Today, in his speech at Georgetown University, President Obama challenged us to answer the essential question for every future energy policy decision we face -- what will the net climate impact be if this project goes forward?
It was a bold, monumental speech, the best by not only this president, but any president to date on the climate crisis. Greenpeace supporters have told Obama for years that the longer he waited to take sides, the worse climate change would get. Today's speech showed that the time has clearly gotten late enough for him to publicly side with the people, not the fossil fuel industry.
We proudly stand with Obama in the fight against carbon pollution, but we know that this fight won't be won with words alone.
The president framed the Keystone decision this way:
Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline's impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.
Within this frame, it's clear there's no room in our future for the Keystone pipeline, fracking, Arctic drilling, or giving away our public lands to the coal industry. Each of these projects will have a significant negative climate impact and not be in our national interest.
- Oil Change International reported earlier this year that "the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would, if approved, be responsible for at least 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year, comparable to the tailpipe emissions from more than 37.7 million cars or 51 coal-fired power plants." Climate impact? You betcha.
- Fracking? Once you account for the impacts of extraction and not just burning natural gas, the climate impact of methane pollution from natural gas has the potential to be an even more severe driver of climate change than carbon pollution from oil and coal. That means it's a bridge fuel to nowhere.
- In the Arctic, the climate impact isn't as obvious as the impact of Shell's oil rigs on Alaskan islands, but it's coming more and more into focus every summer. If we continue to extract and burn oil and gas from the vulnerable Arctic region, the region itself will continue to disappear at an astonishing rate, short-circuiting our planet's natural cooling system and making the vicious circle of climate disaster much much worse.
- And giving away publicly owned coal for pennies on the dollar? That's a big climate lose. The expansion in US coal exports has the potential to release as much if not more carbon pollution than any other new fossil fuel project in the United States.
As the president said today at the end of his address:
And someday, our children, and our children's children, will look at us in the eye and they'll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world? And I want to be able to say, yes, we did. Don't you want that?
Yes, Mr. President, we do. And we're thrilled to know that you do too.
Phil Radford is the Executive Director of Greenpeace USA