Today, the House votes on a bill to mandate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, from the tar sands moonscape of Alberta, Canada, to the export terminals at Port Arthur on the Gulf of Mexico. There, two massive refineries owned by Saudi, Dutch and American producers are waiting to process the heavy sour tar-like crude, and ship it all over the world, but principally to the Pembroke Refinery in Wales for processing and sale in Europe.
This drama has a global cast: Canadian producers; multinational refiners; European consumers; and American politicians.
Much is at stake. The Canadian government of Steven Harper has been demanding it for years, so they can fully exploit the world’s third-largest deposit of fossil fuels – and their ticket to a seat among the world’s energy super-powers. The Saudis, the Dutch, and the Europeans have invested billions in anticipation of the flood of heavy sour crude. The American Koch brothers have bought up massive tracts of Canadian leaseholds, anticipating approval of pipelines to get the stuff to global markets.
On the other side, First Nations in Canada, native American tribes and Midwestern ranchers are fighting the destruction of once-pristine northern tribal lands and the risks of additional pipeline spills fouling rivers and aquifers. And environmentalists of all stripes are alarmed at the potential exploitation of some of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels, citing findings that exploitation of the tar sands would almost certainly push the global climate system beyond the 3.6 degree Fahrenheit threshold, often cited as a threshold for runaway feedback loops driving catastrophic consequences to threatened species and vulnerable human communities.
Congress has tried to force the President’s hand before, and come up short. But with the GOP now firmly in control, the first item of business is the pipeline. We can now be pretty certain that it will be sent to the President’s desk, where he has promised a veto.
And why would this pipeline rise to the very tippy-top of the new Majority’s Christmas list? To hear the politicians, it’s all about jobs. They’re going to show the country that they know how to create jobs, and do a better job of it than the Obama Administration has done. But here’s where they have to hope that the voters don’t pay too much attention to the facts.
The US economy is actually doing a remarkable job of generating new jobs without reckless projects that imperil the world’s natural systems. Consider:
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US economy created 2,924,000 new jobs in 2014 – or more than 8,000 new jobs every single day.
- Unemployment has fallen to 5.7%, the lowest level since the summer of 2008.
- Forbes magazine tells us that when we compare recent presidents who inherited recessions – Reagan and Obama – Obama wins hands down, keeping unemployment lower, and generating far more jobs (although not as many as Clinton).
But, as they always say, ANY unemployment is too much. (Actually, no real economists ever say that, but politicians always do.) So new jobs are a good thing. And how many new jobs will the new Congress’s top-priority pipeline create? Well, TransCanada, the pipeline operator, estimated between 2,500 and 6,500 temporary jobs related to construction of the pipeline.
For the US economy, that’s something like one morning’s worth of new jobs.
Of course, it’s no surprise that TransCanada’s numbers tend toward the rosy side. The State Department figured that the pipeline would support 3,900 temporary construction jobs. But after two years of construction, only 35 employees would be needed to operate the pipeline. That’s THIRTY-FIVE permanent employees. It takes the US economy only a few seconds to generate that many jobs.
For perspective, 35 five new permanent jobs is what you get by opening two new fast food restaurants.
So when our congressional representatives tell us that the Keystone XL is a jobs program, they’re talking nonsense, and we should all tell them so.
But what about the pipelines opponents? Can you trust everything you hear from them?
Well, a bit of skepticism might be warranted here as well. And that’s because global climate change is not a very popular vote-getter these days. They’ll talk about pipeline spills, native rights, foreign oil companies and exported oil. And while there’s ample truth to each of those, climate change is really at the core of opposition to Keystone XL. Here’s why:
- We now know that we must avoid warming the globe more than 2 degrees Celsius if we hope to preserve the Earth’s ecosystems to support the Creation’s millions of living species– including our own. Even if we succeed at that level, we will have consigned more species to extinction than at any time in millions of years.
- To have any hope of staying below 2 degrees C extra global heat, we must limit total fossil-fuel carbon burned by mankind to one trillion metric tons. The problem is, we’ve already burned more than half of that – 570 billion tons. We have a maximum of 430 billion tons left in our carbon allowance.
- But the world’s reserves of recoverable fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – contain more than 13,000 billion tons of CO2. Once again, that’s 13,000 billion tons for a world that can only afford to burn 430 billion. Do the math for yourself: The overwhelming bulk of recoverable oil, gas and coal simply must stay in the ground.
- The carbon-heavy tar sands at the other end of the proposed KXL pipeline contain 240 billion tons of CO2, enough carbon to blow through the global budget, consigning future generations to challenges and horrors we have never known.
- And all fossil fuels are not equal, when it comes to manmade climate change. Unburned methane is just about the worst, followed by coal, and then extreme oil like the tar sands. Conventional crude oil is somewhere in the middle, and safely-controlled natural gas is at the lighter end of the carbon spectrum.
- A new report just published in the science journal Nature has looked at global reserves by region, and found that that one-third of the world’s “proved” oil reserves must stay in the ground for the Earth to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate disruption. It’s worse for gas, with 50% having to stay in the ground. And for coal, 80% of existing reserves must never be produced and burned. Finally, NO new fossil fuel reserves can ever be developed, and not a single drop should come out of the Arctic.
Against this sober outlook, the new Congress is merrily charging ahead in a probably-hopeless attempt to reward their campaign contributors, and wrest authority for cross-border pipelines from the State Department, into the hands of politicians who must look to oil companies every two years to finance their election campaigns.
A small band of Christians has been praying over the last year for the denial of the Keystone XL Pipeline. You can find us at PrayNoKXL on Facebook. And while we’ve been praying, seemingly against all odds, the foundations of the tar sands have begun to crack, and in some instances, to crumble:
- Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled in favor of First Nations tribes who are sworn enemies of this and other tar sands pipelines slated to run through their lands;
- A Nebraska Court delayed the pipeline by over a year, before being reversed only this morning;
- The world’s climate scientists have given us a “carbon budget,” clarifying that much of world may become unrecognizable or uninhabitable if the tar sands oil is actually burned;
- China and the US have finally broken their stalemate over climate policy, leading the nations of the world to expect serious action on global climate change by December 2015 at the global climate negotiations in Paris; and
- The market price of oil has collapsed, making every drop of tar sands oil a money loser for its producers.
We don’t know what’s ahead. But we do know this: God invites – even commands – his children to pray against the odds. We could never have foreseen these events when we began to pray. And even now, we are not assured of any particular outcome. But neither were the apostles Peter and John, when they took a chance before the crippled beggar in Jerusalem’s gate: “I have no silver and gold,” said Peter, “but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
Perhaps we don’t have Peter’s faith and bravado, but we are still praying. Others may think they’re in control of this issue, but we’re pretty sure they’re not.