Keystone Extra Large

    It's a great life. You risk your skin catching killers and the juries turn them loose so they can come back and shoot at you again. If you're honest you're poor your whole life and in the end you wind up dying all alone on some dirty street. For what? For nothing. For a tin star.

    Lon Chaney, Jr., asking Marshal Will Kane played by Gary Cooper why he goes out into the street to get shot at. High Noon.

    Right now, I'm wondering why I do it. I don't even have a tin star. In 2005, I started KRXA 540 AM to address on terrestrial radio the most serious issues confronting us. Foremost was and is global warming. I mention this unfolding human-caused tragedy nearly every day and frequently discuss it on my own or with climatologists. Nobody can legitimately dispute the fact of global burning. Our mother Earth is currently undergoing its sixth mass extinction as a direct result of human activities - most critically humans burning carbon. Yet, this truth does not appear to be accepted or well-understood even in liberal, i.e., thinking circles.

    Today, President Obama did what he so often has not done in the past. He stood up to the forces of greed and destruction and said no. He rejected, for now, the Keystone XL (that's Xtra Large) Pipeline. Here are the President's remarks in full:

    Earlier today, I received the Secretary of State’s recommendation on the pending application for the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. As the State Department made clear last month, the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment. As a result, the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied. And after reviewing the State Department’s report, I agree.

    This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people. I’m disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision, but it does not change my Administration’s commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs and reduces our dependence on oil. Under my Administration, domestic oil and natural gas production is up, while imports of foreign oil are down. In the months ahead, we will continue to look for new ways to partner with the oil and gas industry to increase our energy security – including the potential development of an oil pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico – even as we set higher efficiency standards for cars and trucks and invest in alternatives like biofuels and natural gas. And we will do so in a way that benefits American workers and businesses without risking the health and safety of the American people and the environment.

    It's not a terrible statement. The President actually committed to reducing "our dependence on oil." But, there is no mention of global warming or the weaker term - climate change - that is nearly always used in media now in its stead. On my radio program, I nearly always employ the more accurate phrase "global burning" to describe our ever hotter earth.

    Liberal talk show host Ed Schultz describes the President's decision as a difficult one since it's a choice between jobs and preventing oil spills. A progressive, if not liberal, friend told me this evening that the President was wise not to mention global warming. After all, my friend contended, why give the right-wing ammunition to use against Obama given that so many Americans are skeptical about the scientific reality of global burning. A web search of liberal defenses of the Keystone decision rarely mention the existential threat that global warming poses.

    Rather than attacking the conservative movement's thirst for immediate profits at the cost of biological diversity, Obama himself said that "Republicans . . . forced this decision" by the "arbitrary nature of a deadline that [precluded] the gathering of information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people." (Emphasis supplied.) He also expressed a commitment to try "to partner with the oil and gas industry to increase our energy security." Obama appears sold on the conservative lie that burning more domestic (or at least North American) carbon is a good thing and that only additional studies and oversight to ensure that the Keystone pipeline can be built without risking crucial water sources stand in the way.

    The fact that construction of the pipeline will devastate Earth and likely consign her to the dustbin of Milky Way history is ignored. “Essentially, it’s game over for the planet,” if the Keystone XL is built, said James Hansen the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (The New Yorker November 28, 2011).

    It is understandable that Obama would mouth right-wing platitudes about energy independence when rejecting the pipeline. He gets to have his cake and eat it too. Despite all of his failings, Obama can correctly tell those of us who love our country and planet that the only chance we have to conserve at least some of Earth's once bewilderingly complex ecology is to reelect him. At the same time, he preserves the ability to reach out to short-timers who care only about cheap gasoline for a few more years with the claim that he's likely to approve the pipeline sooner or later.

    But why are so many liberals incapable to integrating into their psyche the need to move forcibly and immediately away from carbon energy to save some of the still extant beautiful places and animals as well as the potential for a decent quality of life for most of us. I propose three reasons:

    1) It's really really depressing to realize that we are already well on our way to destroying the island on which we live. It becomes even more unpleasant when we realize that to avoid the cataclysm we must change our lifestyle in rather dramatic ways - most particularly by abandoning the internal combustion engine - if we wish to preserve our planet. Rather than accept this "inconvenient truth," many of us compartmentalize it. So many on the left say, "yes, we should reduce consumption but here's a great chance to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and create a few decent middle-class jobs - which we sure do need right now." It is simply too painful to acknowledge the reality that to save our planet, we must accept draconian cuts to our consumption patterns. And, to avoid mass starvation, we will have to redistribute wealth not just from the wealthiest Americans to everybody else but from all but the most destitute Americans, Europeans, and other relatively wealthy humans to the truly indigent global majority.

    2) The President is a democrat and is clearly the best realistic option in this year's election. His failure to address global burning as a critical issue of our time means that merely by discussing it, we will be criticizing him and many on the left are loathe to do this for understandable but, in my view, misguided reasons.

    3) People distrust science. Liberals are clearly more intelligent than conservatives and American scientists are among the most liberal of all U.S. citizens. Nevertheless, the majority of people who self-identify as liberal or progressive are obviously not scientists and many of us were not stellar academics. Like most mediocre students, we resent the nerdy biology major or the physics scholar and seek to knock her down to size.

    The near unanimous opinion among the scientific class is that our planet is on life support and its ability to sustain billions of people may well collapse within the next forty years. At the same time, though, the unanimous opinion among the scientific class is that life has evolved on earth over the past 500 million years and yet half of all Americans reject this fact. It does require some mental work to understand and accept that burning carbon creates carbon dioxide, i.e., C+O2 = CO2, and that CO2 is the predominant greenhouse gas. Accordingly, many Americans, even many of us who should know choose not to base our political decisions on this - the defining issue of our time. Perhaps, we simply don't want to acknowledge that the A+ student in our high school Chemistry class is, not only a harder worker, but quite simply smarter than we are.

    Gary Cooper explains in High Noon that he won't run from Frank Miller, even if nobody will stand beside him even if Grace Kelly won't wait for him, because he's "got to that's the whole thing." Well, global burning is the whole thing. We can pretend it isn't, or that some technological fix will get us out of this jam, or that more pressing problems require us to put it on the shelf for now. We can run away from it just as Will Kane could have run away from Frank Miller like everyone in town told him to.  But he knew that while running might buy him a few weeks or months or even years, in the end it would only mean a bullet in the back of his head.



    What an outstanding piece, Hal. 

    The Republicans had hoped to put Obama cross-wise with the Democratic base and I am much encouraged by his decision against the pipeline. It gives the Republicans a jobs issue but 6000 temporary jobs can be put into proper perspective.

    More than anything else, people need time to understand the difference between pumping superheated tar sands and pumping crude. The stresses on the pipe itself is of another magnitude, for starters, let alone the toxicity of the sludge.

    People deny climate change, particularly in Texas where I spend a great deal of time. This past Summer a completely new and tragic event happened which even the country folks understand. Trees died all over Texas. On my small acreage several 150 year old post oaks gave up the ghost in late August. These oaks simply turned brown while trees around them stayed green and lost their foliage in the normal pattern. The combination of drought and heat killed the post oaks, some of which are three or four feet in diameter. It's tragic. 

    I consider myself fairly well-read on these issues, but I have to admit that I've never heard the term Global Burning. Also, I never thought of Climate Change as a diminutive of Global Warming—just a more encompassing description.

    Obama appears sold on the conservative lie that burning more domestic (or at least North American) carbon is a good thing ....

    I wish it was just a conservative lie, but even Peak Oil aware economist James Hamilton has argued at Econbrowser in favor of the additional jobs that would result. Hamilton dismisses the leakage concerns as normal for the industry, but as Oxy notes, this is not normal crude.

    AIUI, the pipeline will allow Canadian synthetic crude (bitumen that is mined from tar sand and superheated with natural gas) to be refined in the US and sold at a higher price to China. I've heard a lot of noise about how this will be profitable for Canada, but I suspect that the profits will mostly go to a few plutocrats, like the Kochs, while the people that actually live in the shadow the mines will simply be used and shoved aside. As reported in The Tyee, geologist David Hughes asks this question in his report, The Northern Gateway Pipeline (PDF):

    Why does the Canadian government support a proposal to export oil to China when nearly half the country (Quebec and Atlantic Canada) is nearly 100 per cent dependent on declining or volatile reserves from the North Sea and the Middle East?

    Hughes is talking about a different project, but the question is still valid: who benefits from selling syncrude on the world market? It isn't the Canadians or the Americans as a whole—it is the North American moguls that are selling and the Asian moguls that are buying.

    I suspect that the XL controversy has simply been delayed until after Election Day.

    Jeffrey Brown, co-promoter of the Export Land Model had a great comment on another Hamilton post:

    You may recall the movie, "The Sixth Sense." In the movie, many ghosts don't know they are dead, and they only see what they want to see. For most Americans, our auto centric, suburban way of life is dead, but most of us don't know it yet, and we only see what we want to see.

    Anyway, thanks for the post.

    There is a fourth reason for many people - not just liberals: their daily life pretty much demands it.  Their job requires them to drive a vehicle.  There is no adequate public transportation system.  The closest grocery store is three miles away.  Family member lives in another town.  The household is located in a rural area.  And so on. 

    Looking out the window today...maybe the planet does need us to stand at a bus stop as the snow swirls around us in order to the grocery story.  Maybe this is part of the inconvenience which we should endure.  A question - is it the President's job to ask people to make this kind of sacrifice?  At what point do we just put this at the feet of the people, rather than looking to the father figure.  The Buddhist in me would say it is not really a sacrifice, as are all those things we think as such, but people are still going to see it as a sacrifice.

    I think what I am really asking about, what I think needs to be brought more into focus, is what does moving more forcibly away from fossil fuels in real terms.  I agree the sky is falling, but unless something is offered as a solution, people (especially the not-so-smart ones you believe are out there) have no choice but compartmentalize and get one with their daily lives.

    Most people do not enjoy guilt and shame.  They want to believe they are part of the solution rather than part of the problem (although in general I believe usually if one is not part of the problem, one is not part of the solution).  And they want to take care of their responsibilities and meet the demand of their daily lives.  They want to keep a roof over their head and go help a family member who is dealing with a difficult situation.  And so on. 

    The usual analogy is to look to the "war effort" during WWII.  People made sacrifices then. But it isn't a war.  It isn't a short term sacrifice - one in which once the "war" is over, we can go back to our "normal" lifestyles.  This is an entire change in lifestyle...permanently (at least in our lifetimes).  Just pointing out the sky is falling isn't going to cut it.

    TransCanada May Shorten Keystone XL, Bypass Federal Review

    TransCanada’s $7 billion Keystone XL proposal to bring crude from Canada’s oil sands to the Gulf was rejected yesterday by the Obama administration. The project required U.S. approval because it crossed the border with Canada. The company may seek that approval after it builds the segment from Montana to the Gulf, ...

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