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A People’s Climate Movement: Indigenous, Labor, Faith Groups Prepare for Historic March

StorySeptember 19, 2014
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New York City is set to host what could be the largest climate change protest in history. Organizers expect more than 100,000 people to converge for a People’s Climate March on Sunday. Some 2,000 solidarity events are scheduled around the world this weekend ahead of Tuesday’s United Nations climate summit. We spend the hour with four participants representing the labor, indigenous, faith and climate justice communities: Rev. Dr. Serene Jones is the president of Union Theological Seminary, which recently voted to divest from fossil fuels; Lidy Nacpil is a member of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice; Clayton Thomas-Muller is co-director of the Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign in Canada and a member of the Idle No More campaign; and Estela Vázquez is executive vice president of 1199 SEIU, which is expected to bring thousands of union members to the march.

Democracy Now! will broadcast live from the People’s Climate March on Sunday, September 21. Click here to watch the special livestream from 10:30am to 1:30pm ET.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: This Sunday, New York City is set to host what could be the largest climate change protest in history, when organizers expect more than 100,000 people to converge for a People’s Climate March. Many have already arrived from around the country. On Thursday night, the People’s Climate Train pulled into Penn Station after a cross-country trip that began in California, with stops in Reno, Denver, Salt Lake City, Omaha and Chicago.

VALERIE LOVE: My name is Valerie Love. I work for the Center for Biological Diversity as the No Tar Sands organizer. And I’ve been organizing this People’s Climate Train, which has been beyond our wildest expectations. We had 170 climate activists come together on a four-day, cross-country trip, where we had workshops and teach-ins, discussions, art and music all along the way. And we saw the amazing beauty of our country, as well as the very real climate impacts, and learned about the community struggles all along the way.

AMANDA AJISEBUTU: My name is Amanda Ajisebutu. I am 27, from San Francisco, California. And I got on the Climate Train as an invited guest. But on the train, I’ve learned so much about how I can be a part of the movement of helping save the climate. I do community gardening, which is already one step in the right direction, but I want it to be able to impact more people. And with the information that I retained on the trip, I feel like I can further my movement of helping others with fresh food and fresh water and just being the best that I can be.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The People’s Climate March comes ahead of a United Nations summit this Tuesday where leaders from 125 countries are expected to announce nonbinding initiatives to reduce carbon emissions that fuel global warming. President Obama got a head start Thursday when he announced his administration would dedicate nearly $70 million to install solar power in homes and businesses, and improve energy efficiency in rural areas. One new project by the Department of Energy would train 50,000 veterans to become solar panel installers in the next six years.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, as the topic of climate change and what to do about it takes center stage here in New York City in the coming week, we host a roundtable discussion. Here from the Philippines is Lidy Nacpil. She’s a member of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, a member of the international board of and also a convener of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice.

Estela Vázquez is also with us. She’s executive vice president of 1199 SEIU. That’s the Service Employees International Union, which expects to mobilize several thousand members on Sunday. In July, they joined with the New York State Nurses Association to announce their opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline due to public health and climate concerns.

And Reverend Dr. Serene Jones is with us, president of Union Theological Seminary, which is hosting more than 200 religious and spiritual leaders from across the world for a Religions for the Earth Conference this weekend, before they all march on Sunday.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Why don’t we begin with you, Reverend Dr. Serene Jones? Why is Union Theological Seminary participating in the climate march?

REV. DR. SERENE JONES: Well, the real question is: Why isn’t every single religious person in the United States getting to this climate march? At Union, we deeply believe that your Christian faith, your faith in God and your commitment to love in the world means that you need to be committed to social justice. And right now, there is no greater social justice issue on our planet than climate change.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, earlier this year, your seminary took a bold step in divesting from the fossil fuel industry. Could you talk about that decision, coming to it, and the impact it’s had on the religious community in the country?

REV. DR. SERENE JONES: Yes. We were very proud to be the first seminary in the world to divest. And we did it for the usually understood political, economic and social reasons, but, for us, the guiding force behind it was our faith commitment. We believe that, as people of faith, we are charged, we are morally accountable for care of the Earth, and to not engage in divestment and to back away from climate change is to really, to use religious language, to be sinful.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the other churches that have divested?

REV. DR. SERENE JONES: Yes. We were very supported by the United Church of Christ. The Presbyterians are right now in the process of considering it. And the list is growing daily. The churches, in one sense, are way ahead of the seminaries in this regard.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And has the World Council of Churches also—

REV. DR. SERENE JONES: The World Council of Churches, yes, who are meeting at Union this weekend to be part of this summit. They have divested.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the other part of that, divesting from fossil fuels, but where you reinvest?

REV. DR. SERENE JONES: Yes, and that is also a part of what we are exploring with respect to divestment. What we’ve discovered in our portfolio is there’s a number of fossil fuel companies who are themselves trying to shift their resources to alternative resources like wind and sun, and we’re figuring out how in our portfolio to support that by shifting our resources in that direction.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Lidy Nacpil, the importance of this particular march coming just before the U.N. climate summit, and specifically how in the Philippines this has become such a major issue?

LIDY NACPIL: Well, the Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change. Typhoons are a reality in the Philippines, but in the last few years we have been visited by ever-increasing number and magnitude of supertyphoons. I think the last one that was—the world has really come to know a lot about was Typhoon Haiyan, which was the strongest typhoon ever to hit landfall in recorded human history, we were told, and this typhoon has caused more than two million people to be homeless and has caused more than 10,000 deaths, in just a matter of a few days. So this issue is really important for us. There are several of us who are here to be in solidarity with the march. That is our actually foremost concern, not so much with the U.N. climate summit, from which we are expecting very little, I’m sorry to say.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll talk about that in a minute, but we are also joined by Clayton Thomas-Muller, who is an indigenous rights and environmental justice activist and writer, leading the campaign, one of the leaders of the Idle No More campaign, co-director of the Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign of the Polaris Institute, came down from Canada. Clayton Thomas-Muller is a member of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in northern Manitoba, Canada, living in Ottawa, here for the People’s Climate March. Welcome to Democracy Now!

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: And forgive me if I mispronounced any part of that.

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: No, you did well.

AMY GOODMAN: Why come down from Canada?

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Well, Idle No More, along with hundreds of other indigenous communities and organizations the world over, have sent representatives here to participate and join in the tens of thousands, hopefully hundreds of thousands, that will be marching in the streets on Sunday. I think, as mentioned by my sister from the Philippines, you know, indigenous peoples the world over are the most vulnerable, when we think about the impacts of climate change, whether it’s forest-dependent peoples, coastal-dependent peoples, and, of course, indigenous peoples in the High Arctic are experiencing climate change on a compounding rate, much worse than many other regions on the planet.

And there’s a double-edge blade there, because indigenous communities also happen to be experiencing the front-line impacts of the fossil fuel regime, you know, everywhere that Big Oil is operating in Canada. You know, we have the controversial Canadian tar sands, and Cree and Dene communities have massive cancer clusters occurring in their community because of the bioregional contamination that’s happening from Big Oil’s footprint in their lands.

And so, there’s great concern about the lack of concrete political action from world leaders, and indigenous leaders have converged here in New York City to send a very clear and direct message that our movement is strong, and it’s converging with other movements to put pressure on President Obama, and of course on our own Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and other world leaders to take concrete action on climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and when we come back, we’ll also find out why folks right here in New York, particularly labor activists, are also marching in this climate change march. It’s called the People’s Climate March. It’s expected to be the largest climate march in history, this leading up to Tuesday, where expectations vary on what will happen inside the U.N. for a one-day U.N. climate summit. This is before the U.N. climate summit that takes place in Lima, Peru, in December. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: That’s our guest, Clayton Thomas-Muller, performing last night at The New School at the launch of Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. We spoke to her for the hour yesterday, and you can see that interview, as well as another hour we did with her after the broadcast at The New School, hundreds of people came out, not only for her talk, but for a panel discussion about the climate and what can be done about it. There are hundreds of events taking place all over the city, not to mention around the world, this weekend as the lead-up to the People’s Climate March on Sunday. Union Theological Seminary is hosting more than 200 theologians from around the world. Our guest today is Reverend Dr. Serene Jones. Lidy Nacpil in from the Philippines for the protest. As we were saying, Clayton Thomas-Muller, down from Canada with many indigenous rights leaders. And we are joined by Estela Vázquez, executive vice president of 1199 SEIU. In July, they joined with the New York State Nurses Association to announce their opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline due to public health and climate concerns. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. This is Democracy Now!

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to turn to Estela Vázquez now. You’re a longtime Latino leader in this city, and of course a labor leader, as well. The decision by some of the major unions in the city, for the first time, I think, to really actively participate in an environmental march of this kind, what was the debate within 1199? And you’ve also, obviously, come out against the Keystone pipeline, as well.

ESTELA VÁZQUEZ: I would say, Juan—and thank you for the invitation—that there was no debate in 1199, that it was very natural for us to make a decision that this is where we need to be Sunday, this is where we need to mobilize our members, this is where we need to say to the powers that be in this country and around the world it is time to stop the madness. Our members were front-line in the efforts during Superhurricane Sandy almost two years ago. It is our members that helped evacuate NYU Hospital in the middle of the night and other institutions. It is our members in the Rockaways, in Red Hook in Brooklyn, who live in project—in public housing, whose apartment buildings were flooded, that were left without electricity. So, for us, it is a question of defending workers’ rights not only in the workplace, but in the communities where they live. It is a matter of public health, and it’s a matter of defending workers’ rights and the right to live in an environment that is free of contamination. And as I mentioned last night, the same people that are oppressing workers are the same people that are making huge, enormous profits from burning fossil fuels. They are the 1 percent of the 1 percent, and we are the 99 percent that needs to stand up.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the battle within some of organized labor for those unions that see projects like XL as a means of creating jobs and spurring the economy, what’s your response to them?

ESTELA VÁZQUEZ: I think, or our hope is, that as this debate continues to deepen, that there will be more public awareness and more education in that from the ranks of those unions. The cry will rise up to the leadership that this is not an issue about preserving jobs, that we can preserve jobs and have jobs in a safe environment that increase the ability to create more employment without damaging, continuing to damage, Mother Earth.

AMY GOODMAN: Why would SEIU, I mean, 1199, take a position on Keystone XL?

ESTELA VÁZQUEZ: Because it’s the right thing to do. It’s like the question when the reverend said before, when you asked why not other churches, and she said, “Why not everyone else?” So, for the labor unions, I think the lesson to learn is that the fight for workers’ rights is not just in the workplace, for wages and safe working conditions in the workplace; there also have to be safe working conditions in the city, in the country where we live. And the part of having a clean environment is part of the workers’ struggle.

AMY GOODMAN: Clay, you’re sitting right next to Estela. You have come down from the struggle in Canada around the Keystone XL. We often refer to it, but don’t really talk about physically what it is, where it starts. Can you explain?

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: The Keystone XL pipeline is one of half-a-dozen mega-pipeline proposals that are sitting on the table to pump tar sands crude to the coast.

AMY GOODMAN: And that is? Tar sands crude is?

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Any—this is bitumen oil from the Alberta tar sans development in northern Alberta. The Keystone XL will pipe from Alberta all the way to Port Arthur, Texas, about 800,000 barrels per day, threatening the Ogallala Aquifer, crossing over the sacred Black Hills of Lakota territory. We have a bus of Dakota representatives that are coming here, that have been fighting the northern segment of the Keystone XL, since President Obama has already approved the southern segment and it’s already pumping crude today.

The important thing for people to understand about these pipeline fights is that while they’re important, they provided a corridor for organizing and invigorating the U.S. environmental movement, the Canadian environmental movement. There’s already six million barrels per day approved in Canada’s tar sands, but it’s stranded. It’s a stranded economic asset. And so, we’re beating Big Oil’s expansion proposals in Canada and having a great impact. And a lot of those activists that have been fighting, not just the Keystone XL, but the other five mega-pipelines across the continent they’re trying to build, are here in New York joining in the march to send a clear message.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You’ve referred at times to the United States and Canada as rogue nations when it comes to the exploitation of the tar sands. Could you expound on that, compared to even other nations in terms of what’s happening with energy policy?

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Well, we have, you know, a very extremist right-wing government in Canada, led by Prime Minister Harper and his Conservative majority. Prime Minister Harper is an embarrassment to most Canadians. He is not even participating in the Ban Ki-moon climate summit. I believe he’s going to another dinner somewhere. But both the United States and Canada have been working in collusion, you know, and really, these pipelines, the tar sands are the crown jewel in the United States’s long-term energy security strategy. These pipelines are really about hardwiring our economy into a dirty energy economy for the next century, you know, all on the backs of indigenous peoples on the front line and fence-line communities impacted by these pipelines, which do rupture. Look at Kalamazoo. Three years later, after that Enbridge pipeline blew up—it’s a tar sands pipeline—over a billion dollars spent trying to clean up, and it’s still poisoned in that river.

AMY GOODMAN: Why are indigenous communities on the front line?

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Indigenous communities are on the front line because it’s their land, their homes, where they’re ripping apart the boreal forest, mining this oil out of the ground, their waters that are getting poisoned. You know, the bioregional contamination that’s happening in the Athabasca region of Alberta has been devastating to the health of local Dene and Cree and Métis people who call that place home. And that’s why they are coming here with a very clear message, saying stop this at the source. We need the climate justice movement to, yes, stop the pipelines, but help us in Alberta stop the expansion of the Alberta tar sands.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Lidy, I wanted to ask you, in terms of the situation with countries like the Philippines—Estela has mentioned that her union has many members from Guyana, which is a very—a country that is facing rising sea-level problems, as well, along its coast. Could you talk about how the movement is building in your country around the issue of standing up to the advanced countries’ refusal to deal with climate change?

LIDY NACPIL: Well, there’s a lot of movements that are working on different issues, but all are aware that these issues are part of our fight against climate change. One of the strong movements there are movements against dirty energy. We have movements in different communities fighting against coal, the setting up of coal power plants, the mining of coal. We also have movements that are being strengthened and expanded in areas that are affected by climate change. We have many grassroots communities in Leyte, in Samar. These are the hardest-hit areas where Typhoon Haiyan—which Typhoon Haiyan visited last year. And they are really understanding very deeply that their situation is not just about natural calamities or disasters, it’s very much caused by this climate change. So we’re very happy to be part of this global movement to strengthen the movements in the fight for climate justice.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn for a minute to the remarks made on the opening day of the U.N. climate summit in Poland last year. Democracy Now! was there. Chief climate negotiator from the Philippines, Yeb Saño, who really became the rock star of this U.N. summit, gave an emotional appeal to the world to address the climate crisis following Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms, if not the strongest, ever to make landfall. This is a part of what Yeb Saño said.

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: Typhoons such as Haiyan and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to delay climate action. Warsaw must deliver on enhancing ambition and should muster the political will to address climate change and build that important bridge towards Peru and Paris. It might be said that it must be poetic justice that the Typhoon Haiyan was so big that its diameter spanned the distance between Warsaw and Paris.

Mr. President, in Doha we asked: “If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?” But here in Warsaw, we may very well ask these same forthright questions. What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. Mr. President, we can stop this madness right here in Warsaw.

AMY GOODMAN: That was chief climate negotiator for the Philippines, Yeb Saño, on the opening day of the U.N. summit in Warsaw. He then announced he was fasting for the two weeks of that summit. But, Lidy Nacpil, what has happened in this year? Do you feel anything has gotten accomplished? And do you think anything will happen inside the U.N. on Tuesday, as perhaps 100,000 people march outside?

LIDY NACPIL: Well, we have been monitoring the international climate negotiations very carefully, very closely. And it is really to our dismay to say that nothing much has changed. And in fact, there are all many signs to point to the fact that things are even getting worse, because world leaders are trying to point to kinds of solutions that are in fact making it worse for our people and not really getting us anywhere. So for this U.N. climate summit that will take place on September 23, many of us are not expecting much, which is not to say we’re not going to demand what the governments should be doing by—as an obligation to us, their citizens. But there is all evidence that points to the fact that I think despite the many beautiful words that many of them will deliver on September 23, including President Obama, the reality is quite the opposite. They are expanding the fossil fuel industry. They are scaling up the production of fossil fuel. Energy consumption of fossil fuel is going up.

Just to cite an example, in the United States, there’s a lot of celebration about the victory against coal production and the use of coal, which I think is very important, but what people should know is that the U.S. is increasing its exports of coal. So they are not using it here, but they’re asking us to use it in other places. And because coal is supposedly a cheap source of energy, this is now becoming the trend in developing countries, to scale up the production and the use of coal. So this is something that is really a reality that should be contrasted to what will be said in September 23.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Reverend Dr. Serene Jones, I’d like to ask you about that contradiction between the inaction and the paralysis of the government leaders who keep meeting around the issue and this growing movement from the grassroots levels in all of these countries demanding immediate change. With the faith leaders, you’re in the position where you’re both connected to those grassroots movements, but also have the ear of some of these leaders. Vice President Gore is speaking as part of the event that you’re organizing. Could you talk about that contradiction and how—the role of faith leaders in trying to bridge it and to effect change?

REV. DR. SERENE JONES: Yes. Actually, yesterday morning at Union, we had a wonderful event in which Vice President—former Vice President Al Gore spoke to the African-American and Latino clergy in New York, who have historically been the forces for change in this metropolitan area around human rights issues, social justice issues, issuing the moral imperative. And it’s very clear that right now, globally, if we’re giong to turn this machine of death around, it’s going to take a mass movement, and it’s going to take a movement from the people. We can’t wait for the governments, for the U.N., to make those decisions. And when it comes to labor, when it comes to indigenous commitments and religious traditions, when it comes to international engagement, the people involved in all of those struggles do so out of deep spiritual resources that they have. Our traditions say a lot about the love that we are called to have for our Earth, not the impulse to destroy it, and to begin to lift up those resonant voices that already stir in our movements and bring them together. So, at Union for the next several days, we’re bringing together 200 indigenous international leaders to talk about this and to work on making a strong public statement about what our religious traditions around the world share when it comes to addressing climate change and the issues of the destruction of our Earth and the severe, disparate impact on marginal communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Could you take us through the divestment debate, if it was a debate at all at Union, for churches, religious groups, mosques, synagogues that might be listening right now, thinking about what can they do, whether their resources are vast or small?

REV. DR. SERENE JONES: Well, it was interesting at Union. Like Estela said, we did not have any controversy around it. It was a unanimous decision. But it is—

AMY GOODMAN: Did any corporations, funds weigh in, try to pressure you, just seeing that you could set an example?

REV. DR. SERENE JONES: No, we didn’t feel any of that pressure, but it was also perhaps because we were so clear-sighted about it. And when you approach it not as a primarily economic or political issue, although it is that, but as a moral issue, it’s very hard to argue theologically that we’re not doing the right thing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask Estela about this whole issue of divestment, because your union sits on the boards of pension funds for many of these hospitals that your members are in—Columbia Presbyterian, NYU, all these gigantic medical institutions have their own pension fund investments—whether the union has begun to put pressure on those funds, because normally you have about half the membership of these pension boards.

ESTELA VÁZQUEZ: Well, in terms of the pension, it’s not just us. Any organized labor place, you have pension funds that are jointly administered by the employer and by the union. We have not begun that conversation. But this reminds me of the divestment movement back in the '80s in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. I believe that fairly soon we will begin to have that conversation. And it's the issue how you balance the question of economics versus the moral imperative of doing the right thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Estela, I know you have to leave at this break because you have a meeting right after the show, but I wanted to ask about your own past activism—you come from the Dominican Republic—and how it compares then with what you’re doing today around the issue of climate.

ESTELA VÁZQUEZ: That’s a tall question. Back in the Dominican Republic in the '60s after the execution of the dictatorship Trujillo, it was a period of social effervescence and upheaval. Between 1961 and 1965, we went through numerous coups d'état, had the first free elections, elected a president, and had him deposed nine months later by the United States. And then—

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. military moving into the Dominican Republic.

ESTELA VÁZQUEZ: And then we went through a period of resistance, popular insurrection, and then the Marines showed up. So I came to this country—I was released from jail in August, came to this country August 13 of 1965, and went through the cultural shock that every new immigrant goes through, not knowing English, coming [from] a city of less than about 300,000, 350,000 people to a city of over eight million people. And I would say what sparked my involvement in this country was the example of the Black Panthers and my friend here, Juan González, and the Young Lords. I found the Puerto Rican community was my first avenue of engagement and involvement. And I think, since then, the involvement has been on issues of fighting gentrification in the neighborhood where I live, which is East Harlem, to finding at home in 1199, in the labor movement, which gives me the opportunity not only to talk about social justice issues and political activism in the community, but engage workers in raising the question of class consciousness, you know, teaching people that we are the working class and that there is profound differences between those that own the means of production and those that work in the place.

And I found it fascinating last evening, the whole theory behind Naomi Klein’s book, that how do you achieve economic and, in this case, environmental justice when capitalism prevails and the modus operandi in capitalism is profits at any cost? So, there is a question of looking at a real effort around democracy and participatory democracy and people’s engagement to freely address the issue of climate justice. And that is a tall order to achieve that under a capitalist system.

AMY GOODMAN: How many workers will be marching on Sunday with you?

ESTELA VÁZQUEZ: We expect that it will be a few thousand members of 1199. And 32BJ, our sister union, will be there. PEF will be there. I know that the mayor says—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Transport Workers Union, I think.

ESTELA VÁZQUEZ: Transport Workers Union. Local 3 electrical workers’ union will be there, and DC 37. We expect that we will have a significant contingent of organized labor marching, because workers are realizing that the issue of climate change, what happens to our environment, is not an abstract issue, that the environment, like my friend Eddie Bautista said, is where we work, where we live and where we play, so therefore it is our fight. It’s not some esoteric climate, you know, issue of someplace. It is our home, it is our community, it’s our city, and we all have to fight for it.

AMY GOODMAN: Environment is not just where you go on vacation.

ESTELA VÁZQUEZ: No. No, definitely, it’s not.

AMY GOODMAN: Estela Vázquez, I want to thank you for being with us, executive vice president of SEIU Local 1199, well, now called 1199 SEIU, here in New York. And we’re going to continue our conversation with our other guests after break—Reverend Dr. Serene Jones of Union Theological Seminary, Lidy Nacpil of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, and Clayton Thomas-Muller, indigenous rights and environmental justice activist. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “The People’s Climate March PSA,” created by Caroline Samponaro and Elizabeth Press, music by the Rude Mechanical Orchestra. The band, celebrating its 10th anniversary, is one of the many marching bands participating in Sunday’s event. In fact, I believe there are 1,200 [sic] marching bands that are expected to be a part of this 100,000-plus-strong People’s Climate March on Sunday. It begins at Columbus Circle on Sunday. Democracy Now! will be broadcasting live from 10:30 Eastern Standard Time to 1:30. Check it out at

This is Democracy Now!, I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. And our guests are the Reverend Dr. Serene Jones, president of the Union Theological Seminary; Lidy Nacpil, Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, based in the Philippines; Clayton Thomas-Muller, indigenous rights and environmental justice activist and writer.

Clay, you talked about the number of energy projects. We know Keystone XL. President Obama has put off a decision on this year after year. People are saying, on one hand, it’s a people’s victory that he hasn’t made a decision, but also the question, why hasn’t he made a decision? And yet you say Keystone XL is not even the biggest pipeline. Explain. What are the others?

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Well, it’s important to understand that if you look at industry’s data, that it’s not a—you know, there’s been a debate lately about, “Well, you want bomb trains from the Bakken fracking boom in North Dakota blowing up in your community, or do you want a safe pipeline?” And people have been debating about pipelines versus bomb trains.

AMY GOODMAN: What you mean, “bomb trains”?

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Well, the oil that’s fracked is extremely explosive. The tragedy in Lake Mégantic in Quebec, where 50 people lost their lives when one of these trains blew up. There was Alabama, as well as Virginia, these trains blew up. It’s a very dangerous thing that’s happening in America with fracked oil being transported by trains through our communities, because they are extremely explosive. And the oil by rail ratio has risen over 1,000 percent in the last couple of years.

Now, on the tar sands pipeline issue, there’s the Northern Enbridge Gateway proposal, the Houston-based Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline in southern BC. There’s the Keystone XL. There’s the Energy East pipeline, the second mega-project that TransCanada put on the table because of the victory of grassroots movement power holding back the State Department on the KXL.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s Energy East?

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Energy East is a 1.1-million-barrel-per-day pipeline. It’s over 4,000 kilometers from Alberta to Atlantic Canada, Mi’kmaqi territory. In New Brunswick is where it ends. This pipeline includes 3,000 kilometers of about 40-year-old natural gas pipeline that they want to repurpose to pump superheated, diluted dilbit, you know, bitumen, tar sands crude. This stuff, you know, is the same stuff that ruptured in the Enbridge pipeline in Kalamazoo, Michigan. And this pipeline is about the same age as the pipeline that blew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, fouling that river. And so, it crosses over 185 First Nations territories in Canada. And First Nations peoples are organizing, along with municipalities and urban centers also touched by this pipeline.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in this country, I don’t think we recognize the importance of the First Nations populations in Canada. Could you talk about that and the significance as part of the labor force?

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Well, you know, the Idle No More movement—

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what Idle No More is.

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Idle No More popped onto the scene about two years ago. You know, it was the result of a political tornado that the Conservative government was experiencing as a result of their superlaw omnibus bill agenda, where they gutted virtually every participatory democratic mechanism in Canadian democracy in a span—with just two superbills. And they have more coming down the pipeline—no pun intended. And Idle No More came from indigenous women who started organizing on community education meetings to try and organize our base to stop Harper’s agenda.

And it—well, it took off. It took off on the Internet, went wild. And, you know, within a matter of months, we achieved a day of action where we actually stopped every single train in the province of Ontario. We closed down six border crossings to the United States, all with just one arrest, which demonstrated the incredible might of indigenous social movements in Canada.

And I think that the government of Canada is very concerned about the indigenous social movements uniting with organized labor, uniting with the Quebec student striker movements and other social movements, to a challenge the agenda of Big Oil in Canada, because Big Oil is writing policy in Canada, is running our government, and they’re doing it to provide oil to the United States, and now, of course, to China, through the bilateral free trade agreement that Harper just ratified illegally with
that country.

AMY GOODMAN: Lidy Nacpil and Dr. Serene Jones, the women-led nature of the environmental movement, I mean, whether we’re talking Idle No More in Canada, it’s very striking to see so many women at the heads. I mean, you’re the head of the Union Theological Seminary. You came from Yale. You were a professor there for many years. Talk about that. What is it about the climate movement?

REV. DR. SERENE JONES: Well, first thing I should say is women have been leading these movements for centuries. It’s just that we’re only starting to notice that they are the ones behind the scenes making things happen. So, it’s not really a new thing, but to be out front, to be explicit about it, is. And it’s very exciting. And I think—I don’t want to speak universally for all women, but I think that in the heart of feminism, but also just in the heart of indigenous women’s experience, is a deep and abiding sense for what it means to create life and nurture life and care for life.

So, when I, as a woman and a religious leader, think about what’s happening right now with this crisis between the capitalist drive to extract and consume, and what’s happening to our climate and these grassroots movements, which are pushing back and saying no, it’s a political crisis, but it’s also a spiritual crisis. These grassroots movements are saying, “No, not only do we not accept these actions, but we don’t accept the spiritual view of what life is about that lies behind them. We are not simply people who are called to consume whatever we can, to try to make us happy, and to extract whatever we need. No. We’re people who are deeply interconnected, who are called to love and care for each other, and who are to honor the very Earth that we ourselves came from.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Lidy, when we were talking with Naomi Klein yesterday, she talked about this whole move of the energy industry to basically create sacrificed communities, especially in the Third World, as you were talking about the exportation of coal from the United States, while limiting the use of coal here in the country. This whole issue of the countries of the Global South being the real victims more of the climate crisis?

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of climate debt.

LIDY NACPIL: Yes. Well, it’s really quite ironic, just speaking about the energy, for instance, that there is a lot of energy production going on in the South, and we absorb all the dirty and harmful impacts of that energy production, and yet more than 50 percent of our people do not have enough access to energy for their basic needs. That is one of the injustices of this whole crisis, when we know that it’s from excessive consumption of energy, excessive production of goods that are not needed by people, and yet more than half of the people don’t have enough to live, to have decent lives.

So, this is something that we are railing against, and we are saying that this really also illustrates why we are talking about the debt that is owed to our people, not just people of the South, but people everywhere that has been marginalized, has been exploited by the system, is suffering from the effects of this system, like climate change, and is subsidizing a kind of lavish lifestyle that elites and the profits of corporations have been enjoying for a long time, so that this debt must be paid. And we are here to say that message loud and clear.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, I just want to talk logistics, Clay. On Sunday, the indigenous community will be the first bloc, although you say that youth will be even in front of you. I wanted you to mention Sunday and then Flood Wall Street—and we only have a minute—which is the direct action. It’s being called family-friendly on Sunday, a massive march, and then direct action on Monday in Wall Street.

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Well, yes, it’s correct. The indigenous peoples bloc will be leading the People’s Climate March on Sunday. There is a line of young people from impacted communities, including young indigenous peoples, that will be marching arm in arm, you know, and leading the march.

Flood Wall Street is such an important action that I encourage everybody to go down and show their support on. We need to strike at the heart of the economic paradigm. Climate change, tar sands, you know, all of these things, the root problem to it is our economic paradigm. Naomi’s book talks about it. We need to engage and to take direct action against the financiers of the global climate crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday at 7:00 in the morning, there’s a major indigenous ceremony inside Central Park, and there are water ceremonies on Saturday here in New York City?

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: That’s correct. We encourage people to come down to the opening ceremony of the People’s Climate March. It starts at 9:00 a.m., Columbus Circle. And there is a water ceremony on the Hudson River, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And the website people go to find out all this information?

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: is a website. You can get information on And, of course, all the information is compiled on

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. Clayton Thomas-Muller, indigenous tar sands campaigner; Reverend Dr. Serene Jones, head of the Union Theological Seminary; Lidy Nacpil, Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, in from the Philippines. And, of course, Democracy Now! will be there on Sunday. Check our website,, from Sunday 10:30 to 1:30 Eastern time. We’ll be broadcasting live to the world.

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