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Chopp Sponsors Student Protest of Keystone XL Pipeline

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“Crippling drought. Devastating wildfires. Superstorm Sandy. Climate has come home — and the American people get it.” These words are the slogan of the “Forward on Climate” rally scheduled for Feb. 17.The protest stands in opposition to the proposed Tar Sands Pipeline (also known as the Keystone XL Pipeline) that will carry toxic tar sands from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, cutting through multiple western states in between. Fears over the pipeline include oil spills, damage to plants, animals and people situated in its intended path, and the potential for pollution.

With over 100 organizations supporting the movement, the rally is expected to be the largest ever for climate change, attracting thousands of Americans, including Swarthmore students. Buses are scheduled to take supporters to Washington D.C. from over 25 states, including Pennsylvania. One of those buses will come from the college, taking interested students and faculty to the protest.

“We hope to offer transportation on the bus to whatever students, faculty and staff members are interested in joining us,” said Patrick Ammerman, the college’s current sustainability intern — a position for a single student each year who makes recommendations to the the College community concerning policies related to environmental sustainability on campus. “This is a very exciting opportunity, since we can essentially give an open invitation to all members of the Swarthmore community.”

The college will fund the bus through donations from President Rebecca Chopp and Vice President for Community and College Relations Maurice Eldridge, both of whom support the rally and the opportunity for as many members as possible from the college community to attend.

“Maurice Eldridge and I have offered support from the President’s Office to pay for a bus to take community members who are interested in participating.” said President Chopp. Eldridge meanwhile highlighted his belief in the importance of the rally.

“Clearly climate change is a major threat to humankind that must be confronted by all of us,” he said. “I am expressing my personal view [about the harmful effects of the pipeline], but the college and the college community together face the same issue and together we will seek ways to make a difference.”

Chopp also said that she hoped many students would attend the rally and make their voices heard about the urgency of climate change, particularly as President Obama begins his second term.

However, not all are in accordance for stopping production of the pipeline. In fact, according to TheHill.com, public polling during the 2012 calendar year suggested that the majority of Americans are actually in favor of it. Hill blogger Cindy Schlid, a senior manager of Downstream at the American Petroleum Institute, believes that the pipeline could in fact be beneficial, creating 20,000 jobs immediately, and potentially “117,000 new U.S. jobs by 2035.”

For Giovanna Di Chiro, the Lang Visiting Professor for Issues of Social Change, the job statistics are no all they are cracked up to be, and the effects of the pipeline on the environment unquestionably outweigh the economic incentives for it.

“Drilling tar sands oil in the first place already adds to greenhouse gas concentration, which is bad enough,” she said. Ecological, climatological, and biological studies show that the risks of climate issues and this pipeline are not exaggerated. Also, historically job creation in these cases is never what its promoted to be.”

At the congressional level, the pipeline has been a characteristically partisan issue, splitting Democrats and Republicans down what have become traditional and staunch partisan lines. However, two Democratic senators from Montana and North Dakota (states on the intended route of the pipeline) have strongly supported the project, further stressing public variance on the issue.

Ammerman, though, believes that the fervor surrounding the issue on campus is fairly archetypal of nation-wide tar sands views.

“The Forward on Climate Rally is attracting support from those who oppose the pipeline for so many different reasons: the indigenous people it will displace, the
damage it will do to local ecosystems, and the effect it will have on global climate change. I believe the sweeping support we’re seeing on campus for those opposed to the Tar Sands pipeline is a testament to how deplorable the proposed pipeline really is,” he said.

Advertising and logistics for the rally are being executed as a joint effort among members of several of the college’s student run ecosphere groups, with additional help from members of the Dean’s Office. However, considering the magnitude of the issues at stake, Di Chiro thinks that the event has not been publicized enough on the Swarthmore campus.

“I’m an environmental professor and I didn’t even know about the buses leaving from the college for the rally,” she said.

Whatever the differing opinions from state to state and across party lines, it’s evident that there is zeal among the college’s environmental groups and their members who are eager to participate in the protest.

“It is important for concerned students to join us on the 17th as we show our solidarity against Keystone XL in Washington,” said Ammerman.

“Climate is what makes the earth the earth,” said De Chiro. “We failed to stop climate change already, so how do we really join together and wake up? The rally is one way, not the only way, but it sure can be a good catalyst.”

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