April 25, 2016

Why I'm (Mindfully) Celebrating the Suspension of the Kinder-Morgan Pipeline

Two years ago I found myself sitting on the bank of the Westfield Creek in Western Massachusetts, staring at the orange super moon while my body shook in sobs. It was the first time I’d let myself truly feel the consequences and despair of a fracked gas pipeline being built in the region where I now live.

I was spending the summer traveling exclusively by bicycle and working on the campaign against Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, a project that would bring fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania through New York, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, most likely to be exported to international markets overseas. My team of five other young people were working with local landowners to raise awareness about the proposed pipeline and the larger issue of climate change.

That night, as I sat on the mossy rocks of the creek, I thought of my future children and the world I would be leaving them. A world where corporations had the power to take away people’s land to build an explosive gas pipeline? A world where my home on Long Island would be a distant memory, washed away from hurricanes and sea level rise? A world where their lives would be defined by water and food shortages and exacerbated systems of oppression? How could I ever fully process this impending destruction?

Last week this narrative seemed to shift. After a two and a half year movement, Kinder Morgan suspended their $3 billion pipeline project due to “insufficient capacity commitments.” For now, we won. Of course the company’s statement does not mention the thousands who petitioned, lobbied, walked across the state, filed lawsuits, held meetings and rallies, wrote songs and plays, filled hearings to capacity, pressured our local and state politicians, and pledged to take nonviolent direct action. We know the real reasons why this project was suspended.

839 Victory! Photo: Mike McGee, After these years of diligent organizing, we deserve to celebrate. But we are vigilantly remaining on our toes. Kinder Morgan still must remove their application with FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and their petitions to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. The company’s Connecticut Expansion pipeline proposal is still in effect, an “additional gas expansion loop” threatening Massachusetts Constitution protected land and some of the only old growth trees in the state. In Eastern Massachusetts, Spectra Energy’s Access Northeast, the West Roxbury Lateral, and the North Weymouth gas compressor station are all being fought with strong opposition, as well as another proposed compressor station in Burrillville, Rhode Island. This initial victory becomes a failure if we don’t utilize our momentum in the other movements in our region.

833 Taking Steps to a Renewable Future walk along the route of the proposed pipeline last month. Photo: Paul Franz

Kinder Morgan’s CEO stated last week that the company will be “looking for other ways to fulfill the needs of New England customers.” We know that our energy needs do not include fracked gas, but rather a rapid transition to renewable energy.  We will rest only when the fossil fuel industry is brought to a halt and when the U.N. mandates a target of net zero emissions by 2050.

Throughout this fight I have believed in the power of storytelling. I believe that once we communicate our values and our motivations to be changemakers in this world, it is then that people will join us. In this light, I want to share what brought me to be sitting by the Westfield Creek that summer, and why now, more than ever, more should join us in stopping fossil fuel infrasture in our respective regions.

Since elementary school I knew I wanted to “save the world” when I grew up. I held beach cleanups on the shores near my home, rode my bike as often as I could, and worked to ban styrofoam in my middle school cafeteria. I remember learning about climate change in sixth grade and feeling the loss of my autonomy in this world I was just getting to know and love.

I entered Hampshire College less than a year after my town on Long Island was forever altered by Hurricane Sandy. I knew I needed to study climate change, and in my first month I was quickly captured by the student climate justice movement in Massachusetts, through Students for a Just and Stable Future. After a year of organizing with students from across the state to pressure our previous governor to fully implement the state's Global Warming Solutions Act, I understood why climate change wasn’t just an issue I could tackle while picking up tangled plastic bags in the sand. It wasn’t going to be that easy, and I definitely couldn’t do it by myself, nor did I want to.

Finding a place in the student-led climate movement helped me understand how even though sea level rise became more of a threat to my home, my family had the privilege of being able to move if we needed to. Millions, such as those from Island Nations like Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, do not have this option, even though they did relatively nothing to cause this problem. It became clear that climate change was a vehicle that was exacerbating all of the existing social injustices in the world, and one traveling way over the speed limit.

843 Up against an existing Kinder Morgan fracked gas pipeline during Climate Summer. Photo: Ben Weilerstein

Taking action was the only time I felt hopeful about this crisis, so I knew I needed to continue as my first year at Hampshire came to a close. I signed up for Climate Summer, a program that would lead me to bike through New England with a team of other young people working to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline. I was anxiously ready to devote the summer to my passion, but terrified by my lack of biking experience; used to riding with my one geared bike on the flat sandbar of Long Island, I felt ill prepared for climbing the Berkshire Mountains while carrying over 100 pounds of mine and my team’s belongings.

848 Climate Summer Western Mass team in Richmond, MA with some of our welcoming community partners. Photo: A. Grace Steig700 miles and two years later, we are celebrating the suspension of the pipeline we fought that summer; the pipeline that connected us to the vibrant and determined community of fossil fuel fighters in New England. I learned techniques of local organizing through listening to the stories of landowners, planning events with local leaders, and working closely alongside my teammates. I saw my team as a microcosm of the larger movement; while we made mistakes and became frustrated with each other, we had created a deep bond based on our shared values, stories, and visions for the world.

Soon a group of friends and I will be biking from Amherst to Albany, New York to participate in Break Free From Fossil Fuels on May 14th. I’ll be carrying with me the hope of successful organizing, the power of storytelling, and the overwhelming gratitude I have for the tireless opposition that suspended this pipeline. In Albany, we'll be using our bodies to halt the transportation of fracked crude oil by rail from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota - a process so explosive it once incinerated the town of Lac Mégantic in Quebec, killing 47 people. Together we will #BreakFree from the dangers of fossil fuels and encourage a future powered by renewable energy. Will you join us?

Our generation has never lived in a month with below average temperatures - our entire lives have been defined by climate change. I let myself feel the despair of climate change because I see it as the roots that ground me in constantly working for a better world. I encourage us to celebrate our victories because they are sparks of hope and reminders that when we organize, we can win.

Dineen O'Rourke is a student at Hampshire College and an organizer with Climate Action Now and the Sugar Shack Alliance. Follow her on Twitter: @dineenorourke