Bearing Our Own Energy Burden

The Keystone XL pipeline – once relatively unknown to everyone but energy execs and protestors – has become a major US election issue and the source of much controversy lately.

The proposed pipeline would carry oil 2,000 miles from Canada’s tar sands through the US and down to Texas. Environmental activists have been fighting the project aggressively. They claim it would threaten indigenous populations, run the risk of major spills, speed up climate change, and waste vast amounts of water.

They’re probably right, but lately I’ve been frustrated by the rhetoric.

I have seen firsthand the absolutely devastating impact of unregulated, unchecked energy production. Fly ash pollution, oil spills, and poisoned well-water are real, and most of the time the companies responsible never pay appropriate damages. Even the best injury attorneys have to invest millions just to take the offending corporations to court. That’s a big gamble on behalf of people who often can’t even prove without a doubt what caused their injuries. So children wind up with rare eye cancers and their parents walk around with half of their organs; and nothing seems to change.

But while we indeed slowly (and in some cases quickly) kill our own people by poisoning our water, air, soil, and selves with toxins like arsenic and aluminum, we are also dependent on energy from abroad.

In recent tensions with Iran, the threats keep coming back to oil. The top ten list of oil reserve holders includes Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, and Libya – four countries we’ve spent ample time attacking, threatening, bombing, occupying and in some cases liberating. In 2003, we waged war on false pretenses. In the current talks with Iran, we’re actually saying “oil” out loud, which I’ll consider an improvement in transparency.

Our wars in these countries have killed thousands of civilians and displaced millions of people from their homes. They’ve created war orphans and a military wracked with PTSD. Hundreds of journalists have died. Anti-American ideologies persist. And the Middle East still feels so damn unstable.

As for the Keystone Pipeline, President Obama recently rejected its permit, but all parties involved expect further negotiations.

I confess I use energy like it never runs out, and I know the world doesn’t run on hamster wheels, but it worries me that right now our best solution to our nation’s oil demands is to avoid devastating the Great Plains by devastating Baghdad instead. Perhaps if we bore more of that burden we would see how harmful our dependence on non-renewable sources really is, and we would be quicker to seek out and invest in alternatives.

To be clear, I don’t have any good solutions to offer on this, and I realize I’m oversimplifying foreign policy in order to make a point; but I think it’s a question worth asking, no matter how unsettling or difficult the debate can get. Do we bear the consequences of environmental degradation or the guilt of unjustified war? Whose rights matter more: Kids in Nebraska or kids in Fallujah?

7 Responses to “Bearing Our Own Energy Burden”
  1. Mary says:

    Very, very good perspective and question, Joanna and I confess I never thought about it that way. What an insight!
    It is a direct answer to the “not in our backyard”, protest and the selfishness that betrays!
    You are right, why not build it here and experience the consequences…though I know you are not exactly saying that…you are much more nuanced in your thoughts.
    I wrote a few blog posts myself during a recent town election when the issue of “Hydro-Fracking” was on the line, and the candidate who was anti-fracking won…
    At issue was land about one mile from our home…but honestly, we all felt it was about “our” safety.
    What would you think if I sent your blog post to the local newspaper as food for thought???
    I’d also like to re-post with some thoughts of my own.

    • JCM says:

      Of course! As long as it links to me I’d be glad if you pass it around! I really appreciate your feedback. I only wish I could offer something more concrete as a solution.

  2. Cassie Grubbs says:

    I’m not an energy expert but it’s obvious this is a huge global problem. I think new industries need to rise up to a wider scale that offer alternative resources or alternative ways in which to use our current resources. You know what I wuold love for future generations? I’d love my grandkids to think oil-based energy is so archaic, it rivals the horse & buggy… just because we had the guts to find and deliver energy alternatives in mass to the mainstream. We need vision. We need solutions. And I think we need gutsy scientists to partner with savvy businessmen and create small businesses to launch an industry that is currently just a seedling! It’s already going on… but it just needs more power 😉

  3. Mary says:

    Reblogged this on ConnectingthaDots and commented:
    I want to introduce you to my friend, Joanna, who writes an intelligent and insightful blog about things that matter in our world. Her most recent post about “Bearing Our Own Energy Burden” provoked a strong reaction in me.
    I have been looking into the truth about Hydro-Fracking and the impact it will have on us here in Dryden, NY. A lingering question in my mind had been, “Why can’t they figure out a better way?”. I’m ashamed to say, Joanna’s viewpoint never occurred to me, nor have I heard anyone in our area mention it. There seemed to be only two sides to this debate on extracting energy from underneath our soil: For= Because we need it and it’s not really so harmful, or Against= It is harmful and we don’t want to suffer the consequences.Sadly, I had never thought of it as a Human Rights issue.
    What do you think of Joanna’s viewpoint?

  4. Justin says:

    I think there are a few other things to consider as well. Even though American ingenuity has caused us to steadily become more energy efficient year after year, it is highly unlikely the U.S. will ever become “energy independent” any time in the near future. In light of that, it makes sense to try and limit our oil imports to stable areas of the world — which we do. Our top three sources of oil are Canada, Mexico, and us. So projects like the Keystone pipeline are a good move because they concentrate our oil imports in friendlier places.

    As for the environmental aspects, it is likely that Canada will simply move the pipeline to the Pacific coast and export it to Asia, which means the earth still gets whatever negative ramifications there are and we don’t get the benefits.

    Personally I think Obama recognizes this. I think the move was largely political: he didn’t actually reject the permit completely, he just postponed it till after the election. And considering the fire he was getting from both sides over the issue, that was probably the smartest move for him–but in my opinion, not for the country.

    • JCM says:

      All great thoughts. Yes he was definitely forced into a very political decision, and many of the environmental damage will happen anyway, since Canada will do something with this oil no matter what. I know TransCanada has been in talks with China, but that may be largely political too. Unfortunately we aren’t just talking about impact on “the environment,” though. Whether or not we have better options, we are also talking about indigenous populations and the human impact of damaged private water and land. In just the last year, I have seen hundreds of families’ water sources polluted with arsenic and the culprits never brought to justice because of the high costs of litigation. If Obama does eventually approve the pipeline, perhaps there could be a legal provision upfront to protect the people in its path if it were to cause displacement, injury, or death. We used to call that tort law, but if the communities can’t afford to sue in the first place, tort law is not much good to them.

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