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?