A group of Columbia students are planning to travel to Washington, D.C. this weekend to protest against the Keystone XL pipeline.
The students will participate in the XL DISSENT event, organized by students from 49 colleges and universities, on March 2 to call upon President Barack Obama, CC ’83, to reject the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, an oil pipeline that runs from Western Canada to the United States.
The protest will begin at Georgetown’s campus and end with a sit-in outside the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. The organizers expect between eight and ten people to make the trip to Washington.
Michael Greenberg, CC ’16, started organizing Columbia’s contingent for the march last year after working for the environmental action group 350.org, a nonprofit that looks to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.
Greenberg said that his work for 350.org enabled him to connect with environmental activists at other colleges and universities to help organize the XL DISSENT event and build a network of DISSENT activists on Columbia’s campus.
“We’re starting at Georgetown because that’s where Obama’s [June 2013] climate speech was held,” Greenberg said. “We want to hold him accountable to protect future generations.”
The march is intended to end at the White House for a sit-in. D.C. municipal law, however, prohibits protests in front of the White House. Greenberg said that anyone participating in the event risks arrest as well as a fine.
“They have a range of charges they can bring, such as disobeying an officer,” Greenberg said. “Initially, it looked like it was going to be arrest and a $100 fine, but now it looks more like $50.”
“My parents weren’t thrilled, but they accepted that they weren’t changing my mind,” Greenberg added.
Iliana Salazar-Dodge, CC ’16, will travel to D.C. along with Greenberg for the protest.
“We were both at the [January 2013] Forward on Climate rally when Obama was playing golf with oil executives,” Salazar-Dodge said. “He has no choice but to pay attention this time.”
Both Greenberg and Salazar-Dodge passionately emphasized the importance of addressing climate change, and said that doing so wouldn’t come at the expense of short-term energy security.
“I believe sincerely that climate change is probably the most pressing issue that humanity is facing,” Salazar-Dodge said. “It even encompasses racial issues, generational issues, and one generation is benefitting at the future’s expense.”
“It’s a false dichotomy between relying on Middle Eastern oil and taking our own national lands and drilling on them,” Greenberg said. “The amount of potential that renewable energy has is enormous, and it’s perfectly possible to have both energy independence and clean energy.”
Salazar-Dodge also emphasized that next week’s march had been planned well in advance, and that they were willing to take the risks that the sit-in would bring.
“People are going to think that we’re college students with too much time on our hands, but that’s not the case,” Salazar-Dodge noted. “I’ve thought about this long and hard and it’s an action I want to take.”
This isn’t the first time Columbia students have rallied against the Keystone XL pipeline. Last February, students in Barnard-Columbia Divest, which also called upon Columbia to divest from the fossil fuel industry, went to D.C. to demonstrate against the pipeline at a rally organized by 350.org, the Sierra Club, and the Hip Hop Caucus.
Though Greenberg has been in touch with Barnard Columbia Divest, he also said the two groups are separate.
“I’m so excited people are each willing to incur the risk in exchange for contributing to the movement. It’s beautiful to see,” Greenberg said.
If students are in interested in joining the group headed to D.C., they can contact Greenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that only two students were going. There were two students present at an interview, but the organizers said they expect between eight and ten students to make the trip. Additionally, an earlier version of this story said that Greenberg and Salazar-Dodge attended the Hybrid rally instead of the Forward on Climate rally. Spectator regrets the errors.