The strongest argument against Keystone is a simple stand against more oil from any source

keystone xl pipelineThe House of Representatives has once again voted on the Keystone XL Pipeline project. The Senate has debated it and a full Congressional vote (and approval) is set for sometime next week. This will send the bill to President Obama who has promised to veto it.

Pro-pipeline arguments always are always centered around job creation, the relative safety of pipelines vs. tankers or trains and the value of providing Canadian oil to the world market. Anti-pipeline folks tend to point out that most of the jobs are temporary, sending oil overseas won’t do anything to help the U.S. economy or its motorists, and the environmental impact would be too high.

George Will’s column of a few days ago touched on the heart of this issue for me. “The Canadian oil is going into the international market,” he wrote, “and much of it into internal combustion engines around the world.” He wrote that like it’s a good thing.

Since that column, the world has learned that 2014 was the hottest year since they began keeping records. Only the Grand Ostrich Party ignores the fact that a significant driver of this temperature spike is man-made carbon emissions that contribute to greenhouse gas. Humans emit carbon dioxide at a staggering rate and in staggering amounts: China leads the world at 10 billion tons of CO2, with the U.S. holding up its end of the bargain with about 5.4 billion tons.

A significant component of man-made carbon loading is the internal combustion engine. One estimate puts the worldwide number of cars and light trucks at around one billion. Auto makers think that 2015 will see U.S. sales of new cars hitting 17 million.

So there will be a lot of hungry engines out there for the Canadian oil once it is extracted, transported, refined, shipped as gasoline and sold at the pump. (That chain of events, by the way, consumes millions of gallons of crude and produces tons of emissions itself) But here’s the thing: why in the overheated world do we want to pump more oil into the chain of consumption and combustion when the by-products are causing such harm?

The strongest argument against Keystone is a simple stand against more oil from any source. What we ought to be doing instead is working 24/7 to find alternative fuels, building cleaner mass transit, and raising funds for all of that by taxing carbon emissions until it doesn’t pay to drive. We ought to be regulating the manufacturing of cars so that only hybrids or electric motors are allowed to be sold to the world markets.

We ought to leave the Canadian tar sands alone. We ought to quit patting ourselves on our domestic back for how much oil we produce. We ought to turn the debate around to discover how little oil we can burn and still run the economy.

In the hands of the U.S. Senate, the Keystone struggle will remind us of Keystone Cops. There are lots of amendments to be debated (including Bernie Sanders’ wonderful attempt to call out the science-deniers once and for all. Obama’s latest explanation for his likely veto is, in my humble opinion, just plain lame. He will veto Keystone because it was approved outside the normal Executive Branch processes, or some such wheeze.

Veto it because the oil glut is bad for us. Veto it to shame Canada out of its non-Keystone plan to ship the oil west through its own pipelines. Shut the pipeline down, turn off the spigot. This is not life-giving water we’re talking about. It’s life-deadening fossil fuel that burns dirty, fouls our atmosphere and raises the planet’s temperature.

I’m not against it because it will give the oil barons great swag. I’m against it because I want to imagine a healthier future for my old brown Earth.


  1. Oil is obsolete. Simple logistics. Getting the oil from the ground to the final consumer is too resource intensive. A hard-wired distribution system allows for metering of service, but requires infrastructure and maintenance. I do love the sound of my own keyboard…. Oil is a landline phone. Solar is a cell phone. Same thing happened to whale oil when coal came in. 20 years. Poof…gone.

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