Standing Up for the Earth

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.

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