PARKERSBURG -Wood County Commissioner Wayne Dunn was among more than 35,000 concerned citizens who attended a weekend rally in Washington, D.C., aimed at raising awareness of climate change and urging presidential action.
Dunn, who attended the rally as a private citizen, along with several friends and family members from the area, said the citizens, including many youth who turned out Sunday, braved the cold temperatures to hear speakers.
"It was a rally to express the need for awareness over climate change, in its many forms," Dunn said. The rally, which included numerous speakers and numerous causes, took place at the Washington Monument.
"There were several interesting speakers, there were people there protesting fracking, a lot of people from New York and there was a Native American from British Columbia who spoke that really got everyone's attention. It was a very emotional plea to stop this senseless infringement on their rights," Dunn said.
Dunn said he was encouraged by the number of youth who attended with their families.
"It was good to see the parents teaching social activism to their kids," he said.
Dunn said he only learned of the rally about two weeks ago through an email from an environmental activist group.
"There is no question we are being affected by climate change. It is here and there is also no question we, as human beings, are a primary factor, not the only one, but one of the biggest factors in climate change. It's very serious and the impact is huge. It's just not worth going there. By our inactivity, we are allowing this to happen. The earth is being transformed for future generations, and it's not the way it was meant to be. We are not proving to be responsible stewards as a human population," he said.
Dunn said there were also individuals rallying against the proposed Canadian pipeline.
"It takes two-thirds of a barrel to produce one barrel. It's hard to work with and very expensive to procure. My position on that is while we're doing that just to provide oil, and spending the money on that, there are less incentives available to put money into research and development of clean, safe, healthier alternatives," Dunn said.
Earlier last week, a number of celebrities and environmental activists, including lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and civil rights leader Julian Bond, were arrested after tying themselves to the White House gate to protest the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune was arrested, the first time in the group's 120-year history that a club leader was arrested in an act of civil disobedience. The club's board of directors approved the action as a sign of its opposition to the $7 billion pipeline, which would carry oil derived from tar sands in western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.
Protesters said the pipeline would carry "dirty oil" and contribute to global warming, and they are also concerned about spills. Activist Bill McKibben, actress Daryl Hannah and NASA climate scientist James Hansen were also arrested, along with more than 40 others. They were charged with failure to disperse and obey lawful orders and released on $100 bond each. The protesters demanded the president reject the pipeline.
Many business and labor groups support the 1,700-mile pipeline as a source of jobs and a step toward North American energy independence.
Dunn said, "We were told there was no problem with the arrests. It was just a planned act of civil disobedience to raise awareness of the issues."
Opponents of the pipeline say the tar sands oil, which is difficult to produce, also emits significantly more greenhouse gases than conventional oil.
The president called climate change a serious threat and in his State of the Union speech urged Congress to combat the phenomenon. If Congress fails to act, the president said he will use executive authority to take steps to cut greenhouse gas pollution and encourage increased use of cleaner sources of energy.
The president has twice thwarted the Keystone XL pipeline because of concerns over its route through sensitive land in Nebraska but has not indicated how he will decide on the pipeline now that Nebraska's governor has approved a new route. The State Department has authority over the project, because it crosses an international border, but most observers expect the president to make the final decision.
American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard called Keystone XL "the most thoroughly vetted major infrastructure project in the nation's history," and noted TransCanada has agreed to 57 special conditions sought by the U.S. government to ensure environmental safety. With the unemployment rate hovering near 8 percent, "getting people into these new jobs is critical," Gerard said.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story)