Monday, March 12, 2012

Keystone Pipeline is the least of it

"Why didn’t they look around, realize what they were doing, and stop before it was too late? What were they thinking when they cut down the last palm tree? "
— Jared Diamond, EASTER’S END

Lost in the discussion of the Keystone Pipeline eventually traversing the Ogallala Aquifer is the environmental cost to Canada of mining bitumen (not oil, sensu stricto) out of oil sands. Nice article in the NY Times discussing that question, reviewing a PNAS article.

There is, after all, no free lunch. A comment made to the Times by one of the study authors (Rebecca Rooney) hits the nail on the head when she says "...the most important point is that decisions about whether to approve new mines need to be made with all the facts about the environmental, social, and economic costs on the table..."

No kidding, Dr. Rooney. We will undoubtedly make some additional mess in our continued use of fossil fuels, especially since we will need to extract more and more unconventional resource. No omelet is made without breaking a few eggs. What is needed is a bit of intellectual honesty among us all regarding costs, benefits, winners, losers, and overall effects.  The alternative is that at some point, we will shit our nest called Planet Earth to the point of no return. At least for us.

Not to mention that these resources are only mined as the cost of end product justifies them. The Keystone Pipeline, therefore, is not a ticket to cheap gas. Just a ticket to continued decline.

Study Disputes Oil Sands ‘Restoration’ Pledge

“Claims by industry that they will ‘return the land we use — including reclaiming tailings ponds — to a sustainable landscape that is equal to or better than how we found it’ and that it ‘will be replanted with the same trees and plants and formed into habitat for the same species’ are clearly greenwashing,” researchers from the biological sciences department at the University of Alberta write.

This link courtesy of Jim Rickman's second comment.


Steve A said...

Short of invading Canada to stop things, the real environmental question is not whether we have a choice about allowing those poor, dumb Canucks to dig the stuff up, but whether they will ship it to the US via a pipeline or whether they will ship it to China in tankers through the Straits of Juan de Fuca. At least the Exxon Valdez won't be part of the fleet, but there could be a major spill that coats Washington shores.

Given the two options we in the US face (well, other than invasion), I think the Sierra Club has come down on the wrong side in this one.

Khal said...

I actually agree with that (well, not about Canucks being dumb, but I suspect you don't either).

Its easier to do damage control on a pipeline than on a tanker run aground or broken up on the high seas. Or for that matter, be tightening our sphincters when someone shoots a hole in a supertanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

Question is, at what point do we decide to move beyond spendthrift use of hydrocarbons? Only when forced, I suspect.

Jimbo said...

There is a very depressing (due to the trauma you get from receiving the site's stark, in-your-face presentation of reality instead of wishful thinking) that has an article somewhere on it about "reverse opportunity cost" or something like that. That theory takes into account the idea of the very short-term gains society gets out of squeezing every last drop of oil from the planet through traumatic means versus the very long-term gains you potentially get by not raping the environment. It's a realistic way of looking at sustainability, although it's obviously extremely unpopular since it's viewed as an impediment to Capitalism (all hail!) and the "Free Market," which all of us realize by now is not "free" at all.

Anyway, Dr. Rooney's comments about decisions being made with all the social, economic, and environmental costs on the table reminded me that no one ever honestly accounts for Reverse Opportunity Cost in their "honest" calculus for such things.

Do people really believe that once our terrarium becomes a shit-filled hive of toxic byproducts (land, sea and air) that we'll have any realistic alternative place to go? Does society as a whole really believe that there's enough room on the International Space Station, Newt's Moon bases, or yet-to-be-polluted Mars for all 8 billion of us? Is anyone really deluded enough to think that even if we did find a place, that we wouldn't fuck it up as well?

Oh, but you start talking about that stuff, and you get branded as "negative" or as "a downer."

Bikes and pipelines and "hybrid" cars and all these other topics are just ways to pass time as we whistle past the graveyard on our long walk home in the dark. Until people start talking about the things that really matter (i.e. not having 4 babies per household) and actually start to do things to conserve (riding a bike five days a week, living in smaller homes, purchasing products manufactured locally or within short distances from home, paying the "real cost" of goods and services, turning off excess lights, drastically reducing water usage, etc., etc., etc.), then who really cares? It's simply an academic exercise. In those terms, who—other than the homeowners in the path who will lose their imminent domain claims to the unjust siren song of "economic development" and alternative energy sources—really gives a shit whether the Keystone Pipeline gets built or not?

Pipeline, BP Oil Spill, Exxon Valdez: The outcomes are the same, but we are so afraid of not being able to turn on the lights or drive to the Walmart that we'll gladly and gleefully allow Big Oil to bend us collectively over that chair back and fuck us until we're raw and bleeding.

Since no one really cares about this stuff or stands up to it, it's easy to see why the general mood of our nation is why not live it up now while we still can! Will the last cockroaches on planet Earth, please turn out the lights?

Sir Richard Branson and the rest of the Global Elites who think they can "wait this one out" are going to get mighty lonely up there in their space station for 25 years. But at least the water might be fit to drink by then. Might. Nevermind the other wounds that will need to be healed.

Sorry to be "a downer"....

Jimbo said...

By the way, the site I reference is this:

Cheery, huh?

Steve A said...

Though I am only half a Canuck, it rankles even me when I hear Yanks, that are using 20% of the oil produced, preaching about what Canada needs to do with its own, God-given resources. Amongst them, politicians from both parties.

If the world were populated to the density of Canada, we would not have to be concerned about the spendthrift use of hydrocarbons. What's more, Canada has no real moral or other reason to worry about its own paltry contributions to global warming compared to what Europe or the US have already done and continue to do. Regardless of what it does about peat bogs and tar sands.

Steve A said...

OMG, next thing you know, I'll start singing "Oh, Canada!"

Khal said...

Don't do it, Steve. As a Buffalo kid, the Canadian national anthem brings a lump to my throat easily as big as when singing our own. But I still root for the Sabres over the Canadeans or Maple Leafs. Ever since the French Connection line, that is.

Khal said...

Steve, my comments were more aimed at Yanks than Canucks.

Canada can do as it will with its resources and just as in drugs from Mexico, if there were not a market, there would not be a discussion.

What I find hypocritical is that Americans are concerned with shitting our own nest, ie.,the Pipeline going over our precious aquifer, but have no qualms about shitting other people's nests in our quest for more energy-consuming toys and the energy that has to come with them.

Rampant environmental degradation and the abuse of workers is fine, as long as we pay to have it happen somewhere else. Until we run out of "quantitative easing", that is....of course, some problems don't stop at the border checkpoints. CO2, for example.