The struggle at Standing Rock can only be overcome by challenging the system as a whole, argues George Mueller Waite

The end of 2016 has witnessed a partial victory for the environmental and Native American demonstrators at Standing Rock in North Dakota. Due to outgoing President Obama and the US Army Corps stepping in, there has been confirmation that easement will not be granted under Lake Oahe and an environmental assessment will take place which will look into alternate routes. This is a great success for the water protectors at Standing Rock. But it would be premature to believe the battle is over for a number of reasons.

Domino effect

One of mains ones is that for geographical reasons, any rerouting of the pipeline will have to go under the Missouri River – it is physically impossible for it not to do so. This means there are obvious risks and repercussions associated with a potential leak such as damage to the eco-system and water being made undrinkable with contamination. These, in turn, have knock-on effects. For example, any slight harm to an ecosystem risks creating a domino effect which can destroy the entire network. To further this calamity, once polluted, water is near impossible to decontaminate as we are seeing with Flint (where the water has been contaminated by hydraulic fracking). Polluted water is also extremely difficult to contain and the risk of the toxic chemicals breaching connecting waterways, lakes and rivers is high. But also, guess which lake connects to the Missouri River? Correct: Lake Oahe!

Extinction level

Another factor that has not been adequately publicised is that we are facing a global extinction level crisis in the form of global warming. A single new oil pipeline is simply too many and according to the FERC (Federal Energy Regularity Commission), there are 41 other interstate pipelines currently being built – not to mention the other 50 major pipelines awaiting approval. This crisis, if not averted, has the potential to kill millions, erase most of the coasts across the globe and make already hot countries – such as those in Asia, Africa, Central and South America – uninhabitable. Our first priority must be to ensure the survival of our species as we know it. The temperature has been exponentially rising since we industrialised. This is provable beyond doubt, meaning the time for debate is over! We need to invest in new green energy. We need policies like Jill Stein’s ‘Green New Deal’ in which the government would pump money into creating clean energy, a low carbon infrastructure and create thousands of good paying jobs for Americans while aiming to end emission by 2030. So what does America do instead? Elect the man who says climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese.

Dinosaurs dying

The Constitutional Rights of Americans have been blatantly violated. The right to freedom of press and peaceful protests have been disregarded by violent police and private security firms with no repercussions. Obama has allowed this to happen. This could be very gloomy stuff but don’t despair. Progressive filmmaker Michael Moore has called Trump ‘the sound of dinosaurs dying’. The cogs of capitalism are rusting, wages have been suppressed and jobs sent abroad to the places where wages are lower, to the point that supply of product is now greater than the demand. The pursuit of financial gain does not allow foresight. Greed – the drive of the bourgeoisie – only enables them to see the short term gains and not the loaded shotgun pointing at them.

Trump’s solution to this problem is protectionism. This will fail since he doesn’t really mean it. Even if he did, it fails to address the root cause, and the solution is not permanent. It doesn’t stop another greedy capitalist using his wealth to buy the system and undo the protectionist policy. 

Surely the left has a better solution: democratise enterprises and allow workers’ control over the running of companies. How can we do this? Through protests like Standing Rock not just achieving one victory and then going home, but by continuing to fight. We can’t allow ourselves the luxury of relaxing. On a grander scale, we need to come together internationally against the operations of neoliberalism and recognise these protests are linked. There is only one struggle. That is the one against capitalist greed. Only by coming together as a single movement can we win.