Tag Archives: PrayNoKXL

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.

Why We Are Praying: NO KEYSTONE XL

The news today is grim.

We hear that Democrat Mary Landrieu, fighting for her political life in oil-dominated Louisiana, is joining with Senate Republicans in a bid to force the Obama Administration to approve the massive Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, linking Canada’s toxic petro-moonscape in Alberta to export refineries on the Gulf Coast. Harry Reid, the lame-duck Majority Leader, will do her the favor of letting the vote come to the floor. In the House, Speaker Boehner will easily roll over the opposition. Before you know it, legislation will almost certainly land on President Obama’s desk, demanding that he approve the pipeline now.

But for months now, a prayer-band of Christians has regularly raised its voice to God, begging Him to stop the powerful forces seeking to enrich the wealthy at the expense of His Creation, and especially the poor and vulnerable. Today, we recall the many who have prayed in the face of overwhelming power. We recall Judah’s King Jehoshaphat, who looked from Jerusalem’s walls at an overwhelming swarm of invaders, and prayed: “We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you…” (1 Chron. 20:12). We remember the apostles Peter and John, facing threats from the Sanhedrin that had just murdered the Son of Man: “Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness…” (Acts 4:29).

It has looked grim for God’s people many times before. But we continue to pray: Lord, stretch out your hand to protect the poor, the powerless, the Creation that you love, from the hand of the powerful, the greedy, and the willfully ignorant. God has not always answered the way we have hoped. But He always invites us – even more, He commands us – into His presence to pray.

But most Americans – many Christians included – seem not to understand why we’re on our knees. Isn’t this pipeline a major source of jobs? Isn’t this our ticket to “energy independence?” Shouldn’t we believe the hundreds of TV commercials we’ve seen promising huge economic benefits and a pristine environment – if only we’ll give the multinational oil companies an easy pathway through our agricultural heartland to the sea?

Well, in a word, No. And no. And no.

But we can do better than that. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people have taken to the streets in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. And their reasons vary depending on their home community, their tribe, or their particular interests. But for brevity, let me pick four key reasons why we wish that all people of faith would join us in praying to stop the Keystone XL pipeline:

  • Tar sands expansion harms native Canadian nations, already being poisoned by tar sands mining.
  • Just when the world’s two largest carbon polluters have finally agreed to act on climate change, the Keystone XL will open the floodgates on some of the world’s most carbon-polluting oil.
  • Big-money oil exporters will profit, but ordinary people will suffer.
  • The world is desperate for climate leadership from America.

Tar sands mining harms Canadian native people: The First Nations, especially the Cree and Dene people, have lived sustainably in the Alberta tar sands region for thousands of years, long before Europeans arrived. They rely on the water, the fish, and the game to sustain their communities and their lives. But the tar sand mining of the last two decades has irreversibly polluted much of their land and water, spawning an epidemic of cancers, and other ills. Indigenous communities like Fort Chipewyan – so remote and pristine as to be accessible only over frozen rivers – are now reduced to buying bottled water and importing all their food. We now hear the disturbing word “genocide” in connection with some of these nations. And if we’re offended by the word, perhaps we should try to imagine the offense taken by its victims.

I spent a week among the tar sands nations earlier this year, and can attest that these concerns are not exaggerated. In fact, the cultural gentleness of these people tends, in my opinion, to mask the full extent of the harm that the carbon-industrial complex is wreaking on them and their children.

But you don’t have to make the long trip to Fort McMurray yourself. Just watch any of a number of easily accessible videos. It’s worth hearing from the principal doctor serving some of these cancer clusters. Here’s one that’s worth the three minutes of run time:

Keystone XL will open the floodgates on some of the world’s most carbon-polluting oil: It’s not for nothing that TransCanada, Exxon, Shell, Valero, Total and others are desperate to force Obama and Kerry to approve the pipeline. Alberta has unimaginable petroleum resources, and these giant companies have bet billions that they can get their hands on it and sell it on world markets.

The problem is, Alberta’s tar sands possess enough carbon to cook the planet several times over – almost certainly enough to drive a mass extinction to rival the end of the Cretaceous Period (goodbye, T-Rex!). The world’s climate science community has told us that we are on a strict global carbon budget now: a total of no more than one trillion tons of CO2 may be emitted into the atmosphere if we are to have a serious chance of keeping the world’s temperature increase below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above historical averages.

The problem is, we’ve already burned more than half that amount, and on our current pace, we’ll cross the trillion-ton threshold by 2030. It’s important, therefore, as we transition from fossil fuels, not to double down on the most polluting ones. But tar sands are much more polluting than conventional oils. The extraction and refining of Alberta tar sands generates about three times more CO2 than conventional extraction.

And there’s so much of it in Alberta. If the living species that God has created are to survive in His world, then most of the tar sands simply must stay in the ground.Picture1

From a planetary perspective, the good news is that Alberta’s heavy crude is landlocked, far from refining and export infrastructure, and largely impeded by lands controlled by indigenous First Nations, many of which are hostile to polluting industries. Without the Keystone XL, the industry uses smaller pipelines, trucks and trains, all of which add to costs. In fact, most analysts agree that tar sands production is a money-loser at world prices below $75. Today, the world price is about $74.

So anything that we do to increase the flow and lower the cost of tar sands oil will inevitably add to the flood of carbon that is endangering the world and its many threatened species, including the billions of humans most vulnerable to flood, drought, sea level rise and ocean acidification, all linked to carbon pollution.

Ordinary people will suffer: To hear the oil company commercials – and their politicians – you’d think just the opposite. Mainly, they promise jobs. And sure enough, the State Department has concluded that constructing the pipeline will produce about 1,950 temporary jobs over two years. But the total of permanent jobs (excluding environmental clean-up jobs from pipeline leaks) is now estimated at a total of less than fifty. Actually, it’s only 35 operators and inspectors, to be precise. For perspective, the US economy generated 142,000 new jobs last month, or about 5,000 jobs per day.

So whatever numbers you buy into, can anyone imagine scores of Congressmen scrambling to push through a pipeline project as a jobs program, if it generates less than one day’s worth of job creation?

But if ordinary people won’t benefit, the flip side of this reality is much darker. We now know that climate change always harms the poor first. Environmental degradation of every sort has been shown in study after study to affect minority and low-income communities disproportionately. And what’s true for pollution of all sorts is especially acute for climate pollution, where all the most climate vulnerable countries are low emitters, and all the highest polluting countries are rich.

The world is desperate for climate leadership from America: Together with China, the US accounts for 40 percent of global carbon omissions. Worse, we are among the very worst offenders on a per capita basis, at more than 19 tons of CO2 per American each year, more than double the world average.

In the past, the US actively undermined international efforts to address catastrophic climate disruption. Our refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol – alone among all the nations on earth – contributed significantly to the failure of that effort. On this site, we’ve quoted Rev. Peter Karanja, Kenya’s leading Protestant church leader, who begged us to send this message to our country:

“We are very concerned, especially about America. They are the most obstinate country when it comes to climate change. We don’t know where it comes from. Maybe it comes from industry money, or maybe people just don’t know about climate change. They are not willing to reduce anything, and they’re not at all willing to finance the cost of adaptation….  

“The message needs to get to the American people. You need to tell your leaders: ‘We are the ones who put you in office. You have a responsibility to reduce your greenhouse gases which are harming the rest of the world.’

“We have these international conferences on climate change. But at the end of the day, the U.S. always comes up with something to make them collapse. We come away with nothing, and no hope. Because Christians are one family, they must be the ones to pressure their governments to act responsibly.”

Well, as of yesterday, the US (and China) could hold their heads a bit higher, and ask other countries to join us in fighting climate change. The spillover effect on other countries is cited by virtually all observers as the most important effect of the Obama-Xi agreement on reducing carbon emissions. But in a single stroke, Congress could negate this advantage entirely, declaring loudly that whatever we may say, we have no intention of actually doing anything to relieve global suffering from climate disruption.

So there you have it. For me, those are the big reasons we’re asking God daily to stop this one pipeline project. And today, it looks like we’re pretty seriously outgunned. We have been from the outset, of course. But now, they seem to have the votes.

But Christians believe that the world is fundamentally broken, and that Christ’s plan is to fix “all things,” and to reconcile them to Himself. We’ve never believed that this requires a Senate majority, or a friendly President.

And so we pray, even today.

Tar Sands: When it’s Hard to Pray in Jesus’ Name

How do you proclaim your faith, when that faith is culturally aligned with injustice?

American Christians who are actively seeking to care for the creation routinely face this conundrum, as our religious heritage is so often used to provide moral cover for systems of power that despoil the earth and harm the poor. We know, of course, that our own scriptures tell us to “subdue the earth;” we are granted “dominion” over the works of God’s hand; and the gospel confers almost infinite value on the individual person. Taken together, these notions can be used to provide the ideological underpinnings of the exploitative economy and the hyper-individualism that often prevents us from acting for the common good.

Nothing really new here. Thoughtful Christians can rebut the errors that flow from these notions, of course. But the last two months have confronted me with another arena of injustice where we Americans – and our dominant cultural faith – are generally on the wrong side of God’s justice. I’ve seen it because I’ve been invited twice to participate with indigenous North Americans in their struggle for the most basic elements of justice. In this brief span, I’ve been confronted with two wonders: the amazing level of hospitality and inclusion extended to Christians like me by these communities; and the extent of my religion’s historical participation in oppression and genocide, together with our ongoing disregard for its still-surviving victims.

Native elders led the Healing Walk through the tar sands pollution

Native elders led the Healing Walk through the tar sands pollution

Last month, I was among a group of Evangelicals invited to participate with the Cowboy Indian Alliance in their Reject & Protect action in Washington. They were there to demand a voice in the decision whether to permit a Canadian pipeline company to seize indigenous and rancher lands in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas for the Keystone XL pipeline. And today, I’m on my way home from the Healing Walk in Alberta, Canada, where native peoples are struggling for their very survival in the face of rampant oil-industry pollution of their supposedly treaty-protected lands and waters.

In each case, I came to pray, intending to bring with me the gracious name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I recalled the story of Peter and John speaking to the lame beggar at Jerusalem’s gate: “Silver and gold have I none. But what I have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk.” It’s a pretty triumphant story, isn’t it? Continue reading