The Common Good

World Magazine vs. Sojourners: Keystone XL Pipeline

Rare red pandas, wrestling in the snow. Image via Wiki Commons http://bit.ly/xcp
Rare red pandas, wrestling in the snow. Image via Wiki Commons http://bit.ly/xcpR67

Having critics isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes they serve as a sort of public accountability. Other times, they express questions that others might be asking but haven’t voiced.

Marvin Olasky, editor in chief of World Magazine, came out with a quick critique of Sojourners’ press release celebrating the Obama Administration’s decision to reject the current plans for building the Keystone XL pipeline. His post offers an excellent opportunity to address a few things that others might have been wondering as well.

His headline? “Sojourners and Keystone: Using the Bible for Political Purposes.”

Sojourners, as a Christian organization, is rooted in scripture. The Bible is central to the work we do and it is from this starting point that we derive the values that fuel our mission.

But, we don’t make the claim that the Bible shows God’s perfect path for the State Department in evaluating the pros and cons to building 1,700 miles of pipe through the middle of our country. And, nowhere in the press release that he references do we cite Scripture or even mention the Bible.

Still, Olasky emotes:

Here’s an attempt to seize the Bible for the left and turn a reasonable question — how do we achieve energy independence, create jobs, and reduce gas costs? — into a creation vs. corporations cage fight.

How are we “seizing” the Bible? Make the case? Was it a reference to “creation?” Was it Brian McLaren with his tongue in cheek, “Man shall not live by oil alone?” If that’s not a funny joke, say it isn’t funny. But, I don’t think it qualifies as “seizing” the Bible.

From here, Olasky moves on to basic conservative talking points.

The first:

Sojourners contends that it cares for peace, and that the United States is wrong to have fought a war for oil in the Middle East. That’s enormously oversimplifying why our soldiers were in Iraq, but if we take the Sojourners line at face value, shouldn’t we reduce our dependency on Middle Eastern oil and thus lessen the likelihood of future wars?

To the foreign policy: Yes it’s an oversimplification to reduce the complexities of our entire foreign policy with a large region of the world to simply oil, but it’s also a folly to ignore the large role it plays.

With that out of the way, on to the oil. If you look at the trends, U.S. domestic production as a percentage of consumption is up and foreign imports are down. We had a peak in 2005 and we are now at a 15-year low. 

But, I would argue that the answer of oil dependence on the Middle East does not ultimately lie in more production of oil in our country or our neighbor to the north. The long term solution to moving away from a dependence on oil from the Middle East, or foreign oil imports more broadly, is to reduce our dependence on oil entirely.

The second:

Sojourners contends that it cares for the poor. We have at least 8.5 percent unemployment. Some economists say the real figure is 16 percent. Should we not care about the poor who would love to work on the pipeline, and will now continue to be unemployed? Should we not care about the poor who find it hard to pay more and more for gas?

First, job creation estimates have varied widely. TransCanada has said that the project would create 20,000 jobs directly (that’s “person-years,” meaning that a job that lasts 2 years gets counted as 2 jobs). But, the only independent study from the Cornell University Global Labor Institute puts the amount of direct temporary jobs at about 4,500 and permanent jobs at 50. The even larger estimates of indirect job growth was called by Michael Levi at the Council on Foreign Relation simply, “dead wrong.”

Second, not every job that can be created, should be created. Going to war is a sure fire plan to get more people employed but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Dropping the drinking age to 16 would meet a clear market demand among minors for liquor while creating jobs to make the booze, sell the booze, and then medical professionals and emergency responders to clean up the mess from the booze. But, I don’t think many would argue that change would be in line with the common good.

Third, assuming Olasky’s line of reasoning that cheap petroleum is a good way to help those in need he’s in a contradiction. The pipeline would increase the price of gas at the pump, specifically in the Midwest.

TransCanada justification for building the pipeline is that they are overproducing and the glut of crude oil is keeping prices low for refineries closer to the boarder they are already exporting to. Opening an easy path to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, who have the intention of selling to foreign markets, would make the refineries already buying the oil pay more. 

Olasky ends with:

The Bible is clear on the importance of honoring God’s Creation. It’s not clear on exactly how to do so. It’s clear that God sent man “out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.” It’s not clear how exactly to do that. That’s why we need to look at the facts and thoughtfully evaluate them from a biblical perspective — and not in the kneejerk way that Sojourners did today.

After the headline of our press release, we detailed our months of work around the Keystone Pipeline. It was not without thought or consideration of the facts from a biblical perspective that we began work on the issue, and certainly not “knee jerk.”

Thanks to Dr. Olasky for raising some of the questions that I’m sure others probably shared. Hopefully my answers helped shed some more light on the issue.

In an effort to end on a point of common ground, I do have to say I agree with Olasky’s final paragraph. But, I would probably have to replace Sojourners with World Magazine.

But, that’s just for fun.

Take a minute to thank President Obama for rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline by clicking HERE.

Tim King is Communications Director for Sojourners. Follow Tim on Twitter @TMKing.

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