Editor’s Notebook: Thoreau And The Keystone XL

June 2013, Vol. 240, No. 6

The other day I received this friendly e-mail from a PR person for The Nation, a newsletter that is the antithesis of Human Events. I can live without either. She asked if I would like to review an energy-related article.

Intrigued, I visited the website and found the article about 19th-century philosopher (Henry) “Thoreau’s Radicalism and the Fight Against the Fossil Fuel Industry.” In 1846, Henry ripped a shoe and on his way into town to get it fixed was charged with a poll tax, which really made him mad. So he protested in what the author described as an historic case of civil disobedience.

This apparently is the model that those few stalwarts chaining themselves to trees and disrupting meetings in opposition to Keystone should follow. Presumably, we should return to 19th-century transportation modes though even Henry would have appreciated today’s fossil fuels compared to a world of horse-drawn carriages, filthy coal and wood burners, whose producers left whatever skies and lands they exploited badly scarred.

I read on. The lead story reported that Green Mountain College in Vermont voted to eliminate from its endowment any funds received from the oil and gas industry. One percent of $3.1 million, $31,000. How do they heat their buildings in winter?

An article entitled “The Keystone Test: Will President Obama Pass?” was another attempt to rally the diminishing number of troops against the pipeline. The more that people learn the facts about the pipeline and fossil fuels, the more they favor Keystone. Knowledge is one benefit of the oil and gas boom.

By now, I’d read enough. I offered to write my perspective on Keystone. I said the president will okay it with certain caveats to the pseudo-environmentalists that will still leave them unhappy. I said the oil and gas industry is rightfully heavily regulated despite the necessity of its products.

My offer was spurned and my feelings were hurt, though she suggested I write a letter to the editor. So, here’s my letter.

“There are aspects of Keystone worthy of discussion, but this pipeline will be the most over-engineered manmade structure since the Great Pyramids. Although I am not certain how this will drive ‘energy independence,’ it is far better to develop our own resources than to rely on the unstable Middle East, Nigeria or Venezuela, whose heavy oil is even dirtier than the tar sands. Oil-exporting countries are rife with corruption.
“Fewer dollars will leave our country, many more permanent jobs will be created here, both directly and indirectly. With stable supplies come stable prices, which benefit those driving to work or delivering goods via truck. Wouldn’t you prefer a well-made, protected and monitored steel pipeline that you won’t ever see again to wind farms that require huge amounts of land, are killing machines for birds, are useless when the wind dies down, and still need to be connected via fossil fuel to the power grid?

“Climate change is a real issue to consider, if we want to be responsible stewards of our planet. Cleaner energy standards and the increased use of natural gas can and already are helping, but much more needs to be done. Maybe a carbon tax. Canada says overall carbon emissions from oil sands mining have fallen 26% a barrel since 1990 and will fall further.

“We should view our oil and gas resources as a gift, one that if used properly can sustain our economy and standard of living while raising those for others in the world. If we were wise, we would place a small tax on every Btu of energy produced and devote it to research for real alternative fuels.

“Fear mongering and twisting facts to suit an agenda help no one other than the ideologues. If you really want to discuss the issue, then for once propose a realistic alternative.”

This just in: May 16 in The Huffington Post reports that “Top officials from President Barack Obama’s campaign arm, which was recently rechristened as Organizing for Action, are working to dampen the passionate grassroots opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, just as the organization launches its campaign against climate change, according to donors and OFA members. Leaders of the group have on multiple occasions told gatherings of activists and donors that OFA will not pressure the White House on Keystone regardless of its members’ interest in the project.”

Remember that photo of the president smiling in front of TransCanada’s pipe yard on Cushing, OK last year? It’s not a question of if, but when.

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