On the cold blustery Sunday afternoon of February 17th, myself and two other Union friends stood in front of the Washington Monument feeling, for the first time, a part of something bigger than ourselves. This sentiment we shared with upwards of 40,000 fellow marchers was electrifying, rousing, and above all inspiring. However, the uncertainty of not knowing what is to come of this ever so mounting issue of global climate change has never felt so real and imminent. The Forward on Climate rally co-organized by the Sierra Club, 350.org, and the Hip-Hop Caucus was gathered under the auspices of urging President Obama to reject the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline that would deliver dirty tar sands, 1,700 miles from Alberta to Houston area refineries to be exported from the Gulf to global markets.
The points environmentalists are using to voice their opposition to the KXL are threefold. First, the chance of spills and leaks of up to 5.9 million gallons of toxic tar sand oil, introducing carcinogenic benzene into drinking sources with contamination affecting hundreds of thousands of people and spreading as far as Kansa City, Missouri. Next, the Boreal Forest, where these tar sands are being mined, has already seen ecosystem destruction as well as intensive water and energy uses and subsequent air and stream pollution as a result of oil company practices. Finally there is the basic fact that this pipeline would be introducing even more carbon emissions, in fact 17% more than regular petroleum, into the global atmosphere; as a world edging towards climate crisis, this is something we simply don’t need.
The current Keystone pipeline already connects these Canadian oil sands with the Gulf, the XL extension will only increase that flow while additionally posing a serious threat to the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska; that which provides water for municipal and agricultural reasons for the breadbasket of America which accounts for one-fifth the annual U.S. agricultural harvest and $20 billion worth of food for the world market.
A big argument in favor of the KXL also cite how the pipeline construction would generate over 20,000 jobs, however this statement is simply just not true. A study by the Cornell University Global Labor Institute found that the construction would only generate 2,500 to 4,650 direct construction jobs and only for a span of two years. A much more unattractive number which will have next to no effect on boosting local economies because lets face it, the purpose of a pipeline is to reduce the need for labor that would otherwise have to transport oil by ship, truck, or rail.
Another issue supporting U.S. approval of the KXL is that if Obama rejects once again, Canada would most likely sell these tar sands to be processed in China. The American complex regarding fear of Chinese economic superiority surpassing that of the United States is knee jerk reaction however something to consider is that to get to China, this crude bitumen would have to cross the Pacific via tanker; an inherently riskier method of transportation and would produce a larger carbon footprint. If that were not enough, this sludge, after making it to Chinese shores, would be produced in refineries that lack the same stringent anti-pollution regulations as found here in the U.S.
The fight for the rejection of the Keystone XL has come into a more and more precarious position as time runs out before President Obama must make a decision. The worst of this deflating fear was confirmed with the conclusion of a second State Department study that grimly stated that the construction of the Keystone pipeline was “environmentally sound.” This declaration only bolsters the desperate call for energy security in order to ween off of unstable and hostile OPEC sources such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. However the fact of the matter is that this decision can go either way, and it will be undoubtedly be a difficult decision to reach as there is so much in play, so much at stock, and with so many competing interests on both sides of the political and social spectrum, time will only tell as to what the final outcome will be.
Obama discussed the environment as one of his top priorities to address in the State of the Union speech so if one of his first major decision while in office is to approve of this pipeline, then he will undoubtedly alienate a large demographic of his support base that has backed him in the past two elections.
To conclude with what was the most searing and rally we heard Rev. Lennox Yearwood compare the movement to Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington for civil rights. His resonating remarks regarding the differences between the two significant American movements were “while they were fighting for equality, we are fighting for existence.” Poignant on one hand, unsettling on the other, we can only wait and see if President Obama will live up to the promises he has made to combat climate change and usher in a new progressive chapter to ensure the security of a healthy planet for generations to come.
-Austin Andersen 2015