The Common Good
November 2011

Standing Up for the Earth

by Rose Marie Berger | November 2011

Largest U.S. climate action says no to pipeline.

Police in Washington, D.C., arrested 1,252 Americans as part of a 15-day event at the White House protesting the controversial 1,700-mile Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. The two-week demonstration, initiated by environmentalist Bill McKibben, was the largest on global warming in U.S. history.

There are numerous reasons to object to this pipeline: Privately held TransCanada, the pipeline owner, is responsible for 12 oil spills in the U.S. in 2011; tar sands strip mining in Alberta, Canada, already involves clear-cutting boreal forests, breaking indigenous treaties, irreversibly damaging water quality, and introducing toxic waste into the food chain affecting human health. Pipeline jobs are few, temporary, poorly paid, and often given to migrant workers; the pipeline extension threatens the Ogallala Aquifer, America’s largest freshwater reserve; and it takes 8,800 pounds of earth and tar sands, plus an average of 155 gallons of fresh water, to produce one barrel of tar sands oil, which will fill half a tank of a Chevy Suburban.

But there is one reason that makes this pipeline different. “Exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize the climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts,” says NASA’s leading climate scientist James Hansen, who was arrested with religious leaders as part of the protest. “If the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency points out that Canadian tar sands carbon emissions are “82 percent greater than the average crude refined in the U.S., on a well-to-tank basis.” This pipeline is a climate killer.

Providing a presidential permit for the pipeline has become the most important environmental decision facing President Obama before the 2012 election. Sparking nationwide opposition, more than 60 religious leaders, ranchers from the Midwest, former Obama campaigners, leading climate scientists, and young voters whose first election was in 2008 are telling Obama not to issue the permit. The hundreds of demonstrators outside the White House were backed by hundreds of thousands more around the world who oppose further tar sands development. According to organizers, more than 651,530 people signed online petitions directed at Obama, urging him to refuse to permit the XL pipeline and instead invest in developing safe, clean energy. —Rose Marie Berger  

Rose Marie Berger, a Sojourners associate editor, was an organizer for the Tar Sands religious witness. Learn more about the pipeline at

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