On Nov. 2 TransCanada, the company that is trying to the build the Keystone XL pipeline, asked the Obama administration to suspend its review of its $7 billion project. That was not an act of surrender, however. It’s a last ditch attempt to keep alive a climate killing pipeline that appeared to be a sure thing just a couple of years ago. TransCanada’s strategy is to delay the issue until a new president takes office in 2017.
A number of things have changed since the time Obama had that photo op in front of a stack of pipelines. Pipeline ally Stephen Harper was dumped by the Canadian electorate in October. This was preceded by a upset win in Alberta province by left-leaning New Democratic Party in May. Alberta is home to much of the tar sands that Keystone XL would carry. Hillary Clinton ended her long silence and announced she opposes the pipeline in the hours when Pope Francis was landing in the U.S. Francis, himself, put the Catholic Church out front in calling for protection of a livable climate. There was also the grim news in September that despite all the measures being taken and promised the world was on track for a catastrophic 6 degree Fahrenheit increase in world temperature by 2100.
It’s been speculated that Obama will announce the projects end this month just before the big Paris climate talks that are supposed to make binding climate decisions for the world. Rejecting Keystone XL would let Obama burnish his image on climate issues. He’s been talking a good game, but when it comes to action he still has a disastrous “all of the above” strategy. For example while he’s taken modest measures to limit carbon waste he’s also allowed a huge increase in fracking and approved use of land offshore the Atlantic coast for drilling. The price of gas at the gas station is way down, good news for the “consumer”, but awful news for the climate. Bill McKibben of the international group 350.org has called for stepped-up pressure on Obama to end the Keystone project “once and for all.”
Rejecting Keystone XL would be a major triumph for the climate movement. Increasingly, activists had taken to acts of civil disobedience and mass action. In 2011 over a hundred were arrested in front of the White House in a civil disobedience protest of the pipeline. A couple of years later tens of thousands took to the streets on a frozen day in Washington, DC, and last year hundreds of thousands marched for the climate in New York City.
Now for the bad news that’s coming out of China. The Chinese government has announced (admitted) that it’s burning lot’s more coal that it had previously reported, 17% more. Such a number doesn’t’ mean much, but look at how the New York Times article also presented it: The “scale of correction is immense… The increase alone is greater than the whole German economy emits annually from fossil fuels.” China has been low-balling its statistics on coal burning since 2000. China has said it will cap its carbon emissions in 2030, but is not saying what they expect that limit to be. This in the face of the world need to cut carbon emissions in fifty years to one-fifth of what they are now.
China’s government rules with an iron fist and responds only slowly to popular concerns. In August a paper released by Berkeley Earth estimated that toxic air pollution in China caused 1.6 million deaths a year. “The Berkeley Earth paper’s findings present data saying that air pollution contributes to 17 percent of all deaths in the nation each year.” Unfortunately China censors a lot of pollution news to prevent (justified) “unrest.”
So as to leave you in a better mood take a look at National Geographic’s special climate-change issue “Cool It.” It includes a fine interactive section on how to go carbon free, state by state, relying on the groundbreaking work of engineer Marc Z. Jacobson.
Stanley Heller is Administrator of Promoting Enduring Peace www.PEPeace.org.