The controversy over Keystone XL has already had one good outcome: A lot more people have at least heard of tar sands. Unfortunately, most Americans still don’t realize just how insanely destructive, polluting, and dangerous extracting, transporting, and burning tar sands oil is. For that matter, according to a recent poll, only 42 percent of Americans say they are at least “somewhat” familiar with the Keystone XL pipeline itself. The percentage who know the truth about tar sands oil is undoubtedly a lot smaller.
Here’s a case where what we don’t know can hurt us.
That’s one reason why I’ve written more about tar sands oil and the Keystone XL pipeline over the past five years than probably any other topic. (Believe me: I can’t wait to stop.) But even if, as expected, President Obama rejects a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, the tar sands will be a problem for as long as oil companies are willing to dig them up. Important though it is, Keystone XL is not the only tar sands pipeline — and tar sands oil can also be moved by rail (which is hardly safe — we’ve already seen five major oil-train disasters this year).
That’s why, all along, the ultimate goal has been to keep tar sands oil in the ground. Producing a barrel of oil from the tar sands produces three times as much climate pollution as conventional oil, while the mining operations destroy entire landscapes, pollute water sources, and violate indigenous land rights. Regardless of what happens with Keystone XL, tar sands oil will always be too dirty, too dangerous, and too polluting to tolerate, especially since we know that most of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground if we are to avoid a climate disaster.
To get that message out, we need as many people as possible to raise their voices and spread the word. But it’s not just about the number of people who speak out. Tar sands oil hurts all kinds of people, and that’s who we need to include within this movement to spread the word. The People’s Climate March in New York City last year is a good model because it brought together such a diverse chorus of voices from every part of America.
That’s why on June 6, the Sierra Club, including yours truly, will join thousands of passionate and dedicated allies in Minneapolis/St. Paul for the Tar Sands Resistance March. This will be the largest anti-tar sands event ever in the part of the country where opposition to Keystone XL first gathered steam: America’s heartland. Here are two of the messages we’ll be sending:
First, we don’t want tar sands. The Obama administration should deny a permit not only for Keystone XL but also for any other tar sands pipeline or pipeline expansion that would cross our border, including Enbridge’s notorious Alberta Clipper pipeline (I wrote about that boondoggle last November). Any infrastructure that supports expansion of tar sands development, including crude oil trains and tankers, is an attack upon our water, our communities, and our climate.
Second, we don’t need tar sands. By investing in clean energy and energy efficiency, we can not only replace the energy we get from dirty fuels like tar sands but also clean up our air and water, ensure healthier and more prosperous communities, create millions of new American jobs, and address climate disruption.
Despite recent progress, Minnesota still sends $18 billion each year out of state for dirty fossil fuels. Transportation solutions, like electric vehicles powered by clean energy, investments in a 21st-century transit system, and major expansions in bicycling infrastructure, would help us leap forward. For example, Minneapolis is leading the nation as a bike-friendly city, making it easier for people to get to where they need to go.
And Minnesota, like many states in the Midwest, has significant wind resources — enough to supply 79 percent of the state’s power by 2050, according to analysis by Stanford professor Mark Jacobson. Commercial and residential solar could supply much of the balance. In fact, every state in the U.S. has the potential to switch entirely to 100 percent clean power.
If thousands of people had not marched, protested, and raised hell about Keystone XL, it would have been rubber-stamped years ago. Now it’s time to take that success and use it to stop the tar sands completely.