|NASA's climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen|
Photos: Josh Lopez via tarsandsaction on Flickr/CC BY
The arrest of US preeminent climate scientist James Hansen on August 29, 2011, for protesting outside the White House has brought more media focus to an issue that has been pretty much ignored by mainstream media. With arrests now climbing to nearly 600 in over a week, what exactly has caused famed NASA’s scientist to take to the street with faith leaders and commit a peaceful act of civil disobedience? The proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline by TransCanada that is now sitting on President Obama’s desk, waiting for a green light.
|Photo by Tar Sands Action|
The Keystone XL is a 1700-mile pipeline that runs from Canada through the US, carrying tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, through the US to the Gulf Coast. According to Tar Sands Action, “If built, the pipeline could bring as much as 900,000 barrels per day through the U.S., and put fresh water, clean air and the climate at risk.” Back in June 2011, Dr. James Hansen explained in an essay, “Silence is Deadly,” why tar sands, and the proposed Keystone XL, is disastrous for our nation as well as the planet.
The U.S. Department of State seems likely to approve a huge pipeline to carry tar sands oil (about 830,000 barrels per day) to Texas refineries unless sufficient objections are raised.
The scientific community needs to get involved in this fray now. If this project gains approval, it will become exceedingly difficult to control the tar sands monster.
Although there are multiple objections to tar sands development and the pipeline, including destruction of the environment in Canada and the likelihood of spills along the pipeline's pathway, such objections, by themselves, are very unlikely to stop the project.
An overwhelming objection is that exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts. The tar sands are estimated (e.g., see IPCC AR4 WG3 report) to contain at least 400 GtC (equivalent to about 200 ppm CO2).
Easily available reserves of conventional oil and gas are enough to take atmospheric CO2 well above 400 ppm. However, if emissions from coal are phased out over the next few decades and if unconventional fossil fuels are left in the ground, it is conceivable to stabilize climate.
Phase out of emissions from coal is itself an enormous challenge. However, if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over. There is no practical way to capturethe CO2 emitted while burning oil, which is used principally in vehicles.
Governments are acting as if they are oblivious to the fact that there is a limit on how much fossil fuel carbon we can put into the air. Fossil fuel carbon injected into the atmosphere will stay in surface reservoirs for millennia. We can extract a fraction of the excess CO2 via improved agricultural and forestry practices, but we cannot get back to a safe CO2 level if all coal is used without carbon capture or if unconventional fossil fuels are exploited.
I am submitting a comment that the analysis is flawed and insufficient, failing to account for important information regarding human-made climate change that is now available. I note that prior government targets for limiting human-made global warming are now known to be inadequate. Specifically, the target to limit global warming to 2°C, rather than being a safe "guardrail", is actually a recipe for global climate disasters. I will include drafts of the "Paleoclimate Information", "Earth's Energy Imbalance" and "The Case for Young People and Nature" papers, which are so far only published in arXiv; we will submit revised versions of all
of these papers for publication this summer.
I also will comment that the pipeline project does not serve the national interest, because it will result in large adverse impacts, on the public and wildlife, by contributing substantially to climate change. These impacts must be evaluated before the project is considered further.
It is my impression and understanding that a large number of objections could have an effect and help achieve a more careful evaluation, possibly averting a huge mistake. Brief pointed comments may be just as well as longer statements.
James HansenAs predicted, just last week the State Department has already approved of the pipeline.
To date leading environmentalist, author, and founder of the climate campaign 350.org Bill McKibben, former White House official and Yale dean Gus Speth, gay rights activist Lt. Dan Choi, Dr. James Hansen, an 84-year-old grandmother, and many others have been arrested. Supporters for the protest include dozens of religious leaders, Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT-I) and celebrities Mark Ruffalo, Thom Yorke, Danny Glover, Josh Fox, and 20 top US scientists.
|Environmentalist, author & founder of 350.org Bill McKibben being arrested|
Photo: Shadia Lopez
|Renowned gay rights activist, Lt. Dan Choi, being arrested in front of the White House.|
Photo: Josh Lopez
According to Bill McKibben, “This is the largest civil disobedience action in the environmental movement in a generation, and if they really aren’t even discussing it with the president, that signals a deep disrespect for their supporters, especially young people who have demonstrated that the environment is a top priority.”
Let’s hope President Obama is listening and paying attention, and shows that he cares about the environment and our nation by tossing the Keystone XL proposal right in the garbage bin. Do the right thing, Mr. President.
Note: For the full text of Dr. James Hansen's "Silence is Deadly," please visit http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2011/20110603_SilenceIsDeadly.pdf