Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 12, 2014

Critical moment in history just ahead

A couple of weeks ago, the State Department released its final environmental impact statement on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Both critics and supporters of the pipeline have awaited the report, ever since President Obama last year singled out carbon pollution as a parameter in Keystone’s national interest calculation.  That report, however, turned out to be distinctly disappointing to anyone who understands the basic science involved.  Its findings are internally inconsistent – it confuses rather than clarifies the issues.  Let me explain.

First and foremost, the report does recognize the obvious and most important factor associated with future warming by the greenhouse gases: that is, that “the total direct and indirect emissions” resulting from the development of the pipeline “would contribute to cumulative global GHG emissions.”  If we can assume that the State Department knows about the extraordinarily long lifetime of the extra CO2 we put into the atmosphere, the word “cumulative” in this case means the CO2 emitted over all of the next several centuries.

Then, the report goes on to say that the proposed pipeline is “unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas,” and does not actually consider the overall cumulative  greenhouse gas emissions of the tar sands oil that would ultimately flow through it for the many years after it is built.  As has been pointed out many times on several posts on this blog, it is only the “cumulative” emissions (I might have added “stupid”) over the next several centuries that matter – rather than shorter term “emission rates”.  Thus, it appears that the authors of this report have been duped into an irrelevant and misleading representation of the problem that would be caused by the construction of a long-lived conduit to the tar sands of Alberta.  As has been also pointed out in several previous posts on this blog, the world cannot afford to use even a large portion its existing and relatively clean sources of gas and oil.  All coal and the relatively dirty and low-energy forms of fossil fuels – such as the tar sands –  must be left in the ground.

So what’s next on the tar sands question?  We can only hope that the Secretary of State,  John Kerry, and the President of the USA, Barack Obama, have the courage to do the scientifically responsible thing  and block the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  I know that both of these men are not scientifically stupid and realize how important this moment is with respect to the USA’s future role in addressing this global, not just regional, issue.  If they fail to do this, perhaps the only remaining significant points of potential resistance to all-powerful business-as-usual (even if scientifically mindless) forces of the USA and the world will have been bypassed.  A huge new spigot to continued global degradation will have then been turned on.

Personally, I don’t think that either of these two men will do that, however.  Both of these very well and broadly educated men do not wish to be future welcomed guests of only the Chamber of Commerce’s throughout the USA.  Also, I don’t think either of them want to be less than irrelevant footnotes in future historical accounts of how the USA failed to seriously address the most important issue of our time.  If they pass on this one, where else could a substantial stand be made?  Talk on this subject has become so cheap, it is meaningless.  A decision is due soon so get your own input in ASAP and if courage is finally demonstrated, celebrate it!

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