April 26th, 2013
“There is enough carbon in this tar sand deposit in Western Canada to send the Earth’s climate into an irreversible tailspin that would make life itself questionable in the coming generations for plants, animals and people,” said Sam Avery, author of The Pipeline and the Paradigm.
The Keystone XL Pipeline promises new jobs and a nearby fuel supply for America. But tar sands are dirty and carbon intensive, and construction of the pipeline contradicts scientists’ warnings to reduce emissions.
In a heated conversation about the costs of transporting tar sands from Canada to Texas, advocates and opponents debated policy, the economy and environmental concerns.
Cassie Doyel, Consul General of Canada in San Francisco, said the Keystone XL Pipeline should be constructed because the U.S. is needs oil to meet demands and it’s better to cooperate with Canada than with Venezuela or countries in the Middle East that are less friendly with the U.S.
“The overall energy relationship between Canada and the U.S. is one that delivers economic benefits to both countries,” Doyel said.
But according to Avery, whose interest in the pipeline stemmed from his opposition to mountaintop removal, this is much bigger than an economic problem. His concept of the “economic paradigm” defines economic growth as the primary purpose of human society, which he sees as a limited understanding resulting from following our appetite, rather than our intelligence.
Doyel argued that the environmental performance of extracting oil is continuing to improve, and “we have comparable environmental regulatory systems, and that differentiates Canada from any other supplier of oil to the United States.” But Dan Miller, a managing partner with Roda Group, agreed with Avery that we need to prioritize climate change impacts.
“I know it's a very complicated subject, but we need to immediately and dramatically lower fossil-fuel emissions, and it's very hard to do that while you're actually increasing them,” Miller said. “So somewhere, we have to stop increasing them and actually go down, and the tar sand is a great place to start.”
Since the economy is not going to solve the greater global warming problem, Miller and Avery said that the solution is up to us. But our demand for fossil fuels shows that we will keep burning oil, no matter how it is transported, Doyel said.
“So the one pipeline project – whether it's built or not – I don’t think has any material difference on the future of climate change,” she said.
Based on research about burning fossil fuels, it should be “totally unacceptable” to use unconventional oils like the tar sands, Miller said. He described it as “a moral issue more than an economic issue.”
The speakers discussed renewable energies and the possibility of electric cars taking over in the future.
“One problem is that fuel is the cheapest thing you can make,” Miller said. “It's about the same price as bottled water.”
The real problem comes down to the volume of consumption, according to Greg Croft, a lecturer at St. Mary’s College of California.
Some concerns about constructing the Keystone Pipeline are coming from residents who fear the pipeline will break and tar sands will destroy their farmland and livelihood, Avery said.
“It's being marketed as another form of crude oil, but it's not; it's tar sand,” Avery said. “It's gooey, it's sticky, it's solid at room temperature, it quacks, and it's a duck.”
During the audience questions, one participant asked how approval of the pipeline would impact our international climate negotiations.
“If the administration approves this pipeline, and it begins construction, there's going to be a lot of people negotiating from a very grassroots position on this,"Avery said. "Namely, at this point, 59,000 people have signed a pledge to resist this pipeline through civil disobedience, if necessary. I am one of them.”