Obama Throws Down Climate Gauntlet

gauntletPresident Obama today gave a speech that marks a turning point in U.S. energy policy and the foundation for comprehensive climate change policy. He also, unexpectedly, addressed directly the question of the Keystone XL pipeline.

“… We can’t just drill our way out of the energy and climate challenge that we face. That’s not possible. I put forward and passed an “all of the above” energy strategy, but that strategy can’t just be about producing more oil.

By the way it, it certainly must be about more than just building one pipeline. Now, I know there’s been for example a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build the pipeline, the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. And the State department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal, that’s how it’s always been done.

But I do want to be clear, allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And 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 impacts on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. …”–President Obama, during climate address today at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in The Washington Post, “The president realizes that you can’t combat climate change without a direct confrontation with the fossil fuel industry. What has us most encouraged by the president’s speech is he is lacing up his gloves and getting ready for that fight.”

“Not only is this by far the most comprehensive and ambitious administrative plan proposed by any president, it’s also common sense and very popular with the public,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.

President Obama’s comments on the Keystone XL are not substantially different from what he has said in the past. They key quote is: “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 impacts on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

So far, the Environmental Protection Agency has determined that the net effects of the pipeline’s impact will significantly increase carbon pollution. The State Departments reports have indicated that there will be no net increase (using data provided to them by TransCanada, which presumably has a vested interest in the data). One crucial issue will be naming the new head of the EPA. Will a new director mean a different outcome on the Keystone climate impact?

But it is startling that President Obama brought Keystone up at all, when he wasn’t expected to. As I say, everyday without the Keystone is another day of victory.

It’s important to keep all of this in perspective. The U.S. economy must become largely fossil-fuel independent by 2050. All of the things President Obama announced are steps in that direction. Most are modest steps. Some might turn out to be large steps.

But everything we do from now on out must pass the climate litmus test: Does this decision take us closer to fossil-fuel independence? If yes, okay. If no, then don’t do it–and don’t waste time arguing about it. For Christians this kind of conversion is familiar. We keep our eyes on the prize. When we fall down, we get back up through God’s grace. We can be the ones to model Spirit-powered change for our nation and our world.–Rose Mare Berger

Video: ‘Developing Tar Sands Means Losing Control of the Climate’

“If we fully develop the tar sands, we will certainly lose control of the climate. We will get to a point where we can not walk back from the cliff,” says climate scientist Dr. John Abraham. The Keystone XL pipeline is the lynch pin to developing the tar sands in Alberta.

As many of you know, I’ve been paying attention to the Keystone pipeline development since 2011 when it was under review by the State Department. I joined a group of religious leaders to deliver thousands of petitions to Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, asking her to to stop the pipeline. I said to her, “If this decision about the pipeline was made purely based on the climate science, we wouldn’t be here having this discussion.” She didn’t disagree. The exploitation of tar sands will significantly worsen the climate.

Now, new scientific data shows that developing the tar sands (and the pipeline to carry it) is worse than previously known. The video above shows climate scientists countering the notion that the climate impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline are small compared to total U.S. global greenhouse gas emissions. Nathan Lemphers, a Senior Policy Analyst with the Pembina Institute, details how the Keystone XL is a critical ingredient to significant expansion of tar sands. He dispels the myth being promoted by the tar sands oil industry that tar sands development is inevitable with our without Keystone XL. That’s not true. All other routes are similarly being blocked.

Lorne Stockman, Research Director for Oil Change International, announced new research that shows that the emissions from tar sands oil are worse than originally believed. This is because the climate emissions from a byproduct of tar sands, petroleum coke which is made in the refinery process and is used in coal-fired power plants, have not been previously considered. “If Keystone is approved,” says Dr. Danny Harvey, professor at the University of Toronto, “we’re locking in several more decades of fossil fuels and higher levels of carbon dioxide and global warming.”

“Climate change is the story related to Keystone. The drought and heat wave in Texas cost Texans $5.2 billion. Hurricane Sandy cost us $70 billion,” says Dr. John Abraham, climate scientist at the University of St. Thomas. “Some people say it’s too expensive to develop clean energy. I say it’s too expensive not to.”

After the largest climate protests in U.S. history were held in Washington, D.C., in 2011, the fight against the Keystone XL went back to the regions along the pipeline route.

Hundreds have been arrested in their attempts to block the bulldozers. There are farmers engaged in numerous local law suits against TransCanada’s pressure on local governments to use “imminent domain” to force them to give up their property to the corporation. There are First Nations and American Indian communities in treaty battles to keep TransCanada’s massive machinery off their lands.

There are Buddhist nuns walking the pipeline route in prayers for the earth and her people. A 92-year-old Lakota grandmother stood in front and blocked the giant rigs hauling pipe. Twenty-somethings are launching “tree sits” in the construction path. A Baptist church in Nacogdoches, Texas, near the pipeline route, has launched a new young adult and youth ministry specifically for and with Keystone XL activists.

On Feb. 17, the movement will come back to Washington, D.C.

You come too. We need you. Now is the time for all good Americans to come to the aid of their country. And for all good Christians to come to the aid of our world’s most vulnerable.

Leslie Fields: Obama Honors Cesar Chavez

Obama-at-Chavez-dedication
Official White House photo by Pete Souza

By Leslie Fields, Sierra Club

On October 8, on a gorgeous early autumn day in the oak-dappled foothills of California’s Tehachapi Mountains, President Obama formally designated the César E. Chávez National Monument. The designation is the fourth of Obama’s presidency, but the first-ever national monument dedicated to a Latino.

Below, the president with Helen Chávez at her late husband’s gravesite at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), or La Paz, in the town of Keene, California, site of the new national monument.

Obama-with-Helen-Chavez
Official White House photo by Pete Souza

“César Chávez was a true labor and environmental champion whose work helped result in the passage of landmark laws that protect our air, water, land, and—most important—people,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. “His work helped link people’s health and the environment, and his fight for environmental justice is one that the Sierra Club remains committed to today.” …

Read the rest of  Monument to a National Treasure by Leslie Fields.