Environment & Science

Californian activist protests tar sands project at White House

White House, South Lawn.
White House, South Lawn.
Mark Skrobola/Flickr

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Environmental activists plan to protest outside the White House again this week. Already, hundreds have been arrested this month. They hope to block a pipeline project that would deliver a sticky mud-like substance called "tar sands" to refineries in this country. Californian Ildiko Polony, who calls herself a climate activist, is one of those protesters.

Polony studies urban planning at UC Berkeley. She says she traveled to the nation's capital because of a widely circulated letter that urged people like her to sit-in.

Its authors include James Hansen, Bill McKibben, Danny Glover and Wendell Berry. "Environmentalists, and activists, and actors and writers who I respect, whose books I've read and who I've seen speak," Polony says.

That letter argues that the Keystone XL tar sands project risks toxic oil spills to pull hard-to-process fossil fuels out of the ground.

Polony is a dancer. In D.C., she says, protesters gathered to rehearse their actions – and she was exhilarated to act against global warming. "It feels really wonderful to – my choreographer said it really well – she said, to put my butt where my mouth is. There's a level of integrity that it expresses."

Polony accepts scientific findings that greenhouse gas emissions from people are changing the earth’s climate. She says half of her believes it’s too late to stop more warming – but she thinks a protest can help coalesce people who will help one another in a future emergency.

"What I tell myself is doing the work now to stop climate change that may already be unstoppable helps build a connection," Polony says, "so that when the s--- goes down I can survive and I can help other people survive."

Supporters of the pipeline argue that the Canadian company backing it will sell tar sands oil elsewhere even if the United States doesn't want it. Eight federal authorities expect weigh in on the project in the months ahead.

The U.S. State Department – whose chief, Hillary Clinton, has final say on the project – has issued a report that predicts minimal potential for environmental harm.