By Ron Johnson
When President Donald Trump signed off on a presidential permit okaying the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline in March, it was a real blow to an environmental movement that had tasted victory over the dirty tar sands clunker back in 2015 when President Obama withdrew the permit for the project.
With Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau united in their support of the pipeline, it seemed little could stand in the way of some 830,000 barrels of dirty tar sands fuel barreling down a 36-inch crude oil pipe from Hardisty, Alberta through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska to export terminals in the Gulf of Mexico. The pipeline seemed destined to pass over, under, and through environmentally sensitive areas such as Nebraska's Sandhills, and put at risk the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world's largest underground freshwater sources.
But not so fast.
Anti-pipeline activists are holding strong. They announced Solar XL, the latest move in a battle waged against the pipeline. Launched July 6 by a coalition of groups including Bold Nebraska, 350.org, Indigenous Environment Network and Oil Change International, the campaign features a series of solar panel arrays installed directly on the KXL pipeline route as it passes through Nebraska.
"We are putting solutions in the path of the problem," said Sara Shor, a campaigner for 350.org. "TransCanada will have to literally dig up these solar arrays in order to build a polluting pipeline of the past that will pollute land and water, increase carbon emissions, and make climate change worse. The first project will be completed by the time the hearing in Lincoln starts in August."
Each installation will cost $15,500 for a nine-panel frame, net-metering connection to the Nebraska power grid and labor. The groups aim to raise $50,000 via crowdfunding at the Action Network to help finance the installation in locations where landowners have refused to sell to TransCanada.
The energy produced by the arrays will be used by Nebraska farmers and ranchers leading the fight against KXL in Nebraska, both symbolically and literally putting a renewable energy future directly in the path of some of the dirtiest fuel on the planet.
"I am vehemently opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline mainly because of the properties of the contents of the tar sands oil it will carry—this is not your Mother's crude oil, it is the Devil's, and it can kill," said Nebraska landowner Jim Carlson. "We must be focused on clean, renewable energy and America can get along just fine without this foul concoction they call bitumen that TransCanada wants to pipe across our precious soil and water."
The current pipeline route would also pass through Indigenous treaty lands, and the campaign includes solar panel installation at the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Spirit Camp in South Dakota, a prayer camp set up to oppose KXL back in 2014.
"On the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota, renewable energy projects are already serving Indigenous peoples, and more are being planned," said Wayne Frederick, member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. "From Nebraska to Alberta, Indigenous peoples, farmers, and communities along Keystone XL's route know that our best resistance is through putting the answers in the path of the problem."
Advocates are honing in on Nebraska as it is the last state reviewing the pipeline—all the other states through which KXL would pass have already approved the project. The publicly elected Public Service Commission (PSC) is tasked with approving (or not approving) the route. The PSC has been holding a series of hearings over the past months to gather information from the public, and is reviewing the thousands of comments registered in opposition to the project. The crucial final hearings are set to get underway August 3.
For grassroots activists such as Bold Nebraska, PSC is the last line of defense, and they are doing whatever they can to get the message out that Keystone XL has no place in the Cornhusker state. The group is made up largely of local farmers and ranchers fighting against the use of eminent domain to get the pipeline onto Nebraska land, as threatened by TransCanada, the Canadian energy company behind the project.
"Building America means relying on energy that protects our property rights and ensures we have clean drinking water. Foreign tar sands in the Keystone XL pipeline, that would flow to the export market, is not in our public or our state's interest," Bold Alliance president Jane Kleeb said in a statement. "When faced with challenges, Nebraskans find solutions together to show our communities' values and the bond to the land that TransCanada cannot break or buy."
Since President Trump approved KXL, it seems there has been no shortage of news demonstrating why it isn't needed, from the withering away of customer interest in using the new pipeline to new statistics showing more people working in the solar industry than oil, gas and coal combined, which begs the question of who stands to benefit from more fossil fuel infrastructure.
"The fight is absolutely not over," Shor said. "And no matter what happens in Nebraska, Trump's complete disregard for communities in approving this project has only activated thousands more people to fight the fossil fuel projects that are in their backyards," Shor said. "Every fossil fuel company should be shaking in their boots because of the inevitable transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy projects."
Ron Johnson is based in Toronto, Canada, where he is an editor for Post City magazines and contributes to The Globe and Mail, Maclean's, The National Post and the London Business Times.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.