Keystone pipeline, climate change, and the problem of fossil fuel demand
Keystone pipeline protests are aimed at highlighting the need to address the causes of climate change by reducing our use of carbon-based fuels, Cobb writes. But advocating for a carbon tax might be a better way to spur innovation in energy efficiency and renewable energy production.
American political conservatives like to say that their strategy of tax cuts all the time is designed to "starve the beast." The "beast," of course, refers to government, and "starving" it means reducing its revenues through tax cuts in order to spur corresponding cuts in spending. They liken their strategy to reigning in a profligate child by reducing his or her allowance.Skip to next paragraph
Kurt Cobb is the author of the peak-oil-themed thriller, 'Prelude,' and a columnist for the Paris-based science news site Scitizen. He is a founding member of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas—USA, and he serves on the board of the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions. For more of his Resource Insights posts, click here.
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Whatever one believes about the efficacy of this strategy, it is now being employed in surprising ways in a new field by unexpected people. The brilliant symbolism of opposing the Keystone XL pipeline is intended to highlight the need to address the causes of climate change by reducing our use of carbon-based fuels. The reasoning in this case is that stopping the pipeline would prevent the increased exploitation of what opponents call the "carbon bomb" of the Alberta tar sands. Stopping the Keystone XL would supposedly prevent the companies controlling the tar sands from having access to oil markets. In effect, activists are trying to starve the fossil-fuel-consuming beast that is the global economy.
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If this is the goal, then this strategy must be labeled an instant failure. The tar sands oil companies are already exploring alternate routes for shipping synthetic crude derived from tar sands via other proposed pipelines. One such pipeline, Energy East, would move oil from western Canada to eastern Canada, finally ending the bizarre situation in which Canada, one of the world's largest oil exporters, must import close to 40 percent of its oil needs. The country currently lacks sufficient pipeline capacity to bring oil from western Canada where it's found to eastern Canada where it's mostly consumed.
These developments take nothing away from what has been a very successful strategy by climate change activists to rally people behind fighting against something concrete as a way of advancing political awareness and action on climate policy. But this does point up a problem with attempts to reduce fossil fuel consumption by organizing people to oppose specific distribution projects.
Attempts in my own newly adopted home of Oregon to stop the construction of coal export terminals are understandable given the foreseeable problems of such terminals. The transport of coal through the area is not without environmental consequences. And, having visited friends who live near train tracks on the upper Mississippi River, a key conduit for coal trains, it is no picnic to have scores of such trains passing through town each week. They back up traffic and shake nearby homes at their very foundations each time they pass.