Thursday, February 13, 2014

NYT debate on Keystone

There is a multi-part piece on Keystone XL today, asking whether it's the best way to target environmentalists' energy. (The question itself implies that the NY Times is skeptical of the fight, no?) It is led off by well-known advocate Bill McKibben, who argues: 1) Approval of Keystone is the equivalent of putting six million more cars on the road; 2) It hasn't been the only issue target by environmentalists; 3) It got a lot of people active; and 4) It would be groundbreaking to reject a project on the grounds that the project hurts the climate. He links to this presentation on the harms of Keystone, which makes a few good points, like that the pipeline is estimated to "increase tar sands production by 36%." That's bad because tar sands are dirtier than regular oil. Author Tony Horwitz argues that the fight is probably ultimately futile, but that by fighting it environmentalists have won key victories, like improving the proposed route and slowing it down. Physicist Burton Richter is worried about climate change, but he doesn't like higher oil prices. At the same time, he says a carbon tax is a better way to get there. (I'm a little confused: does he think a carbon tax won't raise oil prices? 'Cause, um, that's the point!) Advocate Jane Kleeb links to this video on behalf of Nebraskans fighting the pipeline, and accuses TransCanada of bullying landowners to try to get their way. I don't doubt it- there's a lot of money on the line! There are a few more: two of them, one by the Friends of the Earth and another by the American Petroleum Institute, basically say nothing at all. One more, highly condescending entry says that environmentalism is dead and the answer is either nuclear or maybe just not worrying about it? I'm not sure what they're saying, but they're saying it rudely. (Their website shows how cities are a great habitat for birds... ok, whatever!)

This round goes to the environmentalists, though I did leave out a few references to how the pipeline will help the US source our crucial energy from a friendly country, improving our national security, which is an important argument. I myself remain on the fence: energy and climate change are important, but as Horwitz says, we have to expect that somehow that resource will get exploited. In the end I wish people would push for real change like a carbon tax (even though, yes, that will mean higher prices) rather than fighting hard on these side issues. As we're about to see, that's an effective way to solve a problem of externalities like climate change.

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