You are browsing the archive for Keystone XL.

Bill McKibben: How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Democrats?

6:24 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Bill McKibben

Is the Tar Sands Pipeline a "Stonewall" moment for the climate movement? Bill McKibben responds to Time.

At 72, climate scientist James Hansen is retiring as head of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies to work even more actively on climate-change issues. Keep in mind that, in congressional testimony in 1988, he first put climate change on the national map.  “It is time to stop waffling so much,” he told the congressional committee members, “and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.”  He then went on to suggest a future “probability of extreme events like summer heat waves… and the likelihood of heat wave drought situations in the Southwest and Midwest.”  (Any of that sound faintly familiar a quarter-century later?)  It was, at the time, a startling statement.  Recently, in an email to the members of 350.org, the environmental organization he helped to found, former New Yorker reporter Bill McKibben wrote: “If 350.org has a patron saint, it’s Jim [Hansen]. It was his 2008 paper that gave us our name, identifying 350 parts per million CO2 as the safe upper limit for carbon in the atmosphere.”

That’s no small praise from the writer who, only a year after Hansen spoke up, first put global warming on the map in a popular book, The End of Nature.  He was at least a decade or more ahead of the rest of us, and more recently he’s led the popular charge on climate change and especially, in the last year, on trying to block the building of Keystone XL.  That’s the pipeline slated to bring tar sands, a particularly “dirty” (and in carbon terms, dirty to produce) form of crude oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.  Just the other day, as if to provide a little exclamation point on his energetic campaign, during which Hansen has been arrested twice in acts of civil disobedience, a pipeline through which Exxon was already running Canadian “heavy crude” (reputedly a particularly corrosive form of oil) burst in an Arkansas town.  The neighborhood affected, according to NPR’s “Morning Edition,” was left “looking like a scene out of the Walking Dead.”

As a scientist and an activist, Hansen has proven a remarkable figure.  (He will soon be awarded the prestigeous Ridenhour Courage Prize.)  After a February arrest protesting the Keystone pipeline, he told the Washington Post, “We have reached a fork in the road,” adding that politicians have to understand that they can “go down this road of exploiting every fossil fuel we have — tar sands, tar shale, off-shore drilling in the Arctic — but the science tells us we can’t do that without creating a situation… our children and grandchildren will have no control over, which is the climate system.”

Recently, there was a striking New York Times portrait of him by Justin Gillis headlined “Climate Maverick to Retire From NASA.”  That word “maverick,” while by no means wrong, might be a little deceptive in 2013, since a maverick is a loner, an outlier, and in climate-change terms these days, there is nothing terribly mavericky about Hansen’s suggestions that climate change is likely to radically transform this planet unless we begin to get our greenhouse gas output under control soon.  These days, in fact, he’s surrounded by a worried mass of scientists.

In Gillis’s piece there was a passage that, despite everything I’ve read, managed to shock me, and I thought it worth citing here before you read TomDispatch regular McKibben’s latest post.  Writing about how early Hansen highlighted the dangers of global warming, and how he was doubted at the time, Gillis added, “Yet subsequent events bore him out. Since the day he spoke, not a single month’s temperatures have fallen below the 20th-century average for that month. Half the world’s population is now too young to have lived through the last colder-than-average month, February 1985. In worldwide temperature records going back to 1880, the 19 hottest years have all occurred since his testimony.”

Think about that for a moment and imagine where we’re still going as greenhouse gases continue to pour into the atmosphere at record rates. Tom

Is the Keystone XL Pipeline the “Stonewall” of the Climate Movement?
And If So, Is That Terrible News?
By Bill McKibben

A few weeks ago, Time magazine called the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline that will bring some of the dirtiest energy on the planet from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast the “Selma and Stonewall” of the climate movement.

Which, if you think about it, may be both good news and bad news. Yes, those of us fighting the pipeline have mobilized record numbers of activists: the largest civil disobedience action in 30 years and 40,000 people on the mall in February for the biggest climate rally in American history. Right now, we’re aiming to get a million people to send in public comments about the “environmental review” the State Department is conducting on the feasibility and advisability of building the pipeline.  And there’s good reason to put pressure on.  After all, it’s the same State Department that, as on a previous round of reviews, hired “experts” who had once worked as consultants for TransCanada, the pipeline’s builder.

Still, let’s put things in perspective: Stonewall took place in 1969, and as of last week the Supreme Court was still trying to decide if gay people should be allowed to marry each other. If the climate movement takes that long, we’ll be rallying in scuba masks. (I’m not kidding. The section of the Washington Mall where we rallied against the pipeline this winter already has a big construction project underway: a flood barrier to keep the rising Potomac River out of downtown DC.)

It was certainly joyful to see marriage equality being considered by our top judicial body.  In some ways, however, the most depressing spectacle of the week was watching Democratic leaders decide that, in 2013, it was finally safe to proclaim gay people actual human beings. In one weekend, Democratic senators Mark Warner of Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia figured out that they had “evolved” on the issue. And Bill Clinton, the greatest weathervane who ever lived, finally decided that the Defense of Marriage Act he had signed into law, boasted about in ads on Christian radio, and urged candidate John Kerry to defend as constitutional in 2004, was, you know, wrong. He, too, had “evolved,” once the polls made it clear that such an evolution was a safe bet.

Why recite all this history? Because for me, the hardest part of the Keystone pipeline fight has been figuring out what in the world to do about the Democrats.

Fiddling While the Planet Burns

Read the rest of this entry →

Michael Klare, Will the Keystone XL Pipeline Go Down?

7:38 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance protest

Members of Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance at a Keystone XL blockade site earlier this month.

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 the White 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 editorialin the trade publication Oil & Gas Journal:

Read the rest of this entry →

Bill McKibben: Puncturing the Pipeline

7:41 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

Stop! (Photo: perspective, flickr)

Stop! (Photo: perspective, flickr)

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

What’s the biggest story of the last several weeks?  Rick Perry’s moment of silence, all 53 seconds’ worth?  The Penn State riots after revered coach JoePa went down in a child sex abuse scandal? The Kardashian wedding/divorce?  The European debt crisis that could throw the world economy into a tailspin?  The Cain sexual harassment charges?  The trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor?

The answer should be none of the above, even though as a group they’ve dominated the October/November headlines.  In fact, the piece of the week, month, and arguably year should have been one that slipped by so quietly, so off front-pages nationwide and out of news leads everywhere that you undoubtedly didn’t even notice.  And yet it’s the story that could turn your life and that of your children and grandchildren inside out and upside down.

On the face of it, it wasn’t anything to shout about — just more stats in a world drowning in numbers.  These happen to have been put out by the U.S. Department of Energy and they reflected, as an Associated Press headline put it, the “biggest jump ever seen in global warming gases.”  In other words, in 2010, humanity (with a special bow to China, the United States, and onrushing India) managed to pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than at any time since the industrial revolution began — 564 million more tons than in 2009, which represents an increase of 6%.

According to AP’s Seth Borenstein, that’s “higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago.” He’s talking about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, which is, if anything, considered “conservative” in its projections of future catastrophe by many climate scientists.  Put another way, we’re talking more greenhouse gases than have entered the Earth’s atmosphere in tens of millions of years.

Consider as well the prediction offered by Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency: without an effective international agreement to staunch greenhouse gases within five years, the door will close on preventing a potentially disastrous rise in the planet’s temperature.  You’re talking, that is, about the kind of freaky weather that will make October’s bizarre snowstorm in the Northeast look like a walk in the park.  (That storm had all the signs of a climate-change-induced bit of extreme weather: New York City hadn’t recorded an October snowfall like it since the Civil War and it managed to hit the region in a period of ongoing warmth when the trees hadn’t yet had the decency to lose their leaves, producing a chaos of downed electrical wires.)  And don’t get me started on what this would mean in terms of future planetary hot spells or sea-level rise. Read the rest of this entry →