he thought about energy issues; many times I told my friends that Chu was by-far the smartest and most qualified Secretary of Energy we had ever had. That’s why I was so utterly disappointed when he told EneryNow that he thought the Keystone XL pipeline was a good idea:

“I know there’s concerns about this, but both the technologies used to extract the tar sands oil - which are improving dramatically - and so I think that can go forward. I think in the end what we need to do is diversify our supply of oil. Right now our transportation needs come exclusively from oil.”  & “In the end, it’s not perfect but it’s a trade-off.”

Kind of an obfuscated statement for a scientist to make, eh? From what I can tell, he tepidly supports the thing, or has been told to do so by others in the administration, or maybe he’s just saying what he thinks the other people in the administration want him to think. I can only hope behind the scenes he is telling Obama to stop the pipeline because it will further chain our economy to oil and only make climate change worse.

But hope hasn’t worked thus far. Hope for a climate bill? Hope for an end to mountaintop removal? Hope for an end to offshore drilling? Hope for an end to oil company subsidies? Sad to say, but none of that hope has worked out for us environmentalists lately.

So instead of hoping, I decided to go back down to the White House and physically express my disagreement with Dr. Chu and his boss.

Photo: Getting handled by US Park Police. Still better than a party in the Rose Garden. Photo Credit: Josh Lopez


Proud of you to stand up for your beliefs like that.