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Students hold hands to stop pipeline construction in rally

Credit: Justin Lin/ Credit: Justin Lin/

The Tar Sands Action organization, along with several other nonprofits, put on “Hands Around the White House,” a protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline extension, on Nov. 6 at the White House.

Among those in attendance were several Carnegie Mellon students from the Sustainable Earth organization.

The Keystone XL Pipeline, initially proposed by the Canadian oil and gas company TransCanada in 2008, is an extension of the existing Keystone pipeline connecting oil refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma to the Athabasca Oil Sands in Canada. The extension would consist of a more direct connection to Oklahoma and Illinois as well as additional pipelines to refineries in Texas.

Since its proposal, however, the extension has been met with controversy and protest over its environmental impacts.

“It would be tapping into the second-largest pool of carbon on the planet, so the CO2 emissions would be enormous,” said Daniel Kessler, a spokesperson for Tar Sands Action. “The pipeline also poses great risk to our air, land, and water if there is a spilling.”

President Barack Obama is expected to make a decision by the end of the year on whether to approve construction of the pipeline, and environmental activists are urging him to veto the proposal.

“[The] Hands Around the White House rally quite literally has the ability to determine the decision Obama will make,” said sophomore architecture major Leah Wulfman, who attended the event on Sunday. “We hope that the decision, in part because of the rally, will be a veto of the proposed pipeline.”

According to Wulfman, approximately 12,000 people attended the rally on Sunday. The protesters surrounded the White House hand-in-hand, forming a ring about seven rows deep.

But while this protest may be the first of its kind, Kessler said that people have been protesting tar sands for a decade.

“People on the front lines in Canada have been fighting development of the tar sands for a very long time, because it’s leading to destruction of their community, higher cancer rates, and other health problems,” Kessler said. “Over the last few years, people in the U.S. have been getting more involved because of the pipeline and the growing awareness about climate change.”

In addition, some protestors and organizers are characterizing ‘Hands Around the White House’ as a part of the larger Occupy protests that have been sweeping the nation in such states like new York and Pennsylvania.

“In the face of this threat to the 99 percent — what does the US State Department have to say about Tar Sand oil exploitation? Drill-baby-drill,” reads the description on one of the Facebook pages for the event. “Fight the global plutocracy — as Chomsky refers to it, ‘the rule by the wealthy or power provided by wealth that is destroying life on this planet.’”

However, Kessler emphasized that from his organization’s perspective, the main goal is to convince the president to veto the Keystone XL proposal. “We’re just protesting the extension. The other existing pipelines aren’t relevant to this protest,” Kessler said.

And while Wulfman has similar expectations, she also hopes that victory in Washington will help spark other environmental movements. “We want this to be the long-awaited and fought-for turning point where we move away from destructive fossil fuels,” she said.