The Thin Green Line

The Pacific Northwest is the last bastion of resistance in the war for a stable climate


The Pacific Northwest is now known as the “thin green line,” as Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia are the only obstacles standing in the way of the export of some of the largest fossil fuel deposits in North America to Asian markets. Grassroots movements concerned about the environmental impacts of these export projects have mobilized and helped to block more than 18 proposed projects, according to the Sightline Institute.

We still have a chance to save the planet. NASA climatologist James Hansen believes that if we can curb our greenhouse gas emissions now, we may be able to slow or even stop runaway climate change.

This is arguably the single most important juncture in human history, and the Pacific Northwest is in the middle of it. Irreversible climate change is looming closer every day, and a major reevaluation of our energy sources is necessary.

By continuing to delay fossil fuel exports through litigation and direct action, we are buying time for renewable energy to surpass these fuels in economic viability. This is important because it is becoming apparent that economic pressure is the only thing that is going to force energy corporations to switch to renewables.

With the Dakota Access Pipeline protest having gotten so much attention over the last six months, and the Keystone XL pipeline being fought so effectively in 2014, we have to wonder if this movement against fossil fuel infrastructure will continue to spread.

Here in Oregon hundreds of people marched in Salem last November to protest the proposed liquid natural gas Pacific Connector Pipeline, according to KOIN 6 News. This pipeline is one of many that have been proposed over the last couple years and one of the most persistent.

The Pacific Connector Pipeline was first proposed in 2003 and has been submitted and resubmitted over the last 14 years. Although it was most recently denied last December, the investors are still planning on re-submitting an application for the project this August — hoping for a more sympathetic audience with the Trump administration.

As the value of fossil fuels drops in the U.S., corporations are becoming anxious to export them to Asian markets where the demand is still high. China is currently the biggest importer of petroleum and the highest consumer of energy in the world according to the Institute for Energy Research.

Just a couple months ago, in the midst of the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy, a separate export project was approved. This was the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which, according to the New York Times, would carry an additional 590,000 barrels of Alberta tar sands oil to the coast of British Columbia making a total of 890,000 barrels a day. This is just one example of the many export projects that are being furiously pushed through by corporate interests.

These pipelines are being fought so adamantly because of the environmental dangers they pose. In the short term, they are a constant risk of spills, leaks and splashes that can poison ecosystems and pollute water. In the long term, they are the final nails in the coffin of Earth’s stable climate.

As our climate changes, our oceans acidify, our forest fires burn longer, and our subsistence is threatened. We have engineered a sixth great extinction event, the largest since the meteor that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. According to Anthony Barnosky, a paleobiologist at the University of California, in 300 years, 75% of all mammal species on Earth will be extinct.

Maintaining the “thin green line” is vital, because the window for fossil fuels is closing. New data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance suggests that as of December of 2016, solar has become the cheapest form of energy on the planet.

The only reason that fossil fuels are still relevant is the capital invested in their extraction and transportation. If we delay the export of these fuels to Asian markets, the demand will move to cheaper, more sustainable alternatives.

The resistance won’t be getting any easier however, because with newly elected President Trump and his administration these pipeline proposals have a powerful ally. Within his first month in office he gave both the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline approval, disregarding public opinion on the projects.

No matter how difficult, this fight is worth it. If our society continues to consume fossil fuels as we have, it is sure to be catastrophic. Between rising sea levels, superstorms, and major species die-off — all life as we know it is threatened.

There is still hope for a stable climate if we can continue to repel these last ditch attempts to save the fossil fuel industry. All we need to do is keep holding the thin green line.