Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

Climate Change: Pipeline, Society, & Solutions

Posted on November 03, 2016 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

By Benjamin Alcorn, Free Press staff

Climate change: These two words are thrown around so often that they hardly mean anything anymore, yet, their implications are vast. This summer, the Dakota Sioux of Standing Rock spoke out against the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, calling themselves ‘protectors.’  The movement is unique, because while it addresses a symptom, it also challenges the system which allows climate change to transpire.

It may be difficult to imagine, but only a few hundred years ago, the land we call America was the home of an entire nation – a tribal network of advanced human beings. The principles with which they lived were truly sustainable: Grandfather, a Lipan Apache born in the 1870’s, was one of the last Native Americans to grow up free from the ideologies of European Americans. He believed that his duty was, “To help and nurture creation, not to destroy it.” In general, Native Americans culture acknowledges that there are enough resources for all, as long as one takes only what they need.  

This time of year it is especially relevant to discuss these important historical facts.  Just this past week, students, staff and faculty celebrated a national holiday commemorating the conquest of Christopher Columbus.  What does it say about us as a society  if we celebrate the genocide and persecution of ancient civilizations?

Fortunately, many Native Americans are still standing strong, speaking out against the injustices towards our shared home.  For the past few months, tribes from all over the globe have come together in unison for the well-being of the earth. The focus point for this movement is the opposition to a proposed multi-billion dollar pipeline which would cross the land of the Dakota Sioux reservation and travel under the Mississippi river as well as through shared water sources.  The pipeline project and complementary #NODAPL movement went viral when reporter, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, filmed pipeline security using dogs as weapons to attack peaceful protesters as they opposed the bulldozing of a sacred burial site.

“We have to deal with the systemic issues of a predator society…a society based on empire, based on conquest,” stated Winona LaDuke, a lifelong and leading environmental activist and organizer, during a keynote speech in 2012. She requested that the audience contemplate a worldview which would support human life in 1000 years.  It is incumbent for all of us to do the same.  LaDuke contends that, “We could spend our lives fighting one pipeline after another after another, but someone needs to challenge the problem.” In other words hurricanes, leaky pipelines, and melting ice-caps are symptoms,  whereas the real issues lie in systems.

This is where you come in. It can be easy to feel powerless or as if  your actions are futile, but this could not be further from the truth.  Consider this: A young man walking down the street sees an old woman holding a turtle. “What are you doing with that turtle?” he asks politely.  “I’m scrubbing away the algae that has accumulated on her shell.  Once it’s off, she’ll be much more comfortable,” says the woman. The young man looks incredulous and shakes his head replying, “You must realize how many ponds and lakes there are in the world with so many millions of turtles.  How can you possibly make a difference?”  Letting the turtle back into the pond, the woman replies, “I sure made a difference to that one.”

As the story illustrates, each action we perform can have great significance. Taking responsibility for our actions is the first step to becoming empowered.  If we think deeply, we will see that the overall actions of individuals are the building blocks for society as a whole – and in the same respect – society as a whole gives us a framework within which we act.

By taking the time to think about future generations, we can make decisions which will have positive outcomes.  To name a few; walking or biking instead of driving, disposing properly of waste, and taking only the food that we need are simple steps that individuals within the USM community can take to stem climate change.  We can also spread awareness about the realities of climate change by educating ourselves and speaking with friends and family.

As a part of the USM community, it’s important to understand the impact that the institution has on climate change.  In 2006, USM reported that it was responsible for 23,692 thousand metric tons of CO2 emissions. As part of the University President’s Carbon Commitment that was signed in 2012, USM has pledged that it will reach carbon neutrality by the year 2040.

The plan entails reducing 80 percent of carbon emissions with energy efficiency and renewable energy, and offsetting the remaining 20 percent at an off campus location.  This is a great goal for the University. It’s the first step towards sustainability and an inspiration to bring change into our own lives and communities.  Climate change is real.  It’s happening now and we are the only ones who can ensure a positive future for generations to come.



University Of Southern. (2012). Maine Climate Action Plan. Retrieved from

Brown, Tom Jr. (1993). The tree speaks. In Brown, Tom Jr., Grandfather (pp. 61-76).  New York, NY: Berkley Pub.

Goodman, Amy. (2016, September 12). Native American activist Winona LaDuke at Standing Rock: It’s time to move on from fossil fuels. Retrieved from _laduke_at

LaDuke, Winona. (2012, October 30). We have to fight.  Retrieved from

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