Citizens Tell Obama to Stop Pipeline and Get Serious about Environment

Michael Collins

(Washington, DC 1/17)  The nation’s capital hosted over 40,000 citizens assembled to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.  The crowd urged President Obama to bring to reality his lofty words on climate change in the inaugural address just days ago.  By stopping the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, the president would deal a blow to the rogue energy companies who, by their actions, are ready to sacrifice everything to transport oil from Alberta, Canada’s tar sands, across the United States, for refinement in Houston, Texas and shipment to China.

The broader concern of the gathered citizens and march sponsors,, and the Sierra Club, represents the existential issue of our time.  We need to get very real, very soon on the manifest threat to the earth’s climate posed by fossil fuels and the threat to the human species embodied by insane ventures like the Canadian tar sands project.  The verdict of science is clear.  As leading climate scientist James E. Hansen said, the full exploitation of tar sands oil and use by China, or any nation, is “game over for the climate.”

Citizens gathered at the Washington Monument, where speakers outlined the last chance scenario for reversing climate change.  While nowhere near the entire solution, stopping the Keystone XL pipeline offers the biggest win in the war for survival.  Bill McKibben, founder of, opened the program with the demand that President Obama live up to his campaign rhetoric and stop the pipeline from crossing the Canadian border.  That action would devastate the corporate partnership of Enbridge, TransCanada, and the other vultures seeking to profit at the expense of everyone else.  Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, argued that the coal and oil industries are on the run.  He cited energy use estimates for Texas, Colorado, and other states that show 30% of energy needs will be met by alternative fuels.  Brune chained himself to the White House fencing February 14 in the Sierra Club’s first sanctioned act of civil disobedience in 120 years.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) told the crowd that this is our time to stop the tragedy of allowing the filthiest energy source in the world to cross our borders.  There were representatives from the Latino and Africa American communities plus officials from Canada’s First Nations peoples in Alberta and British Columbia.  Chief Jackie Thomas and Crystal Lamemon spoke eloquently about the need for cross cultural, multinational alliances.  The struggles of native peoples in Alberta near the tar sands mining and the British Columbia transit path were graphically detailed.

The 40,000 gathered then marched from the monument to the White House, where they gathered and sent their message to the president — do not approve this pipeline.  The most common chant from the crowd was, Hey Obama, we don’t want no climate drama.

Dangers Posed by the Full Exploitation of Canadian Tar Sands and Other High Risk Fossil Fuel Resources

Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen [asphalt], contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history.”  James E. Hansen, PhD, head of NASA Institute for Space Studies

The least controversial estimate of human tolerance for increases in carbon dioxide was set at 565 billion additional GtCO2 (Gigatons of carbon dioxide) released into the atmosphere.  Once that limit is exceeded, the climate will be sufficiently damaged to produce a regular parade of climate catastrophes.  The crises will be more frequent and intense due to storms, floods, droughts, and the loss of arable farm land, famine, and disease.  These calamities will accelerate human suffering and death.  The shortages in food and the disruptions to economies are the essential ingredients for riots, civil war, regional, and world wars.

The general consensus is that there remains oil, coal and other fuel deposits that if burned would emit 2,795 GtCO2 into the atmosphere.  That’s five times the outside limit leading to global disaster.

These are not controversial claims.  In fact, the limit of 500 million tons of additional CO2 in the atmosphere may be too high.  Without any question whatsoever, we face a reckoning with the chemistry and physics of climate change.  For a more in depth review, see these reports. (reference?)

There are climate change deniers that challenge reality.  Their work doesn’t make it into scientific journals because the deniers are not doing science; thus they lack evidence to justify their claims.  They are part of a well-funded public relations campaign to raise doubts about the clear and present danger facing people everywhere.  These pseudo scientists publish in an online Potemkin Village of energy-industry-sponsored association journals that, for all appearances, look just like real scientific journals.  Bigh quality graphics and environmentally friendly trade names cannot cover the poverty of evidence and arguments served up in this toxic brew of disinformation.

The relentless effort to put lipstick on the pig of climate change denial is aided by the major media organizations which claim there are two sides to every story.  Really?  Following this logic, we would have seen stories like, “Hurricane Katrina – Tragic disaster or chance to form lasting relationships?” or “Famine in Africa – Lost lives or population control?”

Obama’s Decision

This president was first elected with the promise of ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars  and reviving a collapsed economy with a true unemployment rate of over 20% (when you actually count those unemployed).  Many expected that the crooks that collapsed the economy through their reckless scheming would face legal action or, at the very least,  stop receiving bonuses with our tax dollars for their greed and stupidity.  We all know how well that worked out.

Obama’s reelection had more to do with his hapless opponent, Mitt Romney, who made mistake after mistake.  The election looked closer than expected and then we saw the mega storm, Sandy just before Election Day. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed of the president arguing that Obama was, the more likely of the two candidates to take “immediate action” on climate change.  Obama is, indeed, no Mitt Romney.  But since the election, the president’s effort on climate change is another matter.

Where’s the national or international crash project to conserve energy, clean up current CO2  sources, and develop alternatives? Did we all miss something?

Where was the rousing rhetoric from the inaugural address over the past four years?  Where was the public education required to bury the climate change deniers once and for all?  Don’t the people have the right to know the truth?

It is safe to assume that the president’s concern for the environment is enhanced to semi-believable only in the face of his opposition, the climate change deniers and those in the financial and corporate elite who bankroll that operation.  Obama, at best, is dispassionate about the perils of climate change and, at worst, cynical.  There is no evidence over the past four years that the president sees any urgency to act.

Some reasons why the president may approve the pipeline

Obama wanted to nominate Susan Rice for Secretary of State.  Ms. Rice was holding an array of stocks and investments in the Alberta tar sands digging and pipeline related companies.  Surely, Obama was informed of this fact.  As Secretary of State, Rice would have held the final recommendation on the project since it is an international effort.

Obama has no core belief system.  He was antiwar but then decided to take years to appear to shut down Iraq.  He got NATO to wage a war of aggression in Libya.  The administration has fostered a civil war in Syria that has so far failed only because the Libyan formula for regime change wasn’t allowed by the United Nations.  He’s for civil rights but has drones killing people, including U.S. citizens, around the world.  He’s pro labor but failed to do anything for union rights.

Why should it be any different on the environment?  It hasn’t so far.

Obama doesn’t want to take the political hit for losing the jobs that Keystone XL might provide.  He has done little to confront the massive unemployment rate and this might get him in some trouble.

At the start of this debate, Obama said that the tar sands oil would be exported to China somehow even if he blocked the U.S. transit route.  Why not get some jobs for citizens if it’s going to happen anyway, Obama led us to believe.

There are a number of reasons and indicators that Obama will nix the deal.

President Obama received open letters supporting pipeline approval from the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate with signature totals of 145 and 53 respectively.  That’s a less than that 33% of House members and a little over 50% of the Senate.  These are not overwhelming numbers for public letters.  That represents the opportunity to stick it to his most rabid opponents in the House and Senate and solidify the public majority for environmental progress.

When the tar-sands-friendly Susan Rice was nixed for Secretary of State, the president nominated then Senator John Kerry.  Kerry was not nominated based on a pro-environment record but, as the secretary, he has the final say on approving the Keystone XL pipeline since it originates in Canada and transits the U.S.  (One would think that EPA would make the decision but, after all, this is Washington, D.C.)

Kerry has a generally pro-environment position and seeks to appear that way when he’s not.  With his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, the secretary of state wrote This Moment on Earth, an argument for pro-environment policies and an appreciation for activists and innovators working for clean energy.  Kerry is no candidate for membership in the Earth Liberation Front but he’s a lot closer to environmental awareness than the volatile Susan Rice and his new boss.

Obama may move out of his grandiosity enough to realize that he can’t tap dance around the issue of climate change any longer and hope to survive his presidency with the support of a large, ardent faction of environmentally aware citizens.  This is a litmus test, a gut-check that will determine how millions will see the president.  He survived past wavering on vital issues due to the atrocious nature and policies of his opposition.   This time, the decision is all his.  There will be no crazy Senators threatening a filibuster or delaying legislation.  The buck stops right in the middle of the president’s desk.

Sadly, there shouldn’t even be a decision to make at this point.  This decision should have been preempted by an announcement sometime after his first election.  Obama could have outlined the threat climate change poses to people everywhere.  He could have buried the deniers with the force of science and strong arguments.  And he could have let everyone know that failure to take climate change seriously was suicide for those alive in 15 to 20 years and an act of assault and battery against others who will suffer due to the willful, nihilistic, deranged notion that we can continue with business as usual in our treatment of the environment and our policy-making process.

It’s not a matter of Earth in the balance.  The earth will survive, no matter what we do.  The real issue is making every effort humanly possible to save the environment in order to maintain a livable habitat for human beings.  If we’re fortunate enough to have more time, then there is no excuse for delay on the obvious decision on this and other urgent efforts.

The Keystone XL pipeline must be rejected today.  The overwhelming, indisputable truth about the dangers of climate change must be revealed with great urgency.  The game playing and lying need to stop right now.  Anything less is beyond comprehension and beneath contempt.


Special thanks to Pam Burbul for the photographs and to Jillian for her help comments.

This article may be reposted with attribution of authorship and a link to this article.

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Michael Collins

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20 CommentsLeave a comment

  • If Obama caves on this issue and allows Keystone XL to proceed, anything else he does really doesn’t matter. He will have become an accessory before the fact to genocide.

    • He will be finished, period. The public has a broad awareness that climate change is a huge problem. If Obama says OK after trying to be Mr. Clean on environment, the public will see the very same hypocrite that they wanted to reject last time around (but couldn’t cuz, ya know, Romney’s nuts).

      Bring it on. It won’t ever be built and the people will know for sure who is on our side. If he stops it, cheers and kudos!

      I agree with you!

  • “Where’s the national or international crash project to conserve energy, clean up current CO2 sources, and develop alternatives?”

    It’s drowned out by the attention devoted to stuff like Keystone. The premise seems to be that if one can be opposed to the right cause, one can continue to keep one’s thumb firmly up one’s ass and not change behaviour. Given that the opposition centres around the link that gets foreign production into Cushing (while other, larger projects are going on uncommented on), I have the strangest feeling that folks are going to find that they were someone’s useful idiots when the dust clears.

    On the investment holdings, the thing that you don’t note is that Rice is married to a Canadian. A Canadian from old money. If I was from old money, my portfolio would look like that too.

    • I wonder if you read this and, if so, if you fully undertood it:

      Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. James E Hansen, NYT May 9, 2012

      This is filthy energy. It’s full exploitation will be catastrophic. Hansen is the preeminent climate scientist alive and probably the USA’s best scientist given the body of work.

      What don’t people get about this. There are broader issues, yes, but we don’t let guaranteed catastrophes occur because each of them fails to fix the larger issue.

      Harper and the corporate eterprise for the Canadian tar sands are world killser. Read Hansen and others again and think about it. And you say this isn’t important. Please.

      As for Rice being married to a Canadian, vis a vis her holdings in the tar sands sociopathy, the principal of marital property shows that she benefit from these investments. Besides, is it just Canadians who are allowed to invest in tar sands madness?

      • Yeah, Mike I understand it. All of it. Including the bit that says “and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies” which folks seem to be conspicuously not protesting with the same vigour. I seem to recall seeing that emissions from American coal fired power generation was something on the order of 40 times oilsands production, with more capacity being added all the time (in fact, IIRC, the plants currently on the drawing board roughly total the impact of Keystone – any bets on whether they’ll be followed by more given post-Fukushima?). Something of a divergence in the relative attention there. I’ll stand by my interpretations of pious objection to cover thumb up ass and advocacy for alternative power being crowded out by the attention devoted to Keystone.

        As to whether this is sociopathy, I dunno. I do know that most of y’all who are decrying this so vociferously are much more up to your neck in it than I. Kinda reminds me of the piece about the fracking wells – when I plotted the overheads and the route taken and it turned out those few stills translated into more klicks of driving than I cover in a year. When folks start treating all emissions as equal (i.e., including their own) then I’ll stop calling it selective outrage.

        • Dave this isn’t about Canada and the United States at odds or me being “selective” because I’m noting rogue corporations producing sickness inducing material for the world to breathe. It’s about multiple dangers.

          Isn’t this an old debate trick – from one of those books with Fallacy in the title. You call my focus on this particular problem, a very serious one, non inclusive of other major problems, THEREFORE, my outrage is selective. You did something like that above when you harkened the focus to the future rather that the very deadly present. Good book(s) aren’t they but the artifice of argument can’t dispel the reality of accelerating and catastrophic climate change brought on by multinational corporations run by people who either have gated bio-domes or trips to some planet of which we are not aware when their handiwork ruins things here.

          But to return to a previous issue – Am I to assume that a husband and a wife have entirely separate finances in Canada and that these separate finances are like ‘blind trusts’. That’s in response to the point about Rice not being influenced by her Canadian husband’s holdings (presuming he bought the securities:)

  • Anyone want to make a useful contribution?

    Look forward at the likely climate engineering measures we’re going to be moving to in coming years and their dangers. The logical conclusion to the rhetoric being pushed is that we’re already well into the territory where we’re going to have to mitigate. So why the focus on what is effectively the past? This focus on to seeking to hold the line on emissions is much, much too late. If one wants to make a difference (as opposed to simply stand on a soapbox for self-fulfillment), one needs to be ahead of the issue, not perpetually behind.

    • When Obama was elected, he said he was going to look to the future and not the past regarding illegal acts by the Bush administration, particularly concerning torturen. That logic was flawed and allowed him to adopt Bush strategies that many wanted him to end, with proseuction for the perpetrators.

      Your logic is tortured. Your notion of a soapbox is an artiice. It’s called sanity. In order to mitigate the problems with climate change, we have to stop the insults as quickly as possible. To go forward with current behavior and rely on blimate engineering is pure folly. If you want to put your faith (and it is “faith based” thinking) in the idiots in charge of enabling its application, my hat is off to you (and I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to show you…a real opportunity for the future;)

      • Funny, I don’t recall saying one should go forward with current behaviour. My view, things have gone too far to be addressed without active mitigation. This conclusion flows very directly from the assertions of extreme weather and punctuated change that have become increasingly common over the past couple of years. If those assertions are true, given what’s going to go on in the developing world over the next couple of decades and how long it’s going to take to get those emissions under control (even if we get ours under control more quickly – and that’s a big if itself), we’re into active mitigation territory. Anything else is in my view wishful thinking.

        It’s funny that you use the Brooklyn Bridge analogy. What you’re doing here frankly helps folks selling various forms of active mitigation “bridges” (and there will be a pile of them coming down the road). Instead of having time to soberly and carefully think about buying the highest quality, lowest intervention, lowest risk “bridges” folks are going to be hustled into quick, low information decisions by the bridge sellers because they spent all their time thinking about what was easiest to shout from the soapboxes. Again.

        • Terrific! I love the small of productive colloquy in the late evening. Smells like consensus.

          So we agree on two things.

          Stop the bat-shit crazy world-ending projects that will produce more CO2 in the atmosphere than produced in our entire history. AMF Enbridge, TransCanada, KeyStone XL, tar sands.

          And, develop thoughtful, efficient, and life affirming (in the most basic sense) mitigation strategies to reduce the results of the damage flowing forward.

  • I’m not certain of this, but I believe that if Obama prevented the pipeline for the reasons given, to prevent exploitation of Canadian oil sands, he would be “acting in restraint of trade,” which is illegal. If he said the practice was harmful and directly prevented it, that would be within his powers, but to permit the process and then prevent the transportation of the product is a different issue. It is allowing the industry and then restraining it from being successful. “You can produce a product, but you can’t ship it” is a far different statement from “The product is harmful, so you can’t produce it.”

    When he prevented it due to the environmental risk it presented he was on firm ground, but once the plan was changed with the environmental risk removed things got a lot harder.

    • If Obama rejected the pipeline with a reason that “We don’t want your stinking product in our country” he would certainly win the approval of tree huggers like me, and many here, but he would stir up a pile of other problems. It would certainly piss off Canada, since we are their biggest customer. It would be a bit problematic to be cutting off our biggest source of imported oil abd driving us into deeper dependence on OPEC. And it would certainly annoy everyone in this country who drives a car as they see gas prices rising.

    • The environmental risk is the use of the tar sands oil. Whether or not Obama considered that at the start, the truth of dangers posed is manifest and without doubt.

      Using the law, the damages done to the lands and the First Nations peoples in the vicinity of the digs would be easy to anticipate. Proceeding as they did knowing or having had the obligation to know the outcome is a criminal act. I don’t know what they call it in Alberta but here it starts with criminal negligence — proceeding with a project knowing it will cause specific harm to people.

  • This issue presents conumdrums ignored by most on both sides in their arguments. For those promoting development of tar sands, and for that matter, well-fracking and off-shore oil, which, to be fair must be included, denial of the effects of fossil fuel extraction and consumption is a given.

    Those wishing to stop such activity deny the effect of immediate shortages of liquid fuel and the attendent higher prices and or shortages of gasoline that will result if such activity is suspended, including economic collapse. This group also denies that we have waited so late in the game to do anything about this matter: that there are no realistic alternative sources of energy that can be implemented to keep Wal-Mart and perpetual movement in planes, trucks and airplanes alive.

    In short, we can’t afford to continue to drive as we do, to eat as we do, etc. without this stuff.

    And if we continue to drive and fly as we do, eat as we do, etc., we wreck the planet on which we live.

    Will you vote for $10/gallon gasoline, or gasoline rationing? Will you stop flying, stop eating food and using other products shipped from halfway around the world?

    I think we will, only when it’s forced upon us.

    • “Only when it’s forced on us” nails it.

      The scarcity brought by the Great Depression conditioned people for the scarcity and rationing of WWII and we learned to handle it pretty well. There was a black market in some goods in some areas, but the restricted distribution worked pretty efficiently and pretty fairly.

      From the Baby Boomers on, the goodies have always been available and it was just a matter of getting one’s share. If one person got less than another, it was never because of a shortage of goods per se. There will be some severe mental readjustment required as people learn the difference between luxuries and necessities, between “I want” and “I need”. One of the biggest unnoticed luxuries is convenience – in food, transportation, amusement, etc – and that convenience has very high energy cost. Life is going to get inconvenient for most of us.

      Only the very poor realize how little it really takes to get by and what the minimum necessities consist of.

  • TransCanada says Keystone XL oil pipeline would have no measureable effect on global warming

    AP, February 19

    Washington — In a shift in strategy, the company that wants to build an oil pipeline from western Canada to Texas said Tuesday that the project will have no measurable effect on global warming.

    Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada’s president for energy and oil pipelines, said opponents of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline have grossly inflated its likely impact on emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

    Canada represents just 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, Pourbaix said at a forum sponsored by a manufacturing group that supports the pipeline. Oil sands concentrated in Alberta, where the 1,700-mile pipeline would start, make up 5 percent of Canada’s total, Pourbaix said.

    “Simple math tells us, therefore, that the oil sands represent only one-tenth of 1 percent of global greenhouse emissions,” he said. “Even if production from the oil sands were to double, the (greenhouse gas) contribution from the oil sands would be immaterial to global” greenhouse gas production.


    Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, said Pourbaix’s comments appeared to be based on “some rather rosy assumptions” about oil sands production. First, the calculation does not take into account the energy cost of refining and transporting the oil from tar sands, nor does it account for a huge reserve that could make the Alberta tar sands a key contributor to global warming in the future, he said.

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