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Today, a group of the nation's leading experts on climate science sent a brief letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  The message is simple: include climate change in the review of the Keystone XL pipeline.  From that letter:

At the moment, your department is planning to consider the effects of the pipeline on “recreation,” “visual resources,” and “noise,” among other factors. Those are important—but omitting climate change from the considerations is neither wise nor credible. The vast volumes of carbon in the tar sands ensure that they will play an important role in whether or not climate change gets out of hand; understanding the role this largescale new pipeline will play in that process is clearly crucial.
Yes, evidently, at this time the Department of State is 'fast and furious' in its resolve to understand how the Keystone XL pipeline construction will impact the driving opportunities for off-road vehicle enthusiasts but is maintaining a stoically blind eye to any thoughtful consideration of how Keystone XL just might, in fact, help foster putting more carbon atoms into the atmosphere.  This makes total sense to you, doesn't it? After all, it isn't as if anyone is linking the nation's drought conditions, the severe weather events around the world, or other drastic risks to human activities -- including the burning of fossil fuels -- is it?

Reminiscent too much of those who highlight (truthfully) that humanity is responsible only a small percent fo the total carbon cycle (conveniently forgetting that it is humanity's 'small percentage' that is tipping the balance to change such that we've seen a near 50 percent increase in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere with resultant and mounting environmental impacts), Tar Sands advocates like to emphasize that the resulting pollution will only be a small fraction of global CO2 emissions.  Absolutely true -- just as each individual coal-fired electricity plant is only a small fraction ... However, remembering my elementary-school math, it does seem that 'fractions' eventually add up to whole numbers.

There are a plethora of reasons why Keystone XL pipeline is not in the U.S. national interest -- from the reality that it will likely be a net jobs loser to the high risk from Delbit oil spills. That the Department of State is not considering, in any meaningful way, the most serious threat to U.S. national security within the Keystone XL pipeline review is a true scandal.

As the scientists put it,

We are writing to ask that the State Department conduct, as part of its evaluation of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, a serious review of the effect of helping open Canada’s tar sands on the planet’s climate.
Secretary Clinton should act on this request.

The letter:

July 17, 2012

Dear Secretary Clinton,

We are writing to ask that the State Department conduct, as part of its evaluation of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, a serious review of the effect of helping open Canada’s tar sands on the planet’s climate.

At the moment, your department is planning to consider the effects of the pipeline on “recreation,” “visual resources,” and “noise,” among other factors. Those are important—but omitting climate change from the considerations is neither wise nor credible. The vast volumes of carbon in the tar sands ensure that they will play an important role in whether or not climate change gets out of hand; understanding the role this largescale new pipeline will play in that process is clearly crucial.

We were pleased that President Obama saw fit to review this project more carefully; it would be a shame if that review did not manage to comprehensively cover the most important questions at issue.

Sincerely,

John Abraham
   Associate Professor, School of Engineering
   University of St. Thomas

Ken Caldeira
   Senior Scientist
   Department of Global Ecology
   Carnegie Institution

James Hansen
   Research Scientist
   The International Research Institute for Climate and Society
   The Earth Institute, Columbia University

Michael MacCracken
   Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs
   Climate Institute

Michael E. Mann
   Professor of Meteorology
   Director, Earth System Science Center
   The Pennsylvania State University

James McCarthy
   Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography
   Harvard University

Michael Oppenheimer
   Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs
   Woodrow Wilson School and Department of Geosciences
   Princeton University

Raymond T. Pierrehumbert
   Louis Block Professor in the Geophysical Sciences
   The University of Chicago

Richard Somerville
   Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor
   Scripps Institution of Oceanography

George M. Woodwell
   Founder, Director Emeritus, and Senior Scientist
   Woods Hole Research Center

Affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.

Originally posted to Climate Hawks on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 06:50 AM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Will stopping XL, stop the tar sands? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WarrenS

    I have a real problem with making a stand for CO2 with the XL pipeline.  If we stop the pipeline, the Canadians will simply sell the oil somewhere else.  Oil is such a global market, that stopping the pipeline will at best slightly slow the development of the tar sands.

    At this point, I'm very pessimistic we can have a big impact by directly trying to stop oil and coal developments.

    I use coal as an example.  Coal prices are plummeting and coal companies are actually going bankrupt.  Why? Because NG is so much cheaper, coal can't compete.  Not that NG is much better for overall CO2 emissions but it's a good example.

    The only way we're going to stop fossil fuel development is if we have a cheaper alternative.  Solar is getting there fast, and wind is doing OK.  So I'd gladly exchange the XL pipeline for a big increase in subsidies for Solar, Wind, and battery technology.

    •  Actually ... (16+ / 0-)

      The routes out of there aren't exactly simple.  The First Nations do not plan to roll over and play dead for a pipeline to the west. And, moving the Dilbit by rail adds $20 or so to its cost structure.

      Truth:  Keystone XL will lead to increased US diesel prices as the Dilbit oil will be exported.  Thus, the simple "will simply sell the oil somewhere else" is misleading because that is what Keystone XL is about -- getting Dilbit oil to the international market where it can have improved profitability for the oil industry.

      Truth:  The paths to creating other options for Canadian export of Dilbit oil are very difficult, costly, and uncertain.  Thus, the simple "will simply sell the oil somewhere else" is misleading because the viability of other options is, well, uncertain at best.

      No, stopping Keystone XL doesn't "Stop Tar Sands" but it throws sand in the gears, hampers expansion, and is a path for turning the tide a bit.

      See: Keystone XL:  Why not

      Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

      by A Siegel on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 07:43:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Exactly (10+ / 0-)

        The reason Keystone XL wants to run the pipeline through the US is that it's far, far easier to get the oil to market if they go through the US.

        The cost of developing tar sands oil much higher than that of extracting liquid oil. If the cost of shipping it is too high, then small fluctuations in market prices can make it unprofitable.

        Oil companies exist for profit above all else, so the risk of unprofitability will make them rethink development if they can't come up with a cheap enough means of getting it to market.

        It is critical that we do all we can to stop it.

        •  Oil will be $130+ in a few short years (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          greengemini

          We are at Peak Cheap Oil with most of the worlds major oil fields showing significant declines, especially Cantarell in Mexico.  Last I saw, production costs from the Sands were about $85/bll.

          For the Oil companies, there are many other ways to profit from the tar sands when oil is $130+.  Pipelines to the pacific become more realistic at higher oil prices.

          In a world of declining oil resources and rising oil prices, stopping one pipeline will only delay the extraction of those fossil resources.  There are only 2 ways to stop the burning of fossil fuels. 1) Convince the public that they have to do with less in order to save the planet (not in a million years).  2) Offer the public a cheaper alternative.  Our only hope is to quickly get to Solar/Wind/bio and trading the pipeline to get there could be a big step.

          •  No one is recommending doing only one thing (5+ / 0-)

            It's a matter of both/and, not either/or.

            Letting KXL go through will keep the oil markets flush with oil for a longer period, thereby keeping the perceived cost of oil down for a longer period, thereby slowing the desire of the general public to adopt sustainable solutions in the near term, which is when we need to adopt them.

            Additionally, the pipeline issue is a nice hook for explaining all the other issues related to fossil fuel use - environmental impact of the pipeline itself, pollution from leaks, worsening of the climate emergency, and delays in shifting to cleaner/sustainable technologies.

            We need a whole system approach, and this is a part of the system.

          •  "delay the extraction ..." (4+ / 0-)

            Like a military delaying action, fostering delay creates opportunity for other action -- enhanced political embrace of the need for action on climate change mitigation, introduction of clean energy solutions obviating need for tar sands, etc ...  The delay has value for helping create breathing space -- including the "convince the public" and the "offer the public" options you suggest. And, no, I don't see the "trade the pipeline" as a smart/winning strategy.

            Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

            by A Siegel on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 11:18:20 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  Thank you, good reply. I'm sure I'll have to (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        WarrenS

        use it.

        Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

        by the fan man on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 08:49:48 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  impossible to know if you never analyze it (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel

      Part of the point is that the State Department needs to analyze what the climate impacts would be.  It may be that there would be no GHG impact, because it would be sold somewhere else.  But if there's no analysis, there's no way for President Obama to ultimate determine if it is in the national interest or not.

      Courtesy Kos. Trying to call on the better angels of our nature.

      by Mindful Nature on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 03:43:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  And here's an eleven dimensional chess reason (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel

      why I hope they ignore the letter.

      If the State Department prepares a clearly inadequate EIS, then they get sued, they lose, and they have to go back to the drawing board.  Produce enough inadequate EIS's and the process could be extended for decades.

      Courtesy Kos. Trying to call on the better angels of our nature.

      by Mindful Nature on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 03:45:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Huge Mistake by Democrats (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    joey c, John Crapper, SolarMom, A Siegel, DawnN

    Extreme weather events, climate scientists saying we can no longer ignore human driven climate change as an explanation - and mostly crickets from the Democrats, though not all.

    TPM reports Republicans are stonewalling hearings on the weather; seems to me if Democrats want an issue for the middle of the country, that one's tailor made. "Republicans are blocking all efforts to help farmers deal with drought or rising food prices.  - Won't even come to the table."

    People who are watching their lives dry up, burn down, and blow away are getting convinced that something is up with climate. This is another big issue Democrats can make clear who is on the wrong side of, and who isn't. If they won't or don't, it'll be one more missed opportunity.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 10:12:10 AM PDT

  •  Global warming is like socialized medicine (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SolarMom, DawnN

    in the US. What the people think about it is irrelevant: the owners won't allow a US government to do anything about it.

    Hillary Clinton doesn't make US policy about global warming, the president does. And a president can't be a president without big bucks from Big Oil. Hence US policy on global warming will always be:

    <*crickets*>.

    •  I don't agree. The stagecoach industry wasn't (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SolarMom, DawnN

      going to allow the iron horse either.  Politics  and politicians react to pressure and heat.  As the planet heats up the people will put their own heat on their leaders.  When people are fat and comfortable they don't rock the boat.  Climate change is disturbing that fat and comfortable feeling and as it does  more and more you will hear the crickets get mighty noisy.   Change can happen fast in this country if their is a perceived crisis.  Look what we did after Pearl Harbor.  

      If we really want to straighten out all this crap we need to really think about shit!

      by John Crapper on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 01:29:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Change is... in the air (0+ / 0-)

        Right now the stability of US society is preserved by just one thing:

        Food Stamps.

        Without them, millions of people would be hungry, and where hunger dwells, revolution is born.

        As global warming proceeds, food will become scarcer and much more expensive. The food stamps will not keep up with rising costs. Hunger will visit millions of Americans. What will maintain social stability then?

        Watch the skies. For the drones. Yes, they will be armed. Yes, they will kill rioters. Yes, the hungry of America will starve in silence, or else be killed with no risk to any 1%er.

        Let the Hunger Games begin -- and the entire country will be the Arena.

  •  What makes this letter different (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel

    from the WSJ letter a couple of months back, is that these guys are actual climatologists, at least the ones whose names I recognize (I've met Jim McCarthy on occasion.  Good guy)

    Courtesy Kos. Trying to call on the better angels of our nature.

    by Mindful Nature on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 03:40:20 PM PDT

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