Playing Golf as the Planet Burns: Obama Meets With Oil-Man as Protesters Call for Halt to Keystone Pipeline

This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.


In parallel universes, President Obama spent his Sunday playing golf at an exclusive Florida gated community while 50,000 Americans poured into Washington DC, calling on the absent president to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline and stand up to Big Oil.  In an inspiring rally, indigenous women from the United States and Canada told the crowd how the tar sands and its infrastructure—from Northern Alberta where the oil is extracted to Texas where the Keystone pipeline is under construction—are threatening communities across North America. Canadian indigenous activist Crystal Lameman described how fish in northeastern Alberta have cancerous tumors, moose have “puss bubbles under the skin” and babies are airlifted to the hospital for drinking contaminated water.

Addressing President Obama, speakers said that his decision to accept or reject the 2,000-mile pipeline connecting Canada’s tar sands to Houston’s refineries was the most monumental decision he would make in his presidency.

But whether by design or by coincidence, the President had chosen to spend this very same day swinging at little balls in the warm Floridian sun—with an oil man.

Obama and Tiger Woods were joined on the golf course by a very wealthy fellow named Jim Crane. We all know who Tiger Woods is, but who is Jim Crane? The Texas businessman who hosted the president at his exclusive golf resort is owner of the major league baseball team Houston Astros. But Crane is also mucked up with the very “Big Oil” the activists were railing against. His extensive business deals include a partnership in Western Gas Holdings, a company engaged in gathering, processing, compressing and transporting natural gas and crude oil for Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, one of the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas exploration and production companies.

And let’s not forget that golfing itself is one of the most environmentally destructive sports around. Golf courses suck up a huge amount of water, pesticides and fertilizers. They destroy wetlands, introduce non-native grasses, impede corridors for migrating animals and damage sanctuaries for birds and other wildlife.

So while President Obama was relaxing with one of the nation’s elite who makes millions from destroying the planet, activists—most of whom voted for Obama—were circling the empty White House with their pleas to stand up to the fossil fuel industry.

At one point, a small group of ralliers stood in front of the White House fence and chanted, “Hey Obama get off the golf course, hey Obama get on the right course.”

There are the moments in history when leaders are remembered for the decisions they make. This is a moment of truth for both President Obama and for the future of the planet. The Canadian tar sands represent the dirtiest, most carbon-polluting oil on earth and many experts claim they will push global warming over the tipping point where it would be impossible to prevent a catastrophic collapse.

So the president’s decision will have enormous consequences for the future of this planet.  Will he side with the indigenous women, clear air, clear water, cultural heritage and ecosystems or will he side with wealthy oil men? 

From the stage, the founder of 350.org and rally organizer Bill McKibben gave some advise to our nation’s absent leader: “Mr. President, when you are in a hole, stop digging.” Maybe he should have said, “Mr. President, when the people are calling, stop swinging.”

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