Seattle should divest from Dakota Access Pipeline, and we also shouldn’t buy the oil they’re trying to pump

Photo from Seattle City Council via Twitter.

People rally to divest from Wells Fargo outside City Hall Wednesday. Photo from Seattle City Council via Twitter.

The City Council is set to vote Monday to end its banking business with Wells Fargo as a political act in response to the bank’s funding of the Dakota Access Pipeline. This action is in solidarity with Native American communities leading actions to protect their water and the Standing Rock Sioux’s rights.

The Council’s Finance Committee recommended passage of the bill Wednesday 8 – 0 within hours of news breaking that the Trump administration is pushing to restore the pipeline’s permit to cross waterways in the Standing Rock area.

Aside from demonstrating solidarity against the project, the point of the action is to show Wells Fargo that investing in the Dakota Access Pipeline does not make businesses sense (the bill also takes issue with the bank’s phony account scandal). The city would likely be the largest account to divest from Wells Fargo over its pipeline investments, following the lead of individuals who started closing their accounts in the wake of the water protection actions.

The Seattle bill would also include social responsibility as a factor in deciding on which banks to work with going forward. That, of course, may prove difficult, since so many competing large financial institutions have their own problematic investments and behavior. But if regular people, companies of all sizes and public institutions start demanding socially-responsible investing from their banks, perhaps that will change. At least that’s the theory.

But more immediately, if pressure is high enough perhaps Wells Fargo will drop their stake in the pipeline, a financial hole that could stop the project entirely.

The city is also working to support state legislation that would give Seattle more leeway in choosing a bank, such as allowing city banking business to go through credit unions or maybe even someday create a public bank.

These are all good efforts by the city, and they are only happening thanks to strong leadership from communities on the ground at Standing Rock and the many people here at home who support them.

Of course, there’s an additional way to work against the business models of Dakota Access, Keystone XL and other major oil projects: We can use less oil. Seattle has the plans and the power to divest from one end of the balance sheet and reduce demand at the other.

Of course, reducing oil use is far more complicated than changing banks, both for individuals and cities. And just like moving your personal bank account only moves Wells Fargo’s bottom line by a minuscule fraction, your bike trip to the grocery store or bus ride to work is only a tiny drop saved from the global oil market.

Let me be clear, riding your bike is not going to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. You should also get involved with ongoing efforts at Standing Rock and here in Seattle.

But it’s important to note how causes intersect and can support each other. This pipeline directly impacts the Standing Rock Sioux, while global climate change caused by the burning of that oil will hit many indigenous communities across the globe especially hard. Oil continues to be sold and burned due to systemic structures that support more oil burning, including government support of pipelines despite clear opposition from people impacted.

Many of those same structures are responsible for the 38,000 people killed and 4.4 million seriously injured by traffic collisions in the U.S. in 2015 alone. Past and ongoing investments in car transportation at the expense of all other options traps many communities in car dependency.

But Seattle has a chance to work together to dramatically reduce our city’s contribution to the global oil demand. And there are many other cities in the U.S. that can do the same.

Burning oil in motor vehicle engines is responsible for the majority of Seattle’s total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the city’s Climate Action Plan. The total is so big, that one person’s choice to stop driving or drive less is hardly going to make a dent even in Seattle’s total oil consumption.

From the Seattle Climate Action Plan's 2012 Greenhouse Gas Inventory report, released in 2014 (PDF).

From the Seattle Climate Action Plan’s 2012 Greenhouse Gas Inventory report, released in 2014 (PDF).

From the 2013 Climate Action Plan (PDF).

From the 2013 Climate Action Plan (PDF).

But a popular movement away from burning oil — supported by planned-but-not-assured citywide investments to make it safer and more convenient to choose other options — would have a giant impact. The Seattle Climate Action Plan (PDF) estimates that fully investing in the city’s biking, walking and transit plans as well as building walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods could decrease passenger vehicle emissions by 82 percent by 2030 compared to 2008.

An 82 percent drop in oil demand from a major population center could make a dent in the already shaky pipeline finances. A similar drop in demand from many cities would make a huge dent.

And hey, we would make Seattle a safer city with cleaner air and lower transportation costs while we’re at it. Those are some nice side effects.

A lot of bicycle advocacy in recent years has moved away from using climate change as a central talking point. On one hand, I get that, especially in places where the politicians needed to approve investments in trails and bike lanes are not going to attach their names to anything with “climate change” on it. Building trails is still good for non-motorized transportation even if the words “climate change” aren’t on the bill funding them. And there are a lot of conservatives who bike and would support safe streets and trails, but are not interested in helping Democrats get policy wins. Politics is hard.

There’s also a hesitancy to talk about climate change on a personal outreach level. You cannot and should not guilt people into biking. It’s a bad tactic. It will either make people feel resigned to failure each time they drive, or it will make people respond with hostility (“You think you’re better than me because you ride a bike?”). These are both bad outcomes.

And, of course, you cannot know the specifics of everyone’s lives and why they are choosing to drive. Everyone chooses to get around by whatever mode makes the most sense for their lives for their uniquely different reasons.

But all these arguments aside, the truth is still clear: We need to burn less oil. The climate and the Dakota Access Pipeline business plan don’t care about why people are burning all that oil. And biking is one part of the solution.

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12 Responses to Seattle should divest from Dakota Access Pipeline, and we also shouldn’t buy the oil they’re trying to pump

  1. Gary says:

    Safe streets are key to bicycling. I’m now in San Diego, a city with nearly perfect bicycling weather and IMO, most of the streets are not safe. There are some here and there, there are some protected off street paths, but the critical mass of enough connections has not been reached. I almost never see anyone commuting by bicycle. Saturday? Sure, clots of folks out and about. Come Monday, back to their cars.

    The biggest deal is that even with painted bicycle lanes, the speed limit is 45mph. No enforcement at all AFAIK, the speed differential just makes it much more dangerous as there is little time to react.

    I used to ride in Seattle when it was like this back in the day, and I may yet here, but you may see my name in the paper… bicyclist hit…

    • Conrad says:

      San Diego is a perfect example. I have done some riding there. There are some good places to ride, the weather is perfect. But the roads are all about cars and it is way too easy to find yourself on a really dangerous road. Good luck getting people out of cars and onto bikes with roads designed like that.

  2. Al Dimond says:

    There’s the Dakota Access Pipeline…

    … and there’s groundwater poisoned by fracking fluids…

    … and the Gulf won’t recover for generations…

    … and there are still oil trains running right through Seattle, and it would be a hell of a disaster if one of them derailed in the city…

    … and even when it looks like business-as-usual, many gas stations have seepage issues and end up needing expensive soil cleanup.

    And batteries, steel, and rubber have all contributed to environmental destruction in their own right. Concrete and asphalt aren’t exactly green, even if dyed green. A city where walking and biking come first uses less of all of it. Maybe we shouldn’t bring up the global destruction caused by car culture for every bike project, but we should bring it up for every freeway project.

  3. Nick says:

    This is not the first and hence wouldn’t be the last city to side absolutely with those oil producing, dollar-hungry oil corporation. Though at the base level I think the people are getting aware of the disastrous consequences of climate change.

    This corporation might do everything in their power to stop us from adopting the green culture. Don’t you think, we need to spread more awareness among the general mass about the adoption of bike culture?

    would like to hear your views about it?

    • Conrad says:

      Republicans know very well that if you repeat a lie enough times, people believe it. So I think it is well past time to repeat some harsh truths about our transportation infrastructure, even if people don’t want to hear it.

      • Perry says:

        Which Republicans are keeping transportation infrastructure from being built in Seattle? I don’t understand the dislike for cycling that is obviously there with so many Republican politicians but to lay all things wrong at their feet is incorrect and counterproductive. I Thought Tom did a good job expressing the need for increased cycling without making it about politics.

  4. Erik says:

    Hey Tom you are turning your Bike Blog into a left wing fish wrapper. Quick trying to tie any and all issues to cycling. The Dakota pipeline has little or nothing to do with cycling.

    • Tom Parsons says:

      Oil, its consumption, and its infrastructure have a lot to do with cycling. Many people cycle primarily to reduce their impact. Maybe you have another reason for cycling, which is totally valid, such as fitness or you simply enjoy it, but you have to remember that a lot of people do it for the environment.

      • Nick says:

        Hey,
        Absolutely had to support tom in this matter.
        As said by tom, lot of people even including would like to think that I’m doing my bit for this planet and I’m going to leave this planet in a better shape than how I find in it.
        There’s nothing wrong in that.
        Just my two cents

    • David says:

      Transportation environment and which modes it’s tailored for are extremely political matters. There is nothing at all inappropriate about a cycling blog having a political slant. The American right generally (not always, former R-WA senator Slade Gorton as an example) is only supportive of private automobiles as a transit mode. If you are a cyclist and of right wing political persuasion you are working and voting against your own interests. Transportation policy is as political as it gets.

  5. Southeasterner says:

    Judging by the Super Bowl ads we are no longer just dismissing activism we are making fun of it.

    The Kia ad is the top rated in the country (red and blue states) and a testament to how far backwards we are going.

    • Tim F says:

      Did anyone see the Ford ad? I heard Bay Area Bike Share made an appearance. Was this just some green washing, or was it maybe a first small step away from a personal automobile approach to transportation?

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