The fate of the planet

Why stopping the Keystone XL pipeline is so important

From what I can tell, most Californians don’t understand what the fuss is over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Aren’t there already hundreds of oil pipelines criss-crossing the nation?

Well, yes, there are. But this one is different—in unusually dangerous ways. And it comes along at a make-or-break moment in the effort to combat global warming. That’s why more than 4,000 people turned out in San Francisco Sunday to protest it. There were similar protests in Los Angeles, Seattle and Chicago. More than 20,000 people protested at the White House, marking the largest global-warming demonstration ever.

Several prominent opponents, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the actress Daryl Hannah, Executive Director Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, civil-rights leader Julian Bond and activist/author Bill McKibben, were arrested after chaining themselves to the White House fence. In Brune’s case, it was the first time in the Sierra Club’s 120-year history that its board of directors approved an act of civil disobedience.

The pipeline, which is projected to cost $7 billion, would carry oil derived from tar sands in Alberta, in western Canada, to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. Because it would cross an international boundary, the president and secretary of state must approve it.

So, what’s so bad about the Keystone XL that Michael T. Klare, who writes regularly on defense and energy issues, has called it “a presidential decision that could change the world”?

At issue is the fate of the Canadian tar-sands industry, whose product is produced at a greater cost to the environment than any other kind of oil, which is why it’s called “dirty oil.” Environmentalists believe the pipeline is the oil’s only viable route to refineries. If they can stop the pipeline, they can slow the industry’s production long enough to create space for a transition to renewable energy.

As McKibben has pointed out, writing at Tom Dispatch, “If you could burn all the oil in those tar sands, you’d run the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide from its current 390 parts per million (enough to cause the climate havoc we’re currently seeing) to nearly 600 parts per million, which would mean if not hell, then at least a world with a similar temperature.”

Keystone’s supporters argue that the pipeline will bring jobs to America and enhance the nation’s “energy security” by lessening its reliance on Middle Eastern oil suppliers. Klare insists, however, that “their true aim … is far simpler: to save the tar-sands industry (and many billions of dollars in U.S. investments) from possible disaster.”

Without Keystone XL, Klare states, “the price of tar-sands oil will remain substantially lower than conventional oil…, discouraging future investment and dimming the prospects for increased output. In other words, much of it will stay in the ground.”

In his State of the Union speech President Obama pledged to combat global warming. The Keystone XL will be the first, and biggest, test of that commitment. If he nixes it, extraction will slow down. If he approves it, production will soar—and with it global warming. It’s not exaggeration to say that the fate of the planet hinges on his decision.