From Dissent Magazine:
August 26, 2011
President Obama now has a clear choice on climate change. Major energy corporations are seeking to build a 1700-mile oil pipeline from Canada’s tar sands to refineries in Texas. The Keystone XL Pipeline would itself carry social and environmental costs: cutting through fragile ecosystems, creating risk of spills, and negatively affecting indigenous communities. But, most significantly, it would be a boon to efforts to exploit the tar sands.
The Canadian tar sands are a particularly dirty source of fossil fuels that could produce egregious carbon emissions. As Elizabeth Kolbert reported at the New Yorker:
[B]ecause tar-sands oil is so heavy, it has to be very heavily processed, which requires tremendous amounts of energy, usually in the form of natural gas. It’s been estimated that, on what’s known as a well-to-tank basis, tar-sands oil is responsible for eighty percent more greenhouse-gas emissions than ordinary crude.
Prominent climate scientist James Hansen has argued (in a now oft-quoted statement) that “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over” for the climate.
Before the end of the year, Obama’s State Department must choose whether to approve or deny the pipeline project. To dramatize the president’s choice, environmentalists have commenced two weeks of civil disobedience. On August 20 they began daily waves of sit-ins in front of the White House. As of this writing, near the end of week one, 322 people have been arrested.
Billed as the “biggest civil disobedience action in the environmental movement for many years,” the two weeks of sit-ins and arrests in summer-recessed Washington, D.C., have thus far had difficulty in creating the tension that, at times, allows acts of civil disobedience to explode into mass public spectacles. The protests have not had a single, climactic date around which many thousands might mobilize. And since the deadline by which Obama must make his call is months away, administration officials have been able to drag their feet.
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