By Harry Elliot and John Luttig
It’s easy to oppose the pipeline. It’s harder to consider the consequences of not building it.
Angry nativists who refuse to tolerate viewpoints beyond those sanctioned by their small group. Claims that society perceives and treats them as “lesser”. Chants threatening violence if the ‘wrong’ side wins. Continuous denunciations of a ‘rigged’ democratic process.
Supporters of Donald Trump? No. These are opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
For over two years, the pipeline company, North Dakotan politicians, and the public have discussed their priorities in countless townhalls. They brought forward questions and problems, debated permit rights and eminent domain, and finally reached a proposal that was satisfactory to everyone who participated.
Meanwhile, the tribes who now claim the pipeline crosses their landsandthreatenstheirwater failed to attend any of the state’s public comment meetings. They did not submit written comments that the state evaluates to determine whether projects should go ahead. They were also offered the chance to meet the project’s officials on seven occasions – the exact “legal protections” that the Stanford American Indian Organization demanded indigenous people be given. The tribes refused each time.
Not every member of the tribes opposes the pipeline. But it is dishonest to say the protesters engaged in good-faith political discourse. After dozens of opportunities to engage and oppose the pipeline through the political process, the tribes failed to voice a complaint. That they respond today with violence is unacceptable.
New-found opposition to the pipeline is hypocritical. There is already a near-identical pipeline which, though it follows the same route as the proposal, received no similar protests when it was constructed in 1982. The government at the time took into account “concern about the possible existence of archaeological sites”. The reason for the sudden change since then is likely not Native American interests but the selfish desire of white American environmentalists to stop fossil fuels, regardless of popular opinion or consequences.
Even the Washington Postpoints out the pipeline would not “create a big new environmental problem.” Instead, environmentalists are using pipeline bans to stifle oil production in the most blunt way possible. Dressing the issue up as one of land rights is deceptive.
Now, North Dakotans are resorting to physical violence against innocent construction workers, who earn close to minimum wage for dangerous work. Stanford students, whipped up in part by SAIO, are ‘checking in’ to North Dakota on Facebook to try to confuse the police – a tactic that ten seconds on Google would demonstrate to be completely pointless.
By prioritizing the needs and voices of one group, Stanford protesters ignore the millions who are made worse off without a pipeline. Ten thousand unemployed North Dakotans will gain a job that allows them to feed their families. A quarter billion Americans will have cheaper energy bills, letting them not only heat their homes at night but also avoid the misery of energy poverty that affects huge swathes of the elderly population. Without pipelines, oil companies just use trains to transport their oil – but when the carriages collide, dozens die and towns are destroyed.
The ramifications extend beyond America’s borders. Without secure energy reserves, Americans are forced to use their wages to line the pockets of despotic oil producers like Saudi Arabia and Iran. These countries spread religious extremism worldwide. They also perpetuate the disgusting oppression of women and LGBT people, to the point of publicly stoning a woman for adultery while giving the man 100 lashes.
Every American has a right to be heard. But with that right comes the duty to adhere to the decisions that American democracy makes. The democratic process exists to make the tradeoffs we have described: North Dakota is building a pipeline because the economic and social impacts to the most marginalized Americans and global citizens are too great to ignore. If we let every culture’s sacred beliefs block a proposal – no matter the economic consequences – then the major projects necessary for economic growth and improving standards of living become impossible. This danger grows more serious with every new victim class we create.
When groups ignore democracy because they disagree with the outcome, they ruin the lives of the country’s poorest in the process. They also commit exactly the same offense as Trump supporters, or indeed anyone in the past who believes personal whims are enough to justify violence against others. Stanford students and protesters should condemn vigilante justice in all instances – not just those they happen to dislike.