With Keystone, it’s Harvard vs. the heartland – by Margaret Wente (Globe and Mail – January 21, 2012)

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.

Two people named Redford have sharply differing opinions about Barack Obama’s decision to block the contentious Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would have run from Alberta down to Texas. The obscure Redford (Alison, the Premier of Alberta) is “bitterly disappointed,” while the famous Redford (Robert, the Hollywood celebrity) is ecstatic. He calls it “a victory of historic proportions” against “one of the most nightmarish fossil fuel projects of our time.” Whose side you’re on may say a lot about where you live and who you voted for.

For environmentalists, the decision is a long-overdue down payment on Mr. Obama’s campaign promise to wean the U.S. from its dependency on oil. But it’s much more than that. It’s a stand against the rape and pillage of the planet by greedy corporate interests that have politicians in their pockets. These environmentalists don’t really care about safety matters such as oil leaks or possible pollution of the aquifers. It’s the oil sands they hate – the water-gulping, forest-devastating, carbon-spewing monster that’s despoiling Mother Earth.

The hero and spiritual leader of the crusade to stop Keystone is a mild-mannered writer named Bill McKibben – like Mr. Obama, a graduate of Harvard who’s spent his life in the cultural world of upper-middle-class progressivism. He got his start writing short pieces for The New Yorker. His best-known book is the immensely influential The End of Nature, an eloquent polemic arguing that human influence has irrevocably altered the planet for the worse. Like David Suzuki, his comrade-in-arms, Mr. McKibben believes we have a moral imperative to tread more lightly and burn less fossil fuel. He lives in rural Vermont and, according to a sympathetic profile in this Sunday’s Boston Globe magazine, has a wood-fired hot tub.

A few years ago, Mr. McKibben decided he had to start organizing. So he founded a group called 350.org, whose name is based on the claim by climate scientist James Hansen that any atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide that exceeds 350 parts per million is unsafe. (It’s currently about 385 ppm.) They’ve called the proposed pipeline a “1,500-mile fuse to the continent’s biggest carbon bomb.” If it gets built, they warn, “it’s game over for the planet.”

Or maybe not. In the larger scheme of things, Keystone isn’t that big a deal. Energy expert Vaclav Smil says the entire Keystone system would move just over 6 per cent of current U.S. crude oil consumption. The new pipeline would add just 1 per cent to the quarter of a million kilometres of existing oil pipelines that criss-cross North America. “Why, if pipeline safety is a key concern, have we not seen waves of civil disobedience?” he asked in a recent commentary. As for the biggest objection to Alberta’s “dirty oil” – the fact that it produces more carbon dioxide than other oil sources – he says that, in 2010 alone, China’s carbon dioxide emissions rose by 780 million tons. That’s more than 40 times the annual emissions of all the oil that would flow through Keystone.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/margaret-wente/with-keystone-its-harvard-vs-the-heartland/article2309950/


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