A Plea from the Oil and Gasfields of Texas: Environmentalists, Stop Talking About 'Winning' on Climate Issues
Maya Lemon on her family's property.
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This story is cross-posted from Huffington Post.
As a child my favorite chore was hand-pumping water from the thirty-foot well on our family homestead. The pump was shiny black and the water ice-cold. Then my father was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer linked to chemicals used in oil and gas production. It's been nine years since I drank that water.
I am from an impacted community in East Texas, home to oil and gas industry, on the southern route of the Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline. My involvement in the climate movement is motivated by the reality my community faces.
Nacogdoches, Texas lies along the southern path of KXL and cannot escape tar sands. From Cushing, Oklahoma down to Beaumont, Texas pipe is buried in the ground and scheduled to go online by the end of the year. We are waiting for the shoe to drop, for tar sands oil to flow through the pipe, for the bend of welded metal to respond to the heat and corrosion of bitumen. We are waiting for an event over which we have little control, despite its potentially disastrous impact on our lives.
Within this experience lies the insight I have to offer the climate movement. My experience is limited by the fact I am a young, white woman from an unconditionally supportive family. Incomplete as it is, however, my perspective is the best thing I can offer. And so, I ask that the climate movement stops talking about "winning."
My community will not "win" on climate and this idea delegitimizes the extraction industry impacts we already face. I have lived alongside the reality of petroleum extraction my whole life. A pipeline runs down our driveway. I have been woken in the middle of the night by fracking fumes that burned my eyes and nose and made me feel sick. The construction of KXL south near my home has ignited new concerns about the health and safety of my family and community. In communities like mine impacts run deep and come from all sides.
I will never "win" on climate. Tanks containing benzene on my family's property display plastic signs warning against cancer and requiring the use of a respirator. There are three active gas well sites within a two-minute walk from my front door. Scanning the land I am from it is impossible to imagine a scenario where I have not been exposed to the same chemicals that may have caused or contributed to my father's cancer.
Last fall the direct action campaign Tar Sands Blockade (TSB) brought national attention to my community. Folks in TSB put their lives and livelihoods on the line to stop construction and raise awareness. I am glad they came to stand with my community but this also marked a loss. National climate groups celebrated Obama's decision to delay the northern segment of KXL, intentionally overlooking that this supposed "win" was paired with an endorsement to fast track the southern arm of KXL, connecting a preexisting tar sands pipeline that ended in Oklahoma to refining communities and shipping ports in Texas. There was no delay for us--pipe was being put in the ground. In search of a "win," the people of KXL south were written off as a loss.
Like cancer taking over the body, the oil and gas industry is too entangled in the organs of my community for a simple "win-lose" dichotomy. The industry employs us, pays for community festivals, and improves our roads. They also contaminate our water, deny us access to our land, and take away our sense of agency. Extraction industries have impacted our land, bodies, and minds in ways that can't be erased or won.