Posts Tagged ‘White House’
A guest post from Tom Engelhardt.
As regular followers of this blog know, Tom Engelhardt of Tom Dispatch fame has very kindly given permission for essays on Tom Dispatch to be republished on Learning from Dogs. I try to be circumspect about which essays I do republish.
I’m away from my desk for the next two days which seemed like a great reason to republish this reflection from Tom on the Keystone XL protest event held in Washington D.C last February 17th.
Tomgram: Engelhardt, Climate Change as History’s Deal-Breaker
Where Is Everybody?
Why It’s So Tough to Get Your Head Around Climate Change
By Tom Engelhardt
Two Sundays ago, I traveled to the nation’s capital to attend what was billed as “the largest climate rally in history” and I haven’t been able to get the experience — or a question that haunted me — out of my mind. Where was everybody?
First, though, the obvious weather irony: climate change didn’t exactly come out in support of that rally. In the midst of the warmest years and some of the warmest winters on record, the demonstration, which focused on stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline — it will bring tar-sands oil, some of the “dirtiest,” carbon-richest energy available from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast — was the coldest I’ve ever attended. I thought I’d lose a few fingers and toes while listening to the hour-plus of speakers, including Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island, who were theoretically warming the crowd up for its march around the (other) White House.
And I also experienced a moment of deep disappointment. When I arrived early at the spot in front of the Washington Monument on the National Mall where we were to assemble, my heart sank. It looked like only a few thousand protestors were gathering for what had been billed as a monster event. I had taken it for granted that I would be adding one small, aging body (and voice) to a vast crowd at a propitious moment to pressure Barack Obama to become the climate-change president he hasn’t been. After all, he has a decision to make that’s his alone: whether or not to allow that pipeline to be built. Nixing it would help keep a potentially significant contributor to climate change, those Albertan tar sands, in the ground. In other words, I hoped to play my tiny part in preserving a half-decent future for this planet, my children, and my new grandson.
Sixty environmental and other organizations were backing the demonstration, including the Sierra Club with its hundreds of thousands of members. Given what was potentially at stake, it never crossed my mind that the turnout wouldn’t be substantial. In fact, on that frigid day, lots of demonstrators did turn up. Evidently, they knew the dirty little secret of such events: that much talk would precede a modest amount of walking and inventive slogan shouting. So they arrived — poured in actually — late, and in real numbers.
In the end, the organizers estimated attendance at somewhere in the 35,000-50,000 range. Media reports varied between the usual “thousands,” generically used to describe (or, if you’re in a conspiratorial frame of mind, minimize) any demonstration, and tens of thousands. I have no way of estimating myself, but certainly the crowd was, in the end, sizeable, as well as young, enthusiastic, and loud. It made itself heard passing the White House. Not that President Obama was there to hear anything. He was then on a golf course in the Florida warmth teeing up with “a pair of Texans who are key oil, gas, and pipeline players.” That seemed to catch another kind of climate-change reality of our moment and strongly hinted at the strength of the forces any such movement is up against. In the meantime, Keystone builder TransCanada was ominously completing the already green-lighted first half of the Texas-Oklahoma leg of its prospective future pipeline.
In the end, I felt genuine satisfaction at having been there, but given what was at stake, givenFrankenstorm Sandy, the devastating Midwestern drought and record southwestern fires of 2012, the Snowmageddon winter storm that had recently dropped 40 inches of the white stuff on Hamden, Connecticut, the blistering spring and summer of 2012, the fast-melting Arctic sea ice, and the fact that last year broke all heat records for the continental United States, given the build-up of billion-dollar weather disasters in recent years, and the growing emphasis on “extreme weather” events on the national TV news, shouldn’t hundreds of thousands have been there? After all, I’ve been inantiwar demonstrations in which at least that many marched and in 1982, I found myself in my hometown in a crowd of a million demonstrating against the possibility of a world-ending nuclear war. Is climate change a less important issue?
“There Is No Planet B”
While protesting that Sunday, I noted one slogan on a number of hand-made signs that struck me as the most pointed (and poignant) of the march: “There is no planet B.” It seemed to sum up what was potentially at stake: a planet to live reasonably comfortably on. You really can’t get much more basic than that, which is why hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, should have been out in the streets demanding that our leaders begin to attend to climate change before it’s quite literally too late.
After all, to my mind, climate change, global warming, extreme weather — call it what you will — is the obvious deal-breaker in human, if not planetary, history. Everything but nuclear catastrophe pales by comparison, no matter the disaster: 9/11, 70,000 dead in Syria, failed wars, the grimmest of dictatorships, movements of hope that don’t deliver — all of that’s familiar history. Those are the sorts of situations where you can try again, differently, or future generations can and maybe do far better. All of it involves human beings who need to be dealt with or human structures that need to be changed. While any of them may be the definition of “the worst of times,” they are also thedefinition of hope.
Nature and the weather are another matter (even if it’s humanity that, by burning of fossil fuels atincreasingly staggering rates, has created its own Frankenstein’s monster out of the natural world). Climate change is clearly something new in our experience. Even in its relatively early but visibly intensifying stages, it threatens to be the singular event in human history, because unlike every other disaster we can imagine (except a full-scale nuclear war or, as has happened in the planet’s past, a large meteorite or asteroid impact), it alone will alter the basis for life on this planet.
Raise the planet’s temperature by three to six degrees Celsius, as various well-respected scientific types and groups are now suggesting might happen by century’s end (and possibly throw in some more heat thanks to the melting of the permafrost in the north), and if you live in a city on a coastline, you’d better watch out. And that only begins to suggest the problems humanity will face.
The world, at best, will be a distinctly poorer, less comfortable place for us (and from there the scenarios only get uglier).
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m no scientist. I doubt I’d even be considered scientifically literate (though I try). But the scientific consensus on the subject of climate change seems striking enough to me, and what’s happening around us is no less striking as a confirmation that our world is changing — and remarkably quickly at that. Whether you read about melting glaciers, the melting Greenland ice shield, melting Arctic waters, melting permafrost, acidifying oceans, intensifying storms, greater desertification, wilder wild fires, or so many other allied subjects, doesn’t it always seem that the rates of bad news are on the rise and the word “record” is usually lurking somewhere in the vicinity?
So I continue to wonder, given our situation on this planet, given our future and that of our children and grandchildren, where is everybody?
Can You Organize Against the Apocalypse?
Don’t for a second think that I have some magic answer to that question. Still, as it’s been on my mind, here’s an attempt to lay out at least some of the possible factors, micro to macro, that might have limited the size of that crowd two Sundays ago and perhaps might tend to limit the size of any climate-change crowd, as well as the mobilizing possibilities that lie in the disaster awaiting us.
Outreach: Yes, there were at least 60 groups involved, but how much outreach was there really? Many people I know hadn’t heard a thing about the event. And while climate change has been on the human agenda for a while now, a real movement to deal with what’s happening to us is in its absolute infancy. There is so much outreach and so much education that still needs to be done.
The slowness of movements: It’s easy to forget how long it can take for movements of change to grow, for their messages to cohere, penetrate, and begin to make sense or seem meaningful to large numbers of people in terms of their everyday lives. Despite its obvious long-term destructive power, for many reasons (see below) climate change might prove a particularly difficult issue to link to our everyday lives in ways that mobilize rather than demobilize us. On a similarly difficult issue, the nuclear movement, it took literally decades to grow to that million-person march, and even early anti-Vietnam War protests were smaller than the recent Keystone demo.
Politics: Attitudes toward climate change have largely polarized along left-right lines, so that the issue seems politically ghettoized at the moment (though there was a time when Republicans of some stature were concerned about the subject). To my mind, it’s part of the insanity of our moment that the preservation of our planet as we have known it, which should be the great conservative issue of our era, is now pure poison on the right. Even American paleo-conservatives, who are willing to make common cause on American war policy with left anti-imperial types, won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole. When this begins to change, you’ll know something of significance is happening.
Enemies: Here’s a factor it’s easy to ignore, but no one should. Giant energy companies and energy-connected right-wing billionaires have for years now been funneling staggering amounts of money into a network of right-wing think tanks and websites dedicated to creating doubts about climate change and promoting climate denial. In the latest revelation about the well-financed climate-denial movement, the British Guardian reports that between 2002 and 2010, $120 million dollars was shuttled, “using a secretive funding route,” into “more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change.” It all came from conservative billionaires (and not just the Koch brothers) who were guaranteed total anonymity. And it “helped build a vast network of think tanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarizing ‘wedge issue’ for hardcore conservatives.” The funders of this “movement” and their minions should, of course, be disqualified on the spot. They are almost all identified with and profit from the very fossil fuels that climate-change scientists say are heating up the planet. But they — and a few outlier scientific types they’ve scrounged up — provide the “balance,” the “two sides,” that the mainstream media adores. And they play upon the arcane nature of Science itself to intimidate the rest of us.
Science: When you have a bad boss, or your country is ruled by a dictator, or your bank cheats you, it’s within your everyday experience. You have some body of personal knowledge to draw on to understand the situation. You are personally offended. But Science? For most of us, the very word is intimidating. It means what we didn’t understand in school and gave up understanding long ago. To grasp climate change means teaching yourself Science with no professors in sight. Filling the knowledge bank you don’t have on your own. It’s daunting. Oh yes, the Ice-Albedo feedback loop. Sure thing. If the boss, the bank, the dictator takes your home, you get it. If Superstorm Sandy turns your home into rubble, what you get is an argument. What you need is an education to know just what role “climate change” might have played in making that storm worse, or whether it played any role at all. Similarly, you need an education to grasp the dangers of those tar sands from Canada. It can be overwhelming. Doubts are continually raised (see “enemies”), the natural variability of the weather makes climate change easier to dismiss, and sometimes, when Science takes the lead, it’s easier just to duck.
Nature: Science is bad enough; now, throw in Nature. How many of us still live on farms? How many of us still live in “the wilderness”? Isn’t Nature what we catch on the Discovery Channel? Isn’t it what we pay a lot of money to drop in on briefly and ogle while on vacation? In our everyday lives, most of us are, in some way, no longer a part of this natural world of “ours” — not at least until drought strikes your region, or that “record wildfire” approaches your community, or that bear/coyote/skunk/puma stumbles into your (urban or suburban) neck of the woods. Connecting with Nature, no less imagining the changing natural state of a planet going haywire (along with the likelihood of mass, climate-changed induced extinctions) is again not exactly an easy thing to do; it’s not what comes “naturally” to us.
Blame: Any movement needs a target. But this isn’t the Arab Spring. Climate change is not Hosni Mubarak. This isn’t the Occupy moment. Climate change is not simply “Wall Street” or the 1%. It’s not simply the Obama administration, a polarized Congress filled with energy-company-supported climate ignorers and deniers, or the Chinese leadership that’s exploiting coal for all its worth, or the Canadian government that abandoned the Kyoto treaty and supports that tar-sands pipeline, or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has put its money where its mouth is in American electoral politics when it comes to climate change. Yes, the giant energy companies, which are making historic profits off our burning planet, couldn’t be worse news or more culpable. The oil billionaires are a disaster, and so on. Still, targets are almost too plentiful and confusing. There are indeed villains, but so many of them! And what, after all, about the rest of us who lend a hand in burning fossil fuels as if there were no tomorrow? What about our consumer way of life to which all of us are, to one degree or another, addicted, and which has been a model for the rest of the world. Who then is the enemy? What exactly is to be done? In other words, there is anamorphousness to who’s aiding and abetting climate change that can make the targeting on which any movement thrives difficult.
The future: In the environmental movement, there is some serious discussion about why it’s so hard for climate change to gain traction among the public (and in the media). It’s sometimes said that the culprit is our brains, which weren’t set up, in an evolutionary sense, to deal with a problem that won’t deliver its full whammy for perhaps close to a century or more. Actually, I wonder about this. I would argue, based on the historical record, that our brains are well enough equipped to face distant futures and their problems. In fact, I think it’s a reasonable proposition that if you can’t imagine the future, if you can’t imagine building something not just for yourself but for your children or the children of others and of future generations, then you probably can’t build a movement at all. All movements, even those intent on preserving the past, are in some sense future-oriented.
The apocalypse: Here’s the thing, though. It’s difficult to organize for or even against a future that you can’t imagine yourself and those children and future generations in. The thought of world-ending events may simply close down our operative imaginations. The end of the world may be popular in fiction, but in everyday life, I suspect, the apocalypse is the version of the future that it’s hardest to mobilize around. If the prospect is that it’s already hopeless, that the suffering is going to be largely down the line, that we’re all going down anyway, and the planet will simply be destroyed, well, why bother? Why not focus on what matters to you now and forget the rest? This is wheredenial, the almost involuntary turning away from unpalatable futures that seem beyond our power or ability to alter, comes into play. If the future is essentially over before it begins, then better to ignore it and go about your still palatable enough daily life.
Putting Your Money on Climate Change
Add all these factors (and others I’ve probably ignored) together and perhaps it’s a miracle that so many people turned out in Washington two weekends ago. As we’ve already learned in this nuclear age of ours, it’s quite possible for a grid of exterminationism, a sense of hopelessness about the distant future, to descend upon us almost unnoticed. That grid in no way stops you from thinking about your own life in the present, or even about the immediate future, about, say, getting married, having a child, making a living, but it’s crippling when it comes to mobilizing for a different future.
I’ve always believed that some of the vaunted organizing power and energy of the famed Sixties came from the fact that, in 1963, the superpowers achieved an agreement on the testing of nuclear weapons that sent them underground and more or less out of consciousness. The last end-of-the-world films of that era appeared in 1964, just as bomb-shelter and civil defense programs were heading for the graveyard. By 1969, the National Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy had even eliminated “nuclear” from its own name. Without necessarily being aware of it, many (especially among the young), I suspect, felt their energies liberated from a paralyzing sense of doom. You no longer had to think about scenarios in which the two Cold War superpowers would destroy the planet. It made almost anything seem possible. For a brief period before the Reagan presidency raised such fears again, you could look to the future with a sense of hope, which was exhilarating.
Can there be any doubt that, to steal a phrase from that era, the personal is indeed political? On the other hand, the apocalypse, particularly an apocalypse that features Science and Nature in its starring roles, seems anything but personal or stoppable — unless you’re a farmer and a pipeline filled with a particularly nasty version of oil runs right through your nearest aquifer. The real issue here is how to make climate change personal in a way that doesn’t simply cause us to shut down.
One of the cleverer approaches to climate change has been that of Bill McKibben, the man who organized 350.org. In a determined fashion, he’s been breaking the overwhelming nature of climate change down into some of its component parts that can be grasped, focused on, and organized around. Stopping the Keystone XL pipeline and encouraging students to lobby to make their schools divest from big fossil fuel companies are examples of his approach.
More generally, climate change is, in fact, becoming more personal by the year. In the “extreme weather,” which so regularly leads the TV news, its effects are coming closer to us all. Increasing numbers of us know, in our hearts, that it’s the real deal. And no, it doesn’t have to be the apocalypse either. The planet itself, of course, will survive and, given a few hundred thousand or even a few million years, will recover and once again be a thriving place of some unknown sort. As for humanity, we’re a clever enough species. Sooner or later, we will undoubtedly figure out how to survive as well, but the questions are: How many of us? On what terms? In what kind of degraded state? And what can we do soon to mitigate climate change’s worst future effects?
Perhaps a modern, post-religious version of seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal’s famous bet is what’s needed. He argued that it was in the interest of those who remained in doubt about God to place a wager on His existence. As he pointed out, with such a bet, if you win, you win everything; if you lose, you lose nothing.
Something somewhat analogous might be said of climate change. Perhaps it’s time to put your wager on the reality of climate change, on its paramount importance to us and our children and our children’s children, and to bet as well that your efforts (and those of others) will in the end make enough of a difference. Then, if you win, humanity wins everything; if you lose, well, there will be hell to pay.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.
Copyright 2013 Tom Engelhardt
“Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.” Aldous Huxley
Today’s post is a republishing of a recent essay on TomDispatch by Professor Michael Klare; professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College. Once again, I am indebted to Tom Engelhardt for such permission.
However, before Michael Klare’s post let me interject this.
Tens of thousands marched to the White House on February 17th, to protest about the Keystone XL pipeline. Hundreds of thousands more across the globe are in support of the campaign to prevent the XL pipeline from ever being commissioned.
To my mind, political leaders are expected to show wisdom, patience and care in terms of how they respond to public opinion.
So was this really the smartest thing for President Obama to be doing at the same time as the protesters were massing outside the White House! From the Huffington Post:
Obama Golfed With Oil Men As Climate Protesters Descended On White House
WASHINGTON — On the same weekend that 40,000 people gathered on the Mall in Washington to protest construction of the Keystone Pipeline – to its critics, a monument to carbon-based folly — President Obama was golfing in Florida with a pair of Texans who are key oil, gas and pipeline players.
Read more of this story here.
On to the TomDispatch guest essay, always introduced by Tom.
Tomgram: Michael Klare, Will the Keystone XL Pipeline Go Down?
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Don’t miss Bill Moyers’s interview with TD Managing Editor Nick Turse on this week's “Moyers & Company,” which you can watch by clicking here. (And I don't mind adding that, in introducing Turse, Moyers calls TomDispatch "the indispensible website if you want the news powerful people would prefer to keep hidden.”) The focus of the interview is his new book, Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, which, miraculously enough, will be #35 on next week’s New York Times (extended) bestseller list -- and well it should be. If you want to know more about Turse's work, check out Jonathan Schell’s powerful TomDispatch essay “How Did the Gates of Hell Open in Vietnam?” Keep in mind that, for a donation of $100 to this website, you can still get a personalized, signed copy of the book. Just check out the offer at our donation page. Or if, like so many others, you are planning to buy the book at Amazon and you go there via any TomDispatch book link like this one, we get a small cut of whatever you purchase at no cost to you. Tom]
Think of it as a prospective irony: In a spirit of pure, blind partisanship, the drill-baby-drill folks in the Republican Party may have done themselves in. After all, their obsession with the Benghazi incident led them to launch a preemptive strike against the president’s choice for secretary of state, Susan Rice, for her statements on what happened when the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were murdered there. They sent her nomination down in flames. In the process, it’s just possible that they took out something far dearer to them. Though it didn’t get much attention during her disastrous nomination moment, we did learn that Rice and her husband had made significant investments in companies connected to the Canadian tar-sands industry and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which is to bring the resulting crude (and carbon-dirty) oil 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast. They reportedly had $300,000-$600,000 in stock in TransCanada, the company building the pipeline. In addition, “about a third of Rice’s personal net worth is tied up in oil producers, pipeline operators, and related energy industries north of the 49th parallel,” including Enbridge, a company which hopes to build another tar-sands pipeline. Had she been secretary of state, she might have had one of the great conflicts of interest of our time (or a major divestment problem).
Congress seems desperate to see that pipeline built. More than half the Senate — 44 Republicans, including key Rice opponent John McCain, and nine Democrats — signed a letter to that effect, but it matters little. Because of the international border Keystone XL crosses, only two people stand between us and its construction, the secretary of state and President Obama, who alone will make the final decision on whether the project should proceed. The president’s second choice for secretary of state, who recently swept through the nomination process, is of course former Senator John Kerry, a “climate hawk” who has already said that he will be deeply involved in the State Department’s review of the pipeline. (It’s worth noting that TransCanada, trying to cover all its bases, hired one of Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign staffers as a lobbyist, along with “heavyweights” from past Obama and Hillary Clinton presidential runs, and that Kerry does have to divest himself of holdings in two Canadian energy companies which have supported the pipeline.)
No one, of course, can know what the new secretary of state and the president will decide. They are, however, already being pushed hard by a growing coalition of environmentally oriented groups, fearful of what it would mean to get all those tar sands out of the ground and (as carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. In addition, this coming Sunday, February 17th, an enormous “forward on climate” rally is to take place in Washington. Originally organized by 350.org and TomDispatch regular Bill McKibben but now involving dozens of groups, it is expected to draw worried protestors (including this writer) from all over to demonstrate on the National Mall. The goal is, in part, to push President Obama to make the necessary decision on the Keystone pipeline. It’s remarkable that one man has the power to shoot this project down. As another TomDispatch regular, Michael Klare, explains below, should he do so, the tar-sands industry might never recover. That would lend a genuine hand to our over-heating planet, which means there has seldom been a situation where demonstrations to pressure a president were more in order. Tom
A Presidential Decision That Could Change the World
The Strategic Importance of Keystone XL
By Michael T. Klare
Presidential decisions often turn out to be far less significant than imagined, but every now and then what a president decides actually determines how the world turns. Such is the case with the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if built, is slated to bring some of the “dirtiest,” carbon-rich oil on the planet from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. In the near future, President Obama is expected to give its construction a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down, and the decision he makes could prove far more important than anyone imagines. It could determine the fate of the Canadian tar-sands industry and, with it, the future well-being of the planet. If that sounds overly dramatic, let me explain.
Sometimes, what starts out as a minor skirmish can wind up determining the outcome of a war — and that seems to be the case when it comes to the mounting battle over the Keystone XL pipeline. If given the go-ahead by President Obama, it will daily carry more than 700,000 barrels of tar-sands oil to those Gulf Coast refineries, providing a desperately needed boost to the Canadian energy industry. If Obama says no, the Canadians (and their American backers) will encounter possibly insuperable difficulties in exporting their heavy crude oil, discouraging further investment and putting the industry’s future in doubt.
The battle over Keystone XL was initially joined in the summer of 2011, when environmental writer and climate activist Bill McKibben and 350.org, which he helped found, organized a series of non-violent anti-pipeline protests in front of theWhite House to highlight the links between tar sands production and the accelerating pace of climate change. At the same time, farmers and politicians in Nebraska, through which the pipeline is set to pass, expressed grave concern about its threat to that state’s crucial aquifers. After all, tar-sands crude is highly corrosive, and leaks are a notable risk.
In mid-January 2012, in response to those concerns, other worries about the pipeline, and perhaps a looming presidential campaign season, Obama postponed a decision on completing the controversial project. (He, not Congress, has the final say, since it will cross an international boundary.) Now, he must decide on a suggested new route that will, supposedly, take Keystone XL around those aquifers and so reduce the threat to Nebraska’s water supplies.
Ever since the president postponed the decision on whether to proceed, powerful forces in the energy industry and government have been mobilizing to press ever harder for its approval. Its supporters argue vociferously that the pipeline will bring jobs to America and enhance the nation’s “energy security” by lessening its reliance on Middle Eastern oil suppliers. Their true aim, however, is far simpler: to save the tar-sands industry (and many billions of dollars in U.S. investments) from possible disaster.
Just how critical the fight over Keystone has become in the eyes of the industry is suggested by a recent pro-pipeline editorial in the trade publication Oil & Gas Journal:
“Controversy over the Keystone XL project leaves no room for compromise. Fundamental views about the future of energy are in conflict. Approval of the project would acknowledge the rich potential of the next generation of fossil energy and encourage its development. Rejection would foreclose much of that potential in deference to an energy utopia few Americans support when they learn how much it costs.”
Opponents of Keystone XL, who are planning a mass demonstration at the White House on February 17th, have also come to view the pipeline battle in epic terms. “Alberta’s tar sands are the continent’s biggest carbon bomb,” McKibben wrote at TomDispatch. “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.” Halting Keystone would not by itself prevent those high concentrations, he argued, but would impede the production of tar sands, stop that “carbon bomb” from further heating the atmosphere, and create space for a transition to renewables. “Stopping Keystone will buy time,” he says, “and hopefully that time will be used for the planet to come to its senses around climate change.”
A Pipeline With Nowhere to Go?
Why has the fight over a pipeline, which, if completed, would provide only 4% of the U.S. petroleum supply, assumed such strategic significance? As in any major conflict, the answer lies in three factors: logistics, geography, and timing.
Start with logistics and consider the tar sands themselves or, as the industry and its supporters in government prefer to call them, “oil sands.” Neither tar nor oil, thesubstance in question is a sludge-like mixture of sand, clay, water, and bitumen (a degraded, carbon-rich form of petroleum). Alberta has a colossal supply of the stuff — at least a trillion barrels in known reserves, or the equivalent of all the conventional oil burned by humans since the onset of commercial drilling in 1859. Even if you count only the reserves that are deemed extractible by existing technology, its tar sands reportedly are the equivalent of 170 billion barrels of conventional petroleum — more than the reserves of any nation except Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The availability of so much untapped energy in a country like Canada, which is private-enterprise-friendly and where the political dangers are few, has been a magnet for major international energy firms. Not surprisingly, many of them, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Royal Dutch Shell, have invested heavily in tar-sands operations.
Tar sands, however, bear little resemblance to the conventional oil fields which these companies have long exploited. They must be treated in various energy-intensive ways to be converted into a transportable liquid and then processed even further into usable products. Some tar sands can be strip-mined like coal and then “upgraded” through chemical processing into a synthetic crude oil — SCO, or “syncrude.” Alternatively, the bitumen can be pumped from the ground after the sands are exposed to steam, which liquefies the bitumen and allows its extraction with conventional oil pumps. The latter process, known as steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), produces a heavy crude oil. It must, in turn, be diluted with lighter crudes for transportation by pipeline to specialized refineries equipped to process such oil, most of which are located on the Gulf Coast.
Extracting and processing tar sands is an extraordinarily expensive undertaking, far more so than most conventional oil drilling operations. Considerable energy is needed to dig the sludge out of the ground or heat the water into steam for underground injection; then, additional energy is needed for the various upgrading processes. The environmental risks involved are enormous (even leaving aside the vast amounts of greenhouse gases that the whole process will pump into the atmosphere). The massive quantities of water needed for SAGD and those upgrading processes, for example, become contaminated with toxic substances. Once used, they cannot be returned to any water source that might end up in human drinking supplies — something environmentalists say is already occurring. All of this and the expenses involved mean that the multibillion-dollar investments needed to launch a tar-sands operation can only pay off if the final product fetches a healthy price in the marketplace.
And that’s where geography enters the picture. Alberta is theoretically capable of producing five to six million barrels of tar-sands oil per day. In 2011, however, Canada itself consumed only 2.3 million barrels of oil per day, much of it supplied by conventional (and cheaper) oil from fields in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland. That number is not expected to rise appreciably in the foreseeable future. No less significant, Canada’s refining capacity for all kinds of oil is limited to 1.9 million barrels per day, and few of its refineries are equipped to process tar sands-style heavy crude. This leaves the producers with one strategic option: exporting the stuff.
And that’s where the problems really begin. Alberta is an interior province and so cannot export its crude by sea. Given the geography, this leaves only three export options: pipelines heading east across Canada to ports on the Atlantic, pipelines heading west across the Rockies to ports in British Columbia, or pipelines heading south to refineries in the United States.
Alberta’s preferred option is to send the preponderance of its tar-sands oil to its biggest natural market, the United States. At present, Canadian pipeline companies do operate a number of conduits that deliver some of this oil to the U.S., notably the original Keystone conduit extending from Hardisty, Alberta, to Illinois and then southward to Cushing, Oklahoma. But these lines can carry less than one million barrels of crude per day, and so will not permit the massive expansion of output the industry is planning for the next decade or so.
In other words, the only pipeline now under development that would significantly expand Albertan tar-sands exports is Keystone XL. It is vitally important to the tar-sands producers because it offers the sole short-term — or possibly even long-term — option for the export and sale of the crude output now coming on line at dozens of projects being developed across northern Alberta. Without it, these projects will languish and Albertan production will have to be sold at a deep discount — at, that is, a per-barrel price that could fall below production costs, making further investment in tar sands unattractive. In January, Canadian tar-sands oil was already selling for $30-$40 less than West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the standard U.S. blend.
The Pipelines That Weren’t
Like an army bottled up geographically and increasingly at the mercy of enemy forces, the tar-sands producers see the completion of Keystone XL as their sole realistic escape route to survival. “Our biggest problem is that Alberta is landlocked,” the province’s finance minister Doug Horner said in January. “In fact, of the world’s major oil-producing jurisdictions, Alberta is the only one with no direct access to the ocean. And until we solve this problem… the [price] differential will remain large.”
Logistics, geography, and finally timing. A presidential stamp of approval on the building of Keystone XL will save the tar-sands industry, ensuring them enough return to justify their massive investments. It would also undoubtedly prompt additional investments in tar-sands projects and further production increases by an industry that assumed opposition to future pipelines had been weakened by this victory.
A presidential thumbs-down and resulting failure to build Keystone XL, however, could have lasting and severe consequences for tar-sands production. After all, no other export link is likely to be completed in the near-term. The other three most widely discussed options – the Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat, British Columbia, an expansion of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline to Vancouver, British Columbia, and a plan to use existing, conventional-oil conduits to carry tar-sands oil across Quebec, Vermont, and New Hampshire to Portland, Maine — already face intense opposition, with initial construction at best still years in the future.
The Northern Gateway project, proposed by Canadian pipeline company Enbridge, would stretch from Bruderheim in northern Alberta to Kitimat, a port on Charlotte Sound and the Pacific. If completed, it would allow the export of tar-sands oil to Asia, where Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper sees a significant future market (even though few Asian refineries could now process the stuff). But unlike oil-friendly Alberta, British Columbia has a strong pro-environmental bias and many senior provincial officials have expressed fierce opposition to the project. Moreover, under the country’s constitution, native peoples over whose land the pipeline would have to travel must be consulted on the project — and most tribal communities are adamantly opposed to its construction.
Another proposed conduit — an expansion of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to Vancouver — presents the same set of obstacles and, like the Northern Gateway project, has aroused strong opposition in Vancouver.
This leaves the third option, a plan to pump tar-sands oil to Ontario and Quebec and then employ an existing pipeline now used for oil imports. It connects to a terminal in Casco Bay, near Portland, Maine, where the Albertan crude would begin the long trip by ship to those refineries on the Gulf Coast. Although no official action has yet been taken to allow the use of the U.S. conduit for this purpose, anti-pipeline protests have already erupted in Portland, including one on January 26th that attracted more than 1,400 people.
With no other pipelines in the offing, tar sands producers are increasing their reliance on deliveries by rail. This is producing boom times for some long-haul freight carriiers, but will never prove sufficient to move the millions of barrels in added daily output expected from projects now coming on line.
The conclusion is obvious: without Keystone XL, the price of tar-sands oil will remain substantially lower than conventional oil (as well as unconventional oil extracted from shale formations in the United States), discouraging future investment and dimming the prospects for increased output. In other words, as Bill McKibben hopes, much of it will stay in the ground.
Industry officials are painfully aware of their predicament. In an Annual Information Form released at the end of 2011, Canadian Oil Sands Limited, owner of the largest share of Syncrude Canada (one of the leading producers of tar-sands oil) noted:
“A prolonged period of low crude oil prices could affect the value of our crude oil properties and the level of spending on growth projects and could result in curtailment of production… Any substantial and extended decline in the price of oil or an extended negative differential for SCO compared to either WTI or European Brent Crude would have an adverse effect on the revenues, profitability, and cash flow of Canadian Oil Sands and likely affect the ability of Canadian Oil Sands to pay dividends and repay its debt obligations.”
The stakes in this battle could not be higher. If Keystone XL fails to win the president’s approval, the industry will certainly grow at a far slower pace than forecast and possibly witness the failure of costly ventures, resulting in an industry-wide contraction. If approved, however, production will soar and global warming will occur at an even faster rate than previously projected. In this way, a presidential decision will have an unexpectedly decisive and lasting impact on all our lives.
Michael Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left, just published in paperback. A documentary movie based on his book Blood and Oil can be previewed and ordered at http://www.bloodandoilmovie.com. You can follow Klare on Facebook by clicking here.
Copyright 2013 Michael T. Klare
The expression of being between a rock and a hard place comes to mind!
Going back to basics.
Many will know the origins of this blog; a chance comment by Jon Lavin back in England in early 2007 that dogs were integrous, (a score of 210 as defined by Dr David Hawkins).
Way back in 2009, I wrote this:
“There is nothing to fear except the persistent refusal to find out the truth, the persistent refusal to analyse the causes of happenings.” Dorothy Thompson.
When I started Learning from Dogs I was initially rather vague but knew that the Blog should reflect the growing need for greater integrity and mindfulness in our planetary civilisation. Here are some early musings,
Show that integrity delivers better results … integrity doesn’t require force … networking power of a group … demonstrate the power of intention … cut through the power of propaganda and media distortion …
Promulgate the idea that integrity is the glue that holds a just society together … urgent need as society under huge pressures …. want a decent world for my grandchildren … for all our grandchildren …. feels like the 11th hour….
But as the initial, rather hesitant, start to the Blog settled into a reliable, daily posting, and as the minuscule number of readers steadily grew to the present level of many hundreds each day, the clarity of the purpose of Learning from Dogs also improved.
Because, while it may sound a tad grandiose and pompous, if society doesn’t eschew the games, half-truths and selfish attitudes of the last, say, 30 years or more, then civilisation, as we know it, could be under threat.
Or, possibly, it’s more accurate to say that our civilisation is under threat and the time left to change our ways, to embrace those qualities of integrity, truth and consciousness for the very planet we all live on, is running out.
“Time left to change our ways is running out.“
So what’s rattled my cage, so to speak, that prompted today’s reflection? I’ll tell you! (You knew I was going to anyway, didn’t you!)
I’m drafting these thoughts around noon Pacific Standard Time on Sunday, 17th. At the same time, tens of thousands of ordinary good folk (40,000 plus at the latest estimate) are gathering by the Washington Monument ready to march past the White House demanding that President Obama block the Keystone XL pipeline and move forward toward climate action.
Do I trust the US Government to take this action? On balance, no! That hurts me terribly to write that. I really want to trust and believe what the President of my new home country says.
Here’s a snippet of what the President did say in his State of the Union speech on February 12th.
Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense.
We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late.
A frank admission that the climate is changing in dramatic ways; the overwhelming judgment of science – fantastic!
The evidence that burning carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, gas) is the primary cause of today’s high CO2 levels is overwhelming. As a recent BBC radio programme reveals (being featured tomorrow) huge climate changes going back millions of years are a natural part of Earth’s history. However, as one of the scientists explains at the end of that radio programme, the present CO2 level, 395.55 ppm as of January, is now way above the safe, stable limit for the majority of life species on the planet.
But say you are reading this and are not yet convinced?
Let me borrow an old pilot’s saying from the world of aviation: If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt!
That embracing, cautious attitude is part of the reason why commercial air transport is among the most safest forms of transport. If you had the slightest doubt about the safety of a flight, you wouldn’t board the aircraft.
If you had the slightest doubt about the future for civilisation on this planet likewise you would do something! Remember, that dry word civilisation means family, children, grandchildren, friends and loved ones. The last thing you would do is to carry on as before!
Which is where my lack of trust of leaders comes from!
Back to that State of the Union speech. Just 210 words after the spoken words “act before it’s too late“ (I counted them!) Pres. Obama says, “That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.“
Here’s the relevant section:
I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.
Now, four years ago, other countries dominated the clean-energy market and the jobs that came with it. And we’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year. Let’s drive down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.
Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that. That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.
We don’t require any more oil to be used. We are already using a staggering amount of it. Let me refer you to an essay on Nature Bats Last called Math. The scary kind, not the fuzzy kind. Prof. McPherson wrote:
I performed a little rudimentary math last week. A little because even a little pushes my limit for math, these days. And rudimentary for the same reason. The outcome was staggering: We’re using oil at the rate of 5,500 cubic feet per second (cfs).
“5,500 cubic feet per second“ Don’t know about you but I have some trouble in visualising that flow rate. Try this from later in the essay:
Here’s another shot of perspective: We burn a cubic mile of crude oil every year. The Empire State Building, the world’s ninth-tallest building, towers above New York at 1,250 feet. The world’s tallest building, Taipei 101, is 1,667 feet from ground to tip.
Put those buildings together, end to end, and you have one side of a cube. Do it again, and you have the second side. Once more, but this time straight up, and you have one big cube. Filling that cube with oil takes nearly 200 billion gallons … which is about one-sixth the size of the cube of oil we’re burning every year.
Burning a cubic mile every year! Yes, Mr. President, more oil permits is a wonderful way of taking action before it’s too late!
So let’s see what transpires? Let’s see if integrity is given the highest political focus. As in “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” Because if there’s ever been a time when all of us, from every spectrum of society need honesty about what we are doing to the planet, it’s now!
As the tag on the home page of this blog says, “Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.“
Interesting insights into the American Founding Father.
Big thanks to Bob Derham who sent me this yesterday. I’m sure many Americans know this as they know their own mother. But for this recent resident of the USA I found it fascinating.
Thomas Jefferson was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States.
Born: April 13, 1743, Albemarle County
Died: July 4, 1826, Charlottesville
Presidential term: March 4, 1801 – March 4, 1809
Party: Democratic-Republican Party
Education: College of William and Mary (1760–1762), University of Toronto Mississauga
Thomas Jefferson was a remarkable man who started learning very early in life and never stopped.
At 5, began studying under his cousin’s tutor.
At 9, studied Latin, Greek and French.
At 14, studied classical literature and additional languages.
At 16, entered the College of William and Mary.
At 19, studied Law for 5 years starting under George Wythe.
At 23, started his own law practice.
At 25, was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses.
At 31, wrote the widely circulated Summary View of the Rights of British America and retired from his law practice.
At 32, was a Delegate to the Second Continental Congress.
At 33, wrote the Declaration of Independence .
At 33, took three years to revise Virginia ‘s legal code and wrote a Public Education bill and a statute for Religious Freedom.
At 36, was elected the second Governor of Virginia, succeeding Patrick Henry.
At 40, served in Congress for two years.
At 41, was the American minister to France , and negotiated commercial treaties with European nations along with Ben Franklin and John Adams.
At 46, served as the first Secretary of State under George Washington.
At 53, served as Vice President and was elected president of the American Philosophical Society.
At 55, drafted the Kentucky Resolutions, and became the active head of Republican Party.
At 57, was elected the third president of the United States.
At 60, obtained the Louisiana Purchase , doubling the nation’s size.
At 61, was elected to a second term as President.
At 65, retired to Monticello .
At 80, helped President Monroe shape the Monroe Doctrine.
At 81, almost single-handedly created the University of Virginia , and served as its first president.
At 83, died on the 50th anniversary of the Signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Thomas Jefferson knew because he himself studied the previous failed attempts at government. He understood actual history, the nature of God, his laws and the nature of man. That happens to be way more than what most understand today. Jefferson really knew his stuff.
John F. Kennedy held a dinner in the white House for a group of the brightest minds in the nation at that time. He made this statement:
“This is perhaps the assembly of the most intelligence ever to gather at one time in the White House with the exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
Quotations by Thomas Jefferson
“When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.”
“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”
“It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.”
“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”
“My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.”
“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”
“The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
“To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”
And finally Thomas Jefferson said in 1802: ”I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property – until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”
A voice from the past to lead us in the future.
After writing, last Friday, the Post that came out an hour ago, called The Power of Big Money, there was a further email from Duncan Meisel of 350.org. It is reproduced in full.
RED ALERT: Obama caving on Keystone?!
It all comes down to Barack Obama.
As I type this, Big Oil’s representatives in the House and Senate are pushing legislation that would rush approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Up until now President Obama has stood strong, threatening to reject any bill that includes the pipeline. But in the last hour, some terrible news has begun to leak from DC: President Obama seems to be on the verge of caving on Keystone.
The next few hours will be absolutely crucial — the President needs to hear from you that cutting a back-room deal with Big Oil on Keystone XL is unacceptable. If he steps up makes a public threat to veto this bill, he can stop this pipeline in its tracks.
Can you make a call right away? Here’s the White House number: 202-456-1111
Feel free to say what you want on the call, but remember to drive this one message home: to keep his promises, President Obama needs to veto legislation that would rush approval of Keystone XL. This pipeline is a threat to our climate and jobs and needs to be stopped.
After you’ve called the White House, let us know how it went by clicking here.
(Don’t worry if you get a busy signal — it’s actually a good sign: it means we’ve flooded the White House switchboard and that the movement is sending an overwhelming message to the President. Just keep on trying until you get through.)
President Obama came into office promising to “end the tyranny of oil.” This is his chance to prove he was serious. If he’s not, he needs to know right now that there will be real consequences.
Big Oil cut a back-room deal with the dirtiest Members of Congress to attach this legislation to a must-pass tax cut bill. These kinds of deals exemplify the tyranny Big Oil exercises over our government, and underscores why the President needs to threaten a veto.
We have just a few hours to convince him to stand strong and veto any legislation to rush the Keystone pipeline. Can you make a call right now and tell him that we expect nothing less? Here’s the number again: 202-456-1111
Your calls right now are absolutely crucial, and you should also be getting ready to get back into the streets in the days and weeks to come. We’re dusting off our plans to go to Obama 2012 offices and raise a ruckus. Call the White House, but also get in touch with your friends to start plotting your next steps locally.
Thanks to you, this fight isn’t over yet — not by a long shot.
Duncan Meisel for the team at 350.org
And then a short while later, this further email from Duncan,
Just wanted to pass along an update: today, we completely flooded the White House phone lines with thousands of calls opposing this deal on Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The good news: this means we overwhelmed the White House with our calls. The bad news: it also means that a lot of people didn’t get through, and that the comment line is now shut down for the weekend.
Thanks again — we’ll be in touch soon.
Duncan Meisel for the 350.org Team
P.S. In your comment to the White House, make sure you include some form of this message:
To keep his promises, President Obama needs to veto legislation that would rush approval of Keystone XL. This pipeline is a threat to our climate, our communities, and the creation of a new clean energy economy. and jobs and needs to be stopped.
When I sat down at my PC around 2.30pm (MT) on Saturday, there was a further email this time from Bill McKibben, as follows:
As you might know, the Keystone tar sands pipeline is back in play.
This morning, the Senate passed a bill that requires a 60-day, expedited approval process for the pipeline in return for a payroll tax cut, and the President has said he will sign it.
The news has been swirling around Washington the last few days, with one report after another of deals and deadlines. (It’s a little weird to think that six months ago, when we started the campaign to stop this pipeline, almost no one had even heard of this thing and now it’s the center of frantic bargaining — that’s a real tribute to your efforts).
Here’s what we do know:
1) The dirty energy industry wants the pipeline fast-tracked, and is demanding that the President grant or deny a permit within two months. They’re going to do all they can to make that happen.
2) The administration knows that Americans don’t want that permit granted. They know because many of you encircled the White House in November, and submitted more public comments than on any energy project in history, and because yesterday the climate movement flooded the White House switchboard with so many phone calls that the busy signal was the sound of the day. For all that work, thank you.
Here’s what we don’t know: what happens next.
Our hope — and what you should ask the President for when you write him — is that when he signs the bill he will say the obvious thing:
“Two months is not long enough to review the pipeline. The Canadians themselves have just delayed review of their tar sands pipelines over safety concerns, and we’ve just come through a year that set a record for billion-dollar climate-related disasters; I’m not going to do a rush job just to please the oil industry lobbyists. So this pipeline is dead.”
Since the State Department has already, in essence, said two months is not enough time, this should be pretty straightforward.
We should know how it’s going to play out within 48 hours or so. We’re of course ready to fight like heck.
But for this weekend? Well, the switchboard is now closed, so to contact the White House you’ll need to send them a message here. And click here to spread the word on Facebook, and click here to share the news on on Twitter.
Once you’ve done that, I recommend eggnog, football, caroling, Hannukah-shopping — and checking the email every once in a while? We’re hanging fire on this, and we’ll let you know when we find out what’s going down and if rapid reaction of some kind is required.
So so many thanks for your continued good hearted work,
Bill McKibben for 350.org Team
P.S. We know one other thing too. On Thursday night the Republican debating society came out in favor the pipeline, which is easy for them to do since they’ve all now denied climate science. Newt Gingrich in particular blamed “San Francisco environmental extremists” with holding things up. I’m sure our California crew is happy for the shout-out, but it seemed a little unfair to Nebraska farmers, Texas ranchers, Florida College students, New York trade unionists, Wall Street occupiers, and even us Vermont granola eaters. We’re a big broad bunch and we’re going to stay that way!
Please do everything to circulate this information. Thank you!
Fabulous news from The President’s Office re the Keystone XL pipeline.
On the 27th October, I introduced an article about the pipeline, thus,
“Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.”
The above is attributed to W. Clement Stone, a businessman, philanthropist and author who died in 2002, aged 100. It seemed an appropriate quotation with which to introduce a recent article by Bill McKibben, on the Grist blog, about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
A short time ago (Thursday) I received the following from Bill McKibben, 350.org.
Um, we won. You won.
Not completely. The President didn’t outright reject the Keystone XL pipeline permit. My particular fantasy — that he would invite the 1253 people arrested on his doorstep in August inside the gates for a victory picnic by the vegetable garden — didn’t materialize.
But a few minutes ago the President sent the pipeline back to the State Department for a thorough re-review, which most analysts are saying will effectively kill the project. The president explicitly noted climate change, along with the pipeline route, as one of the factors that a new review would need to assess. There’s no way, with an honest review, that a pipeline that helps speed the tapping of the world’s second-largest pool of carbon can pass environmental muster.
And he has made clear that the environmental assessment won’t be carried out by cronies of the pipeline company — that it will be an expert and independent assessment. We will watch that process like hawks, making sure that it doesn’t succumb to more cronyism. Perhaps this effort will go some tiny way towards cleaning up the Washington culture of corporate dominance that came so dramatically to light here in emails and lobbyist disclosure forms.
It’s important to understand how unlikely this victory is. Six months ago, almost no one outside the pipeline route even knew about Keystone XL. One month ago, a secret poll of “energy insiders” by the National Journal found that “virtually all” expected easy approval of the pipeline by year’s end. As late as last week the CBC reported that Transcanada was moving huge quantities of pipe across the border and seizing land by eminent domain, certain that its permit would be granted. A done deal has come spectacularly undone.
Our movement spoke loudly about climate change and the President responded. There have been few even partial victories about global warming in recent years so that makes this an important day. We need to let the president and oil companies know that we’re ready to take action should they try to push this pipeline through in a couple of years. There’s a pledge to take bold action against the pipeline up on our site, and I’ll be keeping your names an emails safely stored away so that you’ll be the first to know about anything we need to do down the road.
The President deserves thanks for making this call — it’s not easy in the face of the fossil fuel industry and its endless reserves of cash. The deepest thanks, however, go to you: to indigenous peoples who began the fight, to the folks in Nebraska who rallied so fiercely, to the scientists who explained the stakes, to the environmental groups who joined with passionate common purpose, to the campuses that lit up with activity, to the faith leaders that raised a moral cry, to the labor leaders who recognized where our economic future lies, to the Occupy movement that helped galvanize revulsion at insider dealing, and most of all to the people in every state and province who built the movement that made this decision inevitable.
Our fight, of course, is barely begun. Some in our movement will say that this decision is just politics as usual: that the President wants us off the streets — and off his front lawn — until after the election, at which point the administration can approve the pipeline, alienating its supporters without electoral consequence. The president should know that If this pipeline proposal somehow reemerges from the review process we will use every tool at our disposal to keep it from ever being built; if there’s a lesson of the last few months, both in our work and in the Occupy encampments around the world, it’s that sometimes we have to put our bodies on the line.
In the meantime, since federal action will be in abeyance for a long stretch, we need to figure out how best to support our Canadian brothers and sisters, who are effectively battling against proposed pipelines west from the tar sands to the Pacific. And we need to broaden our work to take on all the forms of ‘extreme energy’ now coming to the fore: mountaintop removal coal mining, deepsea oil drilling, fracking for gas and oil. We’ll keep sending you updates; you keep letting us know what we need to do next.
Last week, scientists announced that the planet had poured a record amount of CO2 into the atmosphere last year; that’s a sign of how desperate our battle is. But we take courage from today’s White House announcement; it gives us some clues about how to fight going forward.
And I simply can’t say thank you enough. I know, because of my own weariness, how hard so many of you have worked. It was good work, done in the right spirit, and it has secured an unlikely victory. You are the cause of that victory; you upended enormous odds.
I’m going to bed tired tonight. But I’ll get up in the morning ready for the next battle, more confident because I know you’re part of this fight too.
Bill McKibben for the 350.org Team
“Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.”
The above is attributed to W. Clement Stone, a businessman, philanthropist and author who died in 2002, aged 100. It seemed an appropriate quotation with which to introduce a recent article by Bill McKibben, on the Grist blog, about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Keystone pipeline’s last defense: Cold, hard cash
What do you do if you’ve lost an argument?
Say you really really want to build a big pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta so that you can sell your bitumen to the world
But 20 of the nation’s top scientists have written to the president to say it’s a terrible idea — and the planet’s leading climatologist says burning the tar sands would be “game over for the climate.” And nine recent winners of the Nobel Peace Prize have condemned the plan. And Robert Redford has just made a video explaining why the plan is an attack on the nation’s heartland. Then, if you’re a poor forlorn oil industry feeling unloved and under assault, what do you do?
There’s really only one answer: Flash your wad.
As we get to the final chapters of the Keystone pipeline saga (the president has said he’ll make his decision by year’s end), money’s the only argument these guys have left.
They managed to buy a favorable environmental review from the U.S. State Department, which helpfully outsourced the job to a company that was a “major client” of TransCanada, the pipeline builder.
And yesterday, they proposed a $100 million “performance bond” to the state of Nebraska, whose Republican governor and senator have come out against the pipeline. The money is apparently designed to pay for damage to the Ogallala Aquifer if the pipeline starts to leak.
Meanwhile, when 33 Democratic representatives sent a letter to the White House demanding a rejection of the plan, lobbyists for TransCanada rounded up their own list of lawmakers from the president’s party to issue a rejoinder. But they only found 22. And what do you know — they included nine of the top 10 Democratic recipients of oil money in the House. On average the signatories received over 4.25 times more oil money than the average House Democrat in the 112th Congress. That would be 325 percent more. That would be how the game is played.
The other side — that is, scientists, Nobelists, and the kind of average people who went to jail in record numbers this summer to block the plan — doesn’t have that kind of money. We’ve had to figure out other currencies to work in: spirit, passion, creativity. We’ve spent our bodies, putting them on the line. The odds are still against us, but the odds are changing; we’re on a roll as we head toward Nov. 6, when we’ll ring the White House with people, exactly one year before the election. (You can sign up here.)
But every once in a while we get to play the money game too! While TransCanada was out there setting the $100 million price on the Ogallala Aquifer, this news story rolled across my screen. It described a big Democratic giver, Barbarina Heyerdahl. She gave 120 grand to Obama and the Democratic National Committee over the last three years, not to mention knocking on doors for the 2008 campaign. But she said Keystone is a bridge too far, that “she won’t be writing any more checks to Obama if he approves the carbon conduit that’s become the focus of the climate-change movement. ‘It’s a baseline issue,’ she says.”
I have no doubt that, even with Heyerdahl and other donors accounted for, the oil industry has all the money they need to win this fight. The Koch brothers are the third and fourth richest men in America, and they filed papers in Canada declaring their “direct and substantial” interest in the project. If money’s the only thing that matters, they’ll carry the day.
But if money’s the only thing that matters, we’re done for anyway. So we’ll keep using science and art and courage. And we’ll hope that Barack Obama hasn’t sold his soul. We’re going to find out in the next few weeks.
Bill McKibben is founder of 350.org and Schumann Distinguished Professor at Middlebury College in Vermont. He also serves on Grist’s Board of Directors.
Finally, a YouTube video from Tars and Action.
“All that’s necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke
Full copy of an email just in from Bill McKibben.
I’m writing this from the lawn in front of the White House.
In front of me there’s a sprawling rally underway, with speakers ranging from indigenous elders to the great Canadian writer Naomi Klein. In back of me, another 243 courageous people are being hauled away to jail — it’s the last day of Phase 1 of the tar sands campaign, and 1,252 North Americans have been arrested, the biggest civil disobedience action this century on this continent.
But we’ve been just as cheered by the help that has poured in from around the world — today, activists in front of the White House held a banner with a huge number on it: 618,428. That’s how many people around the world who signed on to the “Stop the Tar Sands” mega-petition to President Obama, including many of you in the 350.org network. Check out this beautiful photo of passion and courage on display:
(Photo Credit: Josh Lopez. If you can’t see the photo above, click here to see it and more inspirational photos from DC.)
But this movement does more than sign petitions: many of you stood strong in front of the White House risking arrest, and protesters on every continent have picketed outside embassies and consulates. That makes sense, for global warming is the one problem that affects everyone everywhere.
And the next moment to prove that is Sept. 24 for Moving Planet – the massive day of climate action that will unite people all over the world. We’ve heard news of amazing actions from every corner of the earth -— from a massive bike rally in the Philippines to an incredible eco-festival in Philadelphia. I truly can’t wait to see the pictures pour in.
But here’s why it’s important: we’re not just a movement that opposes things, we’re also a movement that dreams of what’s coming. And we don’t just dream, we also transform those dreams into reality. On September 24, on bike and on foot and on boards, we’re going to point the way towards that future. By days’ end, we’ll have shown why the bicycle is more glamorous than the car, and why the people have the potential to be more powerful than the polluters.
On some days fighting global warming means swallowing hard, mustering your courage, and making a sacrifice — other days it means getting all your friends up in the saddles of their bikes to have some fun and help move the planet forward.
September 24 is the second kind of day; it’s going to be powerful, it’s going to be beautiful, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out. Please find or join a local event to get involved.
Bill McKibben for the whole 350.org team
350.org is building a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis. Our online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions are led from the bottom up by thousands of volunteer organizers in over 188 countries. You can join 350.org on Facebook by becoming a fan of our page atfacebook.com/350org and follow us on twitter by visiting twitter.com/350. To join our list (maybe a friend forwarded you this e-mail) visitwww.350.org/signup. To support our work, donate securely online at 350.org/donate.
What is 350? 350 is the number that leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Scientists measure carbon dioxide in “parts per million” (ppm), so 350ppm is the number humanity needs to get below as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change. To get there, we need a different kind of PPM–a “people powered movement” that is made of people like you in every corner of the planet.
Feel free to circulate this as far and wide as you wish. Thanks, Learning from Dogs
This is so important.
Regular readers will know that I wrote about the XL Pipeline on the 29th August setting out the arguments of those who know much more of the detail as to why the tar sands of Canada are just the worst possible way to continue the madness of using oil. If you didn’t read that then it’s here, and please do so.
The rest of this Post is taken from the Credo Action website. Please do participate. Sign the petition NOW.
“Essentially game over” for the climate.
That’s what climate scientist James Hansen calls the proposed Keystone XL pipeline — which would carry oil out of Canada’s vast tar sands oil fields to Texas, where it will be refined, then burned across the globe, dealing a catastrophic blow to our chance of returning earth to a stable climate.
This project requires a presidential permit to start building — and it is President Obama’s decision alone to grant or deny that permit. He will make the decision as soon as September.
Tell President Obama: Stop the Keystone XL pipeline.
The Alberta tar sands are a carbon bomb. The 3rd largest oil field in the world, the difficult extraction and transportation of the tar sands oil ultimately produces up to three times the carbon emissions of traditional oil. (And extreme environmental devastation along the way.)1
The Keystone XL pipeline is the fuse to this bomb – a highway to swift consumption of this dirty, dangerous crude. As if that wasn’t enough, it poses a massive spill risk in the six states along the pipeline route, including over the Ogallala Aquifer which provides up to 30% of our nation’s agricultural water.
We. Must. Stop. This.
Tell President Obama: Stop the Keystone XL pipeline.
Twenty leading climate scientists have just sent a letter to President Obama urging him to deny the permit.
And from August 20th to September 3rd, there will be a massive, historic, daily sit-in outside the White House where more than 1500 people, including CREDO staff, have already signed up to risk arrest in peaceful protest. (For more about the sit in, see below.)
The administration’s previous decisions on climate do not inspire confidence that they will deny the permit. Recently the administration has opened new areas to offshore drilling and coal mining, and late last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even said she was “inclined” to approve Keystone XL.
But President Obama still has the final word. He does not have to negotiate with Congress or industry. As his State Department reviews the permit, the decision — which could have a devastating impact on the livability of our nation, and our world — is entirely in his hands.
We’ve lost too many climate fights already. We need a massive, historic show of pressure to make sure we don’t lose this one. Please sign the petition and read below for other ways to get involved.
Tell President Obama: Stop the Keystone XL pipeline.
1. “Keystone XL Pipeline,” Friends of the Earth
Because this fight is so important, leading climate activists including Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein and climate scientist James Hansen are organizing a historic, daily series of peaceful protests between August 20th and Sept. 3rd. The CEO’s and Directors of nearly 30 leading Environmental Organizations, including CREDO’s Michael Kieschnick and Laura Scher, are urging people to participate.
More than 1500 people from across the country, including CREDO staff, have already signed up to join the sit-in outside the White House and risk arrest.
Please read the invitation letter below for more information. If you would like to sign up to join the protest, and possibly be arrested, click here.
This will be a slightly longer letter than common for the internet age–it’s serious stuff.
The short version is we want you to consider doing something hard: coming to Washington in the hottest and stickiest weeks of the summer and engaging in civil disobedience that will quite possibly get you arrested.
The full version goes like this:
As you know, the planet is steadily warming: 2010 was the warmest year on record, and we’ve seen the resulting chaos in almost every corner of the earth.
And as you also know, our democracy is increasingly controlled by special interests interested only in their short-term profit.
These two trends collide this summer in Washington, where the State Department and the White House have to decide whether to grant a certificate of ‘national interest’ to some of the biggest fossil fuel players on earth. These corporations want to build the so-called ‘Keystone XL Pipeline’ from Canada’s tar sands to Texas refineries.
To call this project a horror is serious understatement. The tar sands have wrecked huge parts of Alberta, disrupting ways of life in indigenous communities–First Nations communities in Canada, and tribes along the pipeline route in the U.S. have demanded the destruction cease. The pipeline crosses crucial areas like the Oglalla Aquifer where a spill would be disastrous–and though the pipeline companies insist they are using ‘state of the art’ technologies that should leak only once every 7 years, the precursor pipeline and its pumping stations have leaked a dozen times in the past year. These local impacts alone would be cause enough to block such a plan. But the Keystone Pipeline would also be a fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous.
As the climatologist Jim Hansen (one of the signatories to this letter) explained, if we have any chance of getting back to a stable climate “the principal requirement is that coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground.” In other words, he added, “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.” The Keystone pipeline is an essential part of the game. “Unless we get increased market access, like with Keystone XL, we’re going to be stuck,” said Ralph Glass, an economist and vice-president at AJM Petroleum Consultants in Calgary, told a Canadian newspaper last week.
Given all that, you’d suspect that there’s no way the Obama administration would ever permit this pipeline. But in the last few months the administration has signed pieces of paper opening much of Alaska to oil drilling, and permitting coal-mining on federal land in Wyoming that will produce as much CO2 as 300 powerplants operating at full bore.
And Secretary of State Clinton has already said she’s ‘inclined’ to recommend the pipeline go forward. Partly it’s because of the political commotion over high gas prices, though more tar sands oil would do nothing to change that picture. But it’s also because of intense pressure from industry. The US Chamber of Commerce–a bigger funder of political campaigns than the RNC and DNC combined–has demanded that the administration “move quickly to approve the Keystone XL pipeline,” which is not so surprising–they’ve also told the U.S. EPA that if the planet warms that will be okay because humans can ‘adapt their physiology’ to cope. The Koch Brothers, needless to say, are also backing the plan, and may reap huge profits from it.
So we’re pretty sure that without serious pressure the Keystone Pipeline will get its permit from Washington. A wonderful coalition of environmental groups has built a strong campaign across the continent–from Cree and Dene indigenous leaders to Nebraska farmers, they’ve spoken out strongly against the destruction of their land. We need to join them, and to say even if our own homes won’t be crossed by this pipeline, our joint home–the earth–will be wrecked by the carbon that pours down it.
And we need to say something else, too: it’s time to stop letting corporate power make the most important decisions our planet faces. We don’t have the money to compete with those corporations, but we do have our bodies, and beginning in mid August many of us will use them. We will, each day, march on the White House, risking arrest with our trespass. We will do it in dignified fashion, demonstrating that in this case we are the conservatives, and that our foes–who would change the composition of the atmosphere are dangerous radicals. Come dressed as if for a business meeting–this is, in fact, serious business.
And another sartorial tip–if you wore an Obama button during the 2008 campaign, why not wear it again? We very much still want to believe in the promise of that young Senator who told us that with his election the ‘rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet start to heal.’ We don’t understand what combination of bureaucratic obstinacy and insider dealing has derailed those efforts, but we remember his request that his supporters continue on after the election to pressure his government for change. We’ll do what we can.
And one more thing: we don’t just want college kids to be the participants in this fight. They’ve led the way so far on climate change–10,000 came to DC for the Powershift gathering earlier this spring. They’ve marched this month in West Virginia to protest mountaintop removal; a young man named Tim DeChristopher faces sentencing this summer in Utah for his creative protest.
Now it’s time for people who’ve spent their lives pouring carbon into the atmosphere to step up too, just as many of us did in earlier battles for civil rights or for peace. Most of us signing this letter are veterans of this work, and we think it’s past time for elders to behave like elders. One thing we don’t want is a smash up: if you can’t control your passions, this action is not for you.
This won’t be a one-shot day of action. We plan for it to continue for several weeks, till the administration understands we won’t go away. Not all of us can actually get arrested–half the signatories to this letter live in Canada, and might well find our entry into the U.S. barred. But we will be making plans for sympathy demonstrations outside Canadian consulates in the U.S., and U.S. consulates in Canada–the decision-makers need to know they’re being watched.
Twenty years of patiently explaining the climate crisis to our leaders hasn’t worked. Maybe moral witness will help. You have to start somewhere, and we choose here and now.
As plans solidify in the next few weeks we’ll be in touch with you to arrange nonviolence training; our colleagues at a variety of environmental and democracy campaigns will be coordinating the actual arrangements.
We know we’re asking a lot. You should think long and hard on it, and pray if you’re the praying type. But to us, it’s as much privilege as burden to get to join this fight in the most serious possible way. We hope you’ll join us.
Maude Barlow — Chair, Council of Canadians
Wendell Berry — Author and Farmer
Tom Goldtooth — Director, Indigenous Environmental Network
Danny Glover — Actor
James Hansen — Climate Scientist
Wes Jackson — Agronomist, President of the Land Insitute
Naomi Klein — Author and Journalist
Bill McKibben — Writer and Environmentalist
George Poitras — Mikisew Cree Indigenous First Nation
Gus Speth — Environmental Lawyer and Activist
David Suzuki — Scientist, Environmentalist and Broadcaster
Joseph B. Uehlein — Labor organizer and environmentalist
…. or have we all gone stark, staring mad!
Sorry, in a bit of a rant mood just now.
I read widely many Blogs out there because it seems that this channel is one which is more likely to offer real, valid commentaries on what is going on at present with regard to the economic crisis, that is the crisis in the broader sense.
Regulation remains largely ineffective (in fact, the industry has managed to demonize the word), the big banks are too important to fail, and interest rates are low across the yield curve. The Fed provides downside protection and there is no effective limit on the amount or nature of risks that the private financial sector can take. This is a recipe not for stagnation but rather for a metaboom in which we will receive warnings, including painful recessions – but consistently ignore them.
The 1920s opened with an 18-month recession, an eerie parallel to the 2007-9 experience. It ended with the Great Crash of 1929.
Then across the way we have a piece on The Daily Beast about Summers. I quote from the first two paragraphs with their permission (thanks guys.)
Washington is swirling with the usual rumors—the White House’s man was pushed! He jumped! But Summers is leaving because he made sure real reform was discussed—but not accomplished.
The rumor that come November, when the mid-term elections are history, Lawrence Summers, administration’s quarterback on economic matters, will leave the White House, has been confirmed. The usual presumptions have been put in play: Summers is weary of the job; the president and his men and women feel the need for a new pair of hands under center; the man has done well; the man has done badly. There is no indication that, like Bush II’s ill-served first Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, Summers is being canned for speaking truth to power. That is not the man’s style, not—let it be said—that there’s much evidence that the administration has better than a shaky grasp of the practical truths of American financial and economic life in the Age of Goldman Sachs.The bottom line is that we can expect the usual judgemental blahblahblah to grow in volume and marginality on the talk-show and Op-Ed circuit as the day calendared by the media for Summers’ leave-taking approaches.
Now go across to the article and read it in full. Read why Michael Thomas, the author and no stranger to Wall St., describes Summers as someone who “saw to it that the talk was talked, but the walk was never walked.“
And I’ll close by repeating a comment I made to the Baseline Scenario article:
I don’t have the knowledge to respond to Simon’s excellent Post in detail but his comments reinforce what feels like a constant throbbing in my mind – how can the citizens of so many countries have abdicated so much interest and concern in how they/we are governed. Wish I had even a clue as to the answer to that question.
Significant social unrest would be very scary – the ‘law’ of unintended consequences and all that – but there are times when I wonder if this, in the end, might be the only form of real progress for the hard-working, tax-paying majority.
End of rant!
By Paul Handover