Bill McKibben: Why Standing Rock Is Ground Zero in the Fight to Stop the Destruction of Our Climate

Dec 5, 2016 by


“This is the center of the fight against environmental racism.”

Photo Credit: Bill McKibben / Twitter

On Sunday, the U.S. federal government announced it would not be issuing the necessary permit for continuing work on the Dakota Access Pipeline, which the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies have been protesting for months. For Bill McKibben, co-founder of, the resounding victory signaled a turning point for indigenous rights and environmental activism worldwide.

“Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, is as wired as they come: its line of credit links it to virtually every bank you’ve ever heard of. And operating under a ‘fast-track’ permit process, it had managed to win most of its approvals and lay most of its pipe before opponents managed to mount an effective resistance,” McKibben explained in an op-ed penned just after the announcement.

Reflecting on the remarkable “against-the-odds battle,” McKibben revealed the opposition’s success was largely due to the location of the action, where the Missouri and the Cannonball rivers intersect. Unity between hundreds of Native American nations also played a large role.

“It wasn’t standard-issue environmental lobbying, nor standard-issue protest, though there was certainly some of both (lawyers took the company to court, activists shut down bank branches),” the co-founder said. “When the announcement came today, there were thousands of military veterans on hand. Indigenous organizers are some of the finest organizers around the globe—they’ve been key to everything from the Keystone fight to battling plans for the world’s largest coal mine in Australia.”

McKibben noted how difficult it was to ignore the mounting nostalgia as the protests continued and America’s First People were subjected to torture reminiscent of centuries ago.

“When native American protesters sat down in front of bulldozers to try and protect ancestral graves, they were met with attack dogs—the pictures looked like Birmingham, Alabama, circa 1963. But it went back further than that: the encampment, with its teepees and woodsmoke hovering in the valley, looked like something out of an 1840s painting. With the exception that this was not just one tribe: this was pretty much all of native North America,” he said.

McKibben attributes any slowdown of “the fossil fuel juggernaut” to these indigenous groups. But as Canada’s First Nations prepare for “Standing Rock North,” activists question whether their victory will be short-lived.

“Trump, of course, can try and figure out a way to approve the pipeline right away, though the Obama administration has done its best to make that difficult,” he explained. “But if Trump decides to do that, he’s up against people who have captured the imagination of the country.”

McKibben arrived at Standing Rock on November 2, more than a month before the announcement was made.

“This is the center of the fight against environmental racism,” he had said of the reservation. “This is like the navel of the universe right now.”


Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.

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