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Take a hike, Keystone pipeline

I'm walking from Camp David to the White House starting Friday — 100 miles in the July heat. I'm doing this to honor the 19 firefighters who died fighting a wildfire near Prescott, Ariz., on June 30. These men died particularly horrifying deaths doing particularly heroic deeds. I'm also walking to honor the 50 men and women who died during the oil tanker train explosion this month in Lac-Megantic, Canada.

My eight-day walk — joined by scores of other Marylanders and citizens from around the nation — will serve to memorialize these people as victims of tragically interconnected factors. What factors? One: the intensifying trend of global climate change. And two: Big Oil's perverse push to burn more and more exotic fossil fuels even as the planet itself catches fire. The Arizona firefighters were battling a blaze that fits the pattern of bigger wildfires that scientists say are linked to climate change, driven by the combustion of fossil fuels. The Canadian victims were burned alive by oil — riskily transported — from hydraulic "fracking" wells in North Dakota.

Now, against this backdrop, comes one of the biggest decisions of Barack Obama's presidency. Even as the president warns the public that "more droughts and floods and wildfires … are a threat to our children's future," he has yet to decide whether to approve one of the most potentially harmful fossil fuel projects of all time: the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. This pipeline, transporting the most carbon-intense oil known to humankind across the heartland of America, could mean "game over" for the climate, according to James Hansen, our nation's top climate scientist.

And that's why I'm lacing up my walking shoes. Starting Friday, I'll traverse miles of Maryland hills, farms and streams between Camp David and the White House. My fellow marchers and I have a straightforward message for the president: Protect our brave firefighters. Protect innocent families from oil explosions and spills. Protect coastal communities from sea-level rise. Do not build the Keystone XL pipeline. Keep harmful fossil fuels in the ground.

We're beginning our walk at Camp David — the presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains of Western Maryland — for a simple reason. That retreat was constructed in the 1950s for then-president Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was named Camp David after Ike's grandson, David Eisenhower. The name conveyed the president's vision of a place where he could honor and pass time with his children's children in a wholesome and natural setting.

And so today, from the gates of this same spot in the Maryland mountains, we are walking to D.C. With our feet and with our hearts, we are asking our current president to honor and protect all grandchildren — including his own one day — by stopping the Keystone XL pipeline. We're asking President Obama to globalize the spirit of Camp David, creating a world where energy decisions are made with the youngest generation in mind.

To his credit, on June 25 President Obama made a fresh start in the fight against dirty energy and climate change. On a sweltering-hot day in Washington, D.C. — armed with constitutional authority confirmed by the Supreme Court — he announced an executive plan to begin limiting carbon pollution from U.S. coal plants for the first time. He also laid out measures for developing more clean energy and greater efficiency across the country.

But tragically, this greener world, embraced in President Obama's June speech, will not come in time to protect the grandchildren of the victims of the Canadian oil train disaster. And it will not come in time for the never-to-be-born grandchildren of the young Arizona firefighters. And, frankly, this greener world may never come at all if the president ultimately approves the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, a pipeline Big Oil has spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying the White House to embrace.

And so, again, I walk. Recent estimates show that the fossil fuel industry has enough proven reserves of oil, coal, and natural gas in the ground to completely wreck our fragile climate five times over. These are proven reserves, worldwide. And it is the explicit intention of the fossil fuel industry to bring it all up to the surface and torch it all.

Unless we stop them, step by step. For our grandkids.

Mike Tidwell is executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. His email is mtidwell@chesapeakeclimate.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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