One of the allures of the Western outlaw for audiences is that he/she often strikes out against impersonal corporations that see common folk as subservient to a business plan. The robbery of trains and banks by such historical outlaws as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or Jesse James may have had complicated motivations but one effect was certain – people cheered to see cold corporations receive a comeuppance. The continued popularity of the film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford respectively, speaks to a very human desire to see the impersonal corporation checked.

Robert Redford as The Sundance Kid

The motivation for Robert Redford’s long-standing work as an environmentalist, to this writer, is a genuine concern for the West and the health of the planet. As a Westerner himself, Redford has based his home and work in the state of Utah. Redford’s advocacy against approval of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is a recent example of a Westerner speaking out against corporations who would risk the environment and livelihood of others, both in the West and beyond.

The Keystone XL pipeline would carry tar sands oil across the North American West from Alberta to oil refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas. The resistance to the pipeline is based on two points – first, the inevitability of leaks into soil and water from a pipeline that carries an intrinsically abrasive and toxic substance and second, the effects of increased carbon on climate from an expansion of the tar sands that the pipeline would spur.

Resistance to the pipeline and continued tar sands development includes a wide-selection of citizens, including those who live in the West such as ranchers, Indigenous nations and farmers. A national day of action is to be held September 21st across the US and Canada to demonstrate public disapproval of the Keystone pipeline. The following clip, released on September 16th, provides both Redford’s stance against the Keystone pipeline and oil corporations as well as an alternative approach:

This writer would argue that that there is still an audience and support for actions that check the power of corporations that place profit margins above people and the planet. The Sundance Kid still rides….and he still has fans.

(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)


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