Corvallis activist and co-founder of Corvallis350 Leonard Higgins was recently arrested in Montana after shutting down a bitumen pipeline. As part of the activist group Climate Direct Action, Higgins and a video crew more or less walked up to the pipeline, turned valves, and effectively shut off the flow of oil. However, it was a little more complicated in reality, as are the motivations behind the action.
In an interview shortly after his release, Higgins gave three main reasons for his actions. Halting the flow of Canadian tar sands and coal into the US for refining is primary to Higgin’s cause. Also central to his goals is communicating the climate change emergency, while his final reason was “to do our best to limit the human suffering and permanent damage from climate change.”
The action for which Higgins was arrested was only one of five that collectively shut off the flow of bitumen from Canada. The pipelines are often referred to as carrying “oil” extracted from “oil shale.” In reality, the bitumen in those pipelines is a sludgy, tar-like substance containing extremely noxious pollutants—as Higgins put it, the “dirtiest parts of existing fossil fuel reserves.”
Higgins attests that he and the Climate Direct Action crew planned for months to ensure a careful and safe shutdown. Safety procedures were learned and risks evaluated, sites were chosen that were farther from pumping stations, and a central communication hub was established to periodically notify pipeline companies of their clandestine climate progress.
Higgins admits he knew he was breaking the law, but points the finger at the fossil fuel industry which knowingly puts profit above health and well-being. He slaps at the government and mass media as well for their “inaction and complicity in those harms.” This is why Higgins and the others engaged in direct action: to prevent further damage and suffering, and to protect the right of life for future generations.
By John M. Burt