Climate Activists Tell Warren Buffett Why They Are Blocking His Coal Trains

On May 5, thirteen Canadian citizens stepped onto a railroad track and stopped a BNSF coal train owned by Warren Buffet, whose cargo was headed to export markets in Asia. The BNSF was specifically targeted to draw Buffett’s attention to the dangerous impact coal burning is having on the Earth’s ecosystem. According to founder Bill McKibben, Buffett—though just “a single human being”—is a person “with power enough to make an immediate difference in the fight against climate change.” Thanks to this civil disobedience action, McKibben stated, “Warren Buffett will get the chance to face squarely the role he might play in solving our worst problem, not with future philanthropy but with present-day courage.” Reprinted below is the courtesy letter sent to Buffett notifying him of the protest.

April 30, 2012

Warren Buffett
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
3555 Farnam Street,
Suite 1440
Omaha, NE USA 68131

Dear Mr. Buffett:

We want to inform you that on Saturday, May 5th, from midnight to midnight, we intend to prevent BNSF coal trains from passing through White Rock, British Columbia to deliver their coal to our coastal ports for export to Asia. We have chosen May 5th to take this action because it has been designated an International day of action by, with the theme “Connecting the Dots.” We can’t think of a more important connection to emphasize than the one between burning coal and putting our collective future at risk.

Who we are and why we are prepared to engage in civil disobedience to stop your coal trains:

We are a group of citizens in British Columbia, Canada who are deeply concerned about the risk of runaway climate change. There is a broad scientific consensus that we must begin to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions this decade to avoid climate change becoming irreversible. At the same time, governments and industry are eager to increase the production and export of fossil fuels, the very things that will ensure climate change does get worse.

These two things are irreconcilable, and since we can’t dispute the scientific findings or change the laws of nature, those of us who care about the future must do what we can to reduce the production, export and burning of fossil fuels—especially coal.

Since we know what is at stake we feel a moral obligation to do what we can to help prevent this looming disaster. On Saturday May 5th that means stopping your coal trains from reaching our ports.

Our actions will be peaceful, nonviolent and respectful of others. There will be no property destruction. We are striving to be the best citizens we can. We will stand up for what we believe is right and conduct ourselves with dignity.

Why we are involving you:

We know that you have canceled plans to have your utilities build coal fired power plants. Like us, we are sure you know that coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels; when burned it produces the most global warming pollution per unit of energy. We assume you are familiar with the growing number of scientists—including NASA’s Dr. James Hansen, and IPCC member Dr. Andrew Weaver—who warn us that if we burn the world’s accessible coal reserves, we will destroy the benign and hospitable climate that has allowed human civilization to flourish.

What we can’t understand is why you allow your railway, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, to continue shipping vast amounts of U.S. coal out of Canadian ports to be burned in Asia. No matter where this coal is burned, it brings us closer to a climatic point of no return.

Mr. Buffett, you have spoken eloquently about the need for shared sacrifice. But with all respect sir, when it comes to climate change, it appears that other people are doing all the suffering while you profit from the very causes of the problem. That’s not fair, and we urge you to apply the same moral reasoning to the climate crisis as you have to the problem of economic inequality in your country.

You are in many ways an important figure of conscience in the world. We appeal to you to seize this opportunity and make a bold decision on coal. With your support we can ensure a healthy future for our children and people around the world.

We acknowledge that this action is taking place on unceded Coast Salish territory.


British Columbians for Climate Action

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