Tank of Doom. What does it mean?
According to a May 2014 report by Oil Change International, from 2007 to 2013 the volume of oil shipped by rail in the United States increased 70 times. The current volume of oil shipped by rail in Canada and the US is at 1 million barrels per day (bpd). Forecasts predict volumes as high as 5.1 million bpd nationwide by 2016. According to Sightline Institute, if all oil-related projects proposed in our region are approved, 858,800 bpd, a little more than the capacity of the Keystone XL pipeline, could soon be passing through the Pacific Northwest. At a time when scientists are basically saying we need to stop burning fossil fuels now, the fossil fuel companies keep drilling, fracking, and mining the tar sands with the intent of shipping much of the resulting hydrocarbons through our backyard, while the political class, often in the pockets of big oil, coal, and gas, either stands aside at best or promotes fossil fuels as our path to energy independence. Is this crazy or what? We are living in a cartoon--a not so funny one--in which every tank car full of oil coming down the tracks is a Tank of Doom. What does "Tank of Doom" mean?
Most of the oil trains that have been rolling trough the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere carry a volatile type of crude that originates in a formation known as the Bakken Shale, which lies mostly in western North Dakota, but extends also into Montana and Canada. There have been ten major explosions involving these trains in the last two years, the most well-known and tragic being the one that occurred in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in 2013. As disturbingly documented in this Vice News documentary, these trains are coming right through our neighborhoods.
Even if the bomb trains could be made to be not so bomb-like, which is doubtful, we are still faced with the fact that each tank car full of oil represents another 327 metric tons of carbon that will end up in the atmosphere. That is not so much in and of itself when compared with global annual emissions. However, collectively as part of what Sightline Institute calls The Northwest's Pipeline on Rails, it adds up to something significant. That is why we say that each tank car on the tracks is a Tank of Doom.
Symbolically, these cars also represent our society's continued failure to act in accordance with what the reality of climate change demands. We in the United States simply cannot sustain our current levels of consumption and energy use. We have known this for decades. But, we continue with business as usual, with the major media outlets running ads selling cars, consumer junk, and oversized houses. Meanwhile, most elected officials stand idly by, unwilling to challenge the corporations that fund their campaigns. We live in a cartoon of fossil fuel buffoonery--Tank of Doom.
What Can We Do?
We admit that the information summarized above is not empowering. And, the word "doom" does make one want to run for the cyanide pills. (Where are those things? I just saw them.) However, please be reminded that, though we do believe it speaks to the truth of our situation, we are also using the term "Tank of Doom" in a cartoonish sense--that is, in a way that lampoons those in power for allowing the causes of climate change to continue unabated.
We must acknowledge at this late date our circumstances such as they are. The evidence that the effects of climate change are already upon us is undeniable. The ice caps are melting and will continue to do so for centuries even if we immediately stop burning fossil fuels. And with politicians, most of the business community, and the majority of everyday citizens carrying on as though there is nothing to worry about, this cartoon has become a freakish twilight zone kind of hell. The hard facts fill one with a disabling sense of despair, and yes, doom. But, please consider the following before deciding on heavy drinking as part of your climate change coping strategy:
First of all, we must abandon both hope and despair. Hope allows one to forgo action and place responsibility on external forces and very unlikely events. For example, "It is OK to keep driving my car around because pretty soon they (the external force) are going to replace all cars with ones that run on electricity generated from renewable sources (very unlikely event)." Despair is just a lame excuse to avoid any kind of responsibility. It is what Thomas Homer-Dixon calls fatalistic denial. It allows someone to acknowledge the facts but conveniently throw their hands up and say, "See. There's nothing I can do.", sometimes even while pursuing hedonistic pleasures derived from excess use of fossil fuels.
To move beyond the hope/despair and similar win/lose dichotomies, we must consider something much more important: right and wrong. This is a very complicated discussion that requires more space than we have here. For a very thoughtful analysis of this matter, please read Stolen Future, Broken Present: The Human Significance of Climate Change by David A. Collings.
For now, reflect upon these questions: What gives us the right to use resources in a way that denies the basic needs, or even life itself, to other beings, either now or in the future? What gives us the right to stand by and do nothing when we see something happening that will cause suffering to other beings either now or in the future? If one has been paying attention to what scientists are saying regarding the effects of climate change that are already in the pipeline--things that are going to happen no matter what we do now, it would seem to kindle a desire in most non-sociapaths to try to do something, even though what to do is a bewildering question when the true sense of our situation finally dawns upon a person.
True, climate change is a global phenomenon and many factors are out of our individual control. However, closer to home in our neighborhoods and communities, there are things that we can do.
The first way we can act is to help build alternatives to the current system. A couple of relevant resources here are Richard Heinberg's video series Afterburn, and the Next System Project. The fact is, at the local level people are developing truly sustainable alternatives to the fossil-fuel driven, endless growth economic model.
Another way we can do something is to join with our neighbors in stopping the various fossil fuel projects that are being proposed across our region. Local communities have been, and will continue to be, successful in thwarting the averice of big oil, coal, and gas in the Pacific Northwest. A recent example: due to a community opposition effort involving the work of hundreds of citizens, Mayor Charlie Hales withdrew support for the Pembina propane terminal proposed to be built in North Portland along the Columbia River. This project is not yet dead at this writing, but with the community resistance against it seen so far, it is unlikely that it will be built.
It is true that in politics at all levels, "as money goes, so dances the dog" but at the local level the politicians have to live amongst us all. Day to day, they must look us in the eye. We can make their public lives uncomfortable and rally our neighbors to defeat them at election time.
Oil by rail poses challenges in that elected officials at the state and local level use the convenient excuse "That is a federal issue. There's nothing I can do." As the laws stand now, that may be true. However, they can and must lend their voices to stopping the Tanks of Doom and using whatever local regulations they can to impede their progress, the way that Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has done in the case of the shipment of Shell Oil's arctic drilling equipment.
How to Get Involved
The Tank of Doom was originally built under the auspices of Portland Rising Tide and is supported by members of the Climate Action Coalition of Portland, Oregon. Portland Rising Tide, or any of the member organizations of CAC (all are listed below) are excellent places to become part of a growing movement of people from all backgrounds who are committed to building a just future for our community--one that will be necessarily free of fossil fuel buffoonery.
And if you really want to have fun, come out and ride with the Tank of Doom. Check back on this site soon for upcoming Tank of Doom events.