In mid November by a margin of one vote, the U.S. Senate rejected a bill to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to cross the Canada-U.S. border and bring tar sands oil in Canada to refineries in Texas.
I am an environmentalist and firmly believe that this is the wrong decision.
I do not believe this because the pipeline would create more jobs: In fact, the pipeline would create only 35 permanent jobs after the construction’s completion next year, and those would last only as long as the tar sands, unlike the thousands of jobs potentially jeopardized by the threat of spills in the farming corridor it would cross and the fisheries that would see an increase in tanker traffic on the Gulf of Mexico.
I do not believe the pipeline should have been approved because I want cheaper gas prices. The tar sands oil is intended for intercontinental markets, and not one drop would have made it to American gas pumps.
I do not believe this because I think the fumigation of the atmosphere by carbon stored in Alberta would not contribute significantly to global climate change, or that global climate change is insignificant to the world at large.
I think that climate change is the greatest single threat to the sustenance of our ecosystems and the stability of our civilization. I would very much prefer to see every drop of oil currently in the ground to remain there.
I support the creation of the Keystone XL pipeline because I believe the choice we are being presented with — preventing the pipeline’s construction and keeping the tar sands in the ground versus supporting the project and crossing the point of no return to a hothouse world — is a false one.
The tar sands are being and will continue to be mined, regardless of the XL’s construction. At the moment, crude oil is being shipped to refineries by truck.
One could make the argument that this inefficient step in the supply chain raises the ultimate fuel price and thus reduces the profitability of this, as I see it, rogue industry.
However, a pipeline will be built regardless. However bad the XL may be, the alternative is much, much worse.
If constructed, Canada’s Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines would cross west to the Pacific through the province of British Columbia and Great Bear Rainforest, an enormous, intact, old growth forest that exists on a scale greater than anything left in the contiguous U.S.
The pipelines would end at Kitimat, a port situated at the end of a chain of long, pristine and difficult-to-navigate fjords.
Kitimat is currently home to orcas and bears, but if the Enbridge pipelines are built, the port would likely feature Chinese tanker traffic and oil spills instead.
Perhaps efforts of Canadian activists to block the Enbridge pipeline will succeed, even with the increase in pressure likely to be felt with the Keystone’s rejection.
I find that unlikely with their current government, which has no regard for environmental protection and sustainability, but it is a possibility.
Perhaps, even with control of both the U.S. House and Senate, Republicans will fail to revisit and approve the pipeline.
They don’t have the majority to override a presidential veto right now, but most of the current Congress will likely still be in office in two years, and no one can predict if the new president will even publicly profess a belief in global warming after that point.
It seems unlikely to me that we will even prevent the XL’s construction forever.
By rejecting it, Democrats have bet high and relinquished leverage that could have lowered the stakes in this entire affair.
Rather than rejecting Keystone XL outright, Democrats should have approved its construction, with high safety standards and a tax attached that would charge most of the difference between current expense per barrel and that of the pipeline oil. This tax would not affect American gas prices.
However, it would reduce the cost effectiveness of the nearly inevitable pipeline, thus reducing carbon emissions globally and providing a compromise that would be harder for conservatives to overturn.
These funds could be allocated to rainforest conservation, carbon sequestration or research and subsidies for renewable energy sources.
Even when the fate of the world is at stake, sometimes all or nothing is not the best strategy. As much as it pains me to say it, I think that in this case, we have to compromise.
(Source: Rhett Barker is a University of Florida wildlife ecology junior – The Independent Florida Alligator.)