Dr. James Hansen’s latest dire warning is that we are on the verge of crossing the point of no return, triggering runaway global warming that would last for centuries, making much of the planet uninhabitable by humans. He asks, “Humanity stands at a fork in the road. As conventional oil and gas are depleted, will we move to carbon-free energy and efficiency – or to unconventional fossil fuels and coal?”
One of these unconventional fossil fuels currently experiencing a production boom, is tar sands extraction. Unlike conventional crude oil, tar sands diluted bitumen, aka dilbit, is highly toxic and corrosive yet paradoxically, it is exempt from being taxed for payments into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. TransCanada, who is building the Keystone XL pipeline, is deceitfully describing it as simply a “crude oil” pipeline, without going into the details. And they are not alone. President Obama has also passed off the southern segment of Keystone XL, now 90% complete, as a pipeline simply transporting “oil”. In March 2012, even while standing in front of an ‘oil-friendly’ crowd in Cushing, Oklahoma, and chirping the expedited go-ahead of the pipeline’s southern portion, the President did not have the courage to utter “oil sands” let alone “tar sands”. Yet when tar sands dilbit spills, it is not simply crude oil, because no one knows how to clean it up. The EPA admitted that it’s next to impossible to clean up. Nonetheless, judging by the multitude of tar sands pipelines that are already sneaking and leaking into American soil without raising much of an eyebrow (excepting the northern leg of Keystone XL), it seems that the fate of humanity and our planet has been determined.
The longer we let our elected officials continue recklessly allowing or encouraging development of all fossil fuels, the slimmer our chances of regaining control of the climate change death spiral. Many heads are still buried in the sand, ignoring the dangers of human-made climate change and the extensive damage it has already inflicted on our planet. Yet it is already too late for half-solutions. By now, all top climate scientists and educators have stated that the only remaining solution is a drastic one. “We need a dramatic shift off carbon-based fuel: coal, oil and also gas… we need, at this point, a crash diet,” said Bill McKibben. Likewise, according to Hansen, a rapid phase out of fossil fuel emissions is paramount to limiting global warming to a maximum of not 2, but just 1 degree Celsius. Urgently needed is a wartime-like “worldwide mobilization – to transform rapidly from our fossil fuel-reliant past and present to a clean energy future,” says Robert Weissman. Viable zero-carbon plans are already available in the USA, UK and Australia.
“The question is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late.” Such are the recent words of President Obama, ever more striking, considering that the world’s most powerful leader has not shown much of this desperately needed courage in his actions on tackling climate change. As Tom Weis pointed out, the President’s long-awaited ‘Climate Action Plan’ promotes natural gas fracking, radioactive nuclear power and mythical “clean coal”. Obama’s Georgetown speech on climate change was more alarming than inspiring. As Dr. Jill Stein noted, “You can’t give your child an ‘all of the above diet’ with toxic lead and arsenic, and think that adding some spinach and blueberries is going to make it OK. Likewise, reducing carbon pollution from coal does not make fracking, tar sands oil, deep water and Arctic drilling OK. The climate is spiraling into runaway warming. Obama’s promotion of cheap dirty fossil fuels makes coal regulations just window dressing on a disastrous policy.” To those who applauded the President’s ‘big’ climate speech, Kim Huynh of Tar Sands Blockade summed up a poignant reminder: “After all, this is the same President that fast-tracked the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline to pump toxic tar sands through our homes.”
This is also the same President that has added enough new oil and gas pipelines to circle the Earth, directed his administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states, quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high, launched a catastrophic Arctic drilling strategy, secretly negotiated the harmful Trans-Pacific Partnership, and proudly declared “As long as I’m President, we’re going to keep on encouraging oil development and infrastructure.” In light of the above, it is unfortunately not surprising that our ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’ president and his administration have also turned a blind-eye to the rapid expansion of tar sands mining and pipelining in the United States, allowing repeat offenders, such as Enbridge, Exxon, BP, with the worst crude oil and tar sands dilbit spills on their hands, to continue expanding their operations.
To offset President Obama’s destructive energy policy, his ‘Climate Action Plan’ relies heavily on carbon capture and storage technology, which in reality, continues to be more of a dream that is not scientifically proven to remove carbon from the atmosphere. In fact, as Steve Horn points out, “it could be the next mega-disaster waiting to happen.” Moreover, when taking into account the expanding presence of tar sands on American soil, Obama’s unrealistic carbon capture plan is also a total hypocrisy. As Prof. Don Fullerton notes, “a shortcut route to sequestering carbon deep underground is to leave it there in the first place… Ultimately those tar sands can stay in the ground.” But by now, we all know that Obama wants to be thought of as the president who freed America from foreign oil. Yet he will be remembered as the president who cooked the planet. He will be remembered as the president who encouraged the expansion of tar sands extraction, and this regardless of whether he ends up rejecting the northern route of Keystone XL, because he has already lighted the fuse to the ‘carbon-bomb’. A point confirmed by Mark Karlin, “What most US citizens don’t know – including most progressives – is that when the southern pipeline segment starts flowing with tar sands oil in a short while, the fuse will have already ignited the bomb.” This is a fact, and an inconvenient truth not only for President Obama and his political allies, but for all of us.
Why wasn’t Obama stopped from fast-tracking the southern leg of Keystone XL? Why wasn’t his decision met with mass protests and mass civil disobedience? With all due respect, to every opponent of the Keystone XL, but also out of respect for victims of the pipeline’s southern leg, Obama guaranteeing a total rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline project, southern and northern portions, should have been a prerequisite for every Keystone XL opponent’s vote in the 2012 election. “Since when did we start giving presidents a pass on making tough decisions until after Election Day?” rightly asked Tom Weis. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. After all, as Dr. Jill Stein stressed, “It’s not the President’s legacy that’s at stake. It’s ours.”
Let’s not forget that our ‘people power’ efforts to improve our legacy are not limited to protesting and getting arrested. We can also express our power, and in a perfectly legal manner, by voting at the polls, thus forcing a change of the political landscape. Even President Obama has recently encouraged Americans to make climate change a must for their vote: “Remind everyone who represents you, at every level of government, that there is no contradiction between a sound environment and a strong economy – and that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote.” What is truly and urgently needed though, is a “voters’ revolt”, an anti-two-party movement, according to Scott McLarty. The latest environmentalist to dive into the political intervention scene is Bill McKibben, “Anybody, at this point, who stands up for the fossil fuel industry and its desire to tap the tar sands doesn’t deserve to be called a political leader, and we’ll do our best to make sure that their careers are short,” he said. This is a thrilling statement, but it is disappointing that such a strong public declaration was not made before the 2012 election…
So here we are, once again confronted with President Obama’s climate hypocrisy. Despite his latest ‘promising’ comments on the fate of the Keystone XL permit, it still smells like a déjà-vu. Obama’s fast-track approval of the Keystone XL southern leg was, according to Michael Brune, a “dirty trick to build the pipeline piecemeal” that came just 5 weeks after the president got “extensive kudos from anti-Keystone advocates… for giving a temporary no to the northern route,” notes Timothy Lange. Skepticism is growing among the few who unwaveringly refuse to be duped, and unfortunately, rightly so. As Jacqueline Marcus says, “Given Obama’s deplorable record of increased oil drilling, it’s doubtful that he’ll reject [the Keystone XL northern segment].”
Ergo, we are being driven down the wrong route, which also happens to be a one-way dead end street. In other words, as Dr. Peter Carter says, “President Obama is leading America and the world to Climate Hell.” Even more distressing, is that climate change is one of today’s most pressing public issues, yet as Paul Engler explains, the percentage of people who believe that climate change poses a ‘serious threat’ has taken an alarming nosedive. He asks, “What do you do when an issue emerges as one of the most urgent matters of our time and, at the same instant, becomes firmly regarded as a political loser?” Environmentalists’ demands for action on climate change from politicians will not bring significant results if our numbers remain relatively clannish. Bill McKibben believes that we must build “a movement strong enough to transform the national mood” in our country, forcing the politicians to follow or “evolve”. President Obama seems to agree, declaring, “Political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks.” But such a movement needs constant momentum among participants and most importantly, must draw in ever-wider support. Undoubtedly, still lacking, is the sense of urgency and awareness by the general public of the climate change death spiral. As a former Big Oil executive-turned-fractivist said, “It will take masses of people demanding action from politicians to offset the huge amount of money that the industry is using to influence lawmakers… Something has to wake up the general public. It will either be education from the environmental movements or some kind of climate disaster that no one can ignore.”
Therefore, it is time to act with panache! It is time to stop the politeness and complaisance that lead nowhere. It is time to arouse public opinion. It is time to draw into our movement ever-wider support. It is time to awaken those Americans who are still sleeping, before the climate disaster does. But how? We have decided to try something unusual and different: to enlist the power of music. And as our climate surges towards the irreversible tipping point, fueled by the negligence of our elected officials, we don’t have the time to worry about possibly being ridiculed for our out-of-the-ordinary strategy. A fresh idea is essential, because we are attempting to reach a crowd that is normally not within an environmentalist’s reach, and which has already proven to be mostly insensitive to education from environmental movements. It is also a crowd that listens to what is popular on the music charts. Let’s face it, it’s the ‘mainstream’ crowd, the general public. Therefore, we call on you to join us: while we are donating all proceeds to environmental groups and activists, every purchased download of the track will bring our environmental awareness campaign closer to entering the mainstream music charts, consequently closer to a crowd that we absolutely must reach, in order to help maximize the effectiveness of ‘We the People’. As the saying goes: Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
Helen Grant works for the STOP KXL! campaign.