Thursday, February 6, 2014

Why Obama's Worst Mistake Would Be Approving the Keystone Pipeline

Mad Glen. Here's news. The earths orbit is always changing. Solar activity constantly changes. The earths magnetic field is weakening. Ice Age researchers claim another ice age is "inevitable". The Sun is gradually warming. Influences on our climate are in constant flux. To quantify the impact is folly, since they can't even seem to be able to accurately forecast the weather three days out.- A moron's comment at the end of a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Op -ed e.g.
Michael Mann, as reported in the Guardian two days ago, said it best: "if Barack Obama approves the Keystone Pipeline it would be the worst mistake of his presidency". And he means not only the political damage sustained to the Dem party, but also the environmental damage that would ensue. 

In his timely piece Mann also asks "Who is Obama protecting?" and questions why the State Dept. hasn't seen fit to incorporate the full climate impacts of the Keystone XL. Indeed, these mega-impacts have been well known since Bill McKibben exposed them and showed this is one step we cannot afford to take.

Recall, McKibben set out three threshold numbers leading to an uninhabitable Earth. The first was 551 gT (as in gigatons of carbon) which is the crossing threshold beyond which we surpass 2 degrees Celsius in mean global temperature. The effects here would be horrendous with extended heat waves, droughts, larger and more calamitous fires, and severe storms.  Give a current 30-31 gT/year deposition rate - and assuming we don't add to it, i.e. don't increase its rate - that leaves us roughly 18 years- give or take a fraction, before we end up in a pre- runaway greenhouse world, on a track from which there'll be no return.

To remind readers, this pipeline will deliver tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to Gulf Coast refineries for export to an international market. The pipeline would have an initial capacity of 830,000 barrels per day and would leave a carbon footprint equivalent to building more than seven new coal-fired plants. By the time it reaches full capacity the enhanced carbon deposition will be nearly 3 gT/yr. In other words accelerating the timeline to reach the 550 gT maximum carbon load the planet can bear.

As Mann put it:

So, looking through the lens of path dependency, what does the Keystone XL project look like? It looks like decades of extracting high-CO2 fuel at a time when we should be winding down such carbon intensive resource exploitation. It looks like decades of oil spills across America's heartland written off as an acceptable side effect of making money. It looks like decades of continued political lobbying against any CO2-limiting regulations. If approved and built, it looks like the United State is failing to take climate change seriously by virtually guaranteeing the massive Canadian oil sands reserved are exploited. That, I'm afraid, is the real threat of Keystone XL – the loss of US status as a global leader.

This ought to be taken seriously. But evidently, too many remain uneducated twits and literal morons on climate change - as in the comment shown at the top from one numb nut posting in the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel. This bozo scrambles so many obvious statements with half-truths, along with tropes and nonsense I don't think he knows what the fuck he's writing about. The Earth's orbit "is always changing"? Sure, Sparky, it's an elliptical orbit so has a nearest point to the Sun (aphelion) and closest point (perihelion), and it moves in its orbital path between these two points in 6 month intervals. So what? This has no bearing on climate change!  And "solar activity constantly changes", yeah uh, correct, it goes through an 11-year activity cycle. Again, no real revelation to do with climate change.  Sadly, the fool isn't even able to discriminate between meteorological forecasts and those to do with actual climate change (they "can't even seem to be able to accurately forecast the weather three days out ")

From there it's all downward, and this character has enough pals - also making insipid comments - that one wonders if this can really be a Milwaukee paper, and not one from say, somewhere in Mississippi.

Beyond the threat from higher CO2 concentration, none of the nitwits offering their misplaced 2 cents on the Journal site (there are a few sensible posters, but they are generally overwhelmed with 'lols' and baloney) grasp the threat of water pollution: A planned Keystone XL pipeline would pass through Nebraska’s Sandhills region, endangering the Ogallala Aquifer, which forms the drinking water for millions as well the water source for one third of American agriculture. In other words, a massive tar sands oil spill could pollute not only the water but crops used for food consumption.

Recent research discloses we need to pay attention. (See also my Feb. 4 post on the worldwide tidal wave of cancer soon to be unleashed). According to a study released Monday, the Canadian government critically underestimated emissions of a carcinogenic toxin from the country’s oil sands..
Researchers at the University of Toronto-Scarborough found that official estimates for concentrations of PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) in the region’s air, water and food are too low, leading us to underestimate their potential impact on human health. Jules M. Blais, a University of Ottawa chemical and toxicology professor who’s unaffiliated with the study, told Climate Central that “they’re some of the worst things out there.”

The actual emissions levels, according to the researchers, are likely two to three times higher than what’s been reported, and are present in concentrations normally found in a large city. Professor Frank Wania, one of the study’s authors, told CTV News that the toxins pose a potential cancer risk, and can also harm wildlife — particularly if the pipeline were to leak at any point along its 1,179-mile expanse. Previous research, the study also noted, has shown that exposure to oil sands water and sediment harms fish and other aquatic species.

The pollutants released by mining and refining tar sands will incept acid rain, smog and haze as well as other effects associated with lung disease and cancer. The solid or semi-solid waste, embedded in the toxic sludge, will unleash astronomic rates of kidney, breast, colon, pancreatic and liver cancers by the ingestion of the water soiled by the tailing ponds.

This means that, if approved, Keystone's long term effect will be to unleash so many cancers - of so many types- that Obamacare costs would likely bankrupt the supporting  insurance companies unless premiums are increased dramatically.  In other words, even Obama's hallmark accomplishment would be hobbled.

At the end of his piece, Michael Mann writes:

"Protecting us from Keystone XL would protect us from decades of continued foreign influence on US energy policy. Protecting us from Keystone XL would protect US land from oil spills and leaks.  Most importantly, protecting us from Keystone XL would protect our atmosphere from one of the most carbon-intensive fuels ever discovered.

If the president won't protect us, who is he protecting?"

If Obama is really serious about doing something to thwart climate change, there is no way he can approve the Keystone XL. If he does, he will have revealed his Neoliberal -market priorities once and for all.

See also:


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