Now that the U.S. election is over, lots of big players are apparently trying to cash in their chips. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver insisted within hours of the results that he was “optimistic” the Keystone XL pipeline would soon be okayed, while the head of the American Petroleum Institute said the oil and gas industry had been “implicitly promised” by “Obama insiders” that Keystone would get the nod once that pesky balloting was over.
Maybe they’re right – maybe it was an entirely cynical move by the Obama team to make sure that environmentalists voted their way, and now they’ll be eager to unlock the dirtiest energy on the planet for the richest corporations.
But there’s also the chance they spent the past year – which was set aside for a more careful review of the project – paying attention to a changing world. If so, here’s what they would have noticed:
The hottest year in American history, with the hottest month (July) and the most extreme weather ever recorded in the country;
An epic drought and heatwave that drove up grain prices 40 per cent;
The shocking melt of the Arctic, which made it clear by mid-September that we’d broken one of the biggest physical features on the planet;
And the largest storm ever recorded on the East Coast, with record low barometric pressures and record high storm surges, enough to flood the New York subway system.
Another way of putting all that is: Mother Nature filed her public comments on the Keystone plan, and they seemed to be in general agreement with the high-profile roster of North American climate scientists who told the President that tapping the tar sands was in neither the country’s nor the planet’s best interests.
Assuming that Barack Obama’s people also pay some attention to politics, they may also have noticed a couple of interesting facts in that realm.
The incredible onslaught of TV ads that the fossil industry ran blasting Keystone opponents didn’t do a bit of damage. In Florida, for instance, where Connie Mack made the pipeline a key part of his unsuccessful bid to unseat Senator Bill Nelson, the issue didn’t move the needle.
Nineteen per cent of the voters in the Nov. 6 election – higher than in 2008, and much higher than expected – were under 30. In fact, they made up Mr. Obama’s winning margin. These are precisely the voters who say they care the most about climate change, which is reasonable since they have decades left to live on a heating planet.
In Canada, activists seem to have successfully blocked the planned Northern Gateway pipeline to the Pacific. I was in B.C. recently, and I didn’t meet anyone on any side who thinks it will be built – which means that the oil won’t “go to China anyway” if Keystone’s not built.
Mr. Obama has said he wants to do more to slow climate change in a second term. Much of what he needs to do will be incredibly hard – it will involve overpowering the fossil fuel industry’s captive congressmen, never an easy task.
But he doesn’t have to ask a soul about killing Keystone. He can do it by himself – and it will be the purest test of his willingness to take on the carbon barons. This is his chance to stand up for a wounded planet.
Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont, and the author of The End of Nature, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, and Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. He’s also the founder of 350.org, the global climate campaign.