“Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuels is moral and economic madness.”
– Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN
From Oct. 24-26, a coalition of ecoactivist groups, including Extinction Rebellion Northeast, Extinction Rebellion DC, or XRDC, Scientist Rebellion, and Climate Defiance, engaged in three days of nonviolent actions against the gas industry in Washington, D.C. They disrupted the industry’s biggest annual event in North America, temporarily shut down construction on a major pipeline project, and built bridges of inter-movement solidarity by joining in protests for a ceasefire in Gaza.
The day’s events began with a banner drop at Rock Creek Parkway that read, “Don’t be gaslit. Natural gas = Fossil fuel = Extinction. Unite. Rebel. Survive.” Dozens of activists then led a joyful march to the Park Hyatt hotel where the conference took place and held a rally outside. Activists inside, complete with saxophone music, chanting and a banner reading “Business as usual is climate disaster,” disrupted the fireside chat session for Assistant Secretary for Energy Resources in the U.S. Department of State, Geoffrey Pyatt. Security forced the activists out of the hotel, where the chanting and rally continued.
Ali Hadjarian, PhD, a spokesperson for Scientist Rebellion, highlights the truth that the gas industry continues to intentionally obscure: “Given the consensus of scientists and agencies around the world that fossil fuel use must end now, it’s absurd that the industry is gathering at conferences like this one to figure out how they can keep profiting off of the destruction of people and the planet. The science is clear: methane is damaging our health and accelerating our descent into climate chaos. Even the industry’s so-called ‘solutions’ like renewable natural gas and gas certifications are just more hoaxes to delay climate action. Methane’s time is up. The gas industry must accept this rather than invest in lies and stranded assets.”
Jay Waxse, a professional engineer, published scientist, and spokesperson for Climate Defiance pointed out the political element that enables the gas industry’s deception and violence: “The methane gas industry is poisoning our communities, and our government and economic system not only fail to hold the gas industry accountable but continue to incentivize it as the world burns. Politicians like Geoffrey Pyatt cozy up to the industry to make a buck while the rest of us suffer the consequences. Stop buying the gas industry’s lies and start treating gas like the dirty fossil fuel it is. Respect us or expect us.”
The gas industry has invested in a decades-long advertising push to make their product appear safe and appealing despite knowing the serious health consequences of their product for over a century. Utilizing tactics from the tobacco industry’s playbook, they avoid regulations at the expense of the health and safety of both people and planet.
In order to meet climate commitments, the government must stop approving climate bombs like the Mountain Valley Pipeline and gas export facilities on the Gulf coast (which if approved, would be equivalent to operating 143 coal plants for 45 years) and instead, redirect that investment into clean energy and climate resiliency. Methane gas is not part of a livable future, no matter how much the gas industry attempts to say otherwise.
Even though the week of actions had been planned for months in advance, on the second day of the program the organizers and participants shifted strategy in response to the ongoing genocide in Gaza. In an act of solidarity, instead of performing their own action on Oct. 25, the climate coalition accepted an invitation to join one of If Not Now‘s protests focused on demanding that Congress call for an immediate ceasefire. If Not Now is a movement of American Jews organizing their community to end U.S. support for Israel’s apartheid system and demand equality, justice and a thriving future for all Palestinians and Israelis.
As it turns out, Gaza is yet another hot spot, not only for racist exclusion and appropriation of land, but also of gas. On Oct. 30, Israel awarded 12 licenses to six companies to explore natural gas offshore of the Mediterranean coast. A U.N. report is questioning Israel’s right to these resources, since some are sourced from within the Occupied Territory of Palestine and much of the rest are outside national borders in the deep sea. If these deals continue as planned, they represent a carbon bomb that will earn profits for neoliberal states and fossil fuel corporations, all while further dispossessing the Palestinian people and robbing humanity of a livable planet.
“XRDC’s Stop Project Pipes action may have been locally focused, but the gas and oil industry plagues the whole world,” explained Rachel, an organizer for XRDC, pointing out that the U.N. was talking about the unrealized potential of Palestinian oil and gas reserves in 2019. “This all just emphasizes the fact that capitalism has to go if we want a livable future. If our governments are prioritizing oil licenses and war for profit over the wellbeing of any person or people, then it is far past time for a change.”
Connecting global climate concerns to Gaza, the situation is even more immediately dangerous because the Israeli state and capitalist elite want the resources of Palestinian land, but not Palestinian labor, an aspect that differentiates the apartheid regime in Israel from the apartheid regime of South Africa. As William I. Robinson pointed out in 2014, “This is a situation in which the dominant system needs the resources of the subordinate group but not their labor — that is, not their bodies, their physical existence. This is the racist structure most likely to lead to genocide. It was the experience of Native Americans in North America.”
Robinson’s analysis has proven prescient and chilling. These new exploration contracts are at best like throwing gas on the flames. If understood for their worst potential implications, new gas contracts are not just fueling the flames, but partially responsible for starting the fire. Gas is being unearthed as a significant but downplayed factor that cuts through ideology and rhetoric — a powerful economic interest that has come to exercise decisive influence over Israeli state policy and international involvement.
On the third day, they concluded with a big finish by shutting down a construction site for Project Pipes, Washington Gas’s $4.5 billion fossil fuel pipeline project that will lock D.C. into decades more dangerous methane pollution, making it impossible to meet the district’s climate goals — all while forcing ratepayers to foot the bill. This is the first time that a gas pipeline construction shutdown has happened in D.C.
Activists walked onto the construction site, laid down and locked themselves to each other with lock boxes — stopping work on a project that will pollute the air in D.C. and contaminate communities for generations to come. For attempting to stop this harm, five activists were arrested.
Meanwhile, more participants stood by chanting and held Halloween-inspired banners reading “DC Council: Don’t ghost your climate promises” and “Washington Gas: Zombie industry.” In total, about 50 activists participated in the protest.
The methane that Washington Gas pumps into residents’ homes pollutes the air with a cocktail of toxins that severely damages health, leading to premature death, respiratory illness and cancers such as leukemia. Outside, methane leaks contribute to the formation of smog, which is also a cause of premature death. Methane leaks put residents in direct danger of fire and explosions — a very real risk in D.C. where over 70 percent of leaks are at hazardous levels and could explode at any moment.
Project Pipes started almost a decade ago, yet Washington Gas has failed to significantly reduce the number of gas leaks in their pipes nor the greenhouse gas emissions associated with them. Despite Washington Gas’s clear ineptitude and the extensive risks posed to the community, the D.C. Council has failed to step in and protect constituents from this deadly project.
“Washington Gas will tell you that we are endangering people’s lives by delaying their project. But this corporation is motivated by profit, not the well-being of people,” said Claire, a spokesperson for XRDC, highlighting where the real danger is coming from: “Washington Gas is the one pumping explosive gas into our communities, polluting our homes and endangering our lives. As long as Washington Gas forces methane through the city, residents will be in danger, especially low-income communities and communities of color. The D.C. Council must take a stand to secure a safe, livable future for all. It’s time we end methane and electrify D.C.”
Several organizations have been working to stop the project for years, yet the D.C. Council and the D.C. Public Service Commission have failed to listen to the science. On the cusp of phase three, the final part of Project Pipes’ timeline, now is the time for the D.C. Council to step in and direct the commission to stop Project Pipes before more money goes down the drain.
Faced with the consistent and absolute failures of D.C. politicians to act, constituents are beginning to ask: what other choice is now available to us, but to shut down the fossil fuel infrastructure ourselves?
Read a behind-the-scenes, in depth interview with three of the campaign organizers available on ZNetwork.org: Anatomy of a Climate Coalition Campaign.
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