Two days ago, President Obama pulled out his veto pen to derail the latest attempt by Big Oil’s members of Congress to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Since then, there’s been a lot of chatter among pundits about what the veto means for the environmental movement, what it means for the President politically, and what it means for Big Oil’s bottom line. That kind of chatter is more often than not just noise--and this time is no exception.
So let’s cut through that, and look at the facts. The president’s veto is a big deal, and a powerful victory for our movement. Few imagined this kind of win even just a few years ago, when DC insiders predicted Keystone XL would be approved by the end of 2011. But the veto is just step one: now Obama needs to move forward and reject Keystone XL once and for all. Pipeline opponents will be working even harder in this home stretch to make sure the President follows through and issues a real rejection.
Keystone XL has never been merely symbolic, nor is it something we can stomach in exchange for leverage in negotiations. The pipeline is a gateway to Canada’s tar sands, some of the most carbon-intensive fossil fuels on planet Earth. That’s why the nation’s top climate scientists have repeatedly written Obama and Congress urging them to oppose the project. The logic is simple: if you build the pipeline, more tar sands come out of the ground, and more carbon goes into the atmosphere. Case closed. Just last month, a scientific study in Nature showed that if we’re serious about averting the worst impacts of climate change, and keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, we need to leave 85 percent of Canada’s tar sands in the ground. Considering the impacts we’re already seeing from climate change around the world, even burning that remaining 15 percent is a fools errand. Building new infrastructure like Keystone XL that would lock us in to additional development is the definition of insanity.
Some pundits have written that tar sands will magically make their way to market without new pipelines, but the facts don’t back them up. Oil-by-rail isn’t feasible, Energy East faces massive opposition -- and even according to Obama’s own EPA, Keystone XL would “change the economics of oil sands development and result in increased oil sands production...over what would otherwise occur.” In other words, Keystone would unlock the tar sands, opening the floodgates on another source of carbon emissions that would mean game over for our climate. That’s why this is a fight we have to win, and why this pipeline isn’t something we can negotiate with -- it’s simple math. Signing off on a massive carbon bomb in exchange for a paper promise from a Big Oil politician to cut emissions some percent by a future year is the definition of a Pyrrhic victory. It’s a lot like saying “it’s okay to eat three cheeseburgers today as long as I write a plan tomorrow to cut back on fatty foods in two years.”
So as we close out the home stretch, we’re going to see pundits and adversaries try again and again to dodge the science on Keystone XL. We’ll doubtless see more creative “ideas” that try to circumvent making the tough right call and prop up Big Oil’s profit line, but none of them change the basic facts. Keystone would light the fuse to one of the biggest carbon bombs on planet Earth, and push climate change past the brink. It’s a crucial crossroads, which is why our movement will continue the campaign we’ve been waging for years, until we put this pipeline to rest for good.
Boeve is the executive director of 350.org and 350 Action.