Los Angeles, CA (TFC) – For the last few months, the Dakota Access Pipeline has captured the nation’s attention. After Energy Transfer Partners started construction on a pipeline near the Standing Rock Reservation, local Native American tribes protested the pipeline on the grounds that it could pollute their water supplies. Word of the protests spread and thousands of protesters flocked to Standing Rock. After months of confrontations between protesters and militarized police, the Army Corps of Engineers paused the project pending an environmental impact assessment.
The Native American tribes and environmentalists hailed this development as a victory, albeit a temporary one. Donald Trump, who will soon be taking office, has vowed to complete the DAPL and has signaled a willingness to carry out this campaign promise by filling his administration with oil executives and people who have invested heavily in the project. As a result, anti-DAPL protesters are gearing up for a long protest season.
The sad reality, however, is that these protests will probably fail. While months of protests were able to dissuade Obama from continuing with the project, they probably won’t dissuade Trump who has repeatedly praised heavy-handed police tactics and has promised to restore “law and order” to the US. As a result, police will likely be given free reign to quash these protests. Even if the protests aren’t crushed, they will be difficult to sustain as protests require large amounts of funding and material support. Protests are generally reactive in nature and it is impossible to mobilize the necessary resources and manpower to react to every instance of environmental injustice. It is important to note that protests also do not address the root cause of environmental injustices. As a result, even if a protest is successful, other similar injustices are likely to spring up in other parts of the country.
While I do not wish to downplay the important role that protest has historically played in the environmental movement, protesters would be wise to pursue a more sustainable and proactive approach to environmentalism. This would entail addressing the root causes of the environmental injustice. In the case of DAPL, the root cause of the injustice is our reliance on fossil fuels. If we didn’t rely so heavily on fossil fuels, then the pipeline probably wouldn’t be needed in the first place. As a result, environmentalists should focus their efforts on addressing the root cause of DAPL.
Fortunately, there are many avenues for combating our reliance on oil. The main reason that we are so reliant on oil is that it is such a versatile resource. Oil is used in many products like plastics and synthetic materials. However, the vast majority of oil is used as some type of fuel, with about half of all oil being used to power normal cars. Fortunately, oil can be replaced as a source of fuel. In recent years, renewable energy has become increasingly economically competitive and will soon reach price parity with oil, even without governmental support. As a result, there has been a major push by the private sector to phase out oil (and other fossil fuels) and switch to renewable energy. This push towards renewable energy has been very prevalent in many sectors. However, it has been very prevalent in the construction sector, which designs buildings so that they now use renewable energy instead of oil and other fossil fuels for heating and ventilation.
The other key sector that environmentalists will need to engage is transportation. The main challenge in the transportation sector will be to switch away from combustion-based transport and transition to electric vehicles, which have only recently become viable as battery storage technology has improved. There already has been a major push towards this as cities have begun to rollout electric buses and build electric charging stations and over the last year, we have seen a large increase in the sales of electric vehicles. However, there is still much work to be done before electric vehicles become the norm.
Replacing fossil fuel-based technology with that which is powered by renewable energy and clean technology is vital to reducing demand for oil. This is especially true in the construction and transportation sectors. Thus, anyone who wants to prevent a DAPL-like situation from happening again should do everything they can to support these sectors. These sectors are currently experiencing rapid growth and are facing a labor shortage. In addition, despite the anti-environmental agenda of the incoming administration, most analysts are still expecting to see a clean energy boom. As a result, the best way to support clean energy and technology is to actually work in this field and directly contribute to the implementation of these projects. Fortunately, this sector employs people from a wide range of disciplines and many people with no experience in clean energy and technology can be job-ready with one year of vocational training in community college or by engaging with nonprofits that provide job training in this sector. As a result, most people are capable of working in this field and helping to free us from fossil fuel dependency.
With the impending Trump administration, all of the progress in environmental protection and justice that we have made is under threat. In the next few years, we can expect to see attempts to open up environmentally sensitive areas, like the Arctic, to oil exploration and pipeline construction, alongside other attempts to undermine environmental progress. Protests will be vital to contesting this attack on environmentalism. However, in order to negate this environmental threat over the long-run, we must work to make oil obsolete as a fuel by rolling out technology that can be run solely on renewables. The future of our country and our planet is at stake. As a result, I urge you to do whatever you can to support the rollout of clean energy and technology; whether it’s by working in the industry, encouraging others to work in the industry, or encouraging the government to enact policies that promote renewable energy.