The Common Good

Keystone XL Would Divide Jobs, Conquer Low-Income and Native American Communities

When it comes to the Keystone XL pipeline, the oil and gas industry want you to believe that you have to choose between jobs and prairie grass. This tactic is called the “divide and conquer” or “divide and rule” strategy. It’s as old as the empires of ancient Greece and Rome. It still works because human nature hasn’t changed that much.

The Keystone pipeline would create 35 permanent jobs. Infographic by Brentin Mock & Erin Zipper, courtesy Colorlines.com

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Two years ago I sat down across the table from Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, the highest ranking State Department official (short of the Secretary of State) to weigh in on the Keystone XL pipeline permit process. A group of religious leaders were delivering thousands of petitions to Dr.  Jones asking her to to stop the pipeline.

I said to her, "If this decision about the pipeline was made purely based on the climate science, we wouldn't be here having this discussion." She’s a scientist. She knows the score. She didn't disagree. “But,” she said, “everywhere we go across the country we hear about the need for jobs – especially in the middle of the country.”

Divide and conquer.

In order to successfully break up a government or army (or trajectory of change), the stronger power pits sides against the other — exploit the weaknesses of both. The stronger power manipulates the sides to foster feuds and infighting, which suck up precious time and energy.

The whole goal of “divide in conquer” is to keep the smaller movements from uniting, prevent the “sides” from joining forces against the oppressor. Why? Because it is much harder to break them apart once they have aligned.

In the case of the Keystone XL pipeline, the strongest power is TransCanada (and all the major oil and gas industry giants who are invested in expanding mining of the Alberta tar sands). It’s stronger than President Obama. It’s stronger than the U.S. or Canadian government.

TransCanada is using a divide and conquer strategy to get what they want — free access to drive the planet over a climate cliff, while they rake in money to protect themselves from the worst effects of climate change. TransCanada’s spin doctors are pitting “jobs” against a livable planet. Without the promise of “jobs,” most Americans are convinced that climate change is real; that we need to move away from fossil fuel and toward renewable energy. Those decisions need to start now.

ColorLines’ Brentin Mock and Erin Zipper created an infographic that lays out the numbers about the Keystone XL pipeline and U.S. jobs. According to the State Department’s data, Keystone construction will create a maximum of 42,100 jobs over the course of two to three years. Only 35 of them would be permanent. (And these are highly optimistic numbers, much disputed by other studies.)

Let’s not sell our inheritance for the pottage of 35 jobs.

Instead, let's turn “divide and conquer” on its head. Let’s unite expanded construction jobs with sound climate science. Let’s invest directly in rebuilding the great American energy grid and pour money into scaling up renewable energy generation. Those are the long-term, well-paid jobs that we need.

The first step is to once and for all deny TransCanada’s permit for the Keystone XL. Let’s put Americans to work in jobs we can be proud of. Let’s look ahead to an American-made, innovative, renewable energy economy and be able to say together “We built that!” 

*Demand our leaders conduct an honest, independent assessment of the pipeline’s real impact. Sign the action alert here.

Rose Marie Berger, a Sojourners associate editor, spoke outside the White House this week comparing the Jesus Movement’s Occupy march on Jerusalem that is re-enacted on Palm Sunday and the grassroots movement to stop the Keystone pipeline and reverse climate change.

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