Last week's deadly pipeline explosion in San Bruno, California, described by the local fire captain as like "a 747 had landed on us," sends yet another flaming signal that fossil fuels are inherently dangerous and destructive.
The pipeline disaster, which has killed at least four people and injured more than 50, came on the heels of another oil rig explosion off the Gulf Coast of Louisiana that injured one worker and forced all 13 overboard.
Let's take stock of just some of the damage inflicted this year on workers and the environment in the United States alone by our current dirty energy mix:
- On April 5, a Massey mine explosion in West Virginia killed 29 workers, our country's worst mining disaster in 40 years.
- On April 20, BP's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 workers, hemorrhaging hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and crippling coastal economies dependent on fishing and tourism.
- On April 29, a mine explosion in Western Kentucky killed two workers.
- On June 7, a natural gas pipeline exploded in North Texas, killing one worker and injuring eight more. The next day another gas pipeline exploded in Texas, killing two workers and injuring three.
- On June 11, a Chevron pipeline in Utah began leaking oil, which spilled into a nearby creek and the pond at a popular park, coating 300 birds in crude in the process.
- On July 26, an Enbridge-owned tar sands oil pipeline ruptured in Michigan, spewing more than a million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River, forcing nearby residents to evacuate to escape toxic fumes, and soaking plants, fish and small animals in oil. Another Enbridge pipeline began leaking oil September 9 in Illinois.
- On September 2, a Mariner Energy oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.
- On September 9, a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. gas pipeline exploded in California, ripping a crater across the streets of San Bruno, setting neighborhoods ablaze, and killing and injuring still-rising numbers of people.
Of course this only tells a slice of the story. The devastating floods in Pakistan, the heat wave in Russia and the sweltering, record-breaking temperatures across the United States this summer drive home that the impacts of climate change -- caused primarily by our burning of fossil fuels -- are here now and escalating rapidly.
How many alarm bells are needed to provoke meaningful action from our government?
Sadly, as we saw with the inability of congressional leaders to muster enough votes to pass a narrow "oil spill" bill this summer, too many lawmakers from both parties are too cozy with Dirty Coal, Big Oil and other fossil fuel interests. Politicians in Washington keep taking fossil fuel money and stubbornly refusing to protect workers, our economy and our health from the potentially crippling impacts of our dirty energy diet.
But all's not lost. People across the country are joining together this fall to say, let's get to work!
On October 10, in more than 1,600 events planned worldwide, including more than 680 in the United States, people will come together in their communities to install solar panels and stoves, plant trees and community gardens, make homes more energy efficient, fix bikes, and eat locally and sustainably grown food. In other words, we'll celebrate and elevate climate solutions and send a simple message to politicians: If we can get to work, you can, too.
Appalachia Rising is another example of people joining together to address the void left by leaders. On September 25-27, citizens from the coal fields of West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee will join citizens across the country converging on Washington, D.C. for the largest-ever mobilization to abolish mountaintop removal mining. A weekend of learning about, organizing to end and celebrating resistance to one of our country's greatest ongoing environmental tragedies will be followed by a Day of Action in the streets. Participants will call on EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and President Obama to end mountaintop removal and transform the economies of Appalachia away from destructive mining practices and toward clean-energy jobs and a sustainable and healthy future.
It's been a jolting, disappointing, and even tragic year. But the 10/10/10 Global Work Party and Appalachia Rising give me hope that we are moving in the right direction: Away from making excuses for our leaders and toward demanding action and accountability from them; away from staking our future on the lowest common denominator in a corporate-sponsored Congress and toward building a connected, grassroots movement powerful enough to demand and win what's needed to protect our health, our economy and our planet.
I'll be at work on 10/10/10 and September 27 building that movement. Will you join me?