The Common Good

Isn't the Keystone XL Pipeline in Our National Interest?

Won't it reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil? Won't somebody else develop the Alberta tar sands if the U.S. doesn't do it -- someone like China, perhaps?

I've been wrestling with many of these issues as I contemplate risking arrest as part of two weeks of sustained protest by leading environmentalists, climate scientists, and faith-based groups at the White House to pressure the Obama administration to block the Keystone XL Pipeline. This pipeline project will connect Canadian tar sands -- containing the second largest and dirtiest oil reserves on the planet -- with the oil refineries in Texas.

So what about "foreign oil"? The reasoning goes like this: It's better to get oil from Canada than send our petrodollars to countries like Saudi Arabia, propping up undemocratic regimes, fueling anti-American sentiments, fighting wars to control the Middle East oil, and indirectly subsidizing it to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars in our military expenditure. Right? Besides, let's be content with moderate, politically feasible steps that can be taken on the path to sustainability.

This argument is important. We are fighting wars over access to oil reserves in the Middle East. However, I respectfully disagree with it. A successful national security strategy requires that we expand our paradigm beyond the exclusive focus on the terrorist and conventional military threats to include the looming spectacle of the collapse of the ecological life-support system of our planet.

The truth is that our world is more profoundly interconnected than we realize. Both threats and opportunities come to us often in non-linear ways. For a moment, individual people and countries may pursue the illusion of robust economies fueled in part by tar sand oil, and defy the scientists' warning of impending collapse. But sooner rather than later, the time of reckoning will come, presenting challenges that may dwarf even those of fighting al Qaeda.

It's encouraging that the U.S. military is becoming more aware of it. A report of more than 100 pages was issued four years ago by the Center for New American Security, "The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change." It concludes with a list of daunting tasks required to rebuild America and ends with the following assertion:

Left unaddressed, climate change may come to represent as great or a greater foreign policy and national security challenge than any problem from this list. And, almost certainly, overarching global climate change will complicate many of these other issues.

There is simply too much at stake, and we are too far behind in the race against time to allow the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Koch brothers, whose industries already process about 25 percent of the tar sands crude brought in to the U.S., to define what is good for our country.

Here's another key argument: What about China? If we stop construction on the Keystone XL pipeline, won't that just benefit China who is eagerly searching the globe for opportunities to satisfy its insatiable thirst for oil? In fact, another pipeline project is under consideration, which would take the tar sands oil and ship it to the British Columbia port of Kitimat for shipment to China. PetroChina will have no qualms about exploiting tar sands for its domestic market without any concerns about the environmental impact. All true.

However, the scientific community around the world is forging an overwhelming united scientific consensus regarding global climate change and the prospect of dire predictions for both the U.S. and China. For different reasons, the messy politics and narrow, short-term economic considerations of our respective countries have not quite caught up with the science of global climate change. Still, it would be wrong to assume the zero-sum game mentality while choosing to ignore this global scientific consensus and fledgling efforts for common good.

Furthermore, it's morally questionable for the U.S. to use China as an excuse for our profligate exploitation of Canada's tar sands, even though China has recently superseded our country as the number one emitter of greenhouse gases. After all, we are responsible for 27 percent of emissions from 1750 to 2008 compared to China's 9 percent over the same time period. Given the fact that we are the biggest climate change culprit and our privilege of having free press, a democratic system, and a long legacy of openness, ingenuity, and boldness, we Americans have a moral responsibility to lead the world in a new green revolution.

Rather than locking the U.S. into supporting an expensive and dirty form of oil for many years to come, we ought to pursue the clean energy alternatives that would bring genuine energy security. The fossil fuel industry, awash in money and threatened by the green revolution, has done a remarkable job obscuring from the public, not only the perils of global climate change, but also the amazing opportunities for all kinds of innovations that could counter global climate change and enhance life for people and the rest of Earth's community.

Earlier this year, the U.S Department of Energy unveiled a report titled, "A National Offshore Wind Strategy: Creating an Offshore Wind Energy Industry in the United States." It demonstrates that development of the offshore wind resource along U.S. coastlines and in the Great Lakes would help our nation to achieve 20 percent of its electricity from wind by 2030 at a cost of energy of $0.07 per kilowatt?hour (kWh).

What we as a nation lack is not technological ingenuity or financial resources to make an amazing array of green innovations happen. Rather, the most frightening and scandalous deficit we are facing is one of imagination and political will.

On August 29, I'll be joining other people of faith, scientists, environmentalists, and others with big hearts for a nonviolent public witness to urge President Obama to say "no" to the Keystone XL Project and an even louder "yes" to a sustainable future for all God's creation. This nonviolent action is intended to show the seriousness that we have as people of faith in defusing the largest carbon bomb in North America.

And yes, I've decided. I'm going to risk arrest.

Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, is a Franciscan priest and chair of the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Directorate for the Franciscans of the Holy Name Province. To learn more about this campaign or register, please visit www.tarsandsaction.org.


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