Regardless of the technical legalities of the Dakota Access Pipeline, we are now at a point in human history when defending the biosphere and the health of the earth must take precedence over everything else.
Western culture has failed singularly to address climate change and rapid species destruction, so it is now time to admit that we — not the tribes protecting sacred land — don’t know what we are doing. Furthermore, to have any chance of stopping the ongoing environmental catastrophe, we must start listening to what native peoples have to say about how to relate and care for the earth before it is too late..
The members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe are protesting what they believe to be the desecration of their land by a greedy corporation that has no regard for the ecological consequences of their multi billion dollar oil pipeline. They claim — with good reason — that they were not adequately consulted about the project by Energy Transfer Partners, and are defending land given to them in a treaty in 1851. The tribe and other Native American groups argue that if the pipeline bursts and the oil leaks, it will cause an ecological catastrophe and contaminate the Missouri River. Energy Transfer Partners claims it is behaving in an environmentally and socially responsible way, and is doing everything it can to prevent leakage or disruption of sacred lands.
This of course cannot be true. There is no such thing as environmentally responsible oil anything. It is beyond any scientific doubt that removing, transporting and burning oil for energy has had a catastrophic effect on the environment. We have been heating the planet by releasing CO2 into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution, and temperatures are now rising so fast that we are already past the point of no return. Any investment in oil by definition represents an investment in the destruction of the biosphere, and there can be no moral justification for further enabling giant energy firms committed to extracting, transporting, or burning more oil.
The fact that our culture seems incapable of understanding this shows we have now completely lost the plot and cannot be entrusted with the care of the planet. Instead of supporting peaceful activists desperately trying to protect the earth from corporate greed, we are violently assaulting and arresting them.
The tribe and the activists joining their protest have become a global symbol of the rapidly growing environmental movement, and for good reason. There may finally be a recognition that the West is simply incapable of coming to terms with the carnage it has created on the earth, and that all the fancy technology and green innovation won’t be enough to stop an ecological crisis so severe that we are are set to lose two-thirds of all wild animals in the next three years.
Instead of attacking the tribes in North Dakota or anywhere else in the world for that matter, we should be going to them on our hands and knees, begging them to teach us how to live before it is too late. Native American people believe that nature is sentient and all life must be revered and protected. We laugh at this notion, arrogantly believing that our scientific culture holds the keys to understanding our natural environment. Indigenous belief systems may sound New Agey and nonsensical to the Western mind, but the fact remains that they have live in harmony with their environments for thousands and thousands of years, while we have brought the planet to its knees in just two short centuries. While we are good at making shiny i-Phones and fast cars, in terms of living sustainably, we are petulant children in dire need of an education.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.