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Every day I write a Letter to the Editor on some aspect of climate change, which nowadays is more and more likely to mean "some aspect of the tar sands nightmare."  Unfortunately, there's no shortage of things to write letters about, or places to send them to.

Because powerful people are actually considering the Keystone XL abomination seriously, we need to pitch in with everything we've got.

If you're already used to writing LTEs, this diary may be a small motivator.  If you'd like to get your feet wet, come wade through the tar sands.  If that doesn't get you going, nothing will.

Your letter probably won't get published.  Most of my letters don't.  My publication record is impressive only because I've written over six hundred letters since January 1, 2010.  Of those, I've probably had fewer than ten percent actually see print.

It doesn't matter.  Even if you don't get published, you can get counted.  The more letters on a particular subject, the more likely the paper is to expand coverage of that subject in the future.  As a strategy to influence the news, it may be weak — but it's better than nothing.

My particular discipline is directed almost entirely at print media.  I often send LTEs to smaller regional newspapers, and occasionally to papers outside the US.  


A good LTE is a 150-word bumpersticker.  It needs to make a point — a single point — and then stop.  The "catchier" you are, the better.  There is an actual person who must choose to print your letter, or it'll never see the light of day.  Make their job easier.  

Make one point, not two or three.


In general newspapers won't print letters that don't specifically reference recent articles; your next task is finding an article on which to hang your letter.  When I look for something to write about, I search on an appropriate phrase (usually "climate change news") and spend between two and five minutes looking for something that'll work.  

Occasionally I have an infuriating day when nothing seems to fit...but most of the time it's easy to find something.  Usually the biggest problem is finding the damn LTE link.  On many smaller papers there is an online form; others bury the appropriate email address several layers down.  

You can look for articles using a phrase like "Keystone XL news" or "tar sands news," in which case your letter will be directly linked to the subject of the article:  

The Keystone XL is bad, because _______.

The proposed system is faulty, because___________.

But you can also connect to articles on other subjects.  

If there's a piece about oil company malfeasance, your letter can go:

These crooks have lied to the public for decades; why should we trust them when they tell us it'll be harmless?

An article on a local or regional weather phenomenon could provoke:

(Such-and-such anomalous weather) is exacerbated by climate change.  The situation is bad enough already.  Why make it horribly worse?

An article on public attitudes toward science:

Scientific ignorance may well be fatal to humanity.  In a country with greater scientific literacy, more people would be paying attention to Dr. James Hansen's statement that the Keystone XL is "game over for the climate."

You get the idea.  With sufficient creativity you can link anything to anything.  


Yesterday there was a nice break in the story, when Nebraska's Governor Heineman sent a letter to President Obama formally requesting him to block the Keystone XL.  Hanging a letter on an article about a Republican governor breaking with GOP adherence to the oil industry's interests is pretty easy; aspiring LTE writers are going to be able to accomplish a lot in the next couple of days.

For example:

The Lincoln, NE Journal-Star ran an article on the Governor's decision:

Gov. Dave Heineman is calling on President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to deny a permit to TransCanada to build a 36-inch petroleum pipeline through the Nebraska Sandhills.

In a letter sent on Wednesday, Heineman cited concerns about potential oil spills and contamination of the Ogallala Aquifer as grounds for denial.

"I want to emphasize that I am not opposed to pipelines," the governor said. "We already have hundreds of them in our state. I am opposed to the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline route because it is directly over the Ogallala Aquifer."

So I sent a LTE to the Journal-Star, using a "litany" form — listing as many of the arguments against as I could squeeze in, and contrasting them with the single argument for.  While the Journal-Star has a 200-word limit, I wound up writing this one to 150, simply because I've trained myself to think in 150-word bursts.

Here's what I wrote:

Governor Heineman is right on target.  The Keystone XL pipeline has no business in Nebraska.  While the Governor specifically cited issues of aquifer contamination and the potential for oil spills in his letter to President Obama, there are so many other arguments against the tar sands oil project it's mind-boggling: the destruction of vast areas of Canadian forest along with its capacity to absorb carbon dioxide; the devastating environmental impact of the extraction processes; the long-term consequences for Earth's climate (Dr. James Hansen has stated flatly that the pipeline's impact would be irreversible and catastrophic); America's urgent need to end its addiction to fossil fuels; the oil industry's long history of malfeasance, incompetence and venality (why trust a proven liar?)  — the list goes on and on.  On the other hand, there's exactly one argument for the pipeline: money.  It's going to make a few extremely wealthy people even richer.



If you want to steal this letter, here's a handy mad-lib version.

Dave Heineman
The Governor
Nebraska's Governor
Governor Heineman


is absolutely correct.
understands the dangers.
should be commended.
is courageous and sensible.


The Keystone XL
The tar sands pipeline
This environmental abomination
A project like the pipeline


is a disaster waiting to happen.
has no business in Nebraska.
is a profoundly flawed initiative.
will be a monument to stupidity and greed.


There are


innumerable reasons to reject the pipeline:
more arguments against TransCanada's proposal than you can count:
dozens of arguments against the tar sands pipeline:
countless reasons for opposition:


(insert a list of reasons here)


There's only one argument in favor.




(if room allows, add a zinger about how some rich asshole can get a third private jet).


Nebraska's Governor is absolutely correct.  The tar sands pipeline would be a monument to stupidity and greed.  There are dozens of arguments against the tar sands pipeline: deforestation, environmental impact, oil spills, climatic consequences, aquifer contamination, and the oil industry's long history of misconduct and incompetence, to name but a few.  There's only one argument in favor: profit.  A few Transcanada executives will get to replace their luxury yachts with newer models.

Joe Random Reader

This is short and effective.  


Today's letter, on the other hand, was triggered by an article in the Great Falls Tribune (MT), noting that:

HELENA — A new report from a Washington, D.C., oil policy advocacy group claims that much of the oil that would be pumped through the planned Keystone XL pipeline that would pass through Montana would be bound for overseas markets rather than shoring up America's domestic fuel supply.


TransCanada disputes those claims, dismissing the report as "the latest concoction by activists who are trying to stop the oil stands."

Well, they would, wouldn't they?

Honestly, this whole project is the most obvious scam I've ever seen.  These people remind me of fly-by-night driveway repair guys.

Sent Sept. 1:

And now there's yet another reason to oppose the Keystone XL project.  If the Canadian crude is meant for foreign sale, as the Oil Change International report states, then the only Americans likely to benefit are oil company executives and refinery operators.  TransCanada's vehement denials are hardly persuasive; the whole fossil fuel industry has a long and ugly record of mendacity, malfeasance and misrepresentation.  

Extracting oil from Alberta's tar sands is a hideously destructive process involving the destruction of huge swaths of boreal forest; the potential impact on the Earth's climate is devastating (climatologist James Hansen simply says that the project would be "game over" for the climate).  Factor in the likelihood of spills, leaks, and aquifer contamination as the crude is piped to refineries thousands of miles away, and it's obvious: the Keystone pipeline is a recipe for short-, middle- and long-term disaster.  President Obama should say no.


For fun, see if you can find other newspapers running some version of this article...and send them some version of this letter.  Substitute synonyms, reverse the order of clauses, add and subtract adjectives, change periods to semicolons and vice-versa...and voila! — you've got something different.


You know something?

I hate writing these damn letters.
 I'd rather be singing, or doing woodworking, or playing with my daughter, or weeding the damn garden.  Hell, I'd rather be doing the damn dishes.  

I don't hate the writing.  Writing is pretty easy for me.  I hate the part where I have to read the damn news about what is surely the most depressing subject possible: how our corporate overlords are busily making the world into a perfect hell for my beautiful daughter and her friends.  

And that's why I write the damn letters — because I have to do something, and I can't go to DC and get arrested right now.


What about you?  Have you written a tar sands LTE?  More than one?

If so, please share it in the comments.  If not — why don't you "write" one now — and then share it in the comments?


If you want to read more of my letters, you can find a new one every day at my blog.  Drop in sometime and help drive my hit count over two figures!

Okay, y'all.  Let's stop this thing.



Originally posted to WarrenS' Blog on Thu Sep 01, 2011 at 04:08 PM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots, Letters to the Editor, and Community Spotlight.

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