I'm currently a sophomore at Paul Smith's College, and I spent the weekend of Nov. 6 with 48 students from Paul Smith's College, Clarkson University, St. Lawrence University, SUNY Potsdam and North Country Community College on a charter bus trip to Washington, D.C., to surround the White House and peacefully protest against the Keystone XL pipeline, along with 12,000 other Americans of all different backgrounds.
At the rally, our group wore T-shirts imprinted with "Save the carbon," a slogan coined by Kary Johnson and Curt Stager. Dr. Stager is the author of the book, "Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth." The "Save the carbon" slogan (a play on slogans such as "Save the whales") expresses the necessity that the human race keep a good share of carbon in the ground instead of lighting fire to it. On the back of the shirts, we had inscribed, "We've got your back!" to support the tar sands action's main strategist and climate activist, environmentalist, author and former PSC board member Bill McKibben.
According to information presented on the Tar Sands Action website, "Keystone XL is the fuse to North America's biggest carbon bomb," and Jim Hansen, NASA scientist, says that the pipeline means "game over" for our climate. The dirty tar sands oil is the second largest carbon store on the planet after the oil fields of the Middle East. Additionally, by embracing the pipeline we'd be procrastinating further on seriously developing renewable energy technology. The Alberta tar sands are made up of an even dirtier, cruder stuff that requires extensive, energy-intense processes before it can be made into useable oil. Tar sands are a mixture of wet sand, clay and "bitumen," a tar-like, sticky black substance. The extraction and refining processes require large amounts of natural gas and hot water, and the bitumen also contains a slew of toxic chemicals, including lead, mercury and arsenic. Its highly corrosive nature increases likelihood of pipeline leaks during its 1,700-mile trip to the Gulf Coast.
What I genuinely don't understand about this pipeline issue, is why there is so much division among even the 99 percent of Americans. I mean, why isn't all of America against this? Perhaps part of the reason is the lack of media coverage on this complicated issue. I don't think one needs to be a "radical environmentalist," as right-wing politicians keep calling us (if you ask me, construction of this huge pipeline is pretty radical), to see that the pipeline won't benefit us. For one thing, I think the thought of this large, dirty-oil-carrying, foreign pipeline marring our beloved country would bother most people greatly. Of course, probably no one thinks the addition of the pipeline will improve the appearance of our country, but the thing is, functionality isn't a true factor here, either. This project is not going to create a significant number of permanent jobs. Nearly all of the published studies that suggest creation of jobs in the tens of thousands were conducted by TransCanada, the company responsible for the pipeline. A recent study conducted by Cornell University states that TransCanada's actual data provides for the creation of "no more than 2,500-4,650 temporary direct construction jobs for two years." Also, the pipeline's steel will probably not be manufactured in the U.S. Cornell further explains that pipeline development may effectively kill jobs since, "In 2010 U.S. pipeline spills and explosions killed 22 people, released over 170,000 barrels of petroleum into the environment, and caused $1 billion dollars worth of damage in the United States."
What could potentially lead to substantial job creation is an ambitious investment in renewable energy technology. All the polls taken in 2011 show strong support for such development across the political spectrum of the American public. The development of green jobs so far is significant, too, as a study by the Brookings Institute states that 2.7 million are held today.
The pipeline is not going to lower gas prices for Americans, either. Basically, the pipeline project won't lower gas prices because Keystone XL is an export pipeline, just passing through our country so that TransCanada can use our oil refineries before sending the useable oil overseas. Also, the pipeline will inevitably leak (you can find an atrocious statistic on the poor quality of TransCanada's pipe sections on the Tar Sands Action website), especially because of the extra-corrosive properties of tar sands. The leaking, dirty oil would permeate the soil of America, causing significant pollution even if it doesn't travel over the Ogallala Aquifer, as was originally proposed. See, the pipeline really isn't in the interest of the 99 percent, although surely the 1 percent who make massive profits off large-scale oil production will be the big winners.
Recently, the U.S. Congress approved a payroll tax cut bill that included the requirement for President Obama to make a decision on Keystone XL within 60 days. Now it's crunch time to help President Obama with this decision. What you can do is to join our plea that this pipeline is not in America's interest by contacting President Obama. You may send our president a message here: www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments. If you want more information, I recommend www.TarSandsAction.org to get the full story. To learn the details of Cornell's study on Keystone XL's false job creation, go to www.ilr.cornell.edu/globallaborinstitute/research/upload/GLI_KeystoneXL_Reportpdf.pdf.
If Keystone XL is given the OK, the hopes and dreams that many young people have for our country are going to go down the pipeline, ecosystems are going to go down the pipeline, and if you think this season has been unusually warm, then just watch out your window one snowless Christmas as winter goes down the pipeline. How about this idea for the new year? Let's send the pipeline down the pipeline! Figuratively, of course, but try imagining it. I see the pipeline turning inside-out and vanishing, sort of like a black hole. This is my greatest wish for 2012.
Hannah Huber lives in Rainbow Lake.