Local environmental activists Colin Loustalot and Max Golding shared their experiences protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline last Thursday in the SRB Multipurpose Room as part of UCSB Associated Students Environmental Affairs Board’s event, “Breaking Up With The Tar Sands.”

The Keystone XL — a proposed extension to the Keystone Pipeline System, which transports synthetic crude oil from northeastern Alberta, Canada to the Midwestern United States — has sparked nationwide controversy over its potential environmental impact and economic feasibility. The lecture and discussion featured UCSB sociology professor John Foran, representatives of grassroots activist group 350.org including Loustalot and Golding and various EAB members.

EAB Environmental Justice Officer Rachel Scarlett, a second-year environmental studies major, opened the discussion by playing several videos highlighting the destructive consequences of the Keystone’s construction, including the displacement of indigenous people.

“We can see that the extraction of dirty energy from these lands takes away people’s homes, so it’s a human rights issue, as well as an environmental issue. That’s why we call it environmental justice,” Scarlett said.

Foran steered the discussion towards the general effects of climate change and direct solutions with a presentation modeled around 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben’s 2012 article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” which was featured in Rolling Stone magazine. Foran said climate change will have varying effects in different areas of the world, depending on the level of industrial development.

“The climate crisis that we’re living in is going to affect all people, differentially. First, it’s going to negatively affect people in poorer countries — those on the small islands, people in the center of Africa and poor farmers. And these are the people who have done the least to cause the problem, the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, the majority of which come from burning fossil fuels,” Foran said. “People in the most developed, the richest countries are the beneficiaries of the development that has lead to the climate problem.”

The event took on a more collaborative atmosphere after Foran’s talk, as the group formed a circle to hear Loustalot and Golding speak about their trip to a three-day direct action camp in Houston, Texas, near the end line of the proposed Keystone expansion. The protest focused on coordinating nonviolent methods of disrupting construction of the expansion and attracting national attention.

Golding said he and Loustalot underwent extensive training for dealing with authorities including workshops on community organizing, anti-repression training, campaign strategy and legal briefing. Volunteers had the choice of either urban or rural categories of direct action and color-coded distinctions between levels of legally prosecutable activities — green being the safest, and red the most likely to end in arrest. Goulding and Loustalot chose a “light-orange” urban action in the TransCanada offices, which involved working with other members to draw the attention of TransCanada employees.

Golding said the threat of incarceration and other legal punishment was unsettling at times, but he believed the goals of the protest outweighed his concerns for personal security.

“Hearing the stories of people around you, who are so charged and so inspired, and knowing that there are direct action camps popping up all over the country, Bill McKibben’s mobilizing hundreds of thousands of folks around the world, you say, ‘This is what I should do. This is awesome, this is the right thing,’” Golding said.

Loustalot said the event inspired Golding and himself to foster similar action groups in the Santa Barbara area.

“Camaraderie, solidarity — we came back wanting to build that here — starting with our focus group at EAB. That’s the direction we’re trying to move, concentrating on what we can do at home about this issue,” Loustalot said.

On Sunday, EAB and 350.org participated in a Los Angeles rally against the construction of Keystone XL, in conjunction with the “Forward on Climate” rally that attracted approximately 35,000 protestors to the National Mall in Washington D.C.

A version of this article appeared on page 1 of February 19th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.