Tag Archives: Obama veto

The Pipeline, the Speaker, and the Anarchist Grandmothers

Pretty much everyone loves my Barbara. Her doors are always open to countless house guests every year. She does the laundry for at least two families. Her chickens provide eggs for much of the neighborhood. When their world darkens, our little granddaughters come running to “Nana.” And our grown kids are still glad to find “Mama” whenever there’s a need.

But the Speaker of the House of Representatives has another name for my partner of thirty-six years. To him, she’s a “left-fringe extremist and anarchist.”  Really. Kids, one of the country’s most powerful politicians thinks that Nana is an anarchist.

I really wish Speaker John Boehner would get to know her. I think he’d find that she’s a really nice person. She does have some suspect habits, it’s true. Most every day, she dares to pray that God will move our leaders not to approve the construction of the Keystone XL, a new pipeline designed to carry enormous quantities of some of the world’s most polluting oil across our entire country, from the Canadian tar sands to export terminals on the Gulf of Mexico.

Nana working with one of her employers

Nana working at her favorite job.

And most every night, she sits down to write President Obama, begging him to protect her granddaughters, and others who will be harmed by pollution from the tar sands pipeline. She writes for native Canadians whose families are being poisoned by tar sands mining; for Kenyan farmers facing chronic drought and crop failures; and for Bangladeshi delta dwellers beset by encroaching sea water. And she writes for our little girls, whose world will be choked with levels of greenhouse gases unknown for millions of years.

She takes pretty seriously the words of the prophet Micah:  “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

But that’s not what Speaker Boehner sees. With a presidential veto now all but certainly awaiting the  just-passed Keystone pipeline bill, he’s lashing out the chorus of voices asking our country to rethink our mindless oil binge.

“Instead of listening to the people,” Boehner said yesterday  , “the president is standing with a bunch of left-fringe extremists and anarchists. The president needs to listen to the American people and say ‘yes, let’s build the Keystone pipeline.’”

In fact, one of the more persistent of those “anarchist” voices is Nana, who has hardly given the president’s mail-readers a day’s rest during the last year. And then there’s me. And my brother Chris, a Presbyterian minister. And his daughters. And my kids. And my doctor. And the farmer in the yellow house across the road. And many, many other normal Americans.

But to the Speaker, Obama is listening to “left-fringe anarchists” (like Nana?). It won’t do for him to admit that normal people who care about justice are asking our country not to double down on the dirtiest fossil fuels. He has to dehumanize them with labels suggesting danger or lunacy.

But in his frenzy to push ahead with this pipeline, the Speaker may have missed where our country’s people are heading. Sure, under the barrage of oil-funded advertising campaigns promising jobs, jobs, jobs, you can find plenty of people who think the pipeline is okay. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that 41% of respondents said they supported the pipeline, but 57% said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion, or that they opposed it. Significantly, public support for the pipeline has eroded seriously over the last year. In November 2014, a Pew Research poll found that support for the pipeline from Democrats had fallen by 11 points (54 percent to 43 percent) since March 2014. Among independents, support declined 12 points (70 percent to 58 percent).

But even more important than the narrow question of whether to build a single pipeline, Americans now agree in overwhelming numbers that climate change is serious, manmade, and in need of national action. The New York Times and Stanford University recently conducted a poll that found 77% of Americans supporting “substantial” federal action to limit climate change. And while a partisan divide stubbornly persists, even 48% of Republicans agreed.

And when asked: “Should the federal government limit the amount of greenhouse gases that U.S. businesses put out?” fully 60% of Republicans joined the 78% majority who said yes.

The story is considerably different, however, for Republican politicians in Congress. Just last week, 49 of 54 Republican senators voted against a non-binding resolution declaring that “climate change is real, and human activity significantly contributes to climate change.”

So Mr. Speaker, we’ve heard you’re not a scientist, but facts are stubborn things. The evidence of manmade climate disruption is now overwhelming, and widely available even to laymen like us. Among climate scientists, military planners, coastal engineers and marine scientists, you don’t even argue if it’s true, but how best to respond to it. And normal people are waking up to this reality in growing numbers.

They are not fringe radicals. They are not anarchists. And some of them are just grandmothers who are fighting for the world their little girls will inherit. They don’t control billions of dollars to pour into your political campaigns. But when the future of their granddaughters is at stake, they’re not giving up.

Sooner or later, Mr. Speaker, you’re going to have to deal with Nana.

Keystone XL and Job Creation: Nonsense and Prayer

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.

Canada's First Nations have been dogged opponents of tar sands pollution

Canada’s First Nations: dogged opponents of tar sands pollution  (2014 Healing Walk)

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.

400,000 people jammed New York City in September to demand climate action

400,000 people jammed New York City in September to demand climate action 

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.