We are addicted to oil and coal. We are also addicted to food and water and other things that seem quite normal. We are the species that not only consumes food and water, and breathes the air, but that also consumes ancient hydrocarbons as part of our very existence.
The keystone pipeline is a way to maintain the oil part of that addiction for decades. If we don’t build the keystone XL pipeline, it may be possible to continue to feed that addition using Canadian tar sands oil by shipping the product by train, using existing pipelines, or by building a pipeline to a Canadian coastal region where newly built refineries can process the oil, or from where it can be shipped to other regions where it will be processed. However, those alternatives are expensive, messy, and politically difficult. In the end, the best way to feed our addiction is to build the proposed pipeline and related infrastructure.
Keeping our addiction going is important. We need this oil to heat our homes, generate electricity, and power our vehicles. There will be other effects. The earth will warm, the oceans will acidify. These effects will cause glacial ice to melt and raise the sea levels and coral reefs to die off.
The part about the glaciers melting is especially interesting. The Canadian tar sands oil is really one part of a much larger deposit of hydrocarbon fuels that became trapped at the bottom of a great ocean, over one or a few periods of a few million years each, during which that ocean was dead from a few meters depth to the bottom. Under those conditions, a great biological engine powered by the sun operated at the surface of the ocean, producing biological molecules in various organisms which continuously died off and settled to the bottom of the sea, mingling with silt, sand, and clay (but mostly silt and clay) eroded from great mountain ranges that are now long gone. Some of this biological material became the great oil fields of the Saudi Arabian peninsula. Other material became trapped in less accessible form such as the Canadian tar sands.
By releasing this biological material we gain two great benefits: 1) We get to heat our homes, run our industries, and power our vehicles; and 2) We have the opportunity to restore our planet’s atmosphere to that of days gone by, prior to the time when huge amounts of CO2 were transferred from the air to the bottom of the sea by the aforementioned biological engine at the surface of the sea.
As this CO2 is released, and the atmosphere warms, the seawater that has been increasingly trapped in huge, water hungry glaciers since that sea existed will be returned to where it belongs, in the ocean.
The thing is, we are going to need this energy, the energy produced by the tar sands oil, to power some major changes in our own infrastructure. As the sea level rises, a very large percentage of the human population, which at present lives in cities along the edge of the ocean, will have the opportunity to abandon their tired old cities and move to newly built quarters inland. The roads, rail lines, and sea ports will be abandoned and we will have the opportunity to build a new transportation infrastructure. Power plants that are near the sea now will have to be dismantled or covered in concrete and newer power plants constructed near the newly built cities. This is an amazing, wonderful opportunity to totally rethink what a city looks like, what a house looks like, what a factory looks like.
Yes, it is true that there are some nations, some cultures, that will lose their place. Pacific island nations and low lying countries like Bangladesh and The Netherlands will be inundated and either cease to exist or become very small and wet. But the people who live in those places will find new homes in ethnic enclaves in the higher-altitude nations. I hear Kiribati Cuisine is wonderful but it is so hard to get; in the new post Keystone world, there will be Kiribati restaurants distributed in hilly regions around the world, and the colorful people of Bangladesh will grace our new cities everywhere. No one can say that we don’t love the Dutch and we will welcome them wherever they are forced to move by the rising sea.
There is one detail of the Keystone XL Pipeline project that I would change. The current plans have the end of the pipeline near the Gulf Coast in Louisiana with another terminus in Texas. That’s fine, but the engineers designing this pipeline should put big valves “upstream” a ways so that a new outlets of the pipeline can be easily built in areas that are now inland but that will eventually be on the coast of the rising sea. That only make sense.
Also, I propose that we honor the historical and natural process of the Great Carbon Cycle in another way. Today we call the sea near New Orleans the Gulf of Mexico, and the great water between North America and Europe the North Atlantic, but really, these regions are the remnant, much reshaped by geological process, of the great Tethys Ocean. Tethys is the name of the ocean in which this oil originally formed. As the sea rises to its former glorious heights, filled with the liberated H2O from Greenland and Antarctica, I propose we rename it Tethys. It is fitting that we do so.
In fact, for the time being, as we await the Great Inundation, as a matter of respect for history, I recommend that we rename the Keystone XL Pipeline similarly. Henceforth it should be known as the Tethys Pipeline.
Sorry about the corals, by the way.
#NOKXL Blogathon: April 12 - April 22, 2013