The Keystone victory that wasn’t – by Margaret Wente (Globe and Mail – November 15, 2011)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Now that Barack Obama has kicked the Keystone project down the road, anti-pipeline activists are rejoicing. “This is what it means to change the conversation,” said Naomi Klein. “This is an amazing victory for our movement,” crowed Bill McKibben and his team.

In fact, the decision to re-review the pipeline route is an amazing victory for political expediency. By ensuring that nothing will happen until after the 2012 election, Mr. Obama buys himself a reprieve with the environmentalists. But nothing else will change.

The U.S. will not consume a litre less of oil if Keystone is never built. It will simply buy the oil from somewhere else. Nor will this decision threaten the long-term future of the oil (oops, tar) sands. If the U.S. doesn’t buy our oil, the Chinese will.

Most of the anti-Keystone activists don’t want a better pipeline route. What they really want is no pipeline at all. Their goal is to replace dirty oil with clean renewables. But they face a double whammy – make that a triple whammy – of bad news.

The first is economic. Renewables are simply too expensive, and fossil fuels are too cheap. Forget solar power – the world is in the middle of an old-fashioned coal rush.

As climate delegates jet around the world to their endless conferences, coal use has expanded to supply nearly 30 per cent of the world’s energy. Over the next decade, global coal production is set to rise by another 35 per cent – partly because so many people have been scared off nuclear.

“The cheapest, most abundant and dirtiest of all the fossil fuels is extending its grip on the world’s energy system,” writes the Guardian’s Fred Pearce, a fierce proponent of energy realism.

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