The ongoing battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline is just the latest example of how people and communities around the world are coming together to fight against the old way of doing things and for a new, more empowering clean energy economy.
There’s a battle going on in North Dakota right now that resonates through the past, present, and future of our planet. For months, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have been fighting against plans to build the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.7 billion project by Energy Transfer Partners which would destroy burial grounds and historic sites and threaten local water supplies in order to bring fracked oil from North Dakota to a refinery hub in Illinois. As Bill McKibben recently wrote in the New Yorker, this struggle is a painful reminder of America’s shameful history of dispossessing the original inhabitants of this country — and, if the pipeline were to ultimately be built, another sad chapter in this story.
In the present moment however, there is hope. Months of protests led by the Sioux Nation and members of 200 other Native American tribes have grown to include support from national environmental groups and thousands of climate and social justice advocates ranging from Black Lives Matter activists to high-profile environmentalists like Leonardo DiCaprio and Susan Sarandon. Thanks to their combined, relentless efforts, the #NoDAPL movement began to get major traction in the national press in recent weeks, even as private security forces attacked demonstrators with dogs and pepper spray.
Then, on September 9, the movement hailed its first major triumph: just an hour after a judge denied a request by the Standing Rock Sioux to put a freeze on development, the Obama administration stepped in to order a pause in construction to review the arguments of the Standing Rock Sioux and determine whether the pipeline would violate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws. Encouragingly, the Department of Justice statement also went beyond the current controversy to recommend “a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.”
There have been more reasons for optimism in the weeks since then. To keep the #NoDAPL momentum going, 350.org, Sierra Club, and other groups organized over 200 #StandWithStandingRock actions nationwide, including an event in Washington, DC headlined by former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted a Special Use Permit to the Standing Rock Sioux that will allow them to use federal lands near Lake Oahe indefinitely as an encampment for protesters, with their numbers swelling to as many as 5,000 activists in recent weeks. And earlier this week, while addressing Native American leaders at his final Tribal Nations Conference, President Obama reiterated his commitment to “make sure that every federal agency truly consults and listens and works with you, sovereign to sovereign” — although he declined to provide specific comments about Dakota Access.
The President’s hesitancy to come down more decisively on the side of the Standing Rock Sioux is bracing evidence that this battle isn’t over yet. The pipeline’s development has only been halted temporarily, and Energy Transfer Partners has said that it intends to continue pushing ahead with the project. But as it stands, while the deck may have been stacked against the protesters at the start, it now looks like there’s a real chance for victory — although that may ultimately depend on the next occupant of the Oval Office. There are many ways to support the movement in the meantime, including signing petitions from the Sierra Club and 350.org or by giving directly to the Standing Rock Sioux’s DAPL Donation Fund and the Sacred Stone Camp Fund.
Perhaps most hopefully, the expanding #NoDAPL movement is just the latest evidence that the future of energy, climate, and environmental and social justice will be people-powered. We’ve seen an unprecedented and deeply inspiring increase in climate-related activism in recent years — from the People’s Climate March, to the successful fight to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, to the global Break Free From Fossil Fuels and #KeepItInTheGround movements, to the new Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion that will unite more than 50 Indigenous nations in the northern U.S. and Canada. People around the world are coming together to say loud and clear: we need to change the way we get our energy and transition to a new paradigm that doesn’t threaten the future of our planet and enrich corporations at the expense of our communities.
This vision of a people-powered energy future is especially powerful today because it’s not just about stopping fossil fuels — it’s also about proactively moving towards a new, clean energy economy that empowers people. There are now over 1 million solar-powered homes in the U.S., and the community solar movement is growing fast to provide solar access for those that do not own their houses. Batteries are enabling more and more of these solar stakeholders to take control over how and when they use this solar energy — as well as powering their electric vehicles, providing an alternative to fossil fuels on the road as well as at home. And tech-savvy entrepreneurs are developing ways to let these clean energy revolutionaries buy and sell energy directly to each other, cutting out the utility middleman altogether!
So, as we celebrate the progress made by #NoDAPL activists — and prepare to continue the fight against the old way of doing things and for a new, more empowering clean energy economy — we know, more than ever, that we are not alone. The national and global conversation on energy has changed dramatically in just the past few years, and it’s incredibly exciting and uplifting to see where it’s going.