Arrest at tar sands protestGetting arrested: par for the course at Keystone XL protests.Photo: chesapeakeclimateThis week, I’m taking time off from my day job, and I’ll most likely be getting arrested. I’ll be with dozens of others, all of us joining hundreds more in the tar-sands action taking place between Aug. 20 and Sept. 3. We’ll be voicing our opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline that the Obama administration is currently considering. 

While I’ve been active in the climate fight for several years now, this will be the first time I’ve joined in this sort of an action. Over the past five years, I have dedicated my life to facilitating NGOs in the U.S. and internationally to collaborate on advocating for ambitious climate policies in Congress and at the United Nations. My work consists of countless conference calls, emails, fights over commas and word choices, and quiet meetings with government officials. I’ve gotten to travel to some amazing places, only to find myself spending most of my time in hotels, conference rooms, and negotiating halls.

Despite it not being terribly glamorous, I’m convinced that this work is a necessary part of the global climate struggle — we must ensure that there is a legal infrastructure in place that can lock in ambitious action on climate change and hold governments accountable. And building that infrastructure takes time, a lot of wonky people, and perhaps boring work.

But what I’ve also learned in these past five years is that those of us in suits roaming the halls of “power” will never be enough to enact the change we need — an absolutely essential part, but not enough. In order for those laws and global agreements to be worthwhile, we need to fill them with the kind of substance to which we can hold governments accountable. 

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

We need our governments to hear from their people that they can no longer get away with finding reasons to delay action, or loopholes to make their pledges weaker than they appear. We need citizens all over the world to be heard when they say that climate change is affecting them now, and their lives will be further torn apart if action isn’t taken soon. 

The tar-sands action is focused on an issue with a clear story to be told. The groups I work with share many of the same goals, but often take very different strategies to pursue those goals. But it’s clear that we all agree with the substance behind the tar-sands action — the decision on the Keystone XL pipeline is a critical moment on climate for the Obama administration and for the climate movement here in the U.S. The tar-sands are a ticking time bomb for the climate — if fully exploited, it’s “essentially game over,” as James Hansen has said.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

I’m heartened to say that when I look up from the negotiating documents and put the phone down from my conference calls, I can see and hear an amazing grassroots movement growing stronger by the day. It’s one that I’m proud to say many of my friends are helping to create. For awhile I’ve applauded it from the sidelines, and admired the work of friends all over the world who are on the front lines of this fight. Now I’ve finally decided it’s time, at least for a day, to personally join them in the streets.

So, this week, I’ll be headed to the White House to let my president know that on those days when I’m not talking to his representatives at the U.N. in my suit, I’m willing to sacrifice in other ways to ensure that he hears us and does what’s right for this country, and for the planet. It’s time for my president to reject this pipeline and show that he was serious when he said that his nomination marked “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

And if all goes well, after a day in jail with some friends, I’ll go back to my conference calls … at least for a while.