I usually don’t wait very long in a conversation to bring up the fact that I’m from Maine. In some ways my pride doesn’t make sense– I hate the cold, I don’t eat lobster, I don’t shop at L.L. Bean and no, I don’t live anywhere near Acadia. But still, I can’t help it. I’m called to the mountains and the stars and the Androscoggin river and the town where not only do you run into everyone you know at the grocery store, but you see them all again half an hour later on top of Rumford Whitecap picking blueberries. As much as I love being in Boston, Maine is a huge part of my identity, more so than I realized when I left.
So having already been thinking about climate change and fossil fuel infrastructure for a while, I was particularly upset to hear about a proposed tar sands project in my own little town of Bethel. The proposal would reverse the flow of the Portland-Montreal pipeline that currently carries crude oil from Maine to Canada to carry tar sands from Canada from Maine. The project is bad for a number of reasons (shocker). Without getting into too many details, it would lock us into further emissions, it would almost certainly lead to a catastrophic spill what with this pipeline being around 60 years old and tar sands being extremely corrosive as well as nearly impossible to clean up, and the extraction of tar sands is unbelievably destructive to the Boreal forest and indigenous communities in Canada.
One of the scariest parts of watching this fight has been seeing how effectively these big oil companies can spread misinformation and confusion among communities who have nothing to gain and everything to lose. Last year Bethel voted through a resolution saying we didn’t want tar sands coming through our town. A few months later I sat in at a town meeting where a big oil representative took the time to inform my 1,900 person town in nowheresville Maine that no such project was being pursued but if it were, he’d want our support. We revoked the resolution and since then there have been reports of these oil industry workers showing up along the pipeline—in my friend Helen’s yard, on the ski trails, just “checking on things”.
Small town politics aside, the real linchpin of the fight probably lies in South Portland. Last November Portland voted down the Waterfront Protection Ordinance which would have prevented the loading of tar sands onto boats, effectively killing the project, on the grounds that the ordinance, despite being incredibly narrow, would have hurt South Portland businesses. It probably had nothing to do with Exxon spending $135 per vote, more than Obama and Romney combined on this election. Because the majority of South Portland was (and is) against tar sands (they were just also against the ordinance) a 6 month moratorium on tar sands was imposed and in that time a small, unbiased committee has been drafting a new ordinance called Clear Skies which will be voted on July 21.
To be honest, it’s hard to be fully present here at Climate Summer biking through the North Shore knowing all this is going on so close to home. To be honest one of the reasons I decided to do climate summer was because I thought I would be in Maine. I’m scared for our water, for the devastation further tar sands development would cause, that communities will not find their own strength, that they’ll be bought out and not know they have to. I’m scared that the lust for profit will triumph over truth. I’m scared and I’m angry because I know when it comes to tar sands, people are suffering at every point of production; extraction, transportation, consumption, all of it. And I’m too far away to be a part of the fight. I miss the mountains.
I miss the mountains, but what I’ve realized is this: in my little valley, what’s beautiful isn’t any mountain alone, it’s the whole range. It’s the entire circle of them, standing strong together. So often I’ve heard that any given tactic is ineffective be it divestment, or the Keystone pipeline. We’re not in this fight to stop any one project and then go rest on our fair trade, local, organic laurels, we’re here because we oppose all new fossil fuel infrastructure. Period. We’re here because what happens in Salem with the gas plant affects Maine, it affects Canada, it affects fracking sites in Pennsylvania and New York and beyond. In the fight for a livable climate and against destructive, dangerous bottom of the barrel, energy extraction our fates are all wrapped together. We have a responsibility to one another to stand strong against the projects near us not only for what they are, but also what they represent. We must stand up against the entire industry built upon the exploitation of living beings without consideration for long-term health and safety.
I am scared for my home, but I also have enormous amounts of trust, appreciation and total love for the people doing this work in Maine, like Kendall Mackey from Energy Action Coalition and Shaun, who was a climate summer rider last year and who live texted me quotes from the first city council vote. The times I am most scared are the times I have forgotten that I am part of something so much bigger than myself and I don’t have to do any of this alone. The community in Portland is vibrant and strong—just like the community in Salem that fought off the coal plant and the community in Ipswich where I am this week, where I’ve been inspired by their water conservation efforts and extensive composting program. There are people fighting everywhere. To me, that’s the meaning of solidarity: recognizing that our lives are interconnected and knowing that we’ll do everything in our power not to let each other down. It means loving each other and honoring our stories and our triumphs and our strength. I am prepared to commit myself to the North Shore because, like Maine, it is a part of the massive struggle to shift our entire economy away from fossil fuels. No piece is a silver bullet, we don’t expect them to be, but between all of them we’ve built a movement. I stand in solidarity with Portland because I oppose all new infrastructure projects. We’re doing everything we can, every tactic we think of that will help us us get to that vision of a just and sustainable world. This movement is more than the individual mountains we’ll climb; it’s the whole mountain range, in all its glory