Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Week After POTUS' 2nd Term Inaugural on MLK Day, Yes, It All Comes Down to the Tar Sands Pipeline

Yves Tanguy - The Sun in Its Jewel Case (1937)
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared. President Barack Obama, Inaugural Address, 1-21-13

Barack Obama has ducked a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, a key environmental issue, just one day after delivering a stirring call to action on climate change. In the first test of Obama's renewed commitment to climate, the administration said on Tuesday it was putting off until April a decision on the project, which is designed to pump crude oil from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, the White House told reporters that climate change was just "one of a host of priorities" for the president's second term. Suzanne Goldenberg, Obama stalls for time after Nebraska approves Keystone XL oil pipeline, Guardian, 1-22-13

A Week After POTUS' 2nd Term Inaugural on MLK Day, Yes, It All Comes Down to the Tar Sands Pipeline

By Richard Power

No, POTUS, action on the Climate Crisis is not "one of a host of priorities," as your mouthpiece now says 48 hours after your encouraging inaugural address. It is the paramount national security threat of our age (and the next), it is the paramount economic security threat of our age (and the next), it is the paramount public health issue of our age (and the next), it is the paramount human rights issue of our age (and the next). And the Keystone XL pipeline decision is one that will have direct impact on our ability to mitigate the worst of the Climate Crisis. If you fail to stop it you will have allowed an opportunity to do tremendous good to slip out of your hands, and the consequences will be dire, grave, civilization-breaking. And this is a decision that is utterly within your control, you don't need the Senate, you don't need the House, you don't need anything but courage and common sense. You can stop it with the stroke of a pen. Yes, it is that simple. But will you? Surprise me (and Charles Pierce).

Delay it until April if you must, for tactical reasons. But if you don't stop the XL pipeline you will be proven to be, on this most vital of all issues, an utter hypocrite. You have already proven to be a profound disappointment on the struggle against Climate Change, but failure to stop the XL pipeline will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is not simply the impossibility of progressive governance in Beltwayistan, but indeed a willful wrong.

Within a few days of your call to arms (thank you for Myrlie Evers-Williams and the Battle Hymn of the Republic, such symbols have power), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) failed to take meaningful action to end the abuse of the filibuster rule, thereby ensuring that nothing truly good will come from the Senate. Well, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is a fool and a coward. Rachel Maddow explains why. (The "fool and coward" part, that's my language, not hers.)

On the same day as Reid failed us all, 53 U.S. Senators, "Democrats" (note the quotes) as well as Death Eaters from the Zombie Cult formerly known as the Republican Party, have sent POTUS a letter urging approval of the planet-killing XL pipeline. Utter depravity ...

In the coming weeks, months and years of the Climate Crisis End Game, it will be the citizens on the street, hitherto cast as followers, who must lead, and the politicians, hitherto cast as leaders, who must be compelled to follow. We must be Idle No More.

Lest you lose your resolve, whether you "lead" or "follow," consider seven recent stories ...

The Canadian tar sands have been called the “most environmentally destructive project on earth”, with good reason. But what if we told you that a significant proportion of the climate impact from exploiting the tar sands has been overlooked? ... It turns out that analysts have been examining the liquid fuels derived from tar sands bitumen and calculating the emissions associated with producing those light liquid fuels (i.e. gasoline and diesel), and adding the emissions from burning those liquid fuels to derive a “well-to-wheels” analysis of emissions. On this basis alone, the European Commission has determined that the emissions from tar sands derived fuel are 23% greater than fuel from conventional crude used in Europe. Lorne Stockman, There’s coal hiding in the tar sands, and the emissions are not being counted,, 1-17-13

In the coming decades, climate change will lead to more frequent and more intense Midwest heat waves while degrading air and water quality and threatening public health. Intense rainstorms and floods will become more common, and existing risks to the Great Lakes will be exacerbated. Heat Waves, Storms, Flooding: Climate Change to Profoundly Affect U.S. Midwest in Coming Decades, Science Daily, 1-17-13

The US space agency Nasa warned this week that the Amazon rainforest may be showing the first signs of large-scale degradation due to climate change. A team of scientists led by the agency found that an area twice the size of California continues to suffer from a mega-drought that began eight years ago. Jonathan Watts, Amazon showing signs of degradation due to climate change, Nasa warns, Guardian, 1-18-13

The glaciers of the Andes Mountains have retreated at an unprecedented rate in the past three decades, with more ice lost than at any other time in the last 400 years ... The looming loss of the glaciers is a major problem for the people living in arid regions west of the Andes, Rabatel said. Andes Glaciers Vanishing Rapidly, Study Finds, Live Science, 1-22-13

The upshot of what they know so far is that Greenland is not only melting—it may be melting faster than anyone expected, including most scientists. And what's more, we may be blowing past a point of irreversibility, where the world commits, irrevocably, to a level of sea level rise that, as it unfolds over the coming centuries, would devastate many coastal megacities. Chris Mooney, Why Greenland's Melting Could Be the Biggest Climate Disaster of All, Mother Jones, 1-24-13

You may recall the shocking World Bank Climate Report from November that concluded: “A 4°C [7°F] world can, and must, be avoided” to avert “devastating” impacts ... Now World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has a strong WashPost op-ed that warns “we need to get serious fast” to avoid the looming “climate catastrophe.” ... What does the physician and anthropologist recommend we do? The world’s top priority must be to get finance flowing and get prices right on all aspects of energy costs to support low-carbon growth. Joseph Romm, World Bank President On Climate Crisis: If There Is No Action Soon, The Future Will Become Bleak, Climate Progress, 1-24-13

In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Stern, who is now a crossbench peer, said: "Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then." ... Had he known the way the situation would evolve, he says, "I think I would have been a bit more blunt. I would have been much more strong about the risks of a four- or five-degree rise." Heather Stewart & Larry Elliott, Nicholas Stern: I got it wrong on climate change – it's far, far worse, Guardian, 1-26-13

Oil Sands Fly Over: My Memory Forever with Jennifer Berezan, Joanna Macy and Anne Symens-Bucher
Do you know why 350 is the most important number in your life and the lives of everyone you love? Go to for the answer.

Richard Power is the author of eight books, including Humanifesto: A Guide to Primal Reality in an Era of Global Peril, Between Shadow and Night: The Singularity in Anticipation of Itself and True North on the Pathless Path: Towards a 21st Century Yoga. Power writes and speaks on spirituality, sustainability, human rights, and security. He blogs at and, and is a member of the Truthout Board of Advisors. He also teaches yoga.