One of the frustrations of being a climate activist is that far too many people simply do not understand the stakes. Climate issues are often forced through an "environmentalist" lens, wherein issues that should rightly be discussed as a matter of planetary survival are instead talked about as a matter of public health. So the Keystone pipeline becomes about potential spills and wildlife impacts. Fracking becomes about earthquakes and groundwater pollution.
That's a frustrating tragedy. Let's be very clear: if the human race continues to burn fossil fuels for the next 30 years at the rate we've been burning them up to now, our species (as well as most other species on the planet) may not survive. Most people either cannot emotionally grasp that statement, or refuse to believe it's true. But it's true.
If all of the oil in the Canadian tar sands is extracted and burnt, it's game over for the planet. That's what the fight over Keystone XL is really about. If all of the oil in the California shale is extracted and burnt, it's game over for the planet. That's what the fight over fracking is really about. Industrial spills, toxic leeching, groundwater pollution--none of it will matter. If tens of millions of Americans die early of cancer because of the toxins involved, that would still be a molehill compared to the mountain that is climate change.
Human beings are empathetic creatures. We have a hard time with large patterns and dissociated effects. It's much easier to care about kids getting poisoned by toxic ground water. But as long as the arguments are all about toxicity, they get scuttled into an "environmentalist" wastebasket, drowned out by the lure of corporate profits and increased tax revenues.
The fight isn't about whether one or two generations of Americans get cancer early or not. The fight is about the very survival of life on Earth as we know it.
(More below the squiggle...)