2012 November 08, Thursday
East of Dallas, TX
The “Keystone XL” pipeline would connect the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to oil refineries along the U.S. Gulf coast, stretching about 1700 miles through six states. This proposed project has received enormous opposition from citizens concerned about climate change. Regardless of the causes of global climate change, it is a well established fact that continued unsustainable release of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane will aggravate and accelerate so-called “global warming” and its attendant deleterious and widespread changes such as increased droughts, wildfires, violent storms, and floods.
Greenhouse gases are released in many ways, some of them involving natural processes out of our control, such as volcanoes, and some entirely within our control, such as the burning of “fossil fuels” like coal and oil. Fossil fuels are ancient carbon that has been sequestered in the earth for millennia -- in soils, oceans, lakes, forests, and so on. Burning fossil fuels removes this sequestered carbon and releases it to the atmosphere. Tar sands are essentially a very unrefined source of oil. The amount that this pipeline alone could remove from the earth through energy production would add 240 gigatons of carbon to our atmosphere. The physics of our atmosphere is understood well enough that scientists have predicted with certainty that if we release more than about 565 more gigatons into our atmosphere, our planet will no longer be livable for known existing oxygen-breathing species.
This pipeline and the use of tar sands encourages our continued dependence on oil and other fossil fuels for energy production. Many people argue that our efforts and finances should go toward developing “greener,” environmentally sustainable energy sources. It is eminently sensible for us to earnestly pursue sustainable energy sources whose use does not cause dangerous pollution to the atmosphere, to our freshwater sources or oceans, or to our soils. It need not be necessary in the foreseeable future to cease all use of fossil fuels; but their use, along with any other practices that cause the release of carbon into our atmosphere, must be balanced by practices that sequester carbon. Very fortunately for us, the most efficient ways that humans can sequester organic carbon have attendant beneficial consequences such as sustained health and fertility of agricultural soils, rivers, lakes, oceans, and forests! Science has proven that time-honored principles such as respect for the earth and all of her lifeforms, cooperation with nature, sustainable agricultural and forestry practices, moderation of our impact, and harmonization with and protection of biodiversity, are salutary for us all in the longterm.
To return to the Keystone XL Pipeline: While returning to the Gulf coast last week from the west coast in our small, fuel-efficient, low-and-slow airplane, we flew southeastward from Dallas, TX toward New Orleans, LA. We were surprised to discover that a considerable degree of construction of this pipeline has already been completed, despite the project not yet having received government approval! (“Did our taxes pay for this?” we wondered.) We pulled out our small videocamera and recorded what we saw.
Here we share with you our brief “look from above” at this pipeline -- what it looks like, and the kind of countryside it will permeate. Even aside from the question of continuing to burn fossil fuels, seeing this beautiful countryside made us ask ourselves, with dread: are we certain we want to bring these polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which are toxic to oxygen-breathing life, through the midst of our agricultural soils, prairies, forests, and rivers?
Read the article and see the photos and videos here!