Sierra Club Climate Change Report Flunks Keystone XL

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Chances are, President Obama has been looking for some good late-night reading material these days while he wrestles with his XL-size Keystone problem. If so, the Sierra Club now has him covered.

The environmental group’s 17-page Fail: Why Keystone XL Flunks the Test, is an expository on the many ways that TransCanada’s south-bound pipeline would worsen climate change, and the risks inherent in supporting the project.

The president’s announcement last June that he would only sign off on the Keystone XL proposal if it did not “significantly exacerbate the climate problem” has elicited a flood of responses from conservationists and critics alike, ranging from online petitions designed to show membership support for the president’s stance, to an 11-point outline of why the president’s efforts to curb climate change will fail. Few pundits made the effort to truly delve into the oil sands issue, even so far as to explain to their readers the relationship between bitumen extraction and climate change.

Sierra’s report, which trades not only on its substantial resources (all of which can be accessed from the online PDF) and its stirring photos, paints a candid picture of why the issue isn’t about the environmental effects of one tar sands project but the cumulative effects of the five earmarked for development over the next decade.

It does a reasonable job of showing why it calls the Enbridge pipeline “the most notorious of West Coast lines” and why it is significant that the province of British Columbia, which would have gained economically from its development, has given a conditional “no” to the project.

What it doesn’t do, is give a balanced perspective of what should be offered to investors that have staked their futures on oil sands investment and oil development. It also doesn’t explain what the government should do to encourage those investors to promote greener options.

What alternatives should the president offer oil investors that have backed the U.S. section of the pipeline? Rebates and tax breaks in green industries to help recover substantial investments? Positions on think-tank committees that probe the further reduction of carbon dependence? Other ameliorating plans that will ensure that at the end of the day, both sides of the argument feel they have won?

If these seem like irrelevant questions to be complicating a “no” vote on climate problems, consider that this president is all about cooperation and reconciliation, and rarely about one-sided decisions.

And that, I think, is what Sierra Club should be concentrating on: How the president can say “no” to oil sands bitumen, and still ensure that a private industry that has fairly controlled the U.S. markets for more than a century, can make that same shift we’ve all been calling for.

But then, it wasn’t clear to me whom Sierra’s well-packed report was really written for: a president who has made research his late-night past-time and has probably read everything he can find (or can be told) about oil sands bitumen, or Sierra’s dedicated membership that wants to know that their views are being heard loudly, clearly and adamantly.

If I had to guess, I’d say that President Barack Obama already knows which way the wind will blow over Alberta’s oil sands bitumen.


Image provided by Wikimedia user “Tasty Cakes”

Jan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.