Dozens of Seattle residents occupied the local headquarters of Burlington Northern – Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) today to speak out against the company’s continued involvement in fossil fuel extraction and transport. The group included members of local climate justice groups Rising Tide Seattle, 350 Seattle, Got Green, Bayan and others.
The office takeover is part of worldwide actions happening around the 21st annual climate talks going on in Paris until the 12th of December. Every previous climate summit has failed to produce significant enforceable commitments by world leaders to act on climate change, and activists’ views on the current summit are mixed.
“Just like in past years, fossil fuel companies are sponsoring the climate talks and the voices of the people are going unheard,” said Emily Johnston, an organizer with 350 Seattle. “We don’t think the leaders of Western countries will be able to make a strong and effective agreement that will allow us to move as quickly and urgently as we need to.”
A January 2015 study found that most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground to prevent global temperatures from rising above the 2C limit agreed upon by the leaders of Western countries. That limit, which is not scientific, has been criticized by leaders in the Global South.
“Communities of color here and worldwide are experiencing unprecedented numbers of extreme fires, floods, hurricanes, and droughts and it’s only getting worse,” said Jill Mangaliman, executive director of Got Green?. “We cannot rely on fossil fuel companies and carbon markets to fix this – they have caused this climate chaos. Instead, we must look to indigenous, black and brown frontline communities for leadership and solutions.”
Participants read a letter with three demands for BNSF: 1, that the company respect the treaty rights of Native Americans, in particular an agreement they made with a local tribe, the Swinomish, not to run more than one train per day through their reservation; 2, that all trains carrying Bakken crude, a particularly explosive type of oil, be staffed by at least two people; and 3, that those trains must not pass by Seattle stadiums while games are in progress.
“We need to transition away from fossil fuels now, and BNSF could be at the forefront of that transition by moving goods and people by rail,” said Valerie Costa, a local small business owner. “Instead, they’re contributing to catastrophic climate change by moving dangerous oil trains through our neighborhoods.”
The letter made clear that these demands are only the minimum expected from the company as mitigation for the dangers posed by fossil fuel extraction and transport.
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