When the news arrived from the White House yesterday that Barack Obama would veto the proposed Keystone pipeline bill, I thought back to a poll that the National Journal conducted of its “energy insiders” in the fall of 2011, just when then issue was heating up. Nearly 92% of those insiders thought Obama’s administration would approve the pipeline, and almost 71% said it would happen by the end of that year.

Keystone’s not dead yet — feckless Democrats in the Congress could make some kind of deal, and the president could still yield down the road to the endlessly corrupt State Department bureaucracy that continues to push the pipeline — but the President’s veto threat shows what happens when people organize.

By pledging to veto the Keystone XL bill, President Obama took an important step towards backing up his climate talk yesterday, and we should applaud that. He showed the kind of courage that will be needed to stop this pipeline and begin to turn the tide against the fossil fuel industry.

If he can keep showing it, Keystone XL is on the way to the dustbin of history. Let’s show him we’re ready to push for more: act.350.org/sign/reject-keystone-xl-now/

Once the veto is issued, we’ll have a little celebration at the White House, where we’ll deliver these messages encouraging the President to finish the job.

The fight against the XL pipeline began with indigenous people in Canada, and spread to ranchers along the pipeline route in places like Nebraska. And then, in the spring of 2011, when the climate scientist Jim Hansen pointed out the huge pool of carbon in the Canadian tar sands, the fight spread to those of us in the climate movement. We had no real hope of stopping Keystone — as the National Journal poll indicated, this seemed the most done of deals — but we also had no real choice but to try.

And so people went to jail in larger numbers than they had for many years, and wrote millions of emails to the Senate, and made more public comments to the government than on any infrastructure project in history. And all that effort didn’t just tie up this one pipeline in knots. It also scared investors enough that they shut down three huge planned new tar-sands mines, taking $17 billion in capital and millions of tons of potential emissions off the table.

And it helped embolden people to fight every other pipeline, and coal port, and frack field, and coal mine. The Keystone fights helped spur a full-on fossil-fuel resistance that now mounts a powerful challenge to the entire fossil-fuel industry at every single turn.

It’s not as if we’re exactly winning the climate fight — the planet’s temperature keeps rising. But we’re not losing it the way we used to. If the president sticks to his word, this will be the first major fossil-fuel project ever shut down because of its effect on the climate. The IOU that the president and the Chinese wrote in November about future carbon emissions is a nice piece of paper — but the Keystone denial is cash on the barrelhead. It’s actually keeping some carbon in the ground.

And with the President’s veto threat, he has shown that he’s willing to take some heat for standing up to the industry. In fact, when he’s talked about Keystone XL lately, he’s started to sound a little like we did way back when we began this fight. His courage echoes the courage shown by thousands of people in the streets to stop this pipeline, and I hope he follows this up by putting an end to it for good.

The fossil-fuel industry’s aura of invincibility is gone. They’ve got all the money on the planet, but they no longer have unencumbered political power. Science counts, too, and so do the passion, spirit and creativity of an awakened movement from the outside, from the ground-up.

Now the “energy insiders” of Washington are going to have to recalculate the odds. Because no one’s going to believe that any of these fights are impossible any more.

So many thanks for your courage, your commitment and all of your contributions to this movement.

Bill McKibben

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