So what’s the big deal about this pipeline?
With the Boehner/McConnell Congress setting the Keystone XL as their number-one legislative priority, we’ve spilled a bit of ink showing what it’s NOT about – namely, JOBS. In the end, the pipeline will create about as many permanent jobs as two new Taco Bell restaurants – unless we’re talking about jobs for environmental cleanup teams dealing with future toxic spills.
[Note: In Alberta, Canada alone, 90 separate pipeline spills occurred during the four-month period July-October 2014. In October alone, 163,000 gallons of toxins were spilled. In fairness, we suppose those might also create some jobs: oncologists treating cancers, truckers shipping in bottled drinking water, lab technicians testing tap water for safety….]
On the other side, we’ve given short shrift to the arguments of some pipeline opponents as well. To be sure, the threat of toxic spills, the seizure of American farmlands by foreign oil companies, the violation of indigenous treaty rights, and the inevitable export of the refined oil onto world markets are very important to the many Americans directly affected.
For us, however, we’ve felt compelled to focus on the harm that affects every living creature on earth. And that’s because the tar sands pipelines – Keystone, Northern Gateway, and several others – are the keys to unleashing enormous landlocked Canadian reserves containing the world’s dirtiest oil. And here, we must do a little simple math together:
- CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have hovered around 280 parts-per-million (ppm) throughout human history, a vital blanket of greenhouse gases that have kept the earth’s climate hospitable to millions of living species.
- In the last two centuries, we’ve burned enough coal, oil and gas to push atmospheric CO2 concentrations upward to 400 ppm, and we’re piling it on at the pace of 2-3 ppm per year.
- Scientists tell us that 350 ppm is probably the maximum safe level for atmospheric CO2, so we need to slow its growth, and eventually reverse direction. In fact, most recoverable reserves of fossil fuels owned by energy companies can never be produced, without heating the earth more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), widely considered a tipping point to runaway feedback loops that will imperil natural systems of marine and land-based life.
- The world’s deposits of fossil fuels contain enough carbon to make the planet unrecognizable to existing species. It’s a given that coal production must stop very soon. There are some 10 trillion tons of CO2 locked up in the earth’s recoverable coal deposits. We can afford to burn no more than one-twentieth of that amount from all fossil fuels, according to the most recent UN IPCC report. If we should ever lose the “war on coal,” there will likely be no living species remaining on the planet.
- But coal isn’t the only threat out there. Recoverable reserves of “unconventional oil” contain enough carbon to add another 300 ppm of CO2 concentrations to the atmosphere. Once we burn them, the air will be choked with 700 ppm CO2, more than double the level considered safe for ecosystems. And the lion’s share of “unconventional oils” on earth are the tar sands in Canada.
So keep your eye on the red oval in the chart above. When politicians tell you they’re just trying to give us more jobs, or free us from dependence on “foreign oil,” why not ask if they’ve considered what kind of world we’ll leave our children with 600 billion tons more CO2 in the atmosphere from unconventional oil? Are we sure that there will be ANY survivors from such recklessness?
A better course to creating those new jobs might be to build a couple of new Taco Bells, no?