Bill McKibben being arrested in a anti-Keystone pipeline action in front of the White House
Andy Revkin opened his Dot Earth blog to reactions to his support for the Keystone pipeline. Bill McKibben brilliantly states the case against it.
Here’s what I would say, and I think I speak with many of the people arrested over the last two weeks, in the largest display of civil disobedience for four decades in this country.
1—The tar sands are the second biggest pool of carbon on earth. Of course this pipeline—the first really big one into the tarsands—won’t by itself kill the climate, any more than the first pipeline into Saudi Arabia raised the atmospheric concentration of CO2 to 393 ppm all by itself. It will just make it that much easier to build the next and the next and the next. What we’re trying to do is send a message to stop exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels—which extends to new aggressive coal mining, and also to fracking the planet for shale gas. We’re fighting back against the rise of this new energy paradigm, and this is the clearest place to make the fight. As (NASA’s Jim) Hansen said, so you can’t distort his quote: “Phase out of emissions from coal is itself an enormous challenge. However, if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.”
2—The moral stakes are very clear. Consider Brazil, which a quarter century ago the world decided controlled a biological treasure the planet couldn’t do without. It has—fitfully, but with increasing success, slowed deforestation enough that it has reduced its carbon emissions more than any nation on earth. North America has a unique geological treasure, again the second-largest pool of carbon on earth. Why do we just get to burn it?
3—You claim to want an energy transition etc., etc. Has it occurred to you that we will get one the day we stop plugging into new sources of fossil fuel? Your method is akin to Augustine’s: make me chaste lord, just not yet. My bet is, if we get a new Saudi Arabia, we’ll use it. And my further bet is, it will take a few thousand temporary workers, according to the State Department., to build the pipeline, but the result will be putting off for another decade or two the job-rich transition to what needs to come next. As Paul Krugman pointed out in your pages yesterday, doing the right thing on the environment usually creates jobs; it’s ugly to see you perpetuating the right wing jobs-vs.-environment meme.
4—It’s empty to insist that the right thing would be some huge energy plan to make some great transition. Sure, but that’s no going to happen in Washington as presently constructed. If we’re going to get anywhere, it will be fight by fight and battle by battle—and this once, the president can actually do it by himself. Your effort is as you say designed, for reasons not clear, to help him out of his dilemma. Why? This is the man who said “in my presidency the rise of the oceans will begin to slow and the planet begin to heal.” He can prove it in a small way here; if he didn’t mean it, he shouldn’t have said it.
5—The idea that Canada will simply sell the oil off to China is mistaken. It is trying to build a new pipeline to the Pacific, but so far it has gone nowhere, and no one thinks it will be built any time soon. That’s because, unlike the U.S., first nations tribes in Canada have a lot of legal power, and this pipeline would have to go across their land. This is why Alberta’s energy minister told the Globe and Mail this summer that without Keystone XL Alberta would be ‘landlocked in bitumen.’ Eventually I suppose they’ll figure out a way to unlandlock themselves. But eventually one has to hope that the planet will wake up to the reality of climate change and things like this won’t be an option. We’re buying time, but it might turn out to be precious.
6—Speaking of first nations peoples, you need to deal with the fact that their ancestral lands have been wildly damaged by this incredibly primitive and inefficient tarsands mining. A delegation of chiefs and other leaders came to Washington, and many were arrested in our protest. They were powerful people. So are the ranchers and farmers whose land is being taken by eminent domain across the Plains. Oh, and you really think a pipeline crossing the Oglalla aquifer is a good idea? I’m glad opinions last forever on the Internet.
7—Global warming is not some far off problem we’re going to have to get around to dealing with eventually. It is wrecking our lives now. Come visit Vermont if you don’t believe me, or take a trip to Texas. Not to mention Pakistan, Queensland, any coral reef you might want to name, the dwindling ice floes of the Arctic, and—you know, I could go on a while. Every useful thing to slow it down should be done; this is an easy one.
8— I do wish you’d taken the time to catch a train to D.C. and actually cover this protest. You would have gotten the chance to talk to some interesting and courageous people. Scientists like Jason Box, for instance, who wrote a wonderful piece explaining why he felt—at some risk to his career—it was necessary to be there. Or maybe Gus Speth, the great and venerable environmentalist who has served in every high position you can think of, from chair of the president’s Council on Environmental Quality to Dean of the Yale School of Forestry to head of the U.N. Development Program. He was in the next cell to me for two nights at D.C.’s Central Cell Block, a place that’s as much fun as it sounds like it might be. As we both turned over and over on the bare metal slabs that served as our beds, he said something memorable, that to me provides the perfect answer to your relentlessly middle-seeking blog. “I’ve served in a lot of important positions in this town,” he said. “But none seemed quite as necessary as this one.”