Keystone XL Victory Will Help Stop the Tar Sands

These days, it’s easier to kill pipelines than “conventional wisdom.”

In a news analysis published today, the New York Times concludes that while the tax bill provision on Keystone XL will likely kill the project, the victory will do little to stop future pipelines, stall tar sands development, or slow down global warming. After all, the world needs energy, the tar sands have it, and therefore, they’re going to be developed, atmosphere be damned.

It’s a compelling argument that’s been made over and over again during the fight against Keystone XL. Here’s why it’s wrong.

Time and again, public opposition has stopped things that made “economic” sense. That’s every mile of the Colorado isn’t dammed, why we haven’t cut down every last inch of Brazilian rainforest, or, to pull from another time period, why the British Empire finally abolished the slave trade even though it was great economics. As it turns out, there are other forces in the world than supply and demand. Just because morality is hard to quantify, doesn’t mean it can’t change history now and then.

As political opposition to the tar sands grows, it’s going to be nearly impossible for oil companies to build the pipelines they need to get tar sands oil out of landlocked Alberta. You thought the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline was contentious? Just check out the struggle over the Enbridge Northern Gateway, a pipeline that was slated to be built from the tar sands out to the coast of British Columbia. Thanks to the opposition from indigenous communities along the entire pipeline route and people up and down the coast, the Canadian government has been forced to stall the project for yet another year of environmental review.┬áThe delay, along with the news on Keystone, has fired up the anti-tar sands movement even more. When Goliath teeters, David puts another stone in the sling-shot.

The pipeline victories also create the momentum necessary to push for the larger, structural changes that can really shut down the tar sands, like ending fossil fuel subsidies, rolling out a clean energy economy, and putting a price on carbon. In the United States, the fight against Keystone XL made tar sands a (dirty) household name for the first time. Over 500,000 people signed petitions against the pipeline, tens of thousands of people to part in demonstrations, and over 1,000 people were arrested over the course of the campaign. At places like 350.org, we’re busy brainstorming with supporters across the country about how to quickly get into these larger fights.

The New York Times is right: if it was let up to economics, tar sands development (and the planetary destruction that comes with it) would be inevitable. Good thing we’re not leaving it up to economics.

6 Responses to “Keystone XL Victory Will Help Stop the Tar Sands”


  1. 1 Potomac Oracle Dec 24th, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Economics needs to factor in the cost of CO2 emmissions.

    We need a new multi tiered industry which includes farming, processing, transportation, manufacturing, construction, most of the retail/wholesale, research & development, and related manufacturing services sub sectors..

    I can think of only one renewable energy technology that would meet all of the above. There is however,in America, a self-imposed constraint to developing this technology. That is, Congress prohibited the cultivation of psychoactive hemp in the early 1930s. Oil. gas, lumber and chemical interests paid Congress to include non-psychoactive hemp, or industrial hemp because it was a perfect substitute for products made from fossil fuels, and could also be processed to produce fuel and thousands of other products.

    Repealing that prohibition should be a priority of all those who support environmental progress. America could then take advantage of the 90 mil acres in set aside programs. If half of that were devoted to cultivating Industrial Hemp employment and aggregate demand would soar. Farmers in the far west have been fighting Congress for years to lift the ban.

    We import over $1 billion in finished hemp products, which could be produced here. Hemp needs no pesticides, very little water and thrives in organic fertilizer. We would eliminate the raping of our forests, and poisoning of our oceans and waterways.

    The Europeans are using Industrial Hemp to build houses, fabricate automobile and other machine parts, furniture, etc. We are cutting off our noses to spite our faces when we deny the cultivation of this industry which could employ millions in non-exportable jobs, at decent wages.

    While the economics of industrial hemp may not be as favorable as gas or oil per unit of energy produced, industrial hemp is far superior to fossil fuels when their respective carbon foot prints are compared. Investment priorities then, should be based on environmental standards such as the amount of carbon produced per dollar of investment. The lowest carbon producers should receive the bulk of public subsidies.

  2. 2 larry reynolds Dec 24th, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    This is the biggest hugwash statement ever wrote by a bunch of liberal minded environmental wackos .The world will always need oil nomatter how it is got.Sooner have this oil from the oilsands than going to war in the middle east.Smarten up you freeks.

  3. 3 Rob Dec 26th, 2011 at 3:20 am

    Do you realize if the “tar” sands are cut off as a viable supply of petroleum to the United States, America will be forced to consume oil from brutal dictatorships such as Sudan, Venezuela, Saudi, Iran, etc? Why not rely on oil from a country such as Canada? Canadian oil exploitation is subject to a wide array of moral and environmental ethics, unlike those found in brutal dictatorships. Environmental activism is an admirable cause, but how does it trump human rights, which are completely neglected in OPEC producers?

  4. 4 Youness Scally Dec 30th, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    Totally agree, stopping Keystone XL displayed the importance of people standing up for their convictions and the power many people working together can have to foil the plans of a multi-trillion dollar industry!

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About Jamie


Jamie is the co-coordinator of 350.org, an international global warming campaign. A recent college graduate, he lives in San Francisco, CA. In 2007, he co-organized Step It Up, a campaign that pulled together over 2,000 climate rallies across the United States to push for strong climate action at the federal level. He's also an early member of the youth climate movement, leading one of Energy Action's first campaigns in 2005: Road to Detroit, a nationwide veggie-oil bus tour to promote sustainable transportation. He's traveled to Montreal and Bali to lobby the UN with youth, but he's a strong believer that change happens in the streets not in meetings. Jamie received the Morris K. Udall award in 2007 and has been recognized by the mighty state of Vermont for his work on climate change. You can also find him blogging at Campus Progress' "Pushback," Changents.com, and 350.org.

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